Group size, challenge and reward, or why do raiders need more powerful gear anyway?

Earlier this week, I was watching Unicorn Duck Shadow Puppet (the Wildstar show) on Gamebreaker.  In the episode, and in chat, there was discussion about how an MMO should cater for different play styles.  A few points from the discussion included:

  • If you aren’t raiding, you don’t need raiding gear.
  • Should an MMO cater for solo players since it is inherently multiplayer.
  • Raiders deserve more due to the increased effort they put in.
  • A game should be consistent in catering for different play styles throughout the game and not change at end game.

Underlying assumptions
I’m going to assume only the following here:

  • MMOs are built by companies who need to make money in order to keep producing your game.
  • MMO companies are not inherently evil for wanting to make money.

Some of you might disagree with these, but they underpin everything I am saying here.  Lets boil this down to the primary goal of developers being player gain and retention.

Solo play in a multiplayer world
This is an interesting dilemma.  Should an MMO cater for solo play when it is a multiplayer game by definition?  I would argue yes, but that solo play should be combined with at least random play, and preferably group play for a richer experience.

  • Solo content is filler content.  Its what you do when your group isn’t around.
  • Solo content is important for players with irregular schedules.
  • Solo content is an important confidence building and training ground for group play.

Solo content should be about player retention.  The aim of solo content is to fill gaps, to engage players when they might otherwise lose interest and to prepare players for group play.  Solo content needs to have progression in order to maintain engagement.

A good example of solo content might be the Brawler’s Guild in WoW.  It is progressively more challenging and it is in the open world so that a community can be developed around the arena.  It best meets the requirements above.

Random play
Random play is aimed at the same people as solo play, but involves grouping.  It serves the same needs as solo content, but forces interaction with others.  PuG raiding, looking for raid functionality, etc. are all parts of random play.  Random play is really important in MMOs because most players start off solo or in small groups when they come to a game.  Random play helps set the stage for interactions that lead to group play.

Group play
Group play should bring together organised groups of players in regular activity that provides a substantial challenge.  This activity should vary in length from a couple of hours to repeated interaction over months.

How many players will it take to make my group play engaging?  How many to make it challenging?  How many to make it epic?  Answer: as many as you like.  Raids do not automatically become better if you add more people, though the number of people is one contributing factor I agree.  Karazhan is still one of the most epic raids in WoW, but was the first to only need 10 people.  Raiding is epic because of the scale.  Raiding takes time.  Many people will raid a single raid for months on end, progressing slowly, week by week.  The problem is that as the epic nature of encounters increases, so does the difficulty of organising them.  40 people are harder to organise than 25 which are harder to organise than 10.

This is where I have the biggest problem.  The question was asked: why do non-raiders need raid gear but it’s the wrong question.  The question is: do raiders need more powerful gear than other players? If increasingly powerful gear is to be the reward for challenge, then all challenging play should reward it no matter what the group size.  The gear could be different if there really is a need to denote raid gear separately.  Raid gear could be pink, small group gear could be turquoise and solo gear could be black.

I think the key is that gear is awarded for overcoming a challenge and that challenge should be substantial.  Seeing people get purple gear from daily quests is disheartening.  Seeing people get gear over time in challenging content should be fine no matter the number of people or nature of that content.  Rather than relegating other content to second place, developers should seek to put it on an equal footing with raiders. MMOs should seek to maximise participation whilst still rewarding the overcoming of challenges.  If I was focusing on Challenge Modes in WoW only and they did not award Valor, I would end up being way behind when it came to participating in world content like dailies, world bosses, etc because all the rewards are cosmetic only.  If I decided I had more time and wanted to raid, or my guild asked me to raid one night because they were short, I wouldn’t have the gear for it.  This makes no sense given I may well have been participating in more challenging content than some of my better geared fellow players.  It also doesn’t help the game at all because it segregates players from engaging in group content.

