Spinks slipped the following comment in at the end of her excellent post today on roleplaying:
I see that LOTRO, having already eased the levelling curve and reworked some of the more tedious old zones is also making old epic storyline quests soloable — all very smart changes in my opinion. Does it still count as dumbing down if it isn’t WoW?
I had originally intended to respond to this in the comments, but my reply started to get a little too lengthy for what essentially has nothing to do with the post’s actual topic of roleplaying. I know Spink’s comment is a little tongue-in-cheek, but I feel the need to address what I consider to be a big difference between Blizzard’s and Turbine’s approach to their older content.
By undertaking what seems to be a fairly considerable revamping endeavour, the LotRO devs are trying to correct one of the biggest criticisms people have had with the game since Day 1, which is that you cannot level a second character without repeating a lot of content.
At the end of the revamp process their aim is to have at least 2 entirely separate levelling tracks at any point in the level range, increasing to 3 or 4 in the 30-50 range before hitting Moria. To facilitate this, they have speeded up the 1-50 levelling slightly (my level 50 Guardian gained just 1 level when his experience was recalculated), but they are also adding new quests to the old areas. Breeland in Book 8, with the Lone-lands and North Downs to follow.
Another key point is that Turbine are actively trying to improve the flow experience for new players from a design perspective – to provide more logical progression through zones, to minimise pointlessly lengthy journeys between quest givers and quest locations, and to ensure that some wonderful off-the-beaten-track content isn’t missed by just about everyone (how many of you have experienced the wonderful Wayward Companion chain in the North Downs?).
The prospective change to the Epic Book quests, which sounds like it will allow players to complete a solo version of the current group-only chapters, was inevitable. Not only does it become increasingly more difficult to complete these quests in PUGs as the game ages, but the unassailable trend in MMORPG design is to further accommodate solo play. This solo-or-group compromise is the best of both worlds, as it allows players to group for these chapters if inclined and where possible, but prevents them from hitting a wall at some of the common sticking points. No one should be forced to out-level or abandon what is arguably some of LotRO’s best content.
This all adds up to a substantial re-investment in older content, and a clear attempt to improve the quality and quantity of the levelling game as a whole, rather than embarrassingly trying to usher new players past it as quickly as possible, as seems to be the case with Blizzard. I think most of us would agree that several of WoW’s original zones would benefit from a similar design revamp.
To be fair to Blizzard, the new starting areas added for The Burning Crusade were excellent, as was the Dustwallow Marsh revamp, but where has the investment been since then? It would be hard to argue against the fact that Blizzard’s preference nowadays is simply to find ways to increase the speed at which new players can reach level 60. A greatly increased levelling rate, even before the insanely huge recruit-a-friend bonus, and now the recent mount changes.
It all makes sense from a business perspective, because Blizzard want you to buy all of their expansions as soon as possible. At least The Burning Crusade had new races and starting areas to entice virgin WoW players to pick it up alongside the original game. What does Wrath of the Lich King offer to new players? Not a lot that I can see. A new player is infinitely more likely to purchase WotLK if they get a character to level 55 (Death Knights), or level 68 (minimum level for Northrend), so Blizzard want to get them to that point as quickly and easily as possible.
Turbine’s business strategy, on the other hand, seems to involve getting people into the game for relatively cheaply, but then enticing as many as possible to make a long-term commitment, either in the form of life-time subscriptions, or hooking them into special offers for sustained monthly subscriptions. To do this they need to make the new player experience as enjoyable as possible, in order to encourage them into a long-term purchasing decision just when they are at their most wide-eyed and appreciative. The success of the life-time subscription program also explains why Turbine made the commitment to release yearly expansions, as it’s pretty much the only way to generate new revenue from that sizeable mass of players.
So, while on a superficial level it appears that Turbine are following a similar strategy to Blizzard with regards to rushing players to the end-game and dumbing down the old content, I think the reality is that Turbine are actively trying to improve their older content to be as good as is reasonably possible, whereas Blizzard are actively trying to rush players through that content as quickly as they can reasonably get away with it.