What's the big deal with alts?

| Thursday, June 30, 2011
Syl has gone on an anti-alt rampage. You might think I agree, since I've unofficially added alts to my list of Things That Are Destroying WoW. But if there's one thing I love more than criticizing Blizzard with the power of hindsight and nostalgia, it's disagreeing with anyone.

So Syl, you're wrong.

And it's all your fault.

Within your personal complaints section you offered a few opinions, which I have interpreted as these:
  • They cause problems with immersion and identification with a character
  • Alts tend to be second-rate (poorly geared)
  • They take too much time
  • Excessive self-sufficiency through alts harms the player economy and the fun of it
  • They're meaningless.


The immersion problem is due to a mental flaw: you're unable to properly create and segment personalities. Anyone with merely one personality is bound to have problems.

Second-rate alts are an insignificant problem which Blizzard has fixed by showering everyone and everything with gear. So thanks a lot, Syl, your endless (or one-time-only) whining about your terribly geared alts is responsible for the many loot pinatas.

The self-sufficiency bit has no obvious problems that I can blame you for.

Meaninglessness? Well thanks, because that got extended to everything. It's like when I'd complain that my brothers got more cake than me so my parents would throw away all the cake and makes us eat stale crackers instead. I was 15 before I learned that saltines are not cookies.

But you weren't done with it, were you? Then you go on to claim that playing alts doesn't make players better and in fact players tend to be good or bad (or somewhere in the middle) at the game as a whole rather than at individual aspects.

Playing alts can make players better. Can. Maybe. Possibly potentially it can happen in some circumstances. Alts can raise personal expectations. For example, when I played a paladin I learned to AoE tank (not that it was hard...) and when I made my warrior alt I decided that I would hold him to a similar standard, causing me to tank better than I would if I just said "oh well, I'm just a warrior and everyone knows warriors are stupid jerks." I suppose that example was reversed. And outdated, since it's been years since vanilla, during which every single warrior was a stupid jerk, much like in BC and LK when all moonkin were stupid jerks. But I digress.

Playing alts can help to see the game from other perspectives. While we can intellectually understand the mechanics, we don't fully understand how they affect people until we are in their shoes, literally virtually.

As for the "Good players are good players, no matter what toon they play and vice versa" claim, well that's utterly untrue. At least I hope it's untrue. I'm a terrible healer, or maybe not terrible, but not great, and easily stressed out and overwhelmed. If skill is consistent, that means I'm also bad at tanking and DPS, which would make me sad. So I think what this really comes down to is that Syl is a jerk.

But that doesn't mean alts are the greatest thing ever
What's so great about alts? It's nice to have something to tinker with and to learn a bit about how other classes see the game, but when and why did we get the idea that we must have max-level, max-profession, max-gear alts? That's not an alt, that's a second main! Is one main not good enough? Maybe we need more fun and more to do on our mains, rather than spamming alts and then getting sick of repeating quests.
-Me
In vanilla, the game of supposedly raid or die, if you aren't in a raid you might as well quit, a game where we might expect to have a ton of alts, I actually didn't have anywhere near as many as now. I had fewer and I had much different expectations for them. I expected to raid on my main (and I did) but my alts were not there to be part of some economic gaming powerhouse of achievements. They were to try out different ways to play. Some were short distractions: I'd wonder what a druid was like, play it briefly, and then know that I was much happier not playing a druid (early druids at early levels were a miserable experience).

I suppose they weren't alts at all, if we assume that "alt" is short for "alternative". They weren't alternatives. In fact, the closest thing was a warlock who, long story short, was not mine, and who briefly took the raiding spot from my shaman, since we needed a good warlock more than we need a bad healer. But the rogue, he was only around to play around a bit before I went back to playing a real class. None of the others ever got very high, since they were there for distraction rather than characters in which I would expect to invest any time or expect any achievement.

Somehow that changed. Why or when, I do not know. When I left WoW I had a plethora of alts. More than a handful of 80s, in various states of gear. None really got far since I'd quickly get sick of doing the same heroics as before, over and over, except with a longer queue time and more gear bashing. They all had maxed-out professions and functioned as a small economy unto themselves, which for the most part meant my rogue did all the money-making (JC is a bullshit profession), which the druid then stole for darkmoon decks, and then my paladin main turned them into reputation and eventually a title to reflect my insanity. In this my alts were not sources of great fun, but merely cogs in a machine. But cogs which I felt I must have.

