As I close in on 60 with my first WoW character, I’ve of course started a small army of alts. There’s the token overpowered-class-I-didn’t-pick, which always happens. Greener grass and all that. Also I picked a healer class, because somewhere, deep inside, I live to bandage people I guess. Also, I have the normal stealth alt, the one next to no one knows about, where I can go when I want to “get away”. As I look at my character selection screen, I begin to wonder why so many of us deliberately do this to ourselves.

You’ve killed all the various colored, and steadily stronger, rats from level 1 to 50, 60, 70, or whatever the cap is. You’ve effectively “won”, at least as much as you can win a MMORPG to some extent. Depending on your game of choice, you have an assortment of content to explore, most, if not all of which requires 10-50 of your closest virtual buddies to explore. Why do so many of us immediately turn to the Alt? The Alternate Character, the Twink, the Lowbie, call it what you will, but almost all of us look to try and explore something else of the game than what we’ve been given. This doesn’t happen in Real Life(tm). Well, not often. There was that whole Michael Jordan leaving to play baseball failure years ago, but the average person, after working 20 years in a cubicle, doesn’t decide that they will henceforth be a forest ranger.

Some do it to try another flavor of the game. At least that’s what they say. “I’m going to do something different!” they proclaim, and after about two days, gravitate back to killing the same rats they were killing so many levels ago. I know, I’ve been there. I took my CoH alts to Bricktown to get PL’ed, my EQ alts to PoF, and my WoW alts do the power-questing that is STV and 1000 needles. But why? We’ve done it before.

So my question would be: Why do you have an alt? And when do you play it? Is it a get-away char for when you’re not raiding, or perhaps it’s a future raider to suppliment your casualness? Or what?


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Jaded old gamer, and father of gamers, who's been around long enough. Still, he's always up for giving the Next Big Thing a whirl.

12 thoughts on “alt.grind”

  1. I never get anywhere because I am an altoholic. I can’t resist trying everything out. I might be missing out on some cool class you know. I do not max out characters or hit level caps. It’s not in me. My altoholism does cause me quit games quicker because I see the same content over and over and get used to fast levelling.

  2. I have a bazillion alts because it’s nice to press different buttons in a different order from time to time. :P Seriously. Sometimes I feel like wearing a ton of plate and smacking the hell out of things, other times I feel like roasting stuff with huge fireballs. Also, it’s just nice to look at something different, really. Too much of the same thing seems like a grind, so a change of scenery now and then is nice.

    I play my alts when my regular play partner is unavailable.

    Yes, I play too much. :(

  3. Exploration I tend to do with my first character. I’ll do the quests that are below me in level and yield no real rewards simply because new things are what make the level-grind tolerable. New abilities and playing a different role are why I tend to get alts to that low-middle level range that takes very little time. By that time everyone’s got their class-defining powers and scales up from there.

    The big reason I play alts is because the game is different. WoW is the example I’m going to use because it’s the only one wherein I’ve maxed more than one character (and had a small army of lvl 24-30 alts). In WoW, at lower levels (read: below 60), you progress to new challenges much faster. Drop rates on useful equipment in instances tends to be higher and doesn’t matter nearly as much, anyway, because the instances are based around a median power-level instead of a specific plateau. What this really pans out to is that it’s much easier to find a group because not everyone needs to be the same level and the necessity of certain classes is more up in the air. In addition to that, there’s a soloing game that very rarely relies on grinding any one creature/area for more than an hour and a half.

    The big issue for me is a change in the challenge and method of play. As your abilties weaken towards the onset of their next rank, I start using alternatives and explore the possibilities. When I get bored of playing an alt, I switch back to my main and compulsively reset my talents for exorbitant prices just to do something differently. I recently started playing Guildwars and, after over a decade of playing clones and clone-sequels, found that the absolute high point of the game is the freedom to try something completely different without costing me 5-7 hours of grinding gold.

    Bit of a tangent at the end, I’ll admit, but that’s exactly what an alt is.

  4. I enjoy my 19 and 29 BG twinks. Search the PvP forum for threads on best twinkage at those levels. And there’s always fun flaming from the anti twink crowd.

  5. An interesting phenomenon to me is that I have been known to create massive hordes of alts on WoW and CoH/V, but have not had that urge at all on A Tale in the Desert, Eve or Puzzle Pirates. Normally I would say that this is because in ATITD and PP, your one character can technically learn and do everything the game has to offer, but that doesn’t fit so well with Eve. I consider it good design if an MMO has the effect of discouraging alt creation, since having multiple alts – to me – is a sign of boredom with the game.

    The split appears to be between class-based and skill-based games – the age-old question, up there with chicken and egg, pirate and ninja (which is an absurd question – obviously pirate). Class-based games restrict you into a narrow advancement path, and shifting to control another alt (bad pun very intended) becomes a very different game experience. In a skill-based game, you can often just grind for a few hours to get your main character to the point where you can try something totally new.

