The Newbie Experience

Today I was thinking about the newbie experience in MMOs.  There’s something special about those early levels.  It’s like developers front load everything great all at once so that players think, “Wow, this game is totally awesome!”  Hopefully I don’t need to tell you all of the ways that quickly fades in modern MMOs.  I could list a bunch of MMOs like LotRO and Rift which give players a solid story foundation, and WoW which starts players off with a perfectly clear path of progression.  No matter how good those newbie experiences might be, I can’t help but judge them against something like EverQuest.

I think there are like 10 or 11 starting areas in the original EverQuest, each branching off into dozens of unique areas.  No matter where you start, you’re sure to have an experience like #MyEQStory.  Combine that with the race, class, and faction diversity, and you have what feels like a lifetime of possibilities relative to what you can do today.

Not only are the newbie experiences of old richer in scope, they’re also what you can expect the entire time you play.  That “Wow, this game is totally awesome” feeling never ends.  I’ve said this plenty of times before, but WoW isn’t one game; As you level, WoW transitions.  By the time you reach max level, WoW is a game about raiding or a game about battlegrounds — a game that doesn’t resemble the newbie experience or leveling up at all.  Not even LotRO, a story rich game, was able to maintain the level of narrative, ultimately losing it to the mundane and procedural story telling of exclamation points and kill quests.

While newbie experiences remain some of the best hours of a MMO, I would love to see them improve.  I think front loading players with awesome stuff is fine, as long as you have ‘awesome’ aplenty for players to continue to see weeks later.  Keep the experience consistent, recognizable, and as wondrous as the first time someone logs in.

  • I found WoW awesome till my 3rd raidtier started, then the ‘used to’-ness started to set in (not that I stopped liking it, but the newness faded. Sadly enough, not a single mmo (Rift, Gw2,..) after managed to create this feeling, the only one coming close being The Secret World.

    I started to think a while ago that the lack of fun is very much tied to our large exposure and familiarity with the genre, and less related to the actual game (not unrelated, just less so)

  • I read a very interesting dev interview once (long lost, sadly or I’d link it) in which it was pointed out that the starting areas tend to be the first areas worked on in development and therefore the ones which are closest to the developers’ original vision for the game. Also they have the most testing and the most opportunities for polish. Not surprisingly this means they often seem more detailed, more finished, even more loved than later areas.

    I personally prefer low level gameplay to high level anyway so I’m not an unbiased observer. That said, I think most MMOs manage to keep things running pretty consistently through the leveling game up to whatever level cap they picked for launch. It’s at level cap and in subsequent expansions that the contract with the player gets re-written and we’re all expected to start playing an entirely different game. I tend to deal with that by rolling another character and playing the first game over again, the one I bought and liked, not this strange new one that’s being foisted on me.

    EQ, by the way, dropped all those multiple starting areas as recommended places to begin long, long ago. After the Mines of Gloomingdeep tutorial, which always seemed to me to prepare you for an entirely different game to Everquest, everyone starts in Crescent Reach, another zone that gives a terrible first impression. I believe you can still start in all the old starting areas if you know about them – all the old quests are still there, I thnk. Vanguard had even more starting zones than EQ but they also retrenched, adding the starter Isle of Dawn for all races and revamping some of the starter areas so you can’t start in them if you wanted to. I think they still have a choice of four or five though. EQ2 started with one that split into two, then they added more until eventually they had half a dozen. Currently they’re back to four. GW2 has five, TSW one, Rift two. FFXIV has three. There’s no consistency anywhere.

    For my tastes, more races and more racial starting areas means more longevity for he game. So long as all of them are fairly different (not half a dozen flavors of human) I’ll almost certainly want to make a character of every race and once their made there’s a fair chance I’ll play them to cap. Make me go through the same starting area and leveling path each time, however, and it doesn’t matter how many great races you have (/wave City of Steam), I’m not going to do it more than a couple of times and probably only once. More starting areas and leveling paths = increased replayability, which you’d imagine would also = more profit, although apparently not if the choices we see MMO developers make have any basis in reason.

  • I remember logging into UO for the first time, it was like being a new immigrant to the US and being dropped in Times square. Current MMOs it like being dropped up in maine with a shitload of paperwork. Its really nice watching other advanced players running around you and giving you a glimpse of what you strive for.

  • A game with so many starting areas, like EQ, was created that way because it was designed as a virtual world. Unfortunately since then, ‘MMO’ developers stopped developing worlds and started developing video games. You’re no longer a gnome stepping out of Ak’Anon for the first time into the Steamfont Mountains, with who knows what adventures awaiting you. Now you’re Mario saving the Princess, why would you start anywhere other than 1-1?

    Side note: this is the first time I can remember agreeing with bhagpuss. Feels weird.

  • My first few months in UO as a newbie and also in DAOC were the best MMO experiences I’ve had.

  • One thing I remember about the early game in DAoC was actually talking to other people to find out where to hunt. I’m sure EQ was even more about making those kinds of connections.

    I enjoyed WoW when I first played it because it seemed so easy and it wasn’t hard to figure out where to go next but it definitely didn’t encourage meeting other players til the end.