I have alts in Final Fantasy XIV. This is absurd for two reasons. First, the statement makes it clear that I have alternate characters in a game where the whole point is that you can do everything on one character. Second, it becomes clear that this is plural, that I have multiple such alternate characters. Why, exactly, am I such an idiot?
Research is ongoing into that particular question. But I think in this particular case it serves as a useful springboard to ask the larger question, which is why people make alts in the first place. Sure, there are games which have more restrictions in terms of individual characters than the one just mentioned, but I think it’s still interesting to look at the reasons why we make alts. Because there are a lot of them. Let’s say… oh, around nine? But add one additional one for a joke, or something. That’ll balance well.
1. To explore other looks
Let’s start with the very basic fact that while character races can almost always be changed for a few bucks in the long run, sometimes you don’t necessarily want to do that. Heck, sometimes you never even considered it. Maybe you want to try out the look and animations of another race in World of Warcraft, or see how you feel about an Elvaan in Final Fantasy XI. You want to just take a different outfit for a spin. That’s maybe a shallow reason, but it exists.
2. To explore other options
In a lot of games, you can’t really change core elements of your character after creation. Once you’ve made your character in Guild Wars 2, for example, your Revenant is always going to be a Revenant. But would you like to try out a Thief? Or maybe a Ranger? Maybe you’d like to see how the story plays out with different choices in Star Wars: The Old Republic? You made certain choices about what you’re playing, choices that you can’t unmake, but maybe another set of options will suit you better or at least provide a fun change of pace.
In some games, these first two items dovetail rather hard; you can’t try out a new class in Black Desert Online without making a totally new character with a wholly distinct look, for example. Your mileage may vary on that.
3. To connect with friends
Servers are, increasingly, something that MMOs don’t like. Really, it’s debatable if they were ever liked so much as they were a necessity of running a sprawling online world. Regardless, there are still games wherein having a new character on another server is how you hook up with your friends on that sever. At the same time, you can also go other ways with this; maybe your new character isn’t swapping servers, but it is allowing you to connect with your friends by playing at the same level and growing over time.
4. To experience different characters
Roleplaying is absurd and strange and is also the reason why you might wind up with multiple FFXIV characters because you really want to play an Ishgardian lowborn knight and a Gridanian farmer who took up a sword and a Mystel from the First and a Thavnairian assassin and don’t want to choose. Having alts to play different characters or even specifically to roleplay can be a useful way of segmenting characters.
5. To disconnect from friends
Sometimes we all need a chance to not be bothered, and sometimes the easiest way to accomplish that is to have an alt or two your friends don’t know exist. You still want to play, but you just want people to leave you alone for a bit. It might make more sense to just ask to be left alone, of course, since this option of hiding from people can backfire… but, hey, no one said these were all good reasons.
6. To overcome limitations
If you’ve ever wondered why FFXIV has a retainer system, the answer goes back to FFXI, wherein most players had at least one character serving as storage space and market listing and not much else. Yes, that whole system is a nod back to history. But sometimes alts overcome different limitations, like only being able to craft so many things during a day, or only having access to so many items that can be mailed about, or whatever.
7. To fulfill momentary whims
One of my many City of Heroes characters was a baby-faced huge character in a kilt produced with the “random” button named Javier Placeholder. It made me laugh. I had a WoW Orc named Grignr for ages, deleting the character when the name was taken from me. Sometimes you just want to have something weird on your account, and hey, more power to you.
8. To try a different approach
This is similar to the idea of taking on different options, but it’s also a bit more meta. For example, you’re leveling a character by trying to only group up with other players. Or you’re playing a pacifist who never kills an enemy and levels solely through gathering, exploration, and so forth. Or you’re seeing how far you can get without deaths in an ersatz single-death challenge. If you know the game well enough, sometimes you can come up with some weird accomplishments and goals that the game itself would never support explicitly.
9. To experience the full game
You’re kind of expected to make alts in SWTOR. It’s a core part of the game experience with the whole Legacy system, especially since there are lots of character interrelationships you only really see if you’ve played through all of the class stories at least once. In other words, making alts isn’t something you can do, it’s something you’re kind of supposed to do.
This works out well for those of us who are inclined to do this anyhow, of course, and less so for people who see alts as additional chores. Hey, some of us see your favorite stuff as a chore, too. We all have breaking points.
10. To experience things fresh
My wife frequently takes breaks from MMOs, but often when she returns she either makes a new character or picks up an underplayed alt to explore the game. It’s a way of making things feel fresh, not trying to just leap back in like nothing had changed. And she’s not alone; I’ve occasionally made new characters just to start playing the game I enjoyed totally fresh.
Heck, sometimes it might actually be a better idea. After all, if you’re invested enough in a game, it’s easy to be used to the version of the game that you’re playing as an experienced player. It doesn’t mean you have an accurate picture of the game’s overall experience at lower levels. Making a fresh character can give you a look back at the way things feel from the lower level again, checking your experience against a fresh start.
Or, you know, maybe you just wanted to start over again. There are worse things.