Ian posted a status update on Facebook last week about the free boost to level 90 that comes with the purchase of the upcoming expansion. Basically asking about why bother playing a leveling game at all if you're going to skip most of the levels. Some other people chimed in against the concept as well, with arguments along the lines of you should need to put in the time and earn level 90, or how it's just a money grab from Blizzard and indicates the game is a sinking ship. I disagree with all those sentiments, but I wanted to really figure out why I disagree with them.
First off, I think getting to start at the current maximum level is a fantastic idea. It lets lapsed players and new players all do the expansion stuff immediately with any friends who did play through the last expansion. I got Sceadeau playing, and I'm pretty sure if he had to spend several weeks playing without me before he could play with me that he just wouldn't bother. Last expansion I convinced Robb to start playing because challenge mode dungeons sounded really cool. (It's timed 5 player content with a gear cap so you can't just farm raids to trivialize them.) But after we played for three days straight and he wasn't even level 60 (nowhere near the 85 that the rest of us were at) he gave up. If Blizzard had had a 'boost to 85' option with that expansion I feel like Robb would have stomached the 5 levels of questing to hit max level and would have done challenge modes with us. And having one extra person working on them likely would have kept the rest of us actually interested and playing much longer than we all did. So in a sense it would have been a cash grab (they would have sold an extra copy of the expansion and earned several months worth of subscription fees) but it really feels like it's just win-win for everyone involved.
But what about fairness? If we set some record times with Robb who didn't play through Northrend is it really fair? Shouldn't he have to put in 'the time'? I've never really been one who understood the whole 'keeping up with the Joneses' thing, but even if I ignore that there's the (often ignored) fact that 'the time' actually can't be put in anymore. What do I mean by that? Take The Burning Crusade expansion, which let you level from 60-70. When that expansion first came out the zones were designed with the pace of leveling and ability sets of 2007. The story was designed to make sense with the world as it existed at that time. The stuff you could loot and gather was relevant. You couldn't fly, and leveling towards getting a flying mount was a big deal. Zones were populated and you could reasonably expect to find people to run dungeons and do world PvP if that was your thing. None of those things are true now.
Basically, leveling from 60 to 70 in 2007 was a grand time and I would recommend anyone buy that expansion. In 2007. Leveling from 60 to 70 in 2014 is a real chore. They've gotten a lot better at building quests in the last 7 years for one thing, so the difference when you get to 60 and head to Outlands is pretty stark. And then there's all the issues with pacing and irrelevancy of the items and no one being around.
I don't think anyone could say with a straight face that 60-70 in 2014 is a better game than 60-70 in 2007 was. I also don't think anyone can say that 60-70 in 2014 was a better game than 90-100 will be. So the idea that you would force someone to play through 60-70 in 2014 just because you played 60-70 in 2007 as a fair thing boggles my mind. Games are supposed to be fun; let people get to the new, fun stuff!
I also don't think World of Warcraft is a sinking ship. The user base may well have eroded from the peak, but it's still stupidly strong compared to any 'competitor', if there even are such things. Even if it was a sinking ship I don't see a boost to 90 as being an indicator of that fact. I see it as showing that Blizzard understands what people want to do. Each previous expansion came with nerfs to the previous leveling time, but those just served to make the leveling game not make much sense. You level too fast for the zones now, and it's jarring. Blizzard has always understood that when an expansion comes out people want to play the new stuff. They don't want to play the old stuff, even sped up. And now they've finally taken the logical step and are just letting people start at the new stuff no matter where they were before. And without screwing the old leveling game up even more.
Boosts to 90 aren't just for new players, either. It's a way to change servers, or to change factions, or to change classes. I have no plan for my boost but maybe at some point I'll want to go play on a new server for some reason and I'll have it in my pocket.