Friday, June 29, 2012

World of Warcraft: Improving The Starter Edition

Starter Edition is pretty serious business.
Note: Check out the existing thread on Wowhead for further discussion, including revisions to my suggestions.

Lately I have noticed a massive influx of new players, although this may be due to the fact my own realm was tagged for new players to join (within a week it became a high population realm and is going through an amazing revival). While playing with some of these new players, who were recruits to my guild, on my Starter Edition account, I ran into the many restrictions such an account had an remembered that I had some issues with the current iteration of Starter Edition. As a result, I have decided to write this article, making suggestions to improve the Starter's Edition hopefully in favor of both the players and the company hosting the game.

What Is The Starter Edition?

The World of Warcraft Starter's Edition isn't really anything new. It began a long time ago as a trial that could be found in disc form or through various programs like Recruit-A-Friend to introduce new players to the game, but with significant restrictions, including a level cap of 20. Such trials only lasted for a period of 10 days. This was then converted to the current iteration of Starter's Edition, which is essentially an indefinite trial account with mostly the same restrictions...

However, as nice as that is, the restrictions, in my opinion, really hurt a new player's experience with the game. Here's a list of the current restrictions on a Starter's Edition account that I think are worth noting:
  • As mentioned above, the level cap is 20.
  • Can only have 10 gold on any given character.
  • Professions cannot be leveled past 100.
  • Cannot use the Auction House or Mail system. This includes mail the ingame system might send you (like lost items from The Postmaster The Postmaster)
  • It's not possible to trade with players or even communicate with them short of being in their party or being mutual friends.
  • Starter's Edition characters cannot use the guild system.
  • Starter's Edition characters cannot invite players to a party.
  • It is not possible to stop experience gains.
  • Real ID does not function for the Starter's Edition account, even if it attached to an account that can use Real ID in some other way (has full WoW account, Diablo 3, etc).
So what exactly is wrong with these restrictions? I will explain in the next section. Then, afterwards, I will offer some suggestions to improve the Starter's Edition, thus resolving issues that I believe hurt the new player's immersion with the game, potentially even going so far as costing sales.

Why The Current Restrictions Are Bad

Going through them in order, level 20 hardly gives players a scope of what World of Warcraft is like. While I understand that the Starter's Edition isn't supposed to give access to the full game, 20 levels of play doesn't seem like enough time to enjoy the game in terms of questing through zones and otherwise enjoying some of the game's features. It prevents access to some of the class features that can only be levels away. What it comes down to is that there's 85 (soon to be 90) levels of play, so why not allow free-to-play players a little more leeway and give them more content to see?

The gold cap is also pretty low. Although it's probably enough for a level 20, I find myself hitting it very often when I play Starter's Edition characters. And honestly, it's not exactly going to go anywhere unless the account is upgraded. However, while I understand the gold cap is to prevent a gold seller from cutting a profit by upgrading an account with a ton of gold, there's a couple issues in particular:
  1. There's no restrictions on items. In fact, given the faction vendors which sell 16-slot bags, there's actually an even larger potential for a potential gold seller to abuse the market by farming huge amounts of low level materials.
  2. Given the general inflation of gold into the World of Warcraft economy, real world trading prices have decreased significantly (I will not state prices here). It's probably not even worth it for the gold seller even if the Starter's Edition gold cap was at as much as 1,000 gold, or 10,000 gold on any given realm.
Therefore, I think the gold cap needs a raise, especially given the suggestions I have in mind.

I think the professions restriction really hurts and is more or less unnecessary. I see nothing wrong with allowing players to level professions as far as they can, since profession leveling is restricted by access to materials (or the ability to access it) and, furthermore, restricted by the character's level.

The communication restriction, while completely understandable, also deprives a new player from the ability to partake in what I consider the most important aspect of the game - social interaction. However, because if gold sellers had the ability to use chat functions, it may make it easier to post their gold selling ads. I believe I have a solution that can minimize this while allowing Starter Edition players to immerse themselves in the realm community.

Barring Starter Edition characters from a  guild also denies social interaction, except there's not really an upside to keeping such a restriction in place. Even if a gold seller did manage to get into a guild and begin advertising, it would be an easy manner to remove the offender. One thing that may pose an issue is the guild bank, but that's simple enough to solve, in my opinion.

I have no major problems with the restriction of the party invitation feature, although I personally think it's just unnecessary.

The same goes for stopping experience gains. No major problems, but seems like an unnecessary restriction (I doubt new players would even be able to find the NPCs while searching for the purpose of stopping experience gains).

