Wipe or Expansion: What’s the difference?

Jef Reahard over at Massivily asks if you would keep playing if your MMO had a character/server wipe (side point: if a character wipe is a ‘full’ wipe in your MMO of choice, what does that say about its world?)

The response is mostly ‘no’, which is not exactly surprising, but it is somewhat interesting considering what a typical expansion brings to a themepark MMO. The most common response is that players don’t not want to “lose the hours I’ve put into my character”, yet if that raid gear just become less than a green, haven’t you just ‘lost’ all that work to gear up and progress? After all, how different is a level increase to a character wipe? How different is the world being wiped to the expansion shifting the end-game zones over to something new?

Let’s assume a character wipe means you’re back to day one in terms of skills/items, but keep your name/guild; how different is this from day one of a new expansion that just raised the level cap? In terms of power, both characters are more or less back at square one, with the major difference being that the wiped character is baselined, while the expansion character might be OP/UP depending on how deep they got into the previous level caps endgame. If you are decked out in epics, odds are good that the first few levels will be a total cakewalk, and you won’t find many upgrades. Of you were a freshly capped character, you will be significantly less powerful than that end-game character, and if things are tuned somewhere in the middle, you might struggle (this of course assuming the solo PvE is remotely challenging anyway, but lets pretend).

The wiped character also loses all their abilities, but in a game like Darkfall, that mostly refers to magic, as both melee and archery are limited to swing/shoot, and a new character will still be doing that. Also, an expansion generally brings new skills, and in many cases these new skills replace old one, so while they still appear in your skills page, you might not actually be using them anymore (especially when min/maxing). With the wipe, you can return to a previous style, while the expansion permanently changes what is ‘optimal’ whether you like it or not.

The other big difference is that the expansion character still looks like a glowing Power Ranger, while the wiped character is sporting some nice underwear. Visuals are important to many, so this drawback is understandable on a fluff level. If either game has “collectable” items (vanity items and such), the expansion allows you to keep those, while the wipe would normally remove them (though again, if the goal is a power reset, who says you can’t let players keep fluff? A selective bank wipe along with a full character wipe would be an interesting solution, and no doubt calm some fears).

Wealth is certainly reset back to zero with a wipe, but in an expansion the value of many things also drastically changes, and typically inflation hits hard. The wealthiest character on a server might not be so well-off after an expansion if they don’t get lucky predicting what items retain value and what items are now vendor trash. With the wipe, you know going in what’s going to happen; with an expansion, it’s a bit of a gamble.

As for the world, this comparison is a little more difficult due to the major differences between games. The ‘world’ in WoW could be wiped daily and no one would notice, as there are very few things (tower control comes to mind) that the players CAN effect, and those tend to be both temporary and not all that important. Wiping Darkfall means lost player cities/hamlets, houses, village/tower control, and moving all players off bindstones and back to the starter areas. That’s a pretty huge change. If your guild worked hard to build up a city, the loss no doubt stings. If you’re a newer player and never experienced the build-up phase of cities/hamlets, you get a chance to see something new.

That said, when a themepark does get an expansion with a level hike, it means that all of the old endgame content is now obsolete for all but novelty runs. While not strictly a forced move, players have little choice but to go to the new end-game zones/instances, and if you enjoyed the previous themes more than the new ones, well, tough break. If you were not finished with the previous raids, or some end-game zone content (rep grind)? Sorry, either you solo it all now or you follow the herd. In contrast, if a guild loved living on Cairn in DF, after the wipe they can still move back there and re-establish themselves. The player-built items are gone, but the world as a whole is still just as valid as it was pre-wipe.

Of course no expansion is marketed as a character reset, but rather as an increase in content thanks to more levels, nicely ignoring the fact that all old end-game content is now obsolete. If the expansion brings less end-game then what was previously available, in a way you just paid $40 for the privilege of having fewer options, but again, the marketing hype hides this and most players buy-in.

