It’s fully out in the open now. Blizzard will offer players the chance to fork over $60 to buy a level 90 character in World of Warcraft, and you’ll also get one included with a pre-purchase of Warlords of Draenor.

It’s a controversial move, to say the least, though one that’s hardly unprecedented. A small number of MMORPGs in the free-to-play space, like TERA, The Lord of the Rings and recently the original Everquest.

Online, have made similar offerings in their cash shops. Is it a bad thing, letting characters bypass most of the leveling process? And is it something we should expect to see more of, especially now that the industry leader has taken that route?

Let me get a little meta for a moment with a question: What is leveling? What purpose does it serve? Some of the most likely answers are that it’s a form of training, meant to teach you how to use your character effectively; or a fun, casual way to enjoy the game before having to do difficult content like raids; or it’s a form of “work” you have to do to unlock the “fun” content at endgame.

The thing is, none of these reasons make leveling necessary, at least not as it’s presented in most games.

You don’t need that much training. Yes, you do need some time to get adjusted to your class to learn how to play it properly. But 90 levels and dozens of hours? Consider that when WoW launched, the level cap was 60, and everyone seemed to learn their classes just fine for endgame content then. Granted, you do get some new powers and abilities going from 60 to 90 and WoW’s classes have undergone refinements from their original visions, but is there that much of a difference between how you play a level 60 warrior versus how you play a level 90 one now? (Of note, LOTRO’s Gift of the Valar only boosted characters up to level 50, while the current level cap is 95.) Do you need another 20+ hours to figure out how to work your new skills into your rotation?

You can still have fun, even at max level. Light and casual content is always available, even at max or near-max level, whether it’s adventuring through a nearly-your-level zone or some non-combat ability like role-playing or fishing. And if you still want to level traditionally in a game that offers a boost, to fully experience the joy of leveling, you have that option.

Fun > work. Then there’s the “work” argument, the one that gets bandied about a lot whenever “old-school” players hear about a level-boost option: “I worked hard to get to where I was and now you can just buy your way up?” But let’s be honest: Leveling in a modern MMO – meaning just about anything post-WoW – is a time sink but not a difficult affair. You can solo all the way to max in most games, usually facing nothing severely taxing. If you could skip all the “boring” stuff, wouldn’t you? WoW, and many other MMOs, have been providing options for fast leveling, mostly in the form of XP boosts, for years with little complaint. This is the same thing, with a slightly different form.

And buying levels isn’t pay-to-win. Or if it is, it’s about the mildest form of pay-to-win. While we talked a while back about what exactly constitutes P2W, buying levels falls firmly in the “no real advantage” category. As mentioned in the last paragraph, anyone can get a high-level character, and there’s no technical difference between my “hard-earned” level 90 and one that you bought.

Then there’s the real reason why Blizzard, and other companies, are allowing for this right now. Leveling in MMOs is an old, antiquated concept that serves more to split up players and discourage new players more than it helps keep players in the game. If you’re new to an MMO that all your friends are playing, how attractive is it to you that you’ll need to spend dozens of hours before you can “catch up” to your max-level friends and actually play with them? When a game is new and everyone is about the same, low, level, it’s not so bad, but for an aging game like WoW, it’s a chore to get to the point where you can play with other people – and isn’t that what an MMO is supposed to be about?

To that end, more modern games are smoothing out the progression curve, often eliminating levels and vertical advancement whenever possible. SOE has all but abandoned leveling, as seen in games like PlanetSide 2 and (eventually) EverQuest Next. How much fun would PS2 be if you logged in for the first time right now, a year-plus after launch, and had to spend months getting to the point where you wouldn’t be one-shot by a player at the maximum Battle Rank? Or had to grind out 50+ levels before you could join your friends? Yes, it might be fun for veteran players to pwn noobs – at least until the noobs stopped showing up, the veterans started drifting away, and the game eventually shut down entirely due to lack of players. Every online game needs a constant influx of new players and leveling requirements are often a barrier to new players.

PvE games are a little more forgiving on that front, whether it’s through a lack of levels or level upgrading/downgrading. City of Heroes famously pioneered the sidekick system 10 years ago, and it was, in a way, the first dent in the leveling gate. More MMOs will follow that trend, as developers realize that inclusion, not exclusion, is the way to get people to play their games in large numbers, and to keep bringing in new players, and that gating off “fun” content after hours of grinding isn’t a good idea.

