Casual Play: Lowbies of the World Unite
By: Steve Wilson
Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Steve Wilson. The column is called "Casual Play" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Wilson. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.
How many people have dozens of different mid to low level characters?
I’ve often wondered how many other players there are out there that are like me. A long running problem I have in massive online games is my inability to stick with one character. I like to try everything, sample every class and combination. See the world and surmount obstacles from every possible angle. And for the most part this has held me back in the traditional treadmill games that are most massive online roleplaying games.
Because of this, the level cap has eluded me throughout many games. It took about a year to get my first level sixty in World of Warcraft, and even then that was after the casual guild I was in complained endlessly that they needed a high level priest to join them in battlegrounds. The highest level character I had in a game previous was a thirty-something in Asheron’s Call. I tend to hover around the mid-twenties in most other games. Every character slot, however, gets filled with at least one character in their teens. Various friends across different games have even gone so far as to accuse me of being a professional lowbie. It wasn’t that given the time invested the level cap couldn’t have been reached, but that the prospect of doing the exact same thing day in and day out made online roleplaying games seem more like work than fun. And so I dabbled in everything, mostly at the low end.
To be honest, I’ll even confess that players that actually managed to stick with one thing always kind of bewildered me. The single minded determination to grind through everything using the same tricks repeatedly seemed somewhat manic, obsessive even. With an entire fantastic world out there with differing race, faction, and class content it seemed as if the hardcore players that were the yardstick of success had actually limited their enjoyment to a mere single flavor. Their race to cap and stay ahead the gear power curve meant only seeing a single facet of the game. They loved and argued loudly in favor of vanilla and chocolate to my Neapolitan.
But this fickleness also had its advantages. We may not ever master the upper levels of any class but when fighting others, the professional lowbie gets a sense for the tricks that each class has got up their sleeves. More importantly, how often they can pull those tricks. It’s one thing to be the victim of a nasty set of skills, but altogether different when trying to use them on someone else.
The professional lowbie also gets to see everything the world has to offer. Content from every race and class gets to be explored. Every starting level quest and their rewards are investigated. Some might say this is not an accomplishment and shows no skill or dedication to a game. But casual gamers, like myself, may find more enjoyment in experiencing something unique rather than tying our egos up in traditional single-minded accomplishments. For us, the fun is in finding new experiences, overcoming obstacles in a new way, not necessarily being the first to max out our stats or get some uber trinket. We just aren’t achiever in the more traditional sense of roleplaying games, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Some games have taken very interesting approaches to dabblers. Star Wars Galaxies made a huge tactical error (among many many others) by limiting themselves to one character. The skills could be changed over time, but the investment was so long that almost nobody wanted to give up skills that had to be ground out over the course of weeks and months. Everyone wanted to dabble without having to grind through the same hoops again. Forcing the players to leave their friends on one server just try something different out was a bad move, one they eventually fixed by allowing players to have more than one toon. On the other hand, Matrix Online had an interesting concept in regards to dabbling. It allows the players to swap skills in and out of the character depending only upon the wants of the player. A player could take a break from gun fu to try their hand as a medic or caster. On the fly, at a whim. With just one character a player could explore all the possibilities of the world, with the exception of factional content. Its really too bad the rest of the mechanics weren’t as interesting.
Really it’s not about the character itself. The toon is nothing more than a tool to move through the world. You can tell because most people when recounting their adventure stories don’t say things like, “My character did such and such and won the day,” it’s almost always, “I did this thing and did it awesomely,” or, “As the puppeteer I did x and saved the day.” Almost no one talks about their avatar as a separate entity. The stories of deeds accomplished are always first person with the toon as nothing more than a vehicle to get there.
From my newfound and lofty position of having finally reached level cap I have to wonder, how many others are out there like me, playing a little more than they like to admit but diluting the accomplishment across an entire cast of characters? Whose lowbie characters have little value beyond their ability to offer different ways to solve the same sets of problems? How many people love to have an entire family of characters all fairly low level from spreading the love out among too many? How many people out there are professional lowbies?