Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the Wormhole

A while ago I was thinking about the hassle of levelling an alt from 1-80 and how daunting that is for casuals like me, who make up the bulk of the WoW player base. I mean, I love the endgame but having levelled Cat 1-80 and Merry 1-55, I just can't face taking Merry through another 25 hard levels of Outland and Northrend despite my very real interest in endgame raid healing. Even less appealing is levelling a drood 1-80, despite the fact that I really am interested in trying out a drood.

Try as they might, Blizzard just can't sell the "bring the player, not the class" story to non-hybrid classes like the Rogue. It doesn't matter how good a player I am (listen to the peanut gallery and their sniggers!) I simply cannot tank or heal and those roles are necessary. I need a max-level alt to fill those roles.

So my brain, as is its wont, got to a-thinkin. (wavy dream sequence starts...)

Imagine, if you will, a 10 man instance in the Caverns of Time called The Wormhole (or something more imaginative and consistent with the lore). This is available to characters in certain bands, similar to the battlegrounds: 10-18, 20-28 etc all the way up to 70-78. Only toons in a raid group who are all in the same band are permitted to enter. Importantly, it is also only available if each of those toons are owned by an account with at least one level 80. So it is an instance for alts, not for mains.

The mechanics of the instance are largely unimportant. However, I had envisaged something like a trash gauntlet on a moving conveyor belt in a tunnel, dragging you "back in time" while you fought onwards through the wormhole against a raid timer to a portal and a single final boss at the end. Dead toons are slowly dragged backwards towards the other end, where another portal exists. Every toon gets a single-use "rezzing stone" that they can use on any other toon except themselves, and if any player corpse hits the rear portal or the raid timer expires, it's game over for the whole instance. Teamwork! Drama! Sacrifice! Tension! Sounds cool huh? Wait till you hear the best bit.

If you "win" the instance (defeat the final boss, every toon is alive and exits via the final portal in the allotted time) all those toons get instantly levelled to the level below the next bracket. If you go in at level 10-18 and win, you come out at level 19. Grind out one level (and level up your weapon skills, learn your new spec etc), and you're eligible for the Wormhole again in the 20-28 bracket. Incidentally, the bands are 10-18 not 10-19 to stop a newly Wormholed 19 going back in and stacking a Wormhole attempt for some friends.

If you "lose" (any player - live or a corpse - enters the rear portal, or the timer expires), every player in the raid goes back to the previous bracket, a quarter of a level below eligibility for the Wormhole. At bracket 10-18, you go back to level 9 3/4. That serves two purposes: it makes you take it seriously, and it stops raids stacking higher level toons to trivialise it, because the consequences of failure are much bigger for someone at the top of the bracket than someone at the bottom.

So what does that mean to someone who has a level 80 and wants to try endgame with a different class, but not spend months levelling an alt? They roll their alt, level it to 10 and get a bunch of like-minded individuals to try The Wormhole. They win, they come out at level 19. Grind out a level, gear up (with your level 80 sugar daddy providing the cash) and go again at level 20, coming out as lv29 and so on up to 80. You grind 17 levels, and win the Wormhole 7 times, and you're a level 80.

What does Blizzard get out of it?

  • An alt means more reason to spend time in the game at the endgame stage. Rather than gearing a main up, you're now gearing two or three or more toons up. Rather than losing interest in WoW because your main is tooled to the hilt and you've run out of content and you can't face levelling an alt, you stick around and try the endgame from a different perspective. "Bring the player, not the class" takes on a whole new perspective, because that player may now have one toon in each major role.
  • It's a gold and time sink, and creates a new market for outdated crafter items. Suddenly all those low level patterns are useful again. People are grinding dailies to get heirlooms (which this dovetails perfectly with). People might run all the old content again, especially if things like special mounts etc are available only at certain levels). People are spending money to pimp out their alts to make sure they win the instance.
  • Take the wind out of the levelling services' sails - people can now quickly level alts themselves.
  • All these new alts will probably have low profession skills - so more time spent levelling those professions, more olde worlde mats and items on the market, demand for gems and enchants etc.
  • When the next expansion drops, players will level their main through the new content, Wormhole all their alts and then spend two or three or four times as much time and gold doing the endgame stuff as they would have with no max level alts. It broadens the appeal of the endgame content without cheapening the levelling content. Also, it slows people down through the new endgame, so there's less clamouring for new content a week after the release of the expansion.
  • Casuals are no longer limited to the role decision that they made (probably without even knowing it) when they rolled their first ever toon. Blizzard can push their broad appeal agenda without all of this ridiculous class homogenisation that's been going on.
What do players get out of it?
  • Try the endgame with a different class without having to grind 80 levels!
  • Extra raid/PvP utility by being able to fill alternative roles
  • Got a friend on another realm and want to raid/PvP with them, but don't want to leave your current server with your main? Level your alt and server transfer them, or roll your alt on that server and level it there.
  • Guild bonding
  • New content (you could have a different end boss at each bracket?)
  • Players levelling their mains the hard way will suddenly find there's a market for their BoE green and blue drops, other than people levelling enchanting.
How could it be abused?
  • Stacking the raid with higher level toons. They have more to lose if they fail the raid, and in any case the instance could be scaled according to the levels of the raid toons? In any case you're only going to get to do it once before you have to grind out levels in order to stack again. There could also be a disincentive to stacking, for example giving a stacking 5% stat debuff for every level over the minimum?
  • Levelling services? Maybe, but why would you bother paying for a levelling service (except maybe if it's your first toon) when you can level an alt so quickly yourself?
  • Gold services are probably the biggest downer, as this instance would create a massive demand for gold.
Balance and other issues:
  • Making it hard enough to present a worthy challenge that needed preparation and gear, but not so hard that it actually takes longer to level an alt through the Wormhole by being constantly defeated
  • Scaling it so that it is not unbalanced by high level stacking
  • What happens if a player DCs?
  • What can be done to prevent players simply hearthing out, or deliberately DCing, if the timer is about to expire?
  • Will this create a wasteland in the 10-80 zones, as alt level grinding becomes a thing of the past? Will this be disheartening to brand new players, as the 1-10 zones are full of life and there is nobody to party with for the next 70 levels, apart from other noobs and the odd n9 powerleveller?
So that's the idea. It will be especially relevant as the level cap goes up to 90, 100 etc. I reckon if Blizzard doesn't implement something like this, one of their competitors will. What do you think, I'd love to hear your opinions?

