The Problem With Alts

There has been a lot of talk on both sides of the divide when it comes to the “alt friendliness” of the MOP expansion. In one camp, you have people claiming that this is one of the most alt-friendly expansions ever, on the other you have people claiming it is one of the least. So which camp is right? Well, like most any divisive issue, there is some merit to both sides of the argument.

On the one hand, MOP has added features that have greatly improved the alt friendliness factor (hereafter referred to as AFF). Things like account-wide pets, titles, and mounts have made the AFF soar in certain aspects. Things like the MOP reputation commendations have made rep grinding easier and quicker than it was at the beginning of the expansion. Reduced XP (in 5.3) is going to make those last 5 levels faster and easier than they were before. Tweaks like improved drop rates in LFR and more/easier ways to acquire elder charms, as well as lowering the price of Mogu Runes have helped alts and newcomers alike to gear up faster. “So what’s the problem?”, I imagine you asking.

The problem is, the vast majority of those changes are only in comparison to the beginning of the expansion, and the beginning of the expansion marked an enormous step backward in terms of AFF. Account-wide content is a plus, sure, and you won’t hear me complain about those changes. In that aspect, Blizzard has made great strides in making accounts feel more like accounts. But let’s look at everything else I mentioned…

  • Reputation commendations double the reputation for alts (assuming you’ve already reached Revered once), but the entire rep grind process is more cumbersome than the Tabard method employed in Wrath and Cata, even after doubling the rep. Combine that with the fact that reputation is less optional than ever before (i.e. VP gear is gated behind rep) and you get a double-whammy that knocks AFF down so far that even the “fixes” employed can’t begin to fix it.
  • The gear grind is in a similar situation. Since LFR has taken up the role that used to be filled by 5-man content, getting bonus rolls on your weekly lockouts is less optional than Blizz assumes. Catch-up 5-mans didn’t just take less time to run, they also allowed you to roll on gear each time you did them. There’s a world of difference between getting 1 or 2 rolls on a weekly lockout and getting 3 rolls per hour with no lockout. In terms of getting geared up and staying raid-ready for the latest tier, MOP is hands-down the worst expansion since BC’s attunement fiasco.
  • The Valor Point grind is just more of the same. LFRs have replaced 5-mans as the primary way to gain VP, but each section of LFR offers less VP than LFRs used to do (90 in MoP vs 250 in Cata). Moreover, LFRs offer less VP per section than a 5-man dungeon did in Cata (90 in MoP vs 150 in Cata). You have to run more LFRs now than you had to run dungeons then. Add in the fact that LFRs now take an average of an hour or more while dungeons then averaged 20 minutes, and you get that double-whammy effect again. Even scenarios and the Valor of the Ancients buff can’t compensate for that.
  • The XP reduction is a nice boost, but it doesn’t address an actual problem. While the XP grind does take an unprecedented amount of time to complete, it isn’t a serious roadblock to leveling alts and it never was. As any altoholic can tell you, the leveling journey isn’t the big obstacle in creating an alt, if anything it’s part of the fun. Shaving a third of the XP (and thus time) needed off will certainly be nice, but that’s the sort of thing you only have to do once. The real issue is how much of the time sink has been shifted to things you have to repeat every week.

Which pretty much sums up the other hand. The current problems with alt unfriendliness don’t have anything to do with reputation grinds or how much XP you have to get in those last few levels. The real problem is that Valor Capping and/or gear grinding takes 4-5 times as much time as it did before. That’s the issue that makes people have trouble keeping up with alts.

In Cata, a person could have their 2 LFRs out of the way in an hour or two and the 4 dungeons needed to finish off the VP cap would also take an hour or so, for a total of 2.5-3.5 hours of “maintenance” per toon per week. After which, you could do whatever you wanted with your time (generally, play an alt since we’re talking about altoholics, here).

In MOP,  VP capping takes much more time. Let’s say that you can run all 9 sections of LFR, and that you have done so. The catch is, assuming an average of 1 hour per LFR, you’ve spent 9 hours getting 810 VP. You’ve already spent about three times as much time grinding content compared to previous expansions, but you’re not yet VP-capped. It already sounds like a rip-off, and that’s without figuring that you’ve had fewer loot rolls than you would have had under the previous model.

That’s why people are having trouble maintaining an army of alts like they used to. Everything from rep to gear to VP takes more time and effort to get and to use.

To put it into perspective, in this expansion, I can VP cap a toon by Thursday, and with the help of the  Valor buff, maybe I can get 2-3 more toons capped by the end of the week, depending on my schedule, so long as I don’t do anything else. I’ve VP-capped 4 toons per week for a big chunk of the expansion and it’s an extraordinary amount of time and effort to do it. Compare that to Cata, where I could have had at least 6 toons (and up to 9) capped by Thursday, and still have the rest of the week to do whatever I wanted, be it working on still more alts, doing achievements, running old content, etc.

Now, I understand that if you focus on only one or two toons, the pacing feels quite nice, and the overly large time sink isn’t as much of a burden. The problem is that altoholics simply don’t operate this way. If there was a class or two that we liked so much better than the rest, then we’d have a main and an alt or two instead of an army of alts. The playstyle we have become accustomed to and enjoyed for years is to sample the content from multiple perspectives, playing it from multiple roles and classes so that the altered perspective keeps the content fresh.

The biggest problem with MOP (so far as alts go) is that they have taken the sampler platter off the menu, making it impossible for altoholics to enjoy all of their toons. Anyone who tries just gets crushed under the ridiculous time sink and ends up feeling unsatisfied and burnt out. Even the most ridiculously hard core altoholics of this expansion are putting in more time with less to show for it than ever before. If Blizzard wants to remedy the problem with alts, they need to drastically reduce the VP grind or add in more shortcuts for alts, or both.

Don’t get me wrong, Blizzard has added in a bunch of fun stuff this expansion, from Pet Battles to Scenarios. Those things would have been awesome during Cata, when I actually had time to enjoy them. As it stands, they have put in a ton of stuff for people to do in their down time, and then made the weekly maintenance grind take so much more time that down time is no longer a thing you have.

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