To me the difference between a character wipe and a level increase is mostly fluff-based. In addition, it’s no secret that generally MMOs play best at the start, and while a wipe does not recreate this situation exactly (players still know how the game ‘works’), it is pretty close in many ways. If the game has improved since its first launch, that second launch should also go much smoother and be overall more stable/fun.

As for Darkfall specifically, the wipe gives inactive players a very real reason to come back, and gives perspective players a great “jump in now” date. For existing players, while they do give up their current power and established world, they will also benefit from the chaos of a fresh one, one that hopefully has new guild/alliance powers that spring up and bring some excitement to the political scene.

Darkfall is a better game with more players. There is no debating this, it’s simply fact. A wipe, along with the 2.0 update (you can’t separate the two, they are a package deal) provides the highest chance of growth. To not take it would be a major disservice to all current players.

19 Responses to Wipe or Expansion: What’s the difference?

  1. Zapatero says:

    It’s all very well arguing the benefits, but just the perception of a “wipe” is bad enough to scare people away. The main subjective view that people will have is that a wipe is a wipe, not a return to some happy equilibrium. You can’t thrown an asteroid at the planet and expect the dinosaurs to be happy about it, no matter what new life will come from it later on.

  2. Talinine says:

    I’m okay with wipes, as long as they’re not so frequent as to be frustrating. Then again, I played a few tellings of ATitD, a game where you *know* you’re getting rest.

    I imagine that the potential for a character reset without surety is terribly irritating. At least knowing it’s coming (without some ‘end times’ goal) would allow me to satisfy my need to try other games while I’m waiting for the character apocalypse.

  3. The perception of investment in a character is lost in a wipe and not in an expansion. With a themepark expansion the old content may be obsolete for characters at the level cap, but the infrastructure of guilds and friendships still exists. You still have money in the bank, your trade skills, all your support alts. A wipe can be an event that breaks the link between a player and an MMO.

    That said, generally the most consistently fun part of any MMO for me is the first 20-30 levels or the first few months, depending on how advancement in the game works. So back in the MUD days, pwipes were both horrible and wonderful. All my investment in my characters and carefully acquired gear was gone. But everybody was level 1 again and doing all the fun stuff in low level groups again. And while some groups will re-form through wipes, others will break up and new guilds and such will form. Wipes can be good.

    And I have asked the question before as well, is a pwipe death or rebirth?

    But wipes and expansions? Not the same thing at all unless you choose to totally ignore the emotional investment players get in their characters and accomplishments.

    • SynCaine says:

      It’s still more emotion than ‘fact’s though. Market a wipe differently and it looks like an expansion to most sheeple.

      Crafting: If the expansion boosts the craft, not only do you have to grind the skill further (just like after a wipe), but all those older ‘end-game’ items and patterns you worked to get are now a great reminder of all that time spend to be able to make something that is now useless. Bonus points if pre-expansion you could craft useful stuff and the expansion makes your craft pointless.

      • I will grant that emotion is the lions share of the issue, but take Cataclysm as an example. Pwiping and making somebody go from level 1 through WotLK would be a considerably greater effort than the five level ladybug ride that is Cata.

        Furthermore, we’ve already done that 80 levels before, while the Cata stuff is at least new artwork and quest text. It feels different. And you can call that emotion (or an illusion in the idea that killing 10 things in zone A is somehow different than killing 10 things in zone X), but if you think you can separate that from the game, you are kidding yourself.

        So perhaps the more themepark slanted the game, the more an expansion is different from a pwipe?

        • SynCaine says:

          Cata is a bad example though right, because it gave everyone a ‘totally new’ 1-60 game (which means if you don’t wipe/start new, all of that content is worthless to you).

          Plus if you only leveled one character through BC/WotLK, you should be able to switch up the questing enough to make it feel new. I mean, people play alts for a reason, right? Isn’t an alt just a player-elected ‘wipe’?