Blizzard, my terms are very cheap. One shiny United States penny each time a toon enters my instance. Bargain!

*edit* on second thought, made the bands n0-n8 rather than n0-n9. Makes more sense from an abuse point of view.
*edit* the 10-80 zone wasteland problem


  1. It's a very nice idea, and obviously very well thought out. The only doubt I have is in how lower level toons in a bracket, (say level 10-14 in the 10-19 bracket), will fare. A level 11 in Warsong Gulch will get obliterated, even notwithstanding the twinks. How do you balance an instance to make it a challenge and simultaneously clearable for all levels in a bracket range?


  2. Thanks Adam. Balancing of the instance is indeed the hardest part, and something would need to be done to encourage you to attempt it at minimum level rather than maximum level. The chance of losing nine levels rather than 1/4 of a level is one deterrent, and a stacking stat debuff (edited in above) is another. I believe that Wintergrasp is dynamically scaled depending on the ratio of attackers to defenders, so there is a precedent.

  3. Well thought out, but the main problem I see is that it will be yet another barrier to new players entering and persisting through the game (ie, those without lv80 mains to take advantage of this route).

    Currently, old world zones are barren anyway, and if you take away the presence of low level alts as well you will leave new players to the game doubting whether or not they are playing an MMO at all once they set foot outside a capital city. Low level instancing and grouping will completely dissapear and it will probably be enough to put people off before they hit mid level.

    What I would do is much more simple. Have a paid class transfer where once every three months or whatever, you can pay blizzard a flat fee to transfer the class of any toon on your account. The level would stay the same and you would be compensated with an amount of gold equivalent to the total worth of all your possessions at that point in time, but your new character class start off gearless. You would keep reputations and the like as well so you could gear up to a level 80 blue standard fairly easily, and you could then have the opportunity to start the lv80 activities with this toon from scratch without the need for the 1-80 grind.

  4. Actually, what I think Blizzard needs to do on the next expansion is to completely redo and revitalize the old world content. There are some terrible zones there, (Stonetalon Mountains anyone?), and also some beautiful ones that were never devopled, (Azshara). They need to bring some life back into their present content, enable flying mounts there, etc. Create things like Guild vessels, (a guild house on a boat), that can travel between continents, maybe player housing.

  5. @ Simon: That's an interesting idea. My very unobjective test for such things is "would I do it?" and in the case of a class transfer, no I wouldn't. Cat's identity is all rogue. However, I would level an alt, and the easier that is, the better for me and folks like me. Not dumping on your idea as I'm sure it would work for many people!

    @ adam: Having spent a bit more time in the olde worlde lately, I'd agree with you. The quests are boring, many zones are unnecessarily desolate, the grind is soul-destroying. I wonder how many people get turned right off WoW because they rolled a Nelf and couldn't stand the sight of Darkshore?

  6. @ simon: re barren zones: I've had a think about this and I can see what you're saying, however I think you'd see a proliferation of alts which would fill out certain zones and the capital cities quite a lot. All the alts would be level n9, rather than n0-n8, and there will be some zones that cater for the n-0n8 brackets that will be a little dead, but I don't think any more so than they are now. Having done a bit of levelling lately, the early zones are mostly empty now! I barely saw another toon from 1-11 on my new drood, unless it was around Goldshire (duelling and talking crap) and in SW/IF.