One final note here, notice I say challenge.  I don’t say skill, or time spent though these may both be factors in a challenge.  Completing the holiday meta What a Long Strange Trip Its Been, for example, is a challenge, just one of organisation and perseverance rather than skill.  Challenges should vary so there is something for skilled players, grinders, etc.  Also, challenge needs to come on a smooth scale with opportunities for gradual improvement.  The best rewards should be given for the greatest challenges, but there should be rewards and opportunities to work towards those challenges for people at all levels of skill, time and experience.

Want some carrot with that stick?

When someone behaves badly in a game, players want to see some punishment.  This is true anywhere on line, in fact.  We need to clamp down.  We need to punish.

Let me tell you something interesting.

Behavioural psychology identifies three methods of reinforcement that can be used to modify behaviour.  Positive reinforcement (reward), negative reinforcement (removal of something bad) and punishment.  It also tells us, overwhelmingly, that their level of success is in the order above.  An awful lot of literature points out that positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment.  Some more recent work suggests a combination can also be effective in certain circumstances, but that combination still leaves positive reinforcement playing a role.

League of Legends is hugely successful, but is well known for having one of the most toxic playerbases of any game.  LoL has done the whole punishing thing, but that didn’t really clean up their playerbase.  LoL, however, has its own Player Behaviour Team and those experts know their basic psychology.  The solution? The Honor system.  Honor is a currency you earn by being awesome.  After each match, other players can say if they thought you were ‘Friendly’.  Be friendly or helpful enough, and your Honor will accrue to let you buy things such as skins.

Carrots in SWTOR
LoL is not the only game to try this. In PvP in SWTOR, you can vote for the man of the match.  It’s a simple thing.  It gives you a minute bonus to your currency gain, but it makes players feel good.  It also demonstrates the problem, however, with rewarding good behaviour.  If  you are doing your PvP with a friend, you always vote them as man of the match.

What might carrots look like in WoW?
Both of these systems give you a reward.  Actually, you don’t need the reward – the positive reinforcement alone is probably effective.  MMO players, however, like rewards.  They like to collect stuff, they like to get epic gear and pets.  However, any reward would be subject to the problem in SWTOR.  Only in WoW, it would be exaggerated.  People would offer votes for money and gold.  Its hard to see how any reward system in WoW would not be open to abuse.  That isn’t a reason not to introduce some positive reinforcement into the game, however.

Imagine you ran LFR.  At the end you get a list of players and you can give positive (and only positive) feedback to them.  The other day I went out of my way to praise the healers in an LFR.  They were doing a great job and I thought they deserved to hear it.  Make that systematic.  If I want to say ‘tank you were awesome’ I should be able to.  There is no record, no reward, no ‘look at me I have more of this than you’.  Just a moment of positive reinforcement that enhances someones experience of playing the game.

When in game stores go bad

In articles recently I’ve defended both ArenaNet and Blizzard against accusations of being money-grabbers out to squeeze you for any penny.  In summary: both companies have to make money in order to make your game. 

In the case of ArenaNet, they have kept the store controlled and they repeatedly update things like storage to give you more without cost.  Ultimately, you can play the whole game without spending a penny of real cash other than the box.  Blizzard are seeking to specifically enhance their standing in the East, while also making up for the loss of subs, the decrease in the real value of their subs due to inflation and the increased cost of an expanded development team (please note: in no way and I defending the cost of those helms).

Further to this, I argue that it is your moral duty to pay for the games you enjoy rather than scrounging off of others.  If you like Guild Wars 2 and play it a lot, you should monetise it. Now I want to talk about when cash shops go wrong.

Star Wars: The Old Republic
Alas, SWTOR.  Don’t get me wrong, when SWTOR is good, its very good, but when its bad its utterly diabolical.  The cash shop, sadly, fits into the latter category.  A list of terrible cash shop features might be:

  • Excessive reliance on random chests to obtain cool items.
  • Far too many types of random chest available at once.
  • Monetizing basic game functionality such as action bars.
  • Requiring monetization to reach the end game.
  • Excessive free to play separation from monetized players.

