Wisdom of Nym: Looking at alts in Final Fantasy XIV
It's not exactly a secret that FFXIV is not an alt-friendly game, and it never has been. Leveling alts is, by and large, a thankless and uncomfortable prospect mixed with the fact that a lot of the stuff you have to do on alts is a repetition of things that you have already done. The game doesn't offer you any alternatives to the MSQ in the long run; you're going to have to level through it, one way or another.
And yet people still play alts in the game; I know for a fact that I'm not the only person with more than one character at reasonable levels. And while there are things that could be done to make the game more alt-friendly, I suspect some of the obvious options would actually lead to a worse game overall, which makes "how can the game be more alt-friendly?" an interesting question.
The obvious model to look at here is World of Warcraft, which is highly alt-friendly due in no small part to collections and shared achievements. About 80% of your achievements (and nearly 100% of the achievements related to unlocking things) are tied to your account rather than a character, and mounts and appearances are all unlocked account-wide. You don't need to farm up that plate chestpiece on every character who might want it for appearances; you just need to do so once.
But FFXIV doesn't have a Collections tab. More to the point, the most alt-supportive features of that tab wouldn't work, because the game doesn't gate most of the game by level but by content. I think it would be theoretically possible (if slow) to reach level 50 without ever having joined a Grand Company, but you still wouldn't be able to ride a mount until you joined a Company and did the quests required to get your chocobo.
"Well, then, just make that automatic as you level!" Except that doesn't work, either; your chocobo mount also gets a name and has more data to be stored due to coloring, leveling, and appearance. As much as it'd be nice to just have mounts unlocked by levels, the game as it is currently set up doesn't really nicely allow it. The leveling structure and feature unlocking in Final Fantasy XIV is pretty finely balanced; mess with one part of it and you throw off everything.
I'm not saying that account-wide collections of things like minions and mounts wouldn't be nice, but just making them account-wide wouldn't solve the bigger underlying problem of having to go through pretty much everything a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) time.
Oddly, a lot of the excitement I've seen for the game's jumping potions doesn't come from people who want to start the game at level 50 or 60 or whatever; it's from people who do want to play alts. Having another set of levels to work through seems like a fine trade for not having to do the same MSQ quests again and earn the same unlocks all over. It's also important to note that the MSQ is one of the biggest sources of experience for players leveling via quests; since the reward is double that of a normal on-level quest, you can subsist on almost nothing but the main story for quite some time with no adverse effects.
Heck, I imagine some of the people who make alts want to see the main story unfold again.
The biggest problem, then, is that levels are not really the problem in FFXIV for alts. Unlocking content and gearing are the problems. If you start a fresh character with the intent of making a Machinist, you've got a lot of questing to do before that's even possible, and you're going to have to do even more work to get your flight options back in the various Heavensward zones. Levels are really just a function of time, but the unlocks - and remembering all of them - can be a real chore.
At the same time, you don't just want those unlocks to happen as a result of leveling, because that breaks the game in unpleasant fashions. (Not insurmountable ones, no, but "unpleasant" is bad enough, yes?) So what can or should be done?
I think part of the challenge is just making it clear that this is a thing that will happen. In my eyes, part of the current issue that the game has with alts is that the design team doesn't understand why they exist in the first place, since logically you don't need to have more than one character to do everything, and it's not as if you have big story branches to experience multiple ways. (The 3.5 story has one of the rare narrative choices... with the net result being identical no matter what you choose.) And yet people can and will make alts. It's just going to happen.
From there, it's a question not just of making leveling faster (which is already reasonably good for a single job, especially with Palace of the Dead as an option). It's a question of making the unlocking process less tedious and easier to bypass.
Case in point: Unlocking flight. I am entirely happy about the fact that you have to go zone-by-zone to unlock flight in a given region, and I think it's a positive element in the long run. I'm glad you have to search the region. But there's nothing really gained by forcing you to do it a second time; it just makes the zones more tedious the second time around when you already know the routes in the air.
I'd also love it if the game would unlock "related" duties so that you can't possibly miss them on secondary characters, or even just start with non-MSQ duties unlocked once you reach an appropriate level and point in the story. Yes, it makes sense to gate Palace of the Dead until you've done the first three dungeons, but why not just allow me to use it right away once I reach that level? For that matter, why do I have to unlock Halatali again? Instead of forcing me to unlock and clear the level 50 dungeons that I've already unlocked and cleared countless times on my other characters, why not just make those available when I hit 50?
I'd also love to see some means of making gearing a bit easier on subsequent characters, but I can't think of a great method for doing that without outright encouraging or demanding alts to gear for more than one role, which has the opposite effect.
Ultimately, I don't think that we're ever going to see a whole lot of alt-friendliness in the game just by its very nature, but it could still be more alt-friendly. And I think part of that process is just a matter of recognizing that it's not levels holding alts back. Leveling is easy; it's all of the other run-around chores that aren't.
As always, feedback is welcome in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I'm going to be doing fan festival predictions before the last round of festivities in Frankfurt.