The economic aspect makes sense to me. We gained to many more money sinks, resource sinks, that it is sensible to try to avoid them. And avoid the inconvenience. We once needed very little to get armor up and running, an enchant, maybe an armor patch at most, and it was ready to wear. Now we need gems, enchants, armor patches, glyphs (not part of gear, but part of the general theme of "you must take a dozen extra steps for no actual gain"), and now reforging. Maybe these were meant to spur the player economy. But as anyone can tell you, taxing too heavily only gives benefit until it starts to feed the black market, and alts are the black market. The analogy isn't perfect. How about how pushing someone on a swing makes them go higher, but if you push too hard they just fall off it on the ground and get mad?

In closing, I offer these insightful words:
What's so great about alts? It's nice to have something to tinker with and to learn a bit about how other classes see the game, but when and why did we get the idea that we must have max-level, max-profession, max-gear alts? That's not an alt, that's a second main! Is one main not good enough? Maybe we need more fun and more to do on our mains, rather than spamming alts and then getting sick of repeating quests.
-Me

11 comments:

Verdthandi said...

Yeah, one of my biggest gripes with my raid leader is that he just doesn't get healing. He's played every other role in the game, but... it makes finding our niche strats interesting sometimes.

Syl said...

This is your second topic dedicated to me this week - I am flattered. :P
you already called my blog utterly useless in its first week, so I can live with being a jerk, haha....

I have a bit of an issue with the word 'skill' in WoW which is why I never use it. it's hard to measure and everyone means something else by it. but to adress your main point: I think wow is not hard. and therefore, any willing and attentive person who 'wants' to play a class, can play that class well. I do believe that, even for you. if you feel you're failing at the healer, I doubt it's necessarily your 'skill' that is the problem and I have no way of knowing how much you've actually played him or put into it. so it's a futile argument because I can't counter something that only you know and could prove. maybe you just don't enjoy healing enough to get good at it. we're usually better at things we enjoy.

so, I think you didn't quite get my point. it's not about people that are good on a main and maybe less so on an alt; that does not conclude they're bad players all around. alts don't make a good player bad, just like they don't make a bad player good. which was really the point of my argument: alts are just alts. I personally wouldn't expect too much from them in terms of performance therapy. fun is another matter entirely.

p.s. sorry for triple-post, some typos I needed to fix.

Tesh said...

Speaking of cogs, perhaps it's useful to think of alts as pieces of playing one of WoW's "metagames". This is more or less where I come from, as I'm not interested in mastering any one class/role/raid slot. I'm interested in how WoW works and in exploring the game world and its mechanics. I play a lot of alts as a result.

It's a matter of focus, then, and which sortl of game you're playing within the larger WoW tent. A "RP" player might not even care about levels or gear, for example, so they aren't playing "the REAL WoW" in "the RIGHT way", but maybe they are playing the game perfectly the way they want to play it.

Maybe they even absolutely stink at playing the "real" game, but hey, that's not what they are trying to do.

Syl said...

That's very true Tesh; it's a matter of approach. In my own article I am focusing on raiders that raid several times a week. the expectations towards mains are just different there. in a more casual guild or no guild, your main wouldn't necessarily be much superior to your alts either as you can play all of them to equal amounts.

JoeNavy said...

I can't stand the argument for meaninglessness especially from elitest twats. If you truely make your decisions based on weather or not something is meaningless...Then why the fuck are you playing an MMO? Could it be...I don't know...beacuse it's fucking fun?

Sorry...I feel strongly on the matter.

JoeNavy said...

And I would like to thank Sly's great post for inspiring such a fun post by Klepso

Hyperian said...

"Playing alts can help to see the game from other perspectives. While we can intellectually understand the mechanics, we don't fully understand how they affect people until we are in their shoes, literally virtually." Klep
Check and mate. Exactly right.

I used to bash druids and shammys for their healing, until I got fed up, leveled both and tried healing on them. Only then did I understand why they were sucking and or what I didn’t understand about the class. Reading strategy books, manuals, forum posts and guides doesn’t make you a subject matter expert… if they did, I would be the world’s greatest tank….. but I’m not, I suck at it hard core.. I know plenty of people who only play one character, and that’s cool, that’s how they wanna play the game. I also know when it comes to tanking or healing questions; I’m never going to ask the dude who’s only ever played a rogue. We have RP servers for a reason, if you want immersion in your specific character that’s where you should be.

