Here’s how much I like having alts: I have alts in Final Fantasy XIV and Final Fantasy XI. Two games which are built on the premise of doing everything on one character. That should tell you everything you need to know about my love of alts, even when I’m playing games that are actively hostile to having alts. It’s not just a bad idea, it’s a counterproductive one, and yet I’m doing it anyway.
Of course, there’s a difference between alts being possible and alts actually be welcomed. There are systems which are more or less alt-friendly, and that’s an important element to consider when building a game or playing one. So in no particular order, here’s a list of systems that can do good service to making a game more friendly to alts, more so than just by having games with a diversity of leveling choices (which helps, but doesn’t inherently make a game alt-friendly).
1. Account-wide rewards (many, many games)
The one benefit of starting a new character in FFXIV is that I do actually have a nice big chunk of stuff waiting for that character right away; between the various account-level mounts, experience boosters, and armor pieces, a new character can jump in on the right foot. Not that the title is unique in that; many games have doodads offered to any and all new characters based on when you subscribed, which editions of the game you bought, and so forth.
Players are not inherently rewarded for alts by using these systems, but they do benefit from spending less time acquiring resources and/or leveling. It’s a shot in the arm that can help mitigate the natural penalty of starting off with a fresh character, in other words.
2. Legacy system (Star Wars: The Old Republic)
The Legacy system was never perfectly implemented in Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I still feel like it should have offered more passive boosts rather than quite so many “now you can pay to unlock this” boosts. But the theory was still sound, and it’s a great way to ensure that leveling your alts still feels like you’re leveling your overall stable. This is, obviously, a recurring theme wherein you encourage alts via account-level opportunities.
I especially like the fact that you could unlock emotes and even abilities via the Legacy system. It provided a neat flash of flavor, even if the actual abilities (and most of the emotes) tended to be underwhelming. The principle of the thing.
3. An army of me (Guild Wars)
This was a late addition to the original Guild Wars, but it was a brilliant one building on a long chain of progression. At first, you had the mercenaries at any given outpost you could add into your party to fill it out. Later, you had Heroes, AI companions you could kit out and change. But the culmination was allowing you to actually use your own alts as Heroes, letting you play a team made up of characters you personally kitted out and set up.
The down side here was that if the AI was dumb or the build didn’t work, you had no one to blame but yourself. Still, it was a worthy effort.
4. Allied races (World of Warcraft)
First person to complain about unlock requirements in the comments loses 50 DKP.
Allied Races are a great idea for a game with a sufficiently broad foundation of playable races, because they don’t make leveling an alt itself much easier, but they do reward you for your progress with a new option for alts. You get to start out very slightly further ahead and enjoy a new sort of playable race, both of which are inherently good things. Sure, it’s only a slight swap from what you already have, but that alone can be enough motivation.
Pity World of Warcraft only came up with this idea for this expansion, but you can’t have everything.
5. Always something new to try (City of Heroes)
The overall number of classes in City of Heroes was pretty small, at least until Going Rogue made it much broader, but this was mitigated by the fact that you really had a much more specialized set of options. Sure, you might already have a Scrapper, but a Dark/Willpower Scrapper would lay very differently from a Dual Blades/Regeneration Scrapper. Or a Fire/Fire Scrapper. Or… well, you get the idea.
The game was very alt-heavy for players, but it wasn’t because it did a whole lot to reward you for having alts. Rather, it just had so much breadth to all of the different options that players always had something new to try out, which meant you wound up making an army of new characters because ooh, you could try Illusion Control!
6. Reset points (Tabula Rasa)
Here’s a system I never actually experienced, so if I get something wrong about Tabula Rasa’s cloning, please let me know in the comments. But the idea was a solid one. While you started off with a basic class, as you leveled up you got the option to branch in different directions. Each branch was saved as a clone point, so you could recreate the same character with a different class option without having to redo the same levels. Later, you also gained the option of making your clones hybrids instead of pure humans, meaning you functionally could change race as well as class choices.
This works well for alts on two levels. First of all, and quite obviously, it means that you can always have new stuff to try… but more to the point, you can do so without having to worry about making a whole new character. It’s a neat way of baking in choices with the ability to reset those choices, in other words. And it makes you think that even if you like your character, maybe she’d be more fun as a hybrid sort…
7. New starting points (Star Trek Online)
Star Trek Online is a two-faction game with lots of other mini-factions, like the Romulans, the Jem’hadar, the temporal captains, and so forth. This actually works out all right in gameplay, though. It means that you get to add in new “factions” with different identities without having to rewrite the game from the top down to account for having a totally new faction in the game. So it’s actually not dissimilar from Allied Races, but let’s not quibble.
8. Shared reputation (Star Wars: The Old Republic)
The shared reputation system for SWTOR serves a couple of alt-friendly purposes. First of all, it means that your alts can get all of the benefits of a repuation right away; you might not be high enough level to visit the area with a given reputation, but you still have access to all of its doodads. Second, it means that alts actually can work together to work through a reputation and unlock the various reputation-granting items.
I always liked this system and thought it was a shame more games didn’t offer it, especially since SWTOR’s reputations correctly offered mostly cosmetics instead of anything else. Why do I have to raise my beast tribe reputation with every character who wants this stuff in FFXIV? Because I’m not supposed to have alts, I know, but…
9. Character swapping (Master x Master)
This little MOBA-that-wasn’t-exactly is probably not going to be long remembered, which is a a bit of a shame; there were neat ideas in here. One of those neat ideas was the option to just swap back and forth between two characters on the fly, something not a lot of games really offer. Yes, it was also because the game was built largely upon content played solo, but it’s still a good idea from Master x Master worth revisiting.
Of course, you’d need systems in place to make sure that the switching is empowering rather than forcing you to have at least two characters leveled at the right tier to be worthwhile. But that’s balance, not concept.
10. Shared achievements (Guild Wars 2)
A lot of things in Guild Wars 2 are actually account-level, not limited to achievements but including things like armor skins and such. But the point remains the same in that you don’t just unlock something on one character, you unlock it everywhere. You can earn the reward once and use it elsewhere.
Which is really the big theme here. A game gets more alt-friendly either by giving you more options for a character (which means you want to make more alts) or by giving you more shared unlocks across the board (which makes alts easier to work with). So please, give me both. Preferably in FFXIV. I have eight characters, I have a problem.