For all of the shockingly many MMORPGs I’ve played over the past decade, it struck me last night how shockingly few of them I’ve ever leveled a character all the way to the end.  That paltry list includes World of Warcraft (3 characters), Warhammer Online (1 character), and, um, um… I guess that’s it.  Just the four toons.  For a genre where a common rallying cry is that “the REAL game begins at END game!”, I’ve shied away from being in the “real” game more often than not.

And here’s the thing — I think I’m in good company, being a Middler.  What’s a Middler?  It’s the term I’m using for players who constantly get to the middle of a MMO’s leveling curve, but rarely the end, for various reasons.  Maybe they’re altoholics, maybe the first part of the game is perceived as more enjoyable than the latter (leveling is certainly faster), maybe they’re skipping around to multiple MMOs.  For whatever reason, Middlers don’t have a lot of level capped characters, but they’re still fiercely devoted to these games and enjoy them quite a bit.

For me, it’s a combination of all of those factors, plus often getting burned out once a character starts hitting the higher levels.  One of the weird things about MMOs is that, in a way, the more you level up, the more you’re punished for it.  Think about it — higher levels:

  • Take more time and work between gratifying “dings” of leveling up
  • Usually give you fewer and fewer new skills and abilities
  • Feature more ugly, desolate zones that aren’t as exciting to explore
  • Pile on the “busy work” of lengthy grinds

Is it any surprise that passion for these MMOs dies down when we hit this point?  Some people power through these levels with their eye on the prize of the End Game, that messiah of content that will hopefully make playing fun again (and that, my friends, is a subjective toss-up).

Way back in the day when I played my first MMO, Anarchy Online, I was astounded at the sheer number of levels — something like 220, I think.  I didn’t play the game ever thinking I’d hit the level cap at all, so I just played it to play it.  Maybe that’s when I first became a Middler.

This is why I frown on game companies that only develop content for the end game, because I think there’s a lot of us who constantly recycle the early and mid game and deserve new content for that span as well.

Just curious if this description fits you at all — are you a Middler?  If so, what’s your reason for rarely if ever hitting the level cap?

28 thoughts on “Middlers

  1. Carson March 23, 2010 / 6:54 am

    Yeah I guess I am! My reason would be that very few MMOs have entertained me long enough for me to get to the level cap!

    WoW, yes, I have a number of level 80s. That’s it. My LOTRO main is somewhere mid 40’s, past the halfway point certainly. My EQ2 character didn’t make halfway – mid 30’s I think? EVE of course doesn’t have a cap but I only have a few million skill points there.

    My current baby is Atlantica Online, I’m level 81 (with the cap being 130) there. But that’s a very exponential curve, it’s certainly not a game where all the serious players are expected to be at the cap.

  2. Ryver March 23, 2010 / 7:04 am

    Since playing ‘online games’ (MUDs + MMOs) since 1992, I have hit the level cap in exactly two games with only two characters.

    1. A Mud called Tsunami (maxed out a Unicorn).
    2. EQ2 as a Swashbuckler. I was at max level for a total of about 5 days before this last expansion raised the cap to 90.

    I rarely care about max level. For me, it is mostly about the journey there.

  3. Longasc March 23, 2010 / 7:11 am

    I started out as a “middler” in WoW. But my first MMO, Ultima Online, had no levels, only a count of how many “Grandmaster” levels you had in various skills. I had 5 chars with maximized stat/skill training for everyting, so these were not really “middlers”.

    But UO was fairly unique, and in all EQ/DAoC/WoW style games the following happened:

    I burnt out in… hm yes, you are right, the middle levels. I felt I “got it”, understood the mechanics and the game. And felt they were all grind with little variation. Yup, even WoW. I took a break between level 40-50. Despite peer pressure. I hated it all. I hated the system and still do today. This did not stop me to return to raid the Molten Core. After which I also took a break till TBC. I did not really play TBC as it was released, came later and quite enjoyed it. Did everything possible in Outland. Loved Karazhan. At least before it became a weekly speed farming run. It was probably my most active WoW time. Got burned out quickly in WOTLK after waiting for it for ages with high expectations.

    In EQ I never got beyond the middle levels. In DAOC I played a char for a friend who had no time to play anymore. My own char was stuck in lengthy levelling and I just wanted some RvR. As I started playing LOTRO I had a strong incentive to get to Moria and liked the lush looks of Eregion, so I overcame the desolate bleakness of Angmar.

    I think levelling nowadays is so hyper fast and we usually get so much more content that this problem should not exist anymore. But people are said to have lower attention spans than ever before, so hmmm…

    I think I got spoiled by Guild Wars. It offers so much with so little downsides that I often cannot be arsed to play the usual DIKU anymore at all. Like Allods or Warhammer Online. In Age of Conan I quit right after Tortage, came back, and in my 2nd major AoC try the “Black Castle” instance pissed me off and I did not like the game anymore. The trash mobs were harder to kill than the bosses for instance and some other things.