I could go on, and on, and on.  This is not the only game to have taken this approach to its cash shop.  In fact, I think it is largely following a model that The Lord of the Rings Online and other games have successfully used before.

Guidelines for a cash shop It seems that some limitations to cash shops are emerging out of these examples.  They might be:

  1. No pay to win.  This does not mean no pay to speed things up, but no one wants the best gear to be on a cash shop.
  2. Don’t put too much basic functionality behind a cash wall.  The initial game experience needs to be a positive, rather than frustrating, experience of you want to monetize.  Discovering you don’t have enough action bar space, can’t get a mount or don’t have enough storage too early will turn many players off instead of encouraging them to spend money.
  3. Remember that the minority of players make the majority of cash shop purchases and plan accordingly.
  4. Don’t divide players with a wall of cash.  Social connections are vital to MMOs.
  5. Lots of optional extras … but not in a myriad of chests/random packs.  If you do want a random item, keep it simple and streamlined.
  6. People like to collect stuff.
  7. People like their toons to look good.

MMO Guides: Cheating vs Enabling

When new content appears in Guild Wars 2 or SWTOR, there is always a guide on Dulfy to go with it.  The debate every player faces is this: do I use the guide or do I attempt to do the achievement without it?  And when you raid in WoW, do you read up in advance or do you go in blind?  Do you build your own toon and rotation or use a guide?

There is definitely a feeling that you are achieving more if you do not use the guide, and I understand this point of view.  I also agree that in some games (not Guild Wars 2 as much as others) the guide means you burn through content quickly and end up sitting around with very little to do.

That being said, I use the guides.  There are two main reasons for this.  The first is time: I lack it.  If I had just one MMO I might use guides less.  If I had less to do, I might use guides less.  Especially in Guild Wars 2, with its two week windows for achievements, I could easily never find all the solutions in time.

The second is a responsibility to others in group play.  In the case of raiding guides, for example, if I turn up without the knowledge others have, I am letting them down.  Of course we could decide as a group not to read the guides at all.  However, that is only an option if you are confident that your group will get there without these.  Which brings us back to time, and a lack of it.  You’ll notice that in the guides I write, I focus on trying to get information to people quickly.

If you read some posts, you would be made to feel like you were somehow a lesser player for using guides.  Don’t believe the hype!  Guides enable you to engage with content you would not otherwise get to see.  It isn’t the case that I would get there eventually without some of the guides I use.  Personally, I see using guides as using brains instead of time.

Show me the money

I read this rather interesting blog post from Terra Nova, followed by the Playnomics report on engagement and monetization. Its an interesting read, in particular the information about monetization. First things first – who spent over $7k on a game in one quarter of one year?

Do I monetize?
Yes and No.

WoW has a subscription only, though I have made additional purchases, but I do monetize in both SWTOR and GW2. I pay the subscription for SWTOR and I buy from the gem store in GW2 (where I limit my monthly purchase to the cost of a subscription). I also have other free-to-play games on my PC which I do not monetize. Examples are League of Legends, Neverwinter and Rift. I don’t monetize these because I don’t play them very often. I don’t have the time to get good at League of Legends games, the Neverwinter control system cripples me and I haven’t had a chance to give Rift a real go yet.

What the Playnomics report does not cover is this – is there a link between engagement and monetization? Are the players who monetize also the players who play the most? Do the players who spend nothing come back to the game? I am unlikely to monetize in a game until I have a max level character. I need to have developed a commitment to a game in order to monetize. This is why, for all the criticism, the SWTOR free-to-play model has its positive points. By giving you the chance to level for free, it promotes that engagement at no cost. For those who drop out along the way, they likely never feel the need to monetize. For those who make it to the end, they will likely want to enhance their experience once they get there.

