Online multiplayer games are great. They're especially awesome because they have the ability to cram a ton of lore, story, and content into one game. Once you find and pick one that you love, you could be set for life. I mean, look at EverQuest. It originally released a whopping 18 years ago, and it's still going strong in its own way. World of Warcraft has been around for an equally inspirational 13 years. There's also Dota 2, which in its current iteration is a relative newcomer with four years history. But even at that comparatively low number of years in existence, Dota 2 has plenty to offer.
All of that content is absolutely fantastic, and I'm not here to complain that MMOs should not release new expansions or DLC. I don't think the rate at which new content comes out needs to be slowed down. I don't think that players who have been around from the beginning should be shamed for their knowledge. Quite frankly, they should be proud that they've been around so long. However, I do want to talk about one type of player that many just plain forget about after a while: the noob. Yes, they're annoying when you've been playing the game for a long time. Sure, you'd rather they just go away completely. But remember, we were all noobs once.
I had similar feelings to the “old player” mentality, even back in my written roleplay forum days. When someone waddled into an extensive roleplay with single sentence responses or terrible grammar and spelling, I got irritated. I would tell them as politely as possible that they should find themselves a newer roleplay to join, as this one was already pretty far along. I mean, being more experienced doesn't mean you have to be a jerk. But even still, I felt that neck hair-bristling irritation with newbies too.
So why don't we make it easier for new players in large-scale MMOs? I know there are tutorials in-game and plenty of places you can find newbie guides online. But shouldn't there be plenty of time and space for new players to learn together? I admittedly only got into World of Warcraft this past year. I was a Guild Wars girl originally, because I couldn't afford the monthly subscription to WoW. Thanks to the new free-to-play option, I finally felt free to give World of Warcraft a try. The only problem was that my friends had been playing for years. So of course they started new accounts so we could all play together, but off we went to a dozen different locations before I'd even fully figured out how the game worked.
I played with my friends, even knowing that they were more experienced players, because that was still less intimidating than finding unknowns to play with. This shouldn't be the case. There should be relatively simple ease of access for newbies who just want to try out a new game. Maybe they could turn into the same long-time players. It's important to give them their time to learn and explore without too much pressure or massive onslaughts of information. The lore, stories, and expansive content are what make MMOs great, but you have to ease people into it.
Dota 2 has tried to do something to help new players recently. They limited the amount of players that you can try down to twenty. These heroes they have selected are known for being easy to play and the best options for newbies. That's all well and good, but many different online games already do this. There's usually a guide for which characters are easier to play so you can make an educated decision when you start out. But let me give Dota 2 their congratulations where it's due. They made another change that matches up new players with and against those who have “high behavior scores.” The intention is to make the introductory social experience to Dota 2 as welcoming as the game itself. This is a great step, but it's still a small drop in the bucket and that bucket has holes. The system sounds great on paper, but it might not work well in practice, we'll find out in the future.
For me personally, I'd love an expansion/DLC-sized area for new players. I think this is the best opportunity and chance for noobs to learn together and to have the time they need to learn the skills needed for the rest of the game. Consider it an expanded tutorial area where only new players are allowed. Up to a certain level, the new players would have a chance to work with their peers with little to no pressure from experienced players. There shouldn't be any exclusive loot or gear in these areas, because that would be an easy way to tick off older, more experienced, and longer running players. Give the newbie stuff that the “elders” were able to get when they started in the lower level areas of the game. That way it's still fair for the people who have played longer. Plus, they can start a new character to experience the newbie area if they'd like.
This is just a single suggestion. The noob welcome mat needs to be large, with many features will have to be initiated to fully integrate new players into large existing games. However, the baby steps that have been taken thus far should really be ramped up. New players are coming and going very quickly from large MMOs, because they simply can't pay the price of admission. Large-scale changes need to be made quickly to allow the next generation of MMO players to feel comfortable in these massive existing games.