    In EVE I needed several trials to get into the game and stay for a while – but never made the jump into a big corp that was really engaged in major fleet battles or politics. I participated in some fleet battles and it took me ages of waiting and blobbing really turned me off. In Aion the grind got me between 30 and 40.

    It is also interesting how often we gamers tell other gamers who bail at certain points that it gets all better in the endgame – the supposed pearl at the bottom of the bucket full of crap.

    I also wonder how I “survived” the Lone Lands and the North Downs. Both zones are known as LOTRO sub killers if you ask people when they gave up. Oh well.

    Very interesting topic. I am looking forward to read some more comments.

  4. Thorment March 23, 2010 / 7:49 am

    With few exceptions I have managed to always get to the “final” level. In no way shape or form have I ever felt that that is where the game begins at. I grimace very time I read the words going over general chat channels telling some new player that “End Game is were the Game begins”.
    The Journey is the key, if you are only playing to reach the end then I think you are missing the point of every game. My four year old son knows that it’s more fun hitting the snakes and extending the game then it is finishing “snakes and Ladders” this way we all end up spending more time playing together then just wrapping the game up.
    There are MMO’s that alleviate this to an extent by “alternate experience” like EQ2’s where even by hitting the current level cap you can continue on in some form.
    Of course if you as a player enjoy pushing hard for end level and that’s where you have fun then all the power to you. I understand it but also know that it not where I am as a gamer. I have more recently even wondered why there are even bothering with levels as a concept as it seems that many just find it as an obstacle to be removed to get to where many feel the game begins.
    End game folks is retirement, sitting back and enjoying the events that made up the journey to get to that point. Bouncing the grand-kids on the knee while exciting them tales of dragons with treasures beyond imagination.

  5. Kurt Zdanio March 23, 2010 / 7:59 am

    This is why I don’t think I will ever play WoW again. The only thing they seem to care about is pushing the level cap up another 5 levels and adding end game content. The highest I have ever made it in WoW is 48th level and there really wasn’t any reason for me to continue with that character. I was having more fun making a new character and getting them up to around 20. Then start again.

    The same thing happened to me in pretty much any MMO that I have tried.

  6. shadowwar March 23, 2010 / 8:20 am

    Absolutely not.

    Every game I play, I usually go to the cap. It’s very VERY rare for me not to. Champions Online is probably the only game of late that I have not, and that’s because I saw there was nothing for me once I reached the cap, and just gave up. EQ2, WoW, WAR are the three main MMOs I contributed significant time to and I had multiple @ cap characters in it.

    I was a bit confused by, “For whatever reason, Middlers don’t have a lot of level capped characters, but they’re still fiercely devoted to these games and enjoy them quite a bit.” at first, until I realized that I think you meant the genre as a whole. I don’t grok how a player can be devoted to a game as a whole when they only have experienced a small fraction of it’s total. I see it to be similar to saying I’m devoted to my wife, but we have split bank accounts, live in different states, and visit one a month. Sure, you may not be seeing anyone else, but by most accounts, that’s not much of a relationship, that’s an aquaintance.

  7. Thac0 March 23, 2010 / 8:27 am

    I’m a middler. I usually play every race and class combo for the first 1/4 of a game and then i get bored. After that point i know all the games systems and how to play the characters and there are no more real surprises. After the first 1/4 of an MMO all you get is grind really and the levels slow down quite a bit.

    Like Longasc I think Guild wars was a great Model. I got a character to 20 there without realizing it and i had tons left to do.

    I also got to the “end” in old pre NGE SWG because i was a doctor/combat medic and i could sit in town and heal people and talk to them all night for xp and occasionally go off and hunt with my guild.

    I really really want to find an MMO that will hold on to my attention all the way through and make me not want to stop playing. I cant seem to find that anymore and its kinda sad.

  8. Glenn March 23, 2010 / 8:51 am

    I have also played MMO’s since UO and have never had a maxed out character. For me it was a combination of game mechanics, grinding(burn-out) and family/gaming balance that kept me away…I don’t have large blocks of time to game anymore which really slows down the leveling process. Community is definitely what I look for in a game and guild. Luckily I have been in a guild that has chapters across multiple games that I can find people to play with when I have the time. Also I think my personality/gaming attention span comes into play. I get all excited about a particular game and focus all of my gaming time on it….then as I get ‘tired’ , something new comes out and I re-focus. It is a vicious cycle but I always circle back to the games where I have friends playing to keep it fun.

