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.