World of Warcraft releases their worldwide scaling patch here real soon. The whole idea of content scaling in MMORPGs is an interesting one that has me going back and forth positives and negatives.
First, let's just get some definitions out of the way so we can all be speaking in context. "Level scaling" in WoW is basically where the player scales to the content (which is actually a little contradictory when people are referring to it as "world scaling"). So basically, someone at level 100 can be in a zone and someone level 110 can be in a zone but their stats and the enemy are all equalized.
Other games have scaling. Some similar some different. Some games scale group members together. Some let a player "mentor" down to another player's level and then that player is scaled down to someone at that level's abilities.
My thoughts are going to be specifically toward the newest and trendiest way of scaling as seen in WoW.
Level scaling gives you lots of options. Players can go to whatever zone they want. Imagine if the world scaled and a level 100 could go to the Barrens and level up. It's neat to have that freedom. It's also nice because it gives you a challenge wherever you go and the world can stay relevant, and you'll worry less about out-leveling content you want to see or feeling like you can't move on from a zone you hate. You can also group with your friends more easily if one happens to pass you by because they don't have a life.
I think it breaks that sense of immersion for me when there aren't places in the world that are free to enter but dangerous to do so. Going into a level 50 zone at level 10 was horrifying. Even in EverQuest there were aspects of zones that were so immensely out-leveled for the rest of the zone that you always had to be looking around. Scaling can homogenize away a lot of that. There's also the annoyance aspect of wading through mobs that scale up to you even when you feel as though you should have progressed through them.
Blizzard is tackling some of that negative by proposing brackets.
1-10: Starting Zones.
10-60: Old Wold Zones MINUS Cataclysm zones.
60-80: Outland & Northrend.
80-90: Cataclysm zones and Pandaria.
100-110: Broken Isles.
I could get nitpicky and critique how making PvE a bracketed experience overly-gamifies the game, but I won't because this is ultimately better for a themepark experience like WoW, and honestly the leveling experience is not the game anymore and hasn't been for over a decade. Systems with options help make the experience... better, I guess?
Generally speaking, I think world scaling works for themeparks but isn't something I would ever want to entertain in a sandbox or 'open world' MMORPG (thinking EverQuest or Pantheon types here). I want that sense of world progression, I want to outgrow some areas and fear others. I want to earn the right to go to the next place. In a themepark, I just want to get on any rides I can without waiting in line. It works.