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In my game, it is possible to make multiple characters. You can make as many as you desire. What I usually do (and almost all players do) is just make a single character and level it up a LOT, and just use it for everything.

Some games have tried to solve this by having multiple "classes" or types of characters that do different things, but this typically results in just having one of each "class."

How could I encourage players to not make one or two really high leveled characters but instead have, maybe, several high-level characters, several mid-level, and some low-level characters that are currently being leveled up?

(NOTE: I am unaccepting the previously accepted answer because I seem to have a lot of new answers coming in. (sorry Thomas Marnell, your answer is still great :) ))

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You could have accomplishments on any character count towards some kind of total progress. For example, you could have different cutscenes/storylines based on the character's choices, and have a graph showing which cutscenes the player has unlocked across different characters. –  extropic-engine Dec 21 '12 at 0:11
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Not sure how this question can be answered without knowing anything about the game itself. Is it an MMO-style game? Can players play with multiple characters at the same time? Do all the characters play in the same world, or are they separated? Separated geographically or just instanced? –  akled Dec 21 '12 at 0:27
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You may want to wait on accepting an answer right away too. It discourages further answers. –  Byte56 Dec 21 '12 at 0:33
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@Yannbane: These questions are certainly relevant; a lot of very different games struggle with the single character problem and naturally solve them in completely different ways. Nonetheless, (understanding) these solutions, even those not applicable to your particular game, could prove helpful. I fear the question might become too localised if we dive into the specifics of the game. –  Marcks Thomas Dec 21 '12 at 0:39
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Specific or ambiguous, too localized or too vague, that's just a spectrum. It's bad if the question is on either end of it, and it'd be best if it were in the middle. Currently it's a bit too ambiguous if you ask me, but OK. –  akled Dec 21 '12 at 1:12
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closed as primarily opinion-based by Byte56 Feb 16 at 6:23

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

11 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

A few ideas I've seen in action:

  • Tweak the growth numbers. This is something games featuring a leveling system should almost always do. Characters usually gain strength easily and quickly in the beginning, but require more effort to be put in later on. By magnifying this distinction, players will be more inclined to spend their resources on low-level characters. Related: tweaking the growth of enemy strength may force low-level characters to either keep up or fall behind.
  • Apply teamplay bonuses or lone wolf penalties. Some games impose artificial (dis)advantages based on the number of characters around. Strategy games like the Total War series often use this in the form of a morale check, though such mechanics may seem arbitrary out of context.
  • Create a risk versus reward scheme. If players tend to stick to one character because that is somehow beneficient, have them risk that character being unavailable to encourage them not to put all their eggs in one basket. Games that are heavily story-driven (several JRPGs come to mind) often play this card.
  • Split the characters up. Quite often, multiple characters simply fight alongside each other. The absence of one can be offset by making the other stronger. That need not be the case. For example, in Heroes of Might and Magic, multiple heroes do not just add to the combat strength, but also allow more map control and more tasks to be completed per turn.
  • Multiplayer. No one likes to be the useless side-kick. Players will back away from optimal strategies that aren't fun. This naturally applies to single player as well, but is not as trivial to implement.
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The first four are all great ideas! The fifth is kinda messed up for single player but I think I could make it work. (That is good for a multiplayer game though) –  Doorknob Dec 21 '12 at 1:41
    
Great HOMM reference! The limiting factor in the game, early on, is gold. You can generally have a few characters and explore more map, but at the cost of weaker heroes. Instead, I use the cheapest creatures as extra explorers at the beginning. It's not usually until I already have a good grip on the game that I have additional heroes who are strong, who are not also traveling with my "main" hero. –  Chad Dec 21 '12 at 22:39
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A few ideas:

  • Allow players to call on their other characters as NPCs to support their current character (call in a healer or DPS character for a short time).
  • Make a shared bank for sharing items/resources.
  • Allow players to "train together" with their other characters to increase their XP while offline. (diverse groups train better, equal level characters train better)
  • Make some quests only available if they have a team. (Similar to the first option, the second character can be at the controls opening doors or whatever)
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1. Good idea! I will probably use this one in my game. 2. I was going to do that anyway. It's single player. 3. It's a single player game. This would be a good idea for multiplayer games, though. 4. Yes, something like that sounds good :) –  Doorknob Dec 21 '12 at 1:39
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@Doorknob 3 should work even in single player, as in your "party" receives some portion of your main character's XP, etc. –  Joshua Drake Dec 21 '12 at 20:11
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Games like Pokemon have this problem a lot. I think they used two different methods.

  1. Attrition. Make attacks and healing limited, encouraging multiple characters
  2. Rock-Paper-Scissors. Make some characters better in certain situations

Techniques that promote multiple play-throughs like achievements can also help.

