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Community Spotlight: Alternate Characters

Posted by MikeB Friday January 22 2010 at 12:22PM
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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.

fnorgby writes:

Sandboxy games: 1 toon per account is fine.  For games where you have to pick a skill set or class, no alts means no subscription from me.   I like variety, and sometimes I'm antisocial and don't want to have to be social with guild mates or friends.

Fri Jan 22 2010 6:28PM Report
Murashu writes:

Some games just 'require' alts. In a game like WoW, you have a level cap that is easily attainable in a few weeks with no form of alternate advancement. Once you hit the max cap and run thru the dungeons, you have no where else to go unless other than running the same dungeons over and over again. Playing alts is really the only way to keep most people interested in between expansions.


Take an older game, like EQ, where the max cap takes quite a while longer to hit and even after that you have the never ending alternate advancement system. People still have alts to play from time to time, but most people spend their time working on the progression of their main. You end up running the same dungeons over and over eventually, but in doing so, you are progressing your character.

Fri Jan 22 2010 7:07PM Report
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Sat Jan 23 2010 3:27AM Report
madsdafe writes:

Having an alt are not so bad its having too many alts thats the problem, however sometime alts are just used for storage or play around with. One character per account and only allowed an alt after its max wont work for me. Alts are like side quests but eventually u will come back to your main.

Sat Jan 23 2010 5:32AM Report
hogscraper writes:

If you played a game like WOW, where it would be impossible to get a GS + achievements high enough to suit the nerds that run the high end raids on a full account of toons, I could see where seeing someone not concerned with spending 40 hours a week to get that score a few points higher would bother you. Nate wants developers to force people into playing the game the way he wants to play. Believe it or not, there are still people out here interested in experiencing the game they payed for in it's entirety. 

The absolute worst part of his argument is assuming that either a steady stream of players will continually be pouring in or not a single player will join the games he plays after he begins playing. If you only got one character per account, what would be the point of picking that game up a year or two after launch if you knew the chances of finding a decent pool of players your level was extremely low? In FFXI you hit a wall soloing around the mid 30's unless you had a group or decide to narrow yourself to a couple of classes. My two months in that game was so much fun dying repeatedly while waiting for the chance encounter with a higher end player to come along leveling a sub class. The bummer in game of having a life outside of gaming? I would find a group, get part of a level, then have to spend the next few days looking for another passing group to jump into for a few hours. 

Sat Jan 23 2010 7:06AM Report
kbooth writes:

A game is a game, it's not a job. When a game starts paying my bills, then I will limit my alts. End game guilds are for ppl whom just don't care about the spirit of gaming. I like diversity, I like taking breaks from grinding, and I like going back and forth on different alts to break from the norm. Anyone who is a true gamer at heart will know that end game is good for stacking and farming for the alts or Auction House. Once you cap out there is no where else to go. Then you end up using your main, 2nd, and 3rd for trickle down economics(Reagan Era Player) lol. Don't limit me on my play. I like swaping from melee to caster to healer becaus sometimes my moods swing like that.

Sat Jan 23 2010 8:30AM Report
Papamac writes:

I disagree with the OP's argument.  Look at EVE Online, for example.  It's as close to a (successful) sandbox game as we have at the moment.  Even in EVE, players have alts.  Trouble is, those alts are generally tied to another account, due to the limitation of only being able to actively train one character per account at a time. 

The point is that, even in a game that builds in a limitation on the number of characters you can play at any given time, players are motivated enough to find a work-around.  Even if it means paying double (or triple) the normal subscription fee.

I have to side with some of the other comments here.  The OP seems more concerned with his own gaming enjoyment than that of others.  He needs to lighten up, or find another genre to get involved in.  MMOs are inherently ALT-magnets.

Sat Jan 23 2010 9:11AM Report
eludajae writes:

First, the premise of the original statement about why SWG allowed for only one character per server is both misguided and a little misleading. SWG in its original form allowed only one character because you didn't need multiple character slots because of their skill box system, you could easily change from one "class" to another gradually within the game, You could go into Master Doctor decide you don't want to do that anymore and slowly back your skill points out of Master Doctor and give them to the proper skill boxes for ANY other class tree. So it had absolutely nothing, to do with with what Nate is talking about. Using it as a support for his concept of one character slot only till you max out a level within the class/level system is not only misguided its completely misleading.  The reason SWG had one character slot was because you could change your "class" trees at will, it had nothing to do with what he is suggesting what so ever.