          Granted, resetting a themepark character to lvl 1 is different in terms of content repetition than resetting a DF one, but I still think a level boost is pretty damn close. I mean hell, I originally quit WoW because Blizzard ‘wiped’ all of our Vanilla progress with TBC.

  4. Adam says:

    I think a wipe is a really really bad idea at this point.

    First I don’t see the groundwork from Aventurine for there to be enough game changing mechanics to make it worthwhile.

    The new classes/armor etc are just probably good rearrangements of the existing system.

    Secondly, while there are lots of people that say they’d play if they weren’t so outleveled by the vets but I don’t find that credible.

    People flat out don’t like getting repeatedly owned and drylooted right outside the gates of newbie towns. That isn’t changing in this expansion.

    Alignment is still basically useless. So there is zero incentive to maintain alignment. They really only made it hard to get alignment back when they added the Chaos churches. They didn’t even fix the basic problem of any fight you get in with blues (even if they instigate it) nuking your alignment. Fight with your clan for a week or two and you’ll have -100 alignment soon enough.

    There is nothing even partially safe outside the newb city gates. People are still going to come into the game and get farmed.

    Vets that come back with new characters are still going to be much much better players than the true newbs. Ragequitting will continue.

    But with that normal ragequitting of newbs you will also have pissed off your regular subscribers especially when they realize the populated game they were promised never materializes.

    If Aventurine is wise they will simply buff newbs more.

    Give everyone that specializes in say melee +50 str and +50 stam. Thats a big nerf to the vets but doesn’t destroy their work.

    Also, absent an eve style hisec area, just make the newb protection last for 2-4 weeks of game time. Even if people learn to abuse that, at least it will catch a few more of the folks that get frustrated early.

    I’m looking forward to them shipping df2010, but I don’t think it’s anything enough of a change to be worth a wipe.

  5. D506 says:

    The problem with a wipe in a traditional MMO is that it’s largely a treadmill. You’re killing rats so that you level up so that you can kill bigger rats so that you can level up. Then you hit raid game and you raid dragons so you can loot gear so you can raid different colour dragons. The largely illusionary feeling of progress persists, however, even though we know it’s largely grind. But that feeling relies on permanence. When you’re killing 2000 bears for a reputation quest, you just might start to ask yourself why if someone says ‘yea but we’re deleting your character next week’.

    Sandboxes are a bit different though. Generally, people play to do stuff rather than to acheive stuff. A wipe may piss some people off, particularly those at the top, but I expect a lot of people will see it as an opportunity to find their place in the sun.

  6. Carson says:

    One thing about expansions.. when Cataclysm landed, my main WoW character was now 5 levels below cap in gear that was about to be completely obsoleted, it’s true.

    But looking at it as an achiever, I still had 50+ mounts, 50+ pets and many thousands of achievement points. Looking at it as a goblin, I still had 100,000 gold.

    A true wipe would wipe out all that stuff as well. Gear and levels aren’t everything for everyone.

    • Carson says:

      Sorry, seems I TL;DR’d a bit too much on this post – you basically said everything I just said. :-)

      • SynCaine says:

        Basically :)

        Plus mounts/pets are fluff/vanity items in WoW, and if a game is high on fluff, you can leave that out off the wipe (though what you leave and what you remove is very game-specific, so I’d rather not go down that path)

  7. SM says:

    All that time and effort wasted. No, I would stay far far away from games that reset. The main attraction to an MMO, for me at least, is persistent character progression in a persistent world. Both of those ideas are thrown out the window with DF.

    • Torcano says:

      Completely Missing the Point or sarcasm?

      Personally i think its sad that people play games for some sense of achievement or progression rather than you know, for fun.

      Guess WoWs success proves there are millions of gamers who play to get some feeling of satisfaction out of earning more pixels through repetitive tasked.