This suggests the answer to the question posted by Edward Castranova is yes, the players who monetize for should be listened to more, as they are the ones playing. However, I don’t feel that it’s a case of the more you spend, the more say you get. Rather, if you engage enough to monetize, it is in the game’s interest to keep you there. After all, there are a lot more of those little players than the whales and if you do base your game on the whales and they leave, you don’t want to have isolated your other sources of income.

I’ve no evidence for this – its based on my personal experience and opinion. So what about other players? Do you monetize? If so, when? Do you feel you should have more of a say?

Evolving the guild to enhance social gameplay

I want to talk a bit about guilds and how they enhance or impede social interactions in MMOs.

How guilds enhance social interactions
When I first started playing WoW it was with my husband and a real life friend of his. Through that friend we discovered other real life friends. Then, after a while, we joined a guild. That guild was the Knights Who Say Ni. When that guild stopped raiding, I moved to Sanctity, which merged with Forgotten Heroes. From Forgotten Heroes, those of us who wanted a different type of raiding formed Dreamstate. Dreamstate has members from all of the guilds that came before it. The reason I have played WoW for 8+ years is not the game, its the people I play with.

What the guild as a structure does is enable you to meet new people in a safe(r) environment. It normally has some kind of social norms and boundaries. It makes communication manageable. It makes people feel like they have somewhere to belong.

The problem
For the longest time, I didn’t think there was a problem. There is, however. Human social interactions are highly complex. The guild is singular in all its aspects – one identity, one set of norms. Often, except in very large guilds, there is also only one set of activities.

Say you are in a raiding guild, and you want to PvP. You can PuG, sure, but its hard. The best way to raid or do rated PvP is with a guild. The problem: I can only join one guild. I could use another character to PvP and join another guild with that character. This has its own complexities to it. Will either guild understand my splitting my focus? Will I be able to manage two characters? Will I create bad feeling in one or the other guild if they feel I am not dedicating myself enough to their guild?

Enter Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 took guilds in a different direction. You can join multiple guilds. However, you can only represent one. What this tends to mean in practice is that you are in much the same situation. It is a bit easier to be a part of more than one guild, but most guilds want you to represent them and gain rewards for them. If I decided to join another guild as well as my current one, would they understand? It resolves the maintaining two characters issue, but not the social ones.

Wildstar is planning a similar compromise. There will be traditional guilds, but also Circles. Circles are groups of people who ally for a specific reason. So if you are in a friendly guild but want to PvP, you could join a PvP Circle. This definitely helps the issues I’ve described. However, the Circles are still de-valued. You, by default, belong to your guild and this remains singular. The Circle is no more than a glorified friends list with a chat function. Due to the primary, singular nature of the guild I suspect there will still be some expectation that your loyalty resides there. This isn’t how interactions work in reality. It is, however, the best solution I am aware of short of letting people join multiple guilds.

What next?
Someone needs to sit back and take a look at how guilds work in MMOs. All of the above examples continue the propriety nature of guilds. You join a group, you belong, you contribute. If you join another guild via some other route, you are somehow taking away from the main guild.

There are three purposes that guilds meet – social connections, communication and organisation. What if you could simply join multiple guilds, each of which would have equal standing? You could access the calendar of your PvP and your PvE guild.

Simply changing the name and some features of guilds wouldn’t be enough, however. Even if the interaction changed, players may not. Whilst I don’t believe we can gain such change without removing the systematic singularity most games have ingrained within them, the games are not alone in their responsibilities. Players also need to think about this and what they expect from their fellow guild/group/circle members. Think about real life and remember you have more than one friend – would you expect them to prioritise you over their other friends? Establish what you believe are the commitments your guild members are expected to make and don’t be offended if they do other things outside of those. Maintain those social links because those are key to your gameplay experience.

Planning how to play more than one MMO

I’ve badged this site up as being about playing three MMOs (at least). This is something of a challenge in its own right. Its particularly challenging here as I play with a largely different group of people in each MMO. So how to juggle them? Whatever the amount of time you have to play, there is likely some kind of limit on it.