  9. Wumpus March 23, 2010 / 8:52 am

    Pssst! Here’s a dirty little secret. The people who say, “The real game begins at the end game” are in fact just a fraction of the people who actually play the game. They are, however, the most vocal because they haunt forums, blogs, etc.

    The vast majority of players who buy an MMO never make it to cap. They get partway through, start an alt or two, and then drift off (or stampede off to the Next Big Thing.)

  10. moxie March 23, 2010 / 9:00 am

    Now that you mention it, I’m probably a bit of a middler too. Granted, I have four level 80’s in WoW, but I detest the “real game starts at level cap” mentality. Back in vanilla WoW, levels 40-50 were a pain in the rear and that’s where I hit a major slow-down. These days once a new alt hits Outlands, it’s like pulling teeth to get those 10 levels done. Once I’m past that bump in the road I can usually coast downhill to level cap. But once they hit 80, it’s time to move on to a new alt!

    Sadly, there’s not much left for me to do in WoW these days, unless I roll another alt, and I’d rather wait for Cataclysm to do that.

    In LotRO, my main finally made it past Lone-Lands and is about to finish North Downs… three cheers for the revamps in those areas! And of course I already have an alt or two planned. 😉

    I think I enjoy “middling” because it seems like that’s where the story happens and it most seems like an actual world you inhabit and interact with rather than just being a hub you log in to for mini-games. Once I hit level cap, I feel like that character is “done” until they introduce more levels.

  11. Syp March 23, 2010 / 9:25 am

    Moxie, what server are you on in LOTRO?

  12. jamesy247 March 23, 2010 / 9:28 am

    If a game keeps my interest until the ‘end game’ then I’ll get there.
    I think that in a lot of games it is an anti-climax however, for me it’s mainly about the journey getting there.
    I really enjoyed WoW, Warhammer and currently LotRO. I’ve played many others but not to lvl cap because either they just didn’t engage me enough or the community was poor.

  13. moxie March 23, 2010 / 9:57 am

    My main is still on Gladden, but it seemed a bit empty there these days so I rolled an alt on Landroval (who is now level 19). I really like it there so I’ve requested a transfer for my main. 🙂

  14. Blue Kae March 23, 2010 / 10:21 am

    I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I am definitely a middler. LotRO was the first game I ever hit max level in and I attribute that both to my love of the books and having a lifetime subscription so I could come and go from the game as I pleased. Generally I play a game to the middle levels and then lose interest. In WoW is was because I saw that the player focus was moving towards end-game and raiding, which soured me on the journey. In EQ, City of Heroes, and myriad other games there’s always that point where the content thins out and the XP curve steepens. I’m currently at level 39 on one of my heroes in Champions, so that looks like the next game where I’ll hit max level.

  15. Syp March 23, 2010 / 10:52 am

    @ Moxie – What’s your character name? Why aren’t we talking? WHYYYY?

  16. Jomu March 23, 2010 / 10:56 am

    yep; i’m a middler; mostly due to alt-itis, its a sickness! 😉
    but i’ve tried to followthrough with my recent games to hit lvl cap (WAR -1, Borderlands -2, WoW -1)..

  17. Latrodanes March 23, 2010 / 11:26 am

    I am an unabashed Middler. When I got into AoC as my first MMO, I got to about the mid-50s on several toons but felt I had enough of the grind. Then I moved to EvE in 2008, and while there are those who choose to get into large-scale PvP activities, which is EvE’s closest ‘end-game’ equivalent, there is so much to do that it is very middler friendly. I’ve stayed and can’t see moving to any other MMO, especially a level-based one.

  18. Scott M. March 23, 2010 / 11:57 am

    Yep, I’m a middler as well. I started in WoW on day one and to this day I probably have 10 characters between 10 and 49 the highest two being a 38 and 49. Because of our LOTRO static group I do have character at 50 there, but my other other characters are 33, 20, 18, and 18. My main EQ2 character is stalled in his late 20s. The list goes on for every other MMO my main is right in the middle. My Fallen Earth main is at 38 and I hope that will be my first max level character. Then again I have another FE character at 20 and just started another with a friend and am at level 3.

    So I do have a case of alt-itis, but I think that’s more of symptom of me getting bored after the initial honeymoon phase of the game. I think ‘normal’ players probably felt what I usually feel after they finished Tortage in Age of Conan and got out into the rest of the world — I just feel that feeling with every game in the mid-levels.

    The content is repetitive, the mobs are the same just stronger, the items are the same but better, new skills are the same but more powerful. I would be happy if all these games would just cut out 20-30 levels right in the middle.

  19. Void March 23, 2010 / 2:28 pm

    I am most definitely a middler. The only game I have ever reached max level in is WoW and that is still only one character. There is so much content to explore throughout the game but we tend to run out of content at the end.