It is understandable to restrict Real ID for completely new players, but I feel it would be of the utmost convenience to have access to Real ID while playing Starter Edition as someone who can access the Real ID feature already. Considering I can easily open up another game window to accomplish the same thing, why even have the restriction on those specific accounts?

To conclude, I think there's not enough free-to-play content available to make an impact and some restrictions are unnecessary or greatly damage the new player's immersion into an important aspect of the game.

The Suggestions

In this section I will list altercations to the Starter Edition, primarily by adjusting restrictions and giving my explanations for them while also pointing out potential issues (with resolutions if applicable)
  1. Increase the level cap to 40 or 60. By virtue of this change players can have access to more content in the form of benefits like new spells, talents, dual talent specialization, epic ground mounts, and, if the latter level cap is chosen, some "end game content" like raiding which could tempt players into getting a full version to experience more of the content at even higher levels. I greatly favor choice of having a level 60 cap, but it's understandable such a change is too extreme and may unlock too much content for free play, though quality endgame content should negate such an issue and keep paying players focused on said content.
  2. Increase the gold cap to 1000 per character or 10000 per realm (or account). In conjunction with  the previous change it only makes sense to increase the gold cap along with the character as they can't even afford some services such as epic ground mount training. The cap need not necessarily be exactly 1000 gold if it's considered too much for a gold farmer to have, but I believe that this cap is enough to stop a gold seller from cutting a profit.
  3. Allow Starter Edition to use the Auction House (with limitations) and receive, but not send, mail. In addition, allow Starter Edition characters to send mail to other characters on the same account without restriction.
    • In terms of Auction House usage: Ensure that no more than a a specific amount of auctions can be posted in a window of time (10 auctions per day, for instance) and possibly also restrict the amount of purchases made too. This will minimize issues related to gold sellers having a free and easy way to farm while still allowing new players to use the Auction House. The reason for such ambiguity (i.e. not having a maximum gold transfer cap) is because the economy of each realm is different, meaning a stack of some item on one server could sell for multiples of the amount that same item sells on another realm.
    • The reason it should be possible to receive mail is because the contents of the mail are going to have a hard time getting anywhere. It also allows players to "feed" their alt account if they so desire. More importantly, allowing Starter Edition players to receive mail will allow them to retrieve the contents of mail the system sends. In addition, the game should warn players sending mail to a Starter Edition character.
  4. Lift all profession restrictions. Just allow players to level professions as much as a level 40 or 60 player can. The material requirement and character level requirements to advance a profession will eventually stop the profession leveling.
  5. Allow players to interact in (only) the "say" chat and use customized emotes. This will allow Starter Edition players to do a multitude of things (roleplay, ask where things are, or otherwise chat with people) without being overly invasive by allowing the usage of chat channels that can reach many viewers. While this will allow gold sellers to advertise for free, the impact should be very small. In addition, to be fair, compromised accounts are frequently used to advertise and have no such restrictions anyways, so this change may even cause a drop in compromised accounts in favor of using this method (something of the lesser of two evils, though this is merely conjecture).
    • (Optional) On the topic of custom chat channels. I would say they should be allowed as having more access is good, but it is not exactly a necessary implementation.
  6. Allow Starter Edition players to join existing guilds, but be greatly restricted. A Starter Edition player will only be allowed to read and talk in guild chat and have a special rank created by the system that cannot be edited by the Guild Master. This allows the social interaction that being in a guild allows. This also prevents Guild Bank access, which could potentially be used to circumvent previous restrictions.
  7. Allow Real ID to work on accounts automatically if the Battle.net account has a full World of Warcraft account (any expansion level), Diablo 3, or Starcraft 2. I have absolute confidence this is possible to program with the integrated system and it would allow players who already have access to Real ID to use it more.
  8. (Optional) Remove other restrictions such as inviting to a party (which could allow Starter Edition players to group up and play together or with guildies with ease and fewer awkward moments of asking for an invite because said player can't) and using the experience stopper NPCs. I believe the impact of removing these restrictions is negligible.
With these changes, Starter Edition would become a less restricted, content-packed experience much like a free-to-play MMO, but with the hook of more content on the horizon in the form of expansions that offer their own respective endgame and new abilities.

What do you think? Did I miss anything (fail to point out a flaw in my suggestions, etc)? Constructive feedback is always appreciated and I may plan to repost this onto the official forums if it garners enough popularity and support.

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