Sat Jan 23 2010 9:30AM Report
JYCowboy writes:

SWG also had another issue with multiple characters on one server; property.  If not limited on number of characters per server, a single account could stake out a whole planet in realistate succesfully closing it for new cities and resource farming (yeah, there were that big of jerks playing back then).  The SWG unlock for Jedi was an added gift as it was believed not that many players would venture down that path (thats the first mistake of Jedi Pre-NGE).  Today, SWG still limits players to just two characters per server.  Former Jedi Unlocks add a bonus of three if it acheived.

What is the main benefit of unlocking was the sense of achievement a player recieved for thier efforts and dedication.  Thats a mechanic lost on todays MMO gamer who shun sandbox style MMOs.

Sat Jan 23 2010 11:30AM Report
elocke writes:

FFXI idea is the best hands down.  Screw your different concept issue.  In FFXI you can still make more than one character, so you have no argument.  One character who can be any and all skills/jobs/classes but can only be limited to one at a time or a subjob combo is the best idea EVER. 

Sat Jan 23 2010 11:46AM Report
Dwarvish writes:

 This is a transparent attempt ( successful) at pissing people off.

 NO alts=no game. Not for free. Not if I get paid to play.

 What if the original character isn't what you thought it would be? It happens!!!  I'd rather keep it as a mule than just throw it away.

 The problem  with what Nate1980 thinks is that it ignores the fact that  people have different play styles.  Any guild so focused on end game ( as pointed out by Torik :“Too many alts is really only a problem in 'goal-focused' guilds (eg raiding guilds, hardcore PvP guilds).

 These guilds generaly have a level restriction to prevent that. Its a major problem to race to end-game, ignoring the storyline and getting tired of end game.

  Let people make thier own choices.

 hmmm...kinda sounds like the req for a guild I didn't give a second thought to

'you will be expected to level to end game with the guild, playing a minimum of 20-25 hours a week and be able to obey orders without question. We are a serious end-game focused guild'.


   Nope. Not even close!

Sat Jan 23 2010 12:50PM Report
Brialyn writes:

The job system in FFXI allowed for people to have the one character but try every job.  I rather enjoyed it.  I'm not a fan of having to be on a different toon because If I can do all jobs with one toon I can be known on the server as one toon instead of having to join the guild with three alts plus my main.  I don't like having to log in and say "Hey guys - its so and so" 

So I can agree but I don't want to not be able to roll a different character in a game that only allows you to be one class on a toon. Just my opinion though.

Sat Jan 23 2010 1:43PM Report
Uronksur writes:

Honestly, I've never seen the issue Nate is talking about, so I really can't comment. Except I am lol.


Personally, I myself like having a couple alts when I occasionally feel like playing something else. But I still spend easily 95% of my time on that main character.

Sat Jan 23 2010 2:25PM Report
dadown writes:

Unless a game lets your single character learn any skill combo they want, I need more than 1 char. I like to try out everything, so in a game with multiple classes, I'm going to create a character of every class avalable, even if I have to do it on multiple servers.

I also like to craft my own stuff, so its annoying when a given character can only learn one craft skill. Once again, I create multiple characters to be able to do each different type of crafting.

I usually end up with one favorite character that I level more than the others, but I enjoy the process more than getting to the max level. In fact, when a char maxes out, I often loose interest in playing it any more, other than to explore new dangerous area.

