There’s an interesting quote floating around from Blizz dev Tom Chilton. “By building expansions, you are effectively building up barriers to people coming back. But by including the level 90 character with this expansion, it gives people the opportunity to jump right into the new content.”
On one level I completely agree. I know the feeling of wanting to go back and play a game but feeling too overwhelmed by what I’ve missed in the past. I absolutely love(d) EverQuest 2. Wonderful, wonderful MMORPG. I’ve wanted to go back so much, but every time I download the trial I feel completely lost. A few years ago (gosh probably 4+ now) I went back for the Kunark launch and leveled a Sarnak from 1-65. As I worked through previous expansions, I felt lonely and never saw anyone around. I needed to do that content to level up to see the latest expansion, but ultimately never made it there.
On a different level, I don’t necessarily agree that this is an expansion’s fault or intrinsic to the idea of an expansion. I think vertical progression / development are the issue. If anything, an expansion can be an enticement for players to enter a game or for someone who has been gone for a while to re-enter because there’s more to do and see — essentially the value offering has hopefully increased. This is also because of the problematic nature of focusing on an end-game rather than an entire game or a “living world.”
Offering an instant level 90 in World of Warcraft is a bandaid fix to the problem of having the 1-89 gameplay be worthless. This is a case where we see the symptoms being treated and not the cause. Does this work for WoW? Yeah, it probably does and in fact it’s actually reducing their particular barrier to entry, but not fixing the core issue.
It’s not easy. Balancing character progression while still creating a world that expands the possibilities more horizontally, without boring people from a lack of “things to do,” is one of the most complex and difficult to achieve designs — that’s why we almost never see it happen.