  6. I think for me it basically boils down to liking the different play styles in battlgrounds and instances. Playing a warrior is very different than playing a mage. Plus it’s nice to have a range of alts across the difference levels so you can play with friends of different levels as the opportunity arises.

  7. Ethic wrote: “My altoholism does cause me quit games quicker because I see the same content over and over and get used to fast levelling”

    Is that for every game, or just specific ones? I used to constantly make alts in EQ and level them from 1-10 since there was such a massive amount of varied content you could explore. Not talking about the tutorial, which was in of itself fun but straightforward and linear. In WoW, however, the very low level game seems almost too rushed/clunky with the 10-40 or so game to be where you truly have choices.

    Cromley wrote: “Playing a warrior is very different than playing a mage.”

    That’s my main thing. I have a hunter, a mage, a druid, and a warlock, and all play very differently, which is a challenge. My guildmaster just last night was giving me slack about how I kept trying to play the druid as a pure caster.

  8. “I consider it good design if an MMO has the effect of discouraging alt creation, since having multiple alts – to me – is a sign of boredom with the game”

    I think the lack of Alts has little to do with game design in Eve. It’s the fact that you can’t really play 2 toons on the same account. I myself would love to try a different race from Caldari but i’ll be damned if I am going to fork out another 15 bucks a month to do so.

    As for my own alts.

    I play them to be doing something different. My main essentially logs on to raid or farm the lower level instances so i can feed my alts. While I might be playing through the same content as I did the first time, the mechanics of each class are different enough in most cases to make it a new enough experience.

    Also if the end game of an MMO is somewhat lacking it gives your mind a break. For example.

    I have a 205 soldier in AO. I basically stopped there because it just akes FOREVER to gain levels past 200 so I rolled alts. The only classes I didn’t have was an NT or a Crat. The alts let me go back and enjoy the game again (my MP at level 150ish was my highest alt when I left the game a couple months ago).

  9. BG twinking.

    How uttlerly lame and pathetic.

    It’ll eventually work out when Blizzard puts a cap on enchants. Other than that, I’ve got no problem with “twinking” as it were, because all the items are things you could have at that level anyway. But, putting a couple of crusaders on a couple of level 19 weapons is stupid.

    What a lot of people don’t realize is that if you suck in the BG, you’re going to suck whether you’re wielding ungodly weapons or a couple of bent sticks.

    It’s hellishly satisfying when I’m decked out in greens, as a HUNTER, and I take down a rogue who’s got a couple of glowy swords. IN MELEE.

    BG twinks are losers, but to each his own.

  10. I think the nail has been hit on the head here with the skill v class split. Also though, I find that I am far more likely to level up an alt in a PvP environment where it is possible that I will be needed for different things at different times. If I’m the only one on who’s got a healer while we defend, I’m playing healer while later in the day I might swtich to my scout for some recon before our main offensive where I’ll of course be on my assassin etc. This is just another place where good endgame PvP content can really energize other elements of the game and add meaning to what would otherwise just be redundant gameplay.

  11. Oz wrote: “My guildmaster just last night was giving me slack about how I kept trying to play the druid as a pure caster.”

    Hey now, I wasn’t giving you slack, I was… I was… having a laugh at your expense? Yeah, that sounds about right >_>

    Anyhoo, as you know, my main is a warrior. And going in and aggroing the entire Deadmines ship is fun. But at the core, I essentially turn on auto-attack and fetch myself a snack. That gets boring, so I go and log on to my priest, with my SPACE SHIELDS and LASER SPELL PEW PEW. And then the squishyness shows itself, what with the constant, desperate recasting of SPACE SHIELD and ZOMG HEAL NUB. When I get tired of turtling it up, maybe I’ll fetch my rogue and BACKSTAB SOME FACES!! But then I remember that I can take maybe… 7 hits? Unless I slowly sneak like a stealthy snake, aiming for peoples’ backsides lest I participate in a fair fight…

    While the change-up in styles is a big part of it, it’s really more of a mastubatory shedding of my former weakenesses. Getting frustrated with the slow killing of my prot warrior? I’ll fetch my speedy hard-hitting rogue. Tired of dying and wasting potions? Hey now, even shadow priests can heal themselves! While the zones may be the same, that newfound “invincibility” tends to make one feel like a god.

    Or maybe it is just the pressing of buttons in different order. /shrug

  12. “…but the average person, after working 20 years in a cubicle, doesn’t decide that they will henceforth be a forest ranger.”

    I guess I’m a little bit different. I went from psychology to outdoor job to cubicle job to game designer.

    Yeah, I’m odd like that.

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