Sat Jan 23 2010 4:59PM Report
Hedeon writes:

I like the idea with 1 char only, now like guy above like to craft his own things, its the kind of things that make community unneccesary.

what I hate about alts is ppl expect you to help them attain what game got to offer as you did with their main...that I personally only do with ppl I consider close "friends", since repeatition gets reeeeaally dull...and then "have to" do it for the 1 mio time, for alt number 20 URGH

this said....I have loads of alts too, simple cause Id have to be in a HC raid guild to keep have something to do...and current EQ2 even they have alts since lack of content.

over all no sensible MMO maker would ever say 1 char/ find the get max lvl to unlock slot a cool idea.  would even say need to have attained something in end game (not raidwise since not all have time for that)

Sun Jan 24 2010 5:20AM Report
Silver_Leaf writes:

I like the idea of one character period, but any characters in one. After I had run a guild myself, only do I realise how painful alts can be. It is really annoying havign to keep tabs on members and ensure that all their alts remain guildless (my guild has a no guilded alts policy, not forbidding alts entirely. What really gets my goat are people who join 2 guilds at once, very common in kiddie games where people just have no sense of loyalty. I don't have the problem in eve, but I'm really getting sick of eve.

Sun Jan 24 2010 5:39AM Report
Silver_Leaf writes:

BTW I dont run a guild in eve lol just to clarify. So the just check API doesn't work. I used to have one in mapleshithole, and now a dormant one in saga. Both of them gave me nightmares, and no one responded when I asked for a screenshot of all their log in screens.

Sun Jan 24 2010 5:40AM Report
Skuz writes:

I've always played many classes but also was a member in a competitive end-game guild, the guild I was in was no doubt as hardcore as they come but had no problem with alts as it was the player's commitment to the guild that mattered not to the class, if someone was able to keep their main in raid capable shape then what they did outside of raid hours was up to them, often a player had 1 or 2 very high level alts they had geared & flagged alongside their main, uncommon was to find a raid-geared alt unless it was one of the few alts that was raid-capable, and helped fill in for missing members/classes.

Alts aren't the problem, lack of commitment is, & if you play a game & join a guild then know what the expectations of that guild will be, if they have high raid attendance etc then don't go joining to get high end loot but not be prepared to put in the same effort the rest of it's members do, many times as a hardcore guild officer I would see many wanting to join, so that they could get the high end gears, but they simply didn't ave the stomach for the teamwork & effort needed to get it, they were freeloaders basically, & were only interested in what the guild would give them, rather than what they'd give to the guild.

However, not all endgame guilds are uninterested in the game, it's lore, it's history, in fact many of the most engaged players I ever knew were hardcore guys that loved every aspect to the game, enjoying the game for what it is, enjoying the journey & being a hardcore competitive player are not mutually exclusive.

Sun Jan 24 2010 6:06AM Report
Slic3r writes:

I've personally played many games, out of all of them only like 1 game i've created an alt. I sort of agree with the OP.  Many people say "But what if it's not what i wanted or thought it would be?" Well read up on the class and from the orignal concept choose what you think suits you. Changing classes only means your class isn't  the over-powered class, or lacks something you find handy to have.  To me i believe leveling your class and learning it's flaws is part of the game just like in life and  just focus on the positive aspects of the class. Leveling a character to max level isn't always the end of the game.

 Perfecting the class (within the classes own limits) so you can defeat most/all other classes or be the best at your class for the specific raid, is what i find more fufilling. If you can't accomplish this with your chosen game you haven't learnt to play the class properly or the game isn't balanced. 

One of my friends has never reached max level cap in any of the games i've played with him, always playing each character 1/4 of the way through whilst Myself and few others stick to one character learn the true fun within the character. Generally he leaves the game because the fun skills and events are only towards the last 1/4 of the game. <<< I believe this is the reason the OP may be more annoyed then most other people. Some people can handle multiple alts well others swap too often and have no real main character. Imo i'd rather people stick to one character but a game is purely made for fun not to limit people's imagination and enjoyment.

Sun Jan 24 2010 8:19AM Report
cwRiis writes:

Curious discussion.  I find it pretty straight forward:

A game allows alts so they can keep players interested and paying.  That answer to if alt are "necessary" for game play is found in the game itself.  People take alts all the time, so they are valued.  If they weren't valued, you wouldn't see alt slots being used.