First you need to answer some questions and set some expectations:

  • If you want to be really hardcore and do an activity at the cutting edge, accept that MMO will take up most of your time. You will struggle to be hardcore in more than one MMO at the same time.
  • When do peaks of activity take place? Is raiding an ongoing activity or a short burst? When is content released that you would want to take part in?
  • Do you want to play one MMO more than the others?
  • Do you like to focus on one, or spread your time equally?

Above all:

Don’t commit to activities you aren’t going to be able to manage given the answers to the above.

Don’t say you will raid and then just not show. Don’t commit to helping your server push for new WvW success with your guild and then not be there. Don’t accept an officer role you aren’t going to be able to sustain. Have I done those things? Yes. Whatever answers you give to the above, its quite likely they will change over time, through your own preference or things outside of your control. Don’t beat yourself up over it, but don’t do it again.

Writing a plan
One of the hardest aspects of playing multiple MMOs is that you tend to want to do more than you can. MMO companies design their games for players who will play just their game for the most part, which means there will always be more content than you can manage. So you need to prioritize  It’s not easy. To give you a flavour, I’m going to write monthly plans for a while, and then see how well I manage to meet them. It will also give you a flavour of how to juggle blogging and gaming for anyone who is facing that challenge.

People don’t like to be wrong

This is one of those posts that started as a comment.  Then, when I realised it was getting a bit out of hand, I decided to make it a post.

So BBB wrote an excellent post defending his ongoing love of WoW against those people who seem to not just be burnt out on WoW, but feel the need to be aggressive about it.  Its not enough that they stopped playing.  Everyone else must agree with them.  I think the reason so many people rage against those who are happily still playing WoW is twofold.

A question of polish
Firstly, no other MMO has quite managed to be the all-things-to-all-players game that WoW is.  Others have certainly been strong in different areas – Star Wars blows WoW questing out of the water for me.  But people expect more from new MMOs than any has managed to give thus far.  If you look at other industries, when someone comes up with a good enough idea, everyone runs with it.  But that doesn’t seem to happen in MMO design.  Something for budding game developers to think about.

I play and enjoy Star Wars but I’m constantly baffled as to why it has failed to learn many of the lessons that WoW learned before it was even conceived of.  It takes FOREVER to travel between planets and its not even a ‘get on a flight point and go get a coffee’ forever.  Its a ‘run here, click here, run there, click that, choose this, run here, click this, run there, click this’ marathon.  Who thought that was a good idea?  Blizzard didn’t, because they changed it already.  Remember when it took 15 minutes to fly from Stormwind to Ironforge?  I do.  At first, Blizzard did that intentionally.  They wanted to create a sense of time in the world.  But ultimately, they realized that for many players it was just a waste of playing time.  Imagine trying to do Love is in the Air back then?  Every time Star Wars sends me back to the Imperial Intelligence HQ I want to slap a designer.  Not only do I have to go through the run-click marathon, but theres no direct flight point from the Starport to HQ so I have to run through the damn city too.  This doesn’t ‘enhance my sense of being in a world’.  I am not IN that world.  I am at my desk, wasting time RUNNING that I could be spending doing lots of more exciting things.  There are plenty of things Star Wars doesn’t show – why can’t travel time be implied?

So was there a point? Yes.  People don’t like to be wrong.  Some people have burnt out on WoW, but can’t find another game that has that special something.  They want the feeling back that they had when they first played WoW.  But no game has quite managed to achieve a similar level of polish given the way games have evolved.  In part I think this is because when WoW first came out, it was all about the levelling experience.  However, for new MMOs, people care about the end game too, because they know thats where they are going to spend most of their time.  SWTOR has focused on the levelling with the intention of adding the end game later, but has found that people are judging it on the end game it doesn’t yet have.  If a player has left WoW for another MMO, they want to feel that was the right choice.  But if you read the forums for a game like SWTOR, its just an endless raging whine.  And the reviews have been mixed.  And players like me, who play the game, also write about our criticisms of the game.  So, in the face of that negativity, they respond by making themselves right in their head.  If they are right, everyone who stayed with WoW must be wrong.  So you get the hate.

