Since Blizzard announced the new Paragon Levels system and implemented it in v1.04, I’ve been 1) enjoying the feature, and 2) thinking back on the “max level 60” controversy from a couple of years ago. The whole issue is summarized pretty well in our Max Level wiki article, but if you weren’t around back in September 2010, here’s a quote from the official statement here.
Of course it all comes down to an XP curve. We could, for instance, say the level cap in Diablo III is 60 and then pace that curve and gain out over what we estimate it took someone to reach 99 in Diablo II. Of course we wouldn’t do that but it should help illustrate that the time from 1-60 in Diablo II does not equal the amount of time it will take to reach 60 in Diablo III…
The leveling experience is always going to stop somewhere because the real game is the item hunt. So, instead of letting it drag out to a less meaningful 80 or so levels like most people saw in Diablo II we have 60 levels of awesome; at every level you’ll get a meaningful and noticeable increase in power. It has a ton of other benefits and fixes a lot of problems a higher cap causes, but I’ll take pause.
At the time this was a controversial decision, since they’d previously said D3’s max level would probably be 100, so cutting it by 40 seemed like a huge change. Especially since Diablo III still had points to spend in active and passive skills, and 40 fewer levels seemed to equal 40 fewer skill points. The initial debate revolved around that issue, and whether or not characters maxing at level 60 would feel as powerful as characters maxing at 100.
At that time Bashiok was the sole source of communication from the team to the community, and he argued (fairly effectively) that 60 vs 100 was just a number, and the developers could easily balance things so a level 60 character felt awesome. Also, having fewer levels meant a more impactful change with each level, and when fans thought back on the higher levels in D2, most of which meant 1 more skill point which was just going to some passive or synergy that added like .2% more cold damage, that seemed like a reasonable argument.
The more interesting arguments, ones that are directly relevant to the Paragon Levels, were those about D3’s end game. Would it be fun enough without any character improvement past 60? Would Inferno be enough end game when it was just grinding for items? Bashiok assured us that it would be fine, and that things like Achievements, Artisan leveling, and eventually PvP would be plenty of activity and would provide sufficient epeen growth to reward expert players.
As the last three months have demonstrated, that argument was bitterly incorrect, and the features of the Paragon system are clearly intended to address end game issues such as: lack of character progression, not enough fun with item finding, not enough reason to keep playing after reaching the lower max level, and problems with Magic Find.
Click through for multiple additional Blue quotes from 2010 and 2011 that attempted to answer fan complaints on those issues. It’s an interesting insight into the theories and plans of the developers, some of which were correct and some of which were very incorrect.
One note; Bashiok is the author of all of these posts, but realize that as the Diablo 3 Community Manager, he was giving the developers’ official arguments. His sarcasm and mannerisms are his own, but the game feature arguments he offered up served as the official opinions of the developers.
It was a bit of motivation. I wouldn’t say it was awesome. A level 80 something character is easily able to beat a level 90 character with some skillful play, so what does that say about the awesomeness of each level? Minimal, at best.
Will there be other ways for elite gamers to show the size of their e-peen?
I don’t think being 99 showed you were an elite gamer. Just that you had a lot of time on your hands … or that you loved killing cows.
Once it became clear that the D3 devs weren’t going to change their stance on level 60, and that they felt achievements and item grinding would be sufficient end game rewards, fans started to try to reason with them. If they wanted to cram all of the skills and stats into the first 60 levels, which were reached before the end game content began, couldn’t they allow additional levels but without rewards? Or with smaller rewards? Or even just let experience continue to count up, without any rewards at all?
I’m sure you’ve read this several times, Bashiok, but my stance is that gaining levels are great rewards, and extra levels would make great long-term goals for the end-game. Not to the extreme of 99, mind you. Maybe an extra 5 or so for players that like grinding out that extra bit of advantage.
There’s no such thing as extra levels for people who want to grind them out. Either they’re there and provide a necessary boost in power in which case it’s not a choice to get them or not, or they don’t exist. We’re not going to put in extra levels that provide no bonus simply so people have achievements to work toward. That’s what achievements are for.
The issue came up again in April 2011, and got more Bashiok replies. Highlights:
Good, progressive endgame features can replace the subconscious feeling of needing to “level up”. It’s just a matter of WHAT they decide to do for endgame in D3. Frankly though, I don’t see PvP and collecting items being the answer. I don’t know what sparked the decision to lower the level cap in D3. I would actually be very curious to find out.