    Alts are extremely fun too. They let you play the game in new and interesting ways. I wish people wouldn’t say that the game starts when you reach max level. It doesn’t. That is when the gear treadmill starts.

    I have a post up about endgame raiding and what happens when expansion packs are released. I really feel that so much time spent for so little reward is frustrating. This is especially true when there is a new expansion on the horizon.

  20. Bronte March 23, 2010 / 7:59 pm

    Middler here.

    Used to be an end-gamer. Beat all end-game content up to and including Burning Crusade, including most server-firsts. Quit soon after reaching 80 in Wrath of the Lich King. Its a great game, but I just grew tired of it.

    Then there is EVE Online, but the concept of ‘middler’ and ‘end-gamer’ is very muddy. A 10 Mil SP character could be just as effective in a specific situation as a 100 Mil SP character.

    Champions Online was a study in shitty content and poor production values. I got burnt out fast.

    D&D:EU: Middler.

    Never tried LoTRO.

    Tried Fallen Earth. Call me a sissy, but it was too ‘harsh’ for me.

    Not sure if anyone remembers Earth and Beyond, my favorite MMO of all time. But I was an end-gamer in that one as well.

    So to sum it, used to be an end-gamer, now a middler due to a lack of any decent MMO that has gripped me like E&B or WoW did.

  21. Rivalyn March 24, 2010 / 2:51 am

    Middler here. The only game I ever capped in was WoW, with just one character.

    I don’t play WoW anymore.

    Playing City of Heroes now, and happily slouching through the middle levels with no particular urge to drive past the levels and reach the “end game” yet still having great fun.

  22. Dril March 24, 2010 / 1:00 pm

    I don’t want to be, but I am. I hate that fact with a passion, because I don’t kid myself that the journey is in any way enjoyable or indeed interesting in the current market, although LOTRO manages to make it slightly more bearable.

    Actually, thinking about it, in a lot of games I don’t even make it to the middle :S. Here’s the list:

    WoW: Two 80s, 72, 73 and a plethora of lowbies.

    LOTRO: 33 (but this is a new WIP character that I’m still playing)

    EQ2: 22

    WAR: 24

    FE: Negligible, something like 2/3

    EVE: I got to the first stationy thing before I quit

    Aion: 27

    Allods: 8

    AoC: 37

    Champions: I’m not sure, I think it was 21

    The thing that gets me down is the XP bar; I hate it. With a passion.

  23. Scott March 24, 2010 / 1:48 pm

    For me, it depends. I suppose if I tally up the total number of MMO’s I’ve ever played then I’m a Middler at best, and usually don’t even make it as far as the mid-levels. But that’s because the games themselves failed to interest me.

    But Pre-CU/NGE SWG I participated in every “end game” activity other than the Battlefields, which were removed before I could try one. Got to watch my guild fight in one from the sidelines, though once. But there were no “levels” like we have now, and “end game” (actually I don’t recall ever hearing that term used in SWG at the time) was stuff like going to Dathomir to hunt Rankor for DNA, etc. or running the Correlian Corvette and other instances.

    WoW, I had several level-capped characters, and three of them raiding weekly.

    LOTRO, I had two characters raiding in the original SoA game, but now I’ve pretty lost my interest in alts so I stick with one character.

    AoC, just starting out, but it’s been a really fun ride so far so I am planning on reaching level cap and raiding.

  24. Pete March 24, 2010 / 1:57 pm

    Perfect solution – play WW2OL


    The highest game rank is Lt. Col. After 8 years on the ground I have ranked Lt. Col – French and British army, and Major in German army. The beauty of this game – even with max rank and 8 years of experience a new player logging in for the first 8 minutes has an equal chance to take me out as I do to take him out.

  25. Rackham March 24, 2010 / 3:20 pm

    I’m definitely in the Middler boat. I’ve got a couple of WoW 80s now, but I find that as soon as I hit the “end game” I usually shy away from the RAID guilds and just do dailies and faction grinding.

    The minute I have to show up regularly for a raid means it’s gone from being a game to a job and I’ve got enough jobs as it is.

    I’ll take endless leveling any day, thanks!

  26. Professor Beej March 24, 2010 / 10:44 pm

    I’m an end-gamer. I feel bad when I don’t hit the end game, like I feel bad when I leave a book unfinished. I think the one that hurts me the most is WAR, though. I never got to see T4 because I had to join friends in WLK as soon as it was released. Maybe someday, though.

  27. Riv March 25, 2010 / 12:45 pm

    I guess I’m a finisher too, like Shadow. Cause I keep churning levels like a biological cyborg, I kind of take pride in my days played it takes me to get a toon max level.

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