It’s not me, its you
Secondly, I think people like to blame the game for things they don’t want to accept about themselves.  WoW has NOT changed dramatically over the years.  Its been tweaked a lot.  There have been 40 man raids, 25 man raids, 10 player raids, LFR, LFD, heroic modes, hard modes, battlegrounds, rated battlegrounds, quest hubs, daily quest hubs, holiday quest hubs – variations on a few themes.  Its great at keeping itself up to date, but it still works on the same basic principles it had in vanilla.  The social dynamic has changed, but not as much as people think.  What does change, are the players.  People change over time.  They do different things, have different interests, make different friends, get educated, get jobs, find relationships.  Sometimes, people change so much that they lose that connection.  They play too much and run out of things to do, they play too little and lose the social connections that make the game fun, they play with the wrong people and end up feeling the whole game is full of jerks.

But, going back to what I said before, they still value that special feeling they got when they first played a game.  They still value that connection.   If the special feeling has gone it means one of two things – they’ve changed, or the game has changed.  For WoW, it mostly means they’ve changed.  But I don’t think most people think of themselves as changing beings.  So they blame the game.  And if the game has changed so much they don’t like it, why do other people still love it?  And then we’re back to the right/wrong thing I described above.  People don’t want to be wrong.  If the game has changed so much they don’t like it any more, and they are right, the people who do still like it are wrong.

I wholeheartedly agree with BBB whey he tells these people to just sod off.  I know WoW is not perfect.  I don’t like the current raid difficulty model as I think it panders too much to the elite few, though I do think LFR is a great solution to some of this.  I think LFR loot should be made non-tradeable and non-sellable to wipe out the current horrendous issues with people rolling on loot they already have to trade and sell.  If they had to type ‘delete’ for every piece of ninja’d loot it would soon get boring.  RBGs are largely inaccessible to people who might enjoy them, but don’t know enough fellow PvPers and are part of PvE guilds.Achievement systems make it hard to change toons even when you want to.  Its not a perfect game.  No game is perfect for everyone all of the time.  But I still like it.  And I am right to keep playing a game I enjoy.  If you don’t enjoy it, thats fine.  But your need to feel you are right does not make me wrong!  There are whole blogs I’ve read that now seem to dedicate themselves to insisting that WoW is broken and people who play it are all stupid suckers who are being robbed of their money by the corporate monster that is Blizzard.  You are looking to the wrong people to validate your decisions.  Look to the new people you are playing with who agree with you and you will find validation there without needed to harass a bear.

And thats why I didn’t end up writing this as a comment …

Whats in a main …

When I first played WoW I had one character.  Her name was Akandra and she was a priest.  It was relatively simple, then, to answer ‘What do you play?’ or ‘What’s your main?’

The changing face of a WoW player 
Then came other characters – Enalla, my druid, Morrighan, my paladin and Jera, my much neglected mage.  I finished The Burning Crusade with 3 level 70s – Akandra, Enalla and Morrighan.  And at that point I did something interesting.  I changed my main to Morrighan.

During The Wrath of the Lich King I mostly played my paladin (I had a brief time where Akandra was my main, but healing in Wrath was nasty).  I levelled two more toons to the new cap of 80 – Hesttia, my shaman and Arianrhodd, my death knight and my first max level Horde.

Then came the Cataclysm.  A little way into the expansion I returned to Akandra, because thats what the guild needed.  I am now considering changing toon to my hunter, Brynna, newly max level this expansion, because thats what would suit the guild most and because I’ve never had a ranged dps as my main.

