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Community Spotlight: Alternate Characters

Posted by MikeB Friday January 22 2010 at 1:22PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “Unlock Your Alts: A Discussion on Alternate Characters (Controversial)” by user Nate1980. The topic, as the subject implies, is a controversial look at the place of alts or alternate characters in MMOG games. In the original post, nate1980 makes the self-admitted controversial suggestion that games should only allow for players a single character per player at the start, and extols the reasons why:

“…I'd like every game in the future to only offer 1 character per account at the start. This requires people to stick to one character, and allows for people to become known by their character. Anyone who's played SWG knows what I'm talking about. The test server solves the problem of people being indecisive on which character they want to play. You should be able to create a lot of characters on the test server, so you can compare and contrast them. But on the live servers, you can only have 1 per account. This also has the added benefit that guild leaders and members can be more confident that those in their guild are their main characters and will be active. I'm not sure about you all, but I grow tired of those afflicted with altitis, because they fall behind the main group in the guild, and then sometimes expect the main group to go back and help them. I get my fun from playing with a group of others in the game. So I'm motivated to keep leveling and playing, so that I can keep up with my online friends. However, I'm never in a rush, and I think the game is about the journey, not the destination, so don't derail the thread for that.

Lastly, I think that in order to unlock more character slots, you should be required to level a character to max level. So if you want your second character slot, you need to get your first character to max level. If you want your 3rd character slot, you need to level up your second character to max level, and so on.

This'll help people stay committed to their characters, and help stop people from jumping around from one character to the next, never getting far on any of them, and then quitting out of boredom.”

What does the community think of Nate’s ideas? Lets find out!

User Zilverrug (who is apparently still MUDding, go Zilverrug!) generally disagrees with Nate’s suggestion, but he can see how alts can be harmful to endgame focused guilds:

“Many people need alts to keep interest in the game. People leaving the game is (in my experience) an even larger reason for guild failure (and even worse: game failure).
Forbidding people something they like to do and is good for the game company (because it keeps people in the game and is basically harmless) doesn't seem like a good idea to me.

Personally, I do not suffer from altitis (in all games I played I have a single main character and a host of alts only on 20% to 50% of the level cap), but it's a good thing many other people do: it tends to keep people active in the non-end-level content (also nice for beginners).

In other words: in level-based games, I'd even argue leveling alts is a GOOD thing to keep the game alive.

But I can imagine end-level focused guilds can suffer somewhat from members concentrating on their alts instead. Those guilds should (and do) have rules about alts. People who get bored by their main character can then just leave the guild instead of the game. Making an associated "safety net guild" to catch those people wouldn't even be a very bad idea, I guess...”

Torik echoes some of Zilverrug’s sentiments:

“Too many alts is really only a problem in 'goal-focused' guilds (eg raiding guilds, hardcore PvP guilds).

For casual guilds alts can be a great guild builder since it allows people to do all kinds of stuff and not get locked into one role. Thus when there are significant power differences between characters, one can switch to a less powerful alt and group up with newer guildies. Also it allows casual guilds more flexibility where people can change roles in group content depending on who else is available.

One of the primary reasons why I quit SWG was the 'one character per server per accout' rule. After I got my first character to a state I really liked I was not going to erase all that just to try new ways to play in that game. One of the key things I like about RPGs is that I can play through them in different ways and create distinct personalities for my characters.

The test server idea only really address the issues of seeking the next FotM character. To me a character grows as you play him in the full game settings and throwaway characters are not fun.

The idea of unlocking alt character slots once you reach max level on a previous character would work but it seems completely unnecessary and once again forces one away from exploring different facets of the game.”

Another interesting post, this time by user Ivaldyr, essentially uses FFXI as his example for why alts are indeed unnecessary:

“The solution to the alt "problem" is simple.

One character - Many classes/skills.

Instead of having to reroll a new character or lose current character progression, let every character level up every skill/class in the game, but have to choose which skillset/class to play at any given time. I like how EVE (sort of) does this; your character can have every skill in the game, but not every skill is useful in every situation. Your ship and modules limit you.

It would work thus:

• I start a new character, and become a Warrior .. rising to level 100.
• I "reroll" my character, and level a Mage to 50.

Now I'm a level 100 Warrior and a level 50 Mage; but I can only be one "class" at a time. If I'm levelling up my Mage skills and a friend tells me they could use a Warrior for a level 100 raid, I can switch back to my Warrior skills and go enjoy that raid, then switch back to my Mage skills when I'm done. It's just like having alts, except that they're all contained in one character.”

I personally have to take issue with this one, as while he may be correct from a gameplay perspective you can design a game so that alts are functionally unnecessary, but what of people who have different concepts for characters? I found myself in this boat a lot in Star Wars Galaxies.

And that’s basically my stance. I played Star Wars Galaxies as many of you know by now, and this was Nate’s main reference point for his ideas.

While I loved the game, I was often conflicted because I wanted to have a variety of different character types. Sure, the game let me respec my single character into any group of skills I’d like provided I took the time to get the experience for them, but what if I wanted to play a Rebel X-Wing pilot, and an Imperial Sniper. Maybe it’s just the role-player in me!

Be sure to check out the rest of the thread for tons of great responses from the community!

What do you think about the effects of alts or altitis on MMOG games?

Do you endorse only allowing players a single character to start? Or even just a single character, period? Let us know in the comments below.