And if they stick with “traditional” leveling, you have to believe that many of them will one day offer the chance to accelerate or buy levels, in the effort to make it easier for people to adventure together. Look on the bright side: You’ll have that many more skill-less noobs to pwn.

By Jason Winter

23 Readers Commented

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  1. Gomez on March 16, 2014

    The first thing i read about a MMO is what is the level cap and how fast the exp is gained through normal gameplay not exp boosters and such. The is the only thing I am interested in becasue for 1-2h game time / day I don’t afford to spend months or years to enjoy the content.
    I would vote for the complete take out of leveling processes beyond the minimum required level of training which may be just after a well designed tutorial.

    • Bic Boi on March 19, 2014

      If you barely have 2h a day to game, you shouldn’t be playing online games at all. In fact, at that rate, even the cost for internet is a waste if you have next to no time to yourself. Or you do have time to yourself, but then choose not to game, but then blame games for being too slow or taking too much time to level. So what is it? Do you have little personal time? Or do you choose to not devote your time to a game? Can’t have your cake and eat it too; sit down and play the game or don’t. Too much for people like you to commit to something, but you want all the rewards of having committed.

      It’s your exact mindset. People like you that make excuses. If you legitimately don’t have time to devote to a game that isn’t designed to be casual, deal with the fact that you will fall behind and it will take time to get where you want to be in an MMO. You all want handouts but don’t want to devote time to progression.

      There’s a reason leveling has been, and always will be a part of MMORPGs–how else do you measure meaningful character advancement? You either have level grind or gear grind. If neither exist, how is a character to advance and get any better? If a character never grows stronger in any way, it is static and you have no meaning to your actions. You literally exist in a void.

      TL;DR Leveling exists because progression in MMORPGs exists. If you enjoy the idea of existing with no purpose other than dicking around, you will essentially end up with minecraft. You want minecraft? Go play minecraft.

      Don’t like what I’ve typed up here? That’s amazing. Feel free to respond because..I don’t give a $hit.

  2. LFRswaglord on March 15, 2014

    Do LFR after tuesday and early wednesday and you’ll find 15-20 reasons free level 90s is a terrible and toxic idea and sacrifices player experience for money.

  3. Bic Boi on March 14, 2014

    This to me throws up a flag that reads “Pay us $60 to skip the millions of dollars worth of development time sunk into making this game”. Clearly it couldn’t have been that valuable.

    Wonder if I could get away with having someone had me $60 to let them play a maxed out character on Dark Souls then? Skip the game for a fee. Brilliant, clearly..

  4. senrimer on March 13, 2014

    It’s doesn’t matter, it’s blizzard. If next world boss what a giant smelly sh*t, people would find reasons why it’s actually a brilliant idea…

    • Hordok on March 14, 2014

      So what you’re saying is, If the next world boss is a giant smelly shit it would be bad. What if this giant turd had amazing mechanics and was a fun boss fight in general would you have less fun doing it?

  5. Velle on March 13, 2014

    Just because you leveled your toon to 90 doesn’t mean your experienced/pro or even know how to play your class. No, there isn’t going to be more “noobs” at lvl 90. WoW isnt that hard nor complicated..easily spend 2-3 hours learning a new class if you already play WoW. MAYBE a couple days if your completely new to WoW. If someone can’t learn a class in a couple days, they were never going to figure it out leveling them up to 90. Also it isnt going to kill low lvl content, its $60 for a boost. You barely see any cash shop mounts compared to how many subs there are. Most people who are going to buy the boost are people with 90s who dont want to waste time lvling another toon to 90. Personally, im going to buy the boost for a mage, if they didnt add this boost, I never would of rolled a mage. Itll help keep people playing the game longer too. Start getting bored of the game and have 2 toons ilvl 570+ like I do, ill boost another toon instead of taking a “break” from WoW. Its a good idea no matter how you look at it. Stop whining because you HAD to lvl your toon.