Syl said...

@Hyperian

You know, I did actually consider later in my wow 'career' that maybe I really should have joined an RP server instead. but it was already too late at that point, I was deep into my own guild and the problem with RP is that I don't enjoy all of it. or rather, the things I like shouldn't have to be RP, they are oldschool MMO virtues. I associate players talking "in character" and citing Shakespear with RP servers. :P I don't wanna be 'in character', so I'd make for a poor RPer..

@Joe
You are welcome. ;)
an that's the thing, alts are no fun to me - hence meaningless. for me.

btw - "I was 15 before I learned that saltines are not cookies."

I am still depressed over this.

Klepsacovic said...

@Verdthandi:
Just be glad I'm not your RL. I've played every healing class to at least 70 (all but shaman got to 80) and I still don't get it.

@Syl:
From me, about blogs, useless is a compliment.

"any willing and attentive person who 'wants' to play a class, can play that class well"
What's the difference between this and saying people have the same skill across classes and roles?

@Tesh:
Do your alts need to level or gear quickly? I'm asking that as a straightforward question to you, not trying to lead anywhere with it.

"Maybe they even absolutely stink at playing the "real" game, but hey, that's not what they are trying to do. "
Fortunately fun is the real game and only fools think otherwise.

@JoeNavy:
People get fun from different sources. Are you suggesting that finding meaning in a game is the wrong way to have fun? Fun isn't just some substance which can be added, it had context, and yes, meaning. Character advancement can be fun, but only when it has some meaning. For example, would you care much if I said that your character if Button-Pressing Adventure was now able to level twice as fast? Probably not, because the [imaginary] game Button-Pressing Adventure has no meaning for you, and consequently, neither do any characters.

@Hyperian
"Reading strategy books, manuals, forum posts and guides doesn’t make you a subject matter expert" if they did, I would be the world's worst tank!

@Saltines make Syl depressed:
It was an exaggeration. I bet I was no older than 10.

Syl said...

"Reading strategy books, manuals, forum posts and guides doesn’t make you a subject matter expert"

why would you have to be an 'expert' in another class? you don't. and if you cannot even be an expert in your main class, I personally would recommend to stick to that first before rolling 8 alts. from a very performance and raid-centric pov.

also, 'standing in somebody's shoes' is not the same as knowledge transfer. you seem to mix up those two things. many people play alts and think they 'know how it feels now', but in truth they transfer zero of that knowledge over to how they should act on their main, it doesn't make them any better players for it. even less so for raiding; you don't just quest or 5man on an alt and then think you know how to raid with that toon. that's too easy a conclusion.

I wish every melee and tank out there who had a healer alt would therefore take some lessons on how to behave for his healers in groups. but many just jump right back into their melee and tank attitudes and routines when relogging. so again:
experiencing something and knowledge transfer / application are not the same. :)

p.s. I would never have bashed another healing class for 'sucking'. these are ignorant and generalised statements - I have been healing in healing teams for way too long to have such ideas. I usually knew just as much about shamans, druids or palis and their current status and shape in the game, after a patch, at a certain time of progression etc. like I did for my priest. and that was without playing them. but being astute and on the ball. but then I was just their mate, I was my guild's healing lead.

@ Kleps
I do see the problem. 'good' is just as bad a word to use without definition, as skill is. I did try to define it though, in terms of being fast learners, ambitious etc. I associate purely 'intellectual' qualities with skill and I don't mean to suggest people are somehow intellectually inferior just because they can't play a game well. I think factors like approach, effort and experience play a larger part, but maybe these are skills for you too.

what I did not include though is the motivations factor. I assume that anyone who rolls an alt enjoys that class and 'wants' to play it. I did not really include cases where somebody is really good on his main, but sucky on alts because he doesn't enjoy them or doesn't put the same effort into them. I can't exactly fathom why you would play a character you don't enjoy.

Klepsacovic said...

@Syl
"I don't mean to suggest people are somehow intellectually inferior just because they can't play a game well."
I'd never accuse you of suggesting that, except maybe accidentally through poor writing on my part.

"but sucky on alts because he... doesn't put the same effort into them"
I put less effort into my alts than my main. It's not because they aren't fun, but that's how I am dividing up my time: my main is my main.

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