Sun Jan 24 2010 1:07PM Report
Enochi writes:

 My perspective in the situation is this. My background is a player of Runescape, WoW, Ragnarok, FFXI, and DnD being the primary mmos i have played. I used to be an altaholic bouncing between classes like crazy especially in wow during the Vanilla and bc years however at the beginning of Wotlk blizz came out with something that basicly locked me into my current character. Achievements. While gearing took time in Wow is was no real sweat to get raid worthy gear imho so bouncing between characters was not a big deal but after gaining achievements like "Undying" and "Glory of the Hero" and facing massive rep grinds again for things like "Bloodsail Admiral" and heaven help me "The Insane" my desire to not lose my pretty little titles and what amounts to vanity items were chains that bound me to my character far tighter then anything had before. If you want to promote a method for characters to stick to one characters over others but not deny them the options then the "Monkey Fist" trap is by far the best way. Sure I could change classes and I might create a few 80s to toy around with but the one with all the achievements will likely always be my main....however if blizz every comes up with a paid class change that transfer achievements I shudder to think what will happen to my monthly expendatures.

Sun Jan 24 2010 8:59PM Report
Bael13 writes:

To me this Nate1980 and people like him are a major reason i'm considering leaving MMO's permanently.

To this type of person your game should be all Work and no Play. What ever happened to just playing the game for fun, why must everything be about who is max level or who is the best at this or that. To me that's boring.

Alts make the game more flexible and you can be ready for changes devs throw at you.

Personally hop there are less Nate1980 type people in mmo's but i doubt it.

Sun Jan 24 2010 10:06PM Report
Bael13 writes:

Silver_Leaf you sound like a control freak and i'm glad i never joined any of your guilds... Period

Sun Jan 24 2010 10:12PM Report
mCalvert writes:

Having alts signifies some flaws in the game. For example, only being able to craft one class of items. You have to have another alt just to craft more than one thing. Another flaw which requires alts is the idea of classes, in that to experience some of the content you need an seperate alt to have different skills. A better system is one that lets you retrain your main character, as happens in EVE. Trying to limits alts is impossible though. You simply have 2 accounts instead.

Mon Jan 25 2010 8:50AM Report
Silver_Leaf writes:

@Bael13 If you play eve you will know why we need control. All major corps will want your API key and/or login screen.

Mon Jan 25 2010 9:27AM Report
Gikku writes:

"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.”


First off  in the first comment  here many players will not level their first character up to max level so therefore, you have lost them if they have to. Old time gamers or new ones alts gives them a chance to find that one class they can connect with and enjoy. It is also as many have stated a way to keep down boredom. Most games only allow a certain number of characters and for many that can be to limiting. I do understand why that is on the game side; storage  and the like.

Second: this is not going to keep boredom down. In fact it could make it worse. If a player starts a character and then finds they don't like the class which will in most cases happen way before max level then if they can't try another it will be bye bye game. Games should be fun  and even in WoW once you have reached max level like many have already commented boredom sets in after doing the same thing over and over.

I myself like to try other classes and even races. I know that my first character I started with I never leveled to max because I just wasn't happy with it. It was fun at times but I kept trying alts out till I found one I loved to play and could do well at. That was maybe my third alt down before that happened. So I don't think that is a good idea at all. I know others that have done the same. Your first character may not always be the main one for you and if you are not having fun with the toon you are not likely going to level it to max and spend all that time before you try another.

Tue Jan 26 2010 1:55PM Report
MMOGodess writes:

i am more of a "one toon, give it all my attention, type girl" ^^.

Fri Jan 29 2010 5:46AM Report
ihaveurnose writes:

i like the idea behind the test server and all, but...

doesn't that mean that ppl will just play more on the test server to play around with the different characters? also, u would have to spend a long period of time leveling up characters just to have to start over on the real server. Which be a deciding factor to turn me away from a game. If im going to test the different classes to get a feel for which one i like the best, i want all the progress to be saved and actually mean something...especially when i finally figure out which class i like the best.

p.s. I usually have to level characters up to 1/4+ of the lvl cap before i can decide whether that type of character is for me or not. So if i spent time leveling up a warrior to say level 25, then switched to a mage and got that to level 25; i would want to be able to go back to the warrior and continue training from level 25...and when i get bored of the hack and slash i want to be able to switch to my mage and continue where i left off at, and not have to start over and delete my previous main just to do so.

p.s.s. im not alone in that feeling, almost every single 1 of my gaming buddies would say just about the same thing as me :)

Tue Mar 02 2010 10:06PM Report writes:
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