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.