Alts and Twinking

When MMOs were still in their infancy — actually, before they were even called MMOs — I used to have a serious problem making multiple characters and struggling to choose which one to play. People called this being an ‘altaholic’ or having ‘altitis’.

Being an altaholic, I was constantly swapping characters without being able to choose which was my favorite. I would play levels 1-10 or 1-20 multiple a dozen times. Eventually, I would settle on a character I enjoyed enough to take to max level or close to it. Every class was so unique and set apart from the others.

I have memories of spending countless hours trading items I accrued on one character to swap them over for items for another. In other words, I was a decked out warrior and I would swap my gear with other players to be a decked out wizard. Often I would make equal or better trades for the same gear. In fact, I think my worst case of altitis was one weekend in EQ where I ended up swapping Druid gear for Monk gear, then to Warrior gear.

I LOVE twinking. What is twinking? I forget the term is practically lost to this generation. Twinking is when you give really good items to a character that would never have been able to obtain those items naturally. In EverQuest it’s like giving a Smoldering Brand, a Short Sword of the Ykesha, Flowing Black Silk Sash, etc., to a level 1. If twinking were really a thing in WoW, it would be equivalent of giving top tier raiding gear to a level 1.

Just this weekend I spent two whole days twinking my Bard. I farmed plat on my Magician, sat in Commonlands tunnel, and auctioned to buy gear. “WTB Mistmoore Battle Drums and Lambent Armor!” I’d have a few trade macros to advertise my interest. I’m almost to the point where I just need a few more pieces for my Bard and he’ll have the best stuff he can wear outside of raiding. The result? He’s WAY more fun to play.

Let’s analyze this for a second:

  • I enjoyed so many different characters that I couldn’t decide which to play
  • My gear was shared across my alts
  • Time spent on some characters was spent to enhance or advance other characters’ gear
  • Playing through the content multiple times wasn’t a deterrent
  • I could trade almost everything

That sounds nothing like the MMOs of today. MMOs today are the antithesis of such features. Often only one class is interesting since they’re all the same, gear is bind on pickup, content is so linear and exact that playing twice is mundane, twinking is unnecessary since everything is ridiculously easy, and economies are almost non-existent.

While not something I can simply point to an say, “Do this and your MMO will be great,” it’s definitely something worth noting. Isolating what we like(d) about the past games and trying to see how those features or systems intermingled with the rest of the game’ design can really shed some light on how we’ve lost a lot of depth and meaningful gameplay in today’s MMO designs.


  • “[T]winking is unnecessary since everything is ridiculously easy.”

    A bit off-topic, but this is so true nowadays it’s sad. They’ve taken the joy out of leveling in almost every MMO for me because you can literally faceroll your way to max level. This is something that is refreshing with the EQ progression server in that combat is risky again (granted, less risky than original EQ) and you are constantly making risk v. reward calculations.

    Also, because it was more challenging twinking wasn’t game breaking. Even for a twink, fights still take a long time and are challenging. It reduces the risk, but does not eliminate it. It made you more efficient, but was not an “I Win” button in any sense.

  • Yeah, very true. Even when I twink my Bard he’s not suddenly able to outclass content. It just takes the edge off. The risk is definitely not eliminated. Not even close.

  • Twinking used to be quite fun, though it there was always some controversy to it. I remember somebody getting upset that I managed to get a twinked troll warrior up to level 40 in TorilMUD with only a day in play time. (24 hours of play to get to level 40 seems like a huge number today, doesn’t it?) And there were always people on raids bidding on items to twink yet another alt, which could be a pisser if it was an item you needed for your main.

    EverQuest back in the day, with no level restrictions on gear and lots of great buffs available from your high level friends, was a twinking paradise. Nothing like getting your low level alt all buffed up and tearing through some mobs for a bit. After so much slow progress, a burst of experience could feel like a burst of rejuvenation.

    But it still only got you so far. Eventually you have start working again. My troll was quick to level 40 alright, but the time to get to level 50, which required a group effort, was the same as everybody else’s grind.