      Buddy, your time has ALREADY been wasted. Effort? That’s trying to imply that it takes anything other than an investment of time to get your fluffy rewards and achievements that literally anyone willing to invest the time can get (and has).

      You also realize that Dragon Age and Diablo have character progression right? Its the exact same…for someone like you.

      I honestly am still baffled by people who don’t play MMOs to play with other people in a virtual world. Somewhere along the line all these players of SP games got brainwashed into thinking they were better if they were online getting achievement points to prove their skills.

      Newsflash : an achievement 2 million people or anyone with a pulse who plays your game has isn.t all that special or much of an “achievement”at all.

      Basically you would be pissed because without your glowing pixels and a number beside your characters name it would really prove irrefutably how much time you have WASTED.

      • SynCaine says:

        Another aspect of the whole ‘achievement’ thing: Doesn’t it mean a whole lot more to be the richest/strongest/best out of 300k, rather than 20k?

        I mean, more impressive: Richest DF player, or richest EVE player?

        EVE, obviously, mostly because that guy is competing against a much larger pool.

        You’d think the true achiever types would welcome the chance to compete and achieve against a larger pool, to add more meaning to the achievement.

      • SM says:

        Achieving stuff IS fun! According to your philosophy, nothing achievable is worth pursuing. Well, why have championships in sports? Why keep career stats of athletes? I like playing with other people, just not having any and all activity tied to their schedules or interests. People like you seem to think every activity must be a group thing. ie. golf, shopping, etc. Clearly, we are different personality types and measure “value” and “waste” differently. Having different types of people with different playstyles is the one true advantage of MMOs over any other genre. Do you reply to these posts solo or is it a group thing for you?

        I am baffled by people like you who don’t get people like us. The psychology of achievement and advancement is everpresent in our daily lives — Grades in school, degrees in universities, pay-scales at work, medals in sports, ranks in the military, colored belts in martial arts, consumer reward programs, etc. Would you want any of those things you worked for to be wiped?

      • SKapusniak says:

        Nah, we players of SP games looked at the release schedule of Western Fantasy RPGs on PC with large detailed worlds to explore and and noticed that multiple games of that type in MMO form were being pushed out every year, whilst we got an Elder Scrolls — the only remaining single player fantasy franchise with a comparable style (Bioware makes things closer to JRPGs) — every four years.

        If you Multiplayer guys hadn’t had to go and steal the Ultima franchise from us and then go and pay freaking *subscriptions* for it, making the dollar signs in the money men’s eyes light up, the world would be a different and better place today! :)

        Frankly, your only (very very slim) hope to get rid of us now that your preferred sort of game is pretty much the closest equivalent to our preferred sort of game that one can actually buy, is that Skyrim beats the money guys expectation by a ludicrous margin, then Amalur: Reckoning comes out of nowhere three months later making absolutely huge bank, whilst the ToR crashes and burns simultaneously with a complete WoW collapse, suddenly making SP Big World RPGs look like the smart safe bet to the money men at least for a few short years.

        Or just pass a law mandating that every new MMORPG released has mandatory FFA PvP. That’ll would probably do it :)

  8. Phedre says:

    Apart from WOW, which is not even a real MMO according to Syncaine himself, which MMO has expansions that make old characters obsolete? Resetting the world is only a good idea if the world is truly dead. But then it is not really resetting it. It is creating a a whole new world. In case of darkfall that might not be a bad idea since the current one is dead (apparently).

    But if somebody would design an MMO in which everybody knows it will be reset every 6 months or a year so they can layout new areas, fresh economy, etc, I think I would be very interested. Endgame is boring as hell. These resets will be a great way to keep the game fresh.

    • SynCaine says:

      ATitD does regular resets, and at the start of each “telling” the pop is highest.

      EQ2 has raised the level cap, as has LotRO. I’m sure there are countless others.

  9. bhagpuss says:

    My characters are people.

    I wouldn’t give money to murderers.

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