The emotional connection
But my feeling towards these characters has changed.  In The Burning Crusade there was One Character to Rule Them All.  Morrighan saw a little time in Kara as a tank because paladin tanking was kinda fun.  Kara was the first time I participated in an ‘alt’ run.

In Wrath I spent more time in alt runs, taking Akandra and Enalla (and even Hesttia I think).  And again, in Cataclysm, Morrighan and Enalla have attended alt runs.  My changing main, between Akandra and Morrighan, has meant that I feel very torn between the two of them.  I have invested a lot in both.  I currently have position 8 and position 9 in the guild Achievement points list with Morrighan and Akandra respectively.  Both have unique achievements that I value because my experience in getting them was so positive.

And now, with patch 4.3 and the prospect of some form of merged achievements on the horizon, I find I don’t mind investing in yet another character.  And, in fact, I want to invest in all of them.  Because I want to get all of them into LFR and get some gear on them and enjoy playing them.  I find I don’t care what my ‘main’ is.  With raiding becoming somewhat repetitive the new represents an interesting change.

This is not true for everyone.  Some people have invested a great deal in one character.  But increasingly I am finding that even they are more likely to engage in activities on other characters, outside of the ‘alt run’ model.  And if you play multiple games, the dynamic changes again.

Does ‘main’ still have a function
If the emotional connection I used to focus on one character is now spread across all my characters – what purpose does it serve to have a ‘main’?  I would argue there is still a practical purpose, but even that is being watered down.

Within a guild a main is useful because it helps the guild to focus its resources, in PvE in particular.  A guild might provide potions, flasks and food for progress raids.  It will want people to bring a main to a fight so it can focus on gearing that main and make all the main toons better to enable progress.  If loot is spread over alts as well then that will slow progress a little (the exception is at the top end where the guild has time to gear both mains and alts as needed).  Limited resources such as time, loot and gold are focused where the guild needs them.

But even that is being eroded.  With many Dragon Soul bosses needing only one tank we find we are using an alt for a second tank.   My healer may also be a backup.  But the principle still stands – resources should be focused where the guild needs them.  And by asking players to choose a ‘main’ you are giving power to the player to make that choice.

Your online identity
Another part of the traditional role of the ‘main’ was the definition of your WoW identity.  I was Akandra the Holy Priest.  Akandra was the tag I often used in other games.  It was who I chose to be when online.  Within WoW, at least, this is being overcome by Real ID and the Battletag.

If the concept of main also references the concept of a single online identity, I would like to think that this, also, is passing.  Identity is far too complex to be singular.  I can be both Akandra the Holy Priest, Morrighan the Ret Paladin, as I can be a WoW player, a SWTOR player, a Project Analyst, a mother, a wife, a friend, a daughter.  All of those are identities that I hold.  People who know the Project Analyst have never met the WoW player and may not even know she exists.  Identity is multiple.  So gaming identity can also be multiple.

Maybe we need a new language for a new world
Games are changing to better support this new multi-toon world.  WoW has long supported players levelling multiple characters with Heirloom gear being its main method.  It is now looking at cross-account Achievements and pets, and maybe more.   SWTOR is introducing a Legacy system.  In its current form, it allows you to choose a ‘surname’ that all your toons will share.  But it also allows all your characters to accrue Legacy points and levels which will give further benefits later.  The advantage of this system is it does not require you to level one character all the way to max level before all your characters start to benefit.  You have to get one character to level 30.

So instead of talking about main and alt, how might we describe this situation?  We might describe our characters by what we do with them – a Raiding toon, a PvP toon.  We might talk about having a ‘guild’ or ‘active’ character that allows the guild to focus resources on it.  I tend to find I talk about my toons by class – ‘I’ve done LFR on my priest and my hunter’ – and sometimes by role.

What do you guys think?  Has the main/alt dynamic seen its best days?  Do you still feel that strong connection to one character?  Did you ever?  Do you still only have one toon, or are you embracing multiplicity and doing different gaming activities with different groups at different times?

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