  • Perhaps you should give FFXIV a shot. It does most of this, but in a more sane and more fair manner. You can level all classes on a single character. You can accumulate gear for your healer class while tanking (you can’t roll Need, but you can roll Greed), or you can just use the accumulated currency.

    The game positively rejoices in sending you back to do older content.

    The major difference is that you do everything on one character, not multiple different characters.

  • I played FFXIV for a couple months. I liked it for a bit, but honestly the quest grind kills replayability and the end-game is just a gear grind.

  • Maybe it varied by server but back at the turn of the century when I was playing EQ and twinking was a thing it was very, very unpopular with a lot of players. It was common for groups to recruit specifying “No Twinks” and common for guilds to have strict rules on twinking or to forbid it altogether. There were occasions when I left groups that allowed twinks to join because a twinked character effectively made all the non-twinked characters irrelevant.

    I was against twinking for a long time – several years. Eventually, when the game and MMOs in general had become both much easier and much less sympathetic to roleplayers I gave up and started twinking on the “if you can’t beat ’em…” principle. I think allowing it was always poor game design though and I wouldn’t want to see a resurgence. Better off without it, I think.

  • Maybe it’s because I only played for 4 years, but EQ never reached a point where other players became irrelevant because of twinking. I guess if you had a Ranger in your group, and a Monk was uber twinked with Kunark era gear it might have made that Ranger worthless (because Rangers were generally worthless) but as a whole it was never to the point where 1 twinked player was > 2 players. Twinking was also only a huge deal for melee characters. Casters, like Necros and Mages, benefit VERY little from Gear.

    As mentioned by someone above, you reached a point very quickly where your gear curve evened out and you were no longer awesome. Even now on the TLP I can see my Bard who is level 20 using best in slot non-raid gear evening out around level 40.

    Balancing gear is huge. It has to matter, but it can’t matter TOO much. This balance is hard to find, and varies depending on if you game is sandbox or pseudo-sandbox like EQ.

  • I eventually twinkled a character with a fungi tunic in the field of bones. That was freaking hilarious as I would just full as big a train of skels as I could and watch them all explode. Also good for faction. But it still wasn’t fast to level. Even twinked eq grinding took a long time.

    I don’t like the sound of final fantasy leveling all classes on one character. It removes the challenge of choices meaning something. I spent almost a year in eq leveling up a character who was still weak. That choice mattered and the fungi tunic was not a quick fix. But hella fun!

    The reason groups didn’t want twinked is they assumed your fungi tunic wearing ass didn’t bother to learn the real skill of the class. And a bad cleric or tank was death for all 6. But that’s about game design. Groups in today’s games would be just fine with a bad healer and a wizard tanking.

    The downside is if you got the best gear outside of raids not sure what to look forward to.

  • I always hated twinks while PVP’ing, but I tended to play solo and in PUG’s.

    The reason why it can be distasteful is evident, a game that allows for substantial upgrade imbalance doesn’t foster fair match-ups to those that don’t take the easy way to level new characters.

    So while there is always the desire to gain an advantage over other players, twinkers gain enjoyment at the expense of first time players and those that are playing the game balanced as the devs originally intended, and as such in my mind can easily fall into the category of griefing.

    Of course the imbalancing effect of twinking would depend upon game mechanics. I remember twinking was particularly imbalancing in Allods where one could clearly outmatch a similar leveled player solely on upgrades.

    One’s progression in life frequently occurs at another’s expense, that is for every winner there is a loser, but when the winner defeats one due to grossly imbalanced upgrades (basically the definition of twinking) the sense of fairplay and competition is tainted.

  • The discussion becomes much more complex when you introduce PvP, and if your game is about gear on the level of WoW or Allods then you’re screwed because twinking breaks the game.

    PvP only functions properly when gear isn’t emphasized over strategy and character. For example, let’s look at defending a castle. It should matter almost entirely that there is an archer on a wall over what weapon the archer on the wall is using. How you get that archer off the wall should matter more than what gear people are using to do it. Such a level of gameplay exists…. well, no where today.

    Twinking is best left to the games where harmony is found between gear and progression, and PvP isn’t part of the equation. Certainly never in a themepark game.