Alts. The primary purpose of an alt is to provide a different experience due to the limitations of the primary character. This is extremely applicable to class-based and level-based games, as the experience of a level 10 monk is much different than a level 40 wizard. Skill-based games are a little different, depending on how they apply their cap. Ultima Online for example, only allowed you to max out a subset of skills, while EvE allows to you max everything, if you play for 10 years. People still end up specializing in skill-based games. There are other reasons to play an alt, but these are really the most common ones.
The kink in this thought is the concept of an avatar, or a player representative rather than a character representative. In 99% of games this is your game account, where you gain access through the character selection screen. FF14 is the clear outlier, where a single character can complete all the content – alts are used for either cosmetic reasons (race/sex) or to play on a separate server. All the game share a similar vein, where content is gated. The warrior in WoW is generally separate from the Cleric – aside from pets, mounts and achievements. FF14’s levels keep content separated, but quest progress is shared across the various jobs. I’ll pick 5 games here to see where the similarities and differences lie.
After reading a bit more on the 6.2 dev Q+A for WoW had my thinking wheels going for a spin. First though, I certainly can appreciate the candor in the responses. Aside from the raiding progress, it’s fairly clear that the entire expansion had some serious core issues that were not addressed until 6.2. (That certainly begs the question as to what they actually did for the 20 months between SoO and 6.2). The second thing I noticed is how alts are mentioned as being the sort of evidence of many of these issues. Rep grinding, garrisons, dungeons, professions and gold making are all linked in some form to alts.
Most telling is that using alts solely to farm gold (essentially just a 5 minute log on/off, and a weekly craft) is pretty clear that there are core issues with the content. It means that the content available is of such poor quality that no one bothers to do it again, and that it has no relevance to the playerbase.
Rep grinding only being available from killing enemies is clearly a bad move. It takes a long time to get through that and it’s eye-bleedingly boring. 6.2 addresses that. So did the MoP rep commendations.
Garrisons were designed to be self-contained, in that you could level a character to 100 without stepping outside your gates (I did something quite like this with my Rogue). Aside from companions and unlocking expansions to the garrison, there was no need to leave. You could fully level and gear a player through the missions. And supplement your main character with tons of gold from those missions. I was making 500g per day in 5 minutes, with weekly spikes due to cooldowns.
Dungeons provided zero incentive to run outside of the story progress. All the gear was supplanted by LFR or garrisons.
Professions were gated behind daily/weekly cooldowns, and could be done entirely in the garrison. You’d complete as much in 1 minute as you would in an hour.
While there are more links between the characters in Wildstar (pets, mounts, linked housing) there’s still an issue with alt progression. Unlocking raiding is still gated on a character basis, rather than a player basis. Reputation grinds are there, locked behind daily quests that do not get faster with alts and gate items needed to do top end activities. I do hear tell that both of the items are being changed for the F2P conversion though, so there’s some light at the end of that tunnel.
Crafting has cross-dependencies, more than most games, but still not terribly relevant once you get to veteran dungeons.
Ok, I’ll admit I’m stretching back in time here as I haven’t been active in 10 years. I did play (very) actively for a long time though, and made a habit of selling 7x GMs on ebay. A typical account would have a miner/armorer/weaponsmith, a mage hunter, a tank, a treasure hunter and a house crafter. Each filled a particular niche of the game, and each had dependencies on the others. Due to the quick ramp up time of each skill, it was a relative simple matter to swap between characters at any given time. And since there were no levels or content gates, a brand new character had access to the exact same content as 7x GM. Their ability to excel at that content differed mind you, with is something EvE has in common here.
Rift is an outlier as it’s the mid-way point between distinct classes and distinct characters. There are only 4 classes in the game, and each class can play each role (tank, heal, DPS, support) to relatively similar degrees. It is certainly a different experience skill-wise to play a Rogue versus a Mage, but they still fill the same role, which is not the case in most other games. Most other games let you play 2 roles (DPS+other) for all the characters. Crafting is different though, as you’re limited in which skills you can pick up. There are few cross-dependencies though, so there’s little boosting of a primary character. Planar attunement is even shared across all characters, which is a great incentive to play others characters.
This game shakes up the status quo and yet, maintains portions of it. Content is gates through 2 mechanisms, level and progress through the main quest. You only have to do the latter once and then it’s available for any other job on your character, assuming you have the job level to do it. So my 51 White Mage has unlocked (most) everything before Heavensward, but my level 30 Dragon Knight can only access content available for characters 30 and below.
In an interesting twist, there’s a benefit to leveling multiple jobs through cross-class skills. If my WM where to level a Black Mage to 26, he’d gain access to a skill that makes anything instant cast (like resurrection). Crafting is similar, where there are clear benefits to raising everything to at least 15 to gain access to a host of skills that improve quality and future progress. In fact, most crafting skills have a dependency on others, so either you have a really diverse guild, or you need to step up with your own materials.
Does an alt provide a benefit to the primary character? Certainly. But nearly all the content consumed by that alt is relevant to the player more so than the character. All the jobs benefit more than the single one being pushed through. And that’s a rather significant design shift compared to the rest of the market.
If you do have a “true” alt, in that I mean a separate character, then you’re in the same bucket as other MMOs. It’s like you were a different person altogether, which is highly discouraged.
I would hazard to say that the shift away from distinct alts to shared alts is going to get more pronounced as games mature and come to market. Or at least the game play would move away from a specific character and move to the actual player. While level-based games will always provide some sort of gate to content, the majority of the game should be open to all alts once unlocked on a single character. Having to “prove” yourself again and again makes little sense, outside of arbitrary padding to game content.