Age of Conan introduces "offline levelling" system

29 April 2010
5:30 am

Funcom has introduced an optional "offline character progression" tool in the latest update to Age of Conan. With this new toy, a player will accrue bonus levels every four days that can be applied to any of their characters over level 30. The bonus levels are granted regardless of whether or not a player even logs in once during that four-day period, but an active paid subscription is a requirement to get them in the first place. Once your character reaches max level, the bonus ones still sit in their progression pool and accrue normally, ready to be applied to a new character once it reaches 30.

On the surface, this update catches me a bit off guard. Age of Conan isn't a free to play title, and subscription-based games really have no incentive to help players get through content as quickly as possible. In contrast to games like Guild Wars, where customers purchase the box upfront but otherwise pay nothing else (unless they want to take advantage of the game's RMT item shop), there obviously is a rationale behind wanting to get players off the servers as soon as they're done with the progression content. Every four days nets you around seven bonus levels a month– although my brief time in AoC ended around level fifteen, certainly in the 70 – 80 stretch with World of Warcraft I wouldn't get that far with even moderate grinding in a month. This could represent a significant speed boost for players who decide to take advantage of it.

The paid subscription and must-be-level-30 requirement dampens things a little bit but either way it has the net effect of accelerating character progression far faster than prior to the update. Again, my experience with Age of Conan is limited, but I can't see a similar system being added to WoW without some pretty dire consequences– the PvE content teaches you how to play your class, provides a decent nest egg to get you started on purchasing mounts and other necessary gear for the end game, and sets you up with reputation grinds for a variety of endgame factions. I played a Death Knight, which by its very nature starts at level 55 and skips past much of the vanilla content, and I did feel like there was a sense of missing out on the first half of the game compared to the normal grind of other characters. Although there's routinely been requests of Blizzard to allow you to start alts at a certain later level once you have one at the cap, they haven't implemented such a system thus far. If you were able to accelerate your alts to level 80 but didn't have the gold to purchase your flying mount or decent armor to start raiding, you'd have no real choice but to turn to illicit gold farming companies to set yourself up.

This is admittedly the latest attempt by Funcom to differentiate their MMOG from other AAA titles when it's been performing abysmally since launch, but I'm still not convinced it's in their best interests. They'll get their subscription fees initially, but there will obviously be a trickle down effect of players spending less time in the game over the lifetime of their overall subscription– whether between granting the bonus levels to their mains or alts, ultimately players who choose to take advantage of this tool (and I have to suspect a lot of them will) are going to be playing less than players who avoid it.

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