When Blizzard recently disclosed that 70% of their accounts never get past level 10, I was a little surprised. Leveling 1-10 is so fast and simple, I was surprised that people give up that quickly. Trials are 10 days long, and the first ten levels only take a few hours.
But perhaps my view of the first ten levels is a little skewed. After all, longtime players have significant advantages over newbies when it comes to leveling.
First of all, I have heirloom gear and funding for any alts I decide to start. Ginger had all available heirlooms equipped at level 1. With a twenty percent XP boost, and the equivalent of blue-quality items, the first ten levels are lightning fast.
And I know the first ten levels. Of course, I’d be a little lost if I rolled Alliance, but after five years of rolling Horde toons, I’m deeply familiar with the starting areas. I know where the mobs are, the fastest way to the major cities, what areas I’ll go to next. I know which quests to do and which ones I want to skip.
I also have the advantage of addons. Brand new players aren’t likely to know about addons and how much they can speed up the leveling process. It doesn’t matter if you use Carbonite, TomTom + Lightheaded, or Quest Helper, these help streamline leveling.
Finally, I have a great deal of social support in the game. When I’m starting a new alt, I can get help from my friends when I need it, whether that’s quick instance runs, downing elites, or just chatting as I crank through the early levels. Unless they come to the game with real life friends, new players have little or no social support: no one to run instances with, no guild or buddies to help or guide them. Ever try asking a newbie question in trade or general chat? It’s not particularly encouraging.
So how do you fix these issues for brand new players?
Some efforts have already been made. The tutorial has allegedly been improved, though I confess I haven’t checked it out yet myself. I actually kind of remember the tutorial as being OK anyway, but as I said, it’s been a long time. Blizzard has added quest helper functionality; I still prefer addons for this, but it should be a big help to newbies. Not everyone wants to spend an hour hunting for the quest location like I sometimes did when I started!
An increase in health and mana regen for low level toons, coupled with decreased mana costs on their early spells, should also help with some of the tediousness of the early levels. (You know: Cast, sit & drink, cast, sit & drink.)
More changes are planned for Cataclysm. All the starting zones are being revamped, with improved flow like that seen in the Blood Elf and Draenei starting areas. Class changes for low levels — giving level one hunters a pet or equipping level one rogues with two daggers, for example — will give players a better feel for their class from the start.
I think all those things will really help new players, but I find myself coming back over and over to the social aspects of the game. Don’t get me wrong — I think the game itself is extremely engaging. But I increasingly find it’s not about just the game for me. It’s much more about the friendships I’ve developed in the game. I find myself logging in just to see if my friends are around, sometime on nights I might otherwise take off of the game.
Blizzard is implementing new guild rewards in Cataclysm, as well as the upcoming Looking for Guild function, to encourage the development of these kinds of relationships in-game. Recruit-A-Friend, too, is meant to encourage in-game relationships, this time by getting your real life friends involved. The more social interaction you have in the game, the more likely you are to keep coming back to it. Conversely, the more asshattery new players encounter, the less likely they are to return.
I’m not sure exactly what Blizzard can do about some of this. Some players are just jerks — we’ve all seen them. Other players will restore your confidence in humankind. Player interactions are really up to the players themselves. We can’t kick the jackasses out of the game, sadly, but we can choose to be helpful and friendly. The game has gone beyond being a game and has grown into a community. I hope most players will decide to welcome others into that community.
A lot of this goes well past level 10, of course. Blizzard is making its effort to help out those new to the game, but established players have a part to play as well. So be a community player, and help a noob get to level 11 (and beyond) today!