  6. Padsoldier on March 13, 2014

    Why is buying levels a problem?
    a) noobs buy levels, get to maximum level instantly, ruin things (at least PvE – random dungeons, less effect in PvP) until they reach an acceptable level of skill (which could be from 30 minutes to multiples of 10 hours). “people will learn eventually” oh you have no idea how many noobs I see on WoW servers where you receive double exp, imagine skipping all the leveling so they learn even less. (I mind this problem less than the other.)
    b) low level plays will die out. Anyone who wants to skip to max level will buy it if he has the option, which means about half as much people will be leveling, there will be less low level random dungeon groups, and low level PvP will be dominated by twinks even more (because there will be less leveling people, the amount of twinks will be a lot higher) – leveling becomes even more boring, less player interaction, more people will buy out themselves, and the result will be that you won’t meet anyone until level 90 except in cities and the people who gank low levels.
    This will also cause the price of low level “strong” items (crafted and BoE ones) to drop even more (while it’s quite horrible now with heirlooms as well), leveling professions will be even less profitable = more expensive (even gathering ones, because less people will actually need mats to craft something for their alts).

  7. Blackaria on March 12, 2014

    I don’t think its that bad about buying the levels, but I think they should make it so you have to have at least 1 90 to buy a boost up to 90 from 1. And there should be a restriction on how many you can buy in a short time. I dont think its right to just make a account and go buy 5 90s right from the start. I went back to wow a few weeks ago because I got bored of everything and I wanted to try out a monk at end game so I bought the expansion since it came with one and was cheaper than buying the boost itself. I like the idea but think it needs some rules that limit it some, but that wont happen they want all the money they can get from this.

  8. tolshortte on March 12, 2014

    I remember playing WoW during Wrath of the AOE Kings. a pug had bought his account with a max level hunter. during looking for a hunter we grabbed him up cuz his gear was ok. little did we know until playing with him that he bought said account. ill never forget this statement – “What do you mean use my traps? I have traps?”

    buying max levels is good for the devs, not the playerbase. if you don’t have time for the game don’t play imo.

  9. Merkadis on March 12, 2014

    Btw terribad article, this guy has no idea wtf hes talking about x_x

  10. Zallen on March 12, 2014

    It depends on the perspective; really. From a purchasing perspective, we’re guessing that you actually have a source of income, in which you worked for your money. And we all know, working a job usually isn’t fun. If you work 6 hours at $10 per hour painstakingly, I believe they would argue that its worth the trade.

    • Merkadis on March 12, 2014

      Like i give a f@ck -_-” every1 works, so f@ckin’ what? game and ur job are different things that have nothing to do with each other so no you can’t use that excuse.

  11. Merkadis on March 12, 2014

    They’re just squeezing out of dying wow whatever they can before it’s dead at last.
    I will not play any game that will sell levels, you must work for it, period.
    Been there when NA Tera decided that it was great idea.. result? lot’s of high lvl noobs who no idea wtf they are doing. No thanks.
    And dang.. why pay for your boredom? only complete idiots will do that.

  12. Razer on March 12, 2014

    Buy your way to completion in minutes. Why? So you can move on and pour your time and money into another soulless, wallet-ravaging MMO. Then do the same for that game and so on and so forth.

    Why even bother?

    • KainDarkfire on March 13, 2014

      Stop comparing to KMMOs please. Though I will admit that I’ve lost my drive to play any MMO these days.

    • Kyle on March 15, 2014

      Wow has been out for along time, know one gives a shit about leveling in that game anymore. It’s more tedious than it is fun. It’s a choice to spend money on a game genius. You sound like the game forces you to spend money on it when it doesn’t.

  13. Allwynd on March 12, 2014

    in my experience WoW has changed so much from the start, that its not appealing to me anymore, so instead of being nostalgic about the old time, one who doesnt like it for what it is right now, they should move on and leave it behind

    i feel that new games are the same thing over and over again

    if EverQuest was the first target based WASD game, then many others are just EverQuest all over again

    shooter games are pretty much the same since Quake, Doom or Counter-Strike

    racing games are the same

    the only thing that changes is the quality of the graphics, but the features available rarely change

    so for people who have spent a lot of time on single player and multi player games and feel burnt out, like i feel, i suggest, dont hope for a “revolutionary” game to grab you interest and bring back the old times, this is never happening, just move on to something new

  14. anavn on March 12, 2014

    I belive that one needs to work for lv and even if i do agree it is not pay to win it destroys the gameplay as you will find noobs lv90 and pros lv 70.

  15. Scnoobi on March 12, 2014

    Levels do have an advantage but it mostly depends on the game. in a pvp match a high lvl will always win because the lower level will just never hit his shit(old wow, dunno if its the same currently).

  16. Mounted on March 12, 2014

    is such a boring comment, drop it.

    • Catpower on March 12, 2014

      Don’t drop that thun thun thun.

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