Bashiok: So just to reiterate some things and maybe draw it back to more specific bullet points of why a lower level cap is (we believe) better for the game:
# We want each level to feel like a significant boost in power.
# We want level benefits to be as clear as possible. Some people have suggested “Well, let us hit level 60, but then keep giving us points after that.” which isn’t a solution, it’s the same problem except worse because there’s no actual tracking mechanism built in (ie levels). We also want to avoid providing level benefits at irregular intervals (although this may be unavoidable for trait points), as some people suggest “Let us level to 99 and just give us the rewards every few levels”. This goes back to the first point: We want each level to feel like a significant boost in power. Trait points may not come every level, but the sum of the other increases from leveling, we feel, are still very significant and maintain our intent.
# Because of the extreme leveling curve in Diablo II, balance really couldn’t be adjusted around level 99 characters.
# We can have long term status symbols people can go for that are extremely visual, show to others the effort you’ve put in, but not attach that to something like a character level. Along with artisans, achievements, gems, runestones, and all the other various character customization progressions, we still have some surprises left in store on this front.
The real bottom line is that we understand people like having those long term goals, and those feel good to chase and eventually achieve, but we do not feel one needs to be character level, and in fact making character levels a long term goal brings a great many negative effects with them (keeping in mind our goals for how important each level should feel).
In retrospect, I agree with all of their theoretical arguments about why Clvl 99 wasn’t essential, and why Clvl 60 could be just fine if it felt like a bigger reward with each level. The problem came with them removing skill points and customizable stats, and runestones, and the Talisman and charms, and then upon release Inferno was unbalanced and a gear check, and the item system wasn’t very fun, and the end game had only one play mode, and there wasn’t any PvP, and leveling up Artisans was simplified and crafting was useless in the end game anyway, and no one cared about the really long term achievements.
But other than that, though… perfect!
In a way the devs were correct; if D3 had been released just as it was, but characters had been able to level up to 100 instead of 60, that wouldn’t have fixed anything. It would have been a little more fun seeing continued experience gain, and stat bonuses for level ups, but without skill points or customizable stat points it wouldn’t have made that much difference for your character, all the other problems would have remained. (Imagine the Paragon systme without the MF/GF component. Total yawner.)
Or imagine if the max level had been 100, with skills and runes spread out all the way to level 100. That would be lame too, since you’d have to grind Inferno for weeks (or months) just to unlock your highest level runes.
On the whole then, the Paragon System seems a pretty good solution, though I’m not a fan of it entirely removing Magic Find as a gear choice at the highest levels. (Much of D2’s end game fun was trying to perfect your gear with trade offs in survival for increases in MF, plus D2 was much too easy if you went with all survival gear.)
It’s a shame we needed 3 months of constant fan complaints about the end game for the devs to acknowledge and correct the problem, and you wonder what system they might have incorporated way back in 2010 or 2011 if they’d heeded the constant fan worries that the end game was going to be boring without more to do than item grind.
How About Some Character Customization?
Fans have been asking for some meaningful character customization for as long (or longer) than we were warning that the end game wasn’t going to be enough. And the D3 devs have been arguing against those complaints for just as long. Now that they’ve admitted their initial end game, item system, Inferno, and numerous other feature changes weren’t ideal and have addressed them with patches… might some character customization be next?
Why couldn’t they have done that with the Paragon system, and allowed the stat points earned after level 60 to be allocated manually? If you want to put every point into Vitality, it’s great for Hardcore. If you want to put every point into your main stat, that’s great for damage. It’s your choice to build your character how you want… you know like they allow you to do in RPGs.
Blizzard’s main argument against that in D3 was that it made character balancing very difficult early on, and that noobs would screw up their character builds. Well, character balancing is gone by level 60 with the wide variety of equipment, and a level 60 character is certainly not being run by a noob.
While I’m dreaming, how about some kind of skill points or skill customization as well? I understand that it was impossible to balance the benefit of skill points between, “one point wonders” and “every point adds to your damage” skills. That’s part of the reason they scrapped the runestone system. But how about simplifying skill points, but still making them matter?
Say you get 12 skill points to divide between your 6 skills, and each skill can have up to 3 points, each of which provides about a 10% improvement. (More points could offer shorter cooldowns or decreased resource costs for movement skills.) So you can go with 2 in everything to be balanced, or put 3 into your 3 favorite attack skills, or load up the points on defense skills to offset your equipment shortcomings, or whatever you like. It’s far from the depth of character customization traditionally offered in RPGs, but at least every single character of the same class and level wouldn’t be (instantly, with freespecs) identical to every other one, as we see today.
I can’t believe we’ll see anything like that in a patch, but perhaps in an expansion? After all, the D3 devs are stubborn and sometimes defensive when faced with criticism, but they have generally shown an admirable ability to admit their game design errors and to apply corrections and improvements.