Edit:

After some thought, games like Final Fantasy have this problem a lot as well. I have seen them use story line to force multiple character progression.

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The first one sounds good, but the second one goes exactly against the second paragraph in my question. Upvote, though, and if there are no more answers I will accept. –  Doorknob Dec 21 '12 at 0:16
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Here are some more suggestions:

  1. Make it impossible to advance to certain areas without having them previously unlocked with a special character class.
  2. Make it possible to merge two characters into a single one in order to gain benefits.
  3. Introduce crafting and collecting professions, WoW style, which has already been proven to work. You need at least a few characters to get the most resources (e.g. a miner, a blacksmith and an alchemist).
  4. This is simple: make classes distinct and fun to play. This adds replay value to the game as well. No reason for the players not to go on another adventure if it wont be the same thing over again, and if they have new problems to solve and new mechanics to play with.
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1, 3, and 4 are all problematic (because of the class problem). I was thinking about 2 but it seems sort of odd because how would that work realistically? (Although I guess my game isn't very realistic at the moment) –  Doorknob Dec 21 '12 at 1:42
    
I don't understand the "class problem". Could you elaborate? –  akled Dec 21 '12 at 12:14
    
Read the second paragraph in my question. –  Doorknob Dec 21 '12 at 12:54
    
Well, I did, several times, but I still don't get where's the problem in that. You want the player to have multiple characters - of course they're gonna have one of each class (probably not of every class, but this depends on the number of classes you have in your game). –  akled Dec 21 '12 at 13:13
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To get a powerful character of each class in, for example, WoW, you'd need several years of very active gameplay. And you'd still have a lot to experience from the game. Until I actually know the basics of your game, I'm going to conclude that you wont really have problems with that... –  akled Dec 21 '12 at 13:30
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You haven't written what kind of game it is and why do you want players to play with multiple characters, so I could only speculate.

What are the acceptable interactions between multiple characters of one players? It gives more possibilities than simply create multiple classes.

Example A: inspired by Arena Albionu and Vallheru. Characters can be trained in multiple jobs, so that they can produce multiple resources. The final resources are weapons and potions. The energy is limited, so you need many characters to suppor powerfull warrior.

Example B: inspired by Diablo and the team play abilities. You could provide missions, where the player could play with all his characters. There's the rule 'non Hercules contra plures', so 10 low level characters would be more powerful than single high level one. Add the requirements for battle leaders, which would have to have higher level, and you'll result in optimal strategies for having a few high levels, a bunch of middle level and a lot of low level ones.

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Make the leveling fun, with support to multiple playstyles. I play wow and I'm always playing low level chars because I think it is fun to level doing only battlegrounds.

Also, if you have some achievements system, make it account wide, so the player can advance some achievements with any char, of any level.

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This might sound like heresy in today's entitlement world but consider a gameplay system where leveling up a character also introduces penalties (an aging mechanic perhaps or something else). This will enable players to grow in some areas but at the same time lose power in others. It might create interesting dynamics where a low level character might be better at some stuff than a higher level one

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This really all comes down to the type of game you're making, and what you'd like to (/have time to) add, in order to promote this growth.

From the standpoint of making something like a traditional RPG, take a tip from Fallout 1 (NOT 3, whatsoever):
Build a game in which it is impossible to do everything with one character.

Build a game which doesn't support "classes", but rather customizations -- as the player customizes, open doors and paths and bonuses for those customizations (/modules/attributes/etc).

However, limit the AMOUNT of modules/perks/bonuses/boosts/etc, so that a character MUST either be semi-specialized, or suffer the penalty of being a very underpowered jack-of-all-trades, who has limited/no access to the additional content.

In the level/quest design phase, make it clear that a particular skill/stat/attribute (or one of a set, or several in conjunction) must be used, in order to access that content.
(eg: to go on a specific quest with a modern-day Robin Hood, you must have 75% lockpick, 60% speech, agility of 8 and a perception of 6).
Make it clear, as you pass each of these checks, that a user DOES need to meet these requirements.

Have entry to another quest be based on picking up the back end of a car, and moving it out of the way...
...or based around having a carry-weight of more than 300lbs...

These are things which would appear to the player as something they CAN do, in a meta-gaming sense, but CAN'T do with their current player, without coming back 20 levels later, and dedicating all of the rest of their stat-points to.


In terms of weapons and gear and crafting, you can apply the same concepts...
Looking at WoW and Diablo II, the kings of gear-grubbing (great retention-rates, too).
Instead of making gear have class-requirements ("only druids can wear this pair of gloves"), have gear be based on:

a) stat-requirements ("Boots of Sneaking [req: sneak <= 50%]")
b) att-requirements ("Goggles of Grokking [req: INT <= 7]")
c) story-requirements ("Sword of Swords [req: 'Quest of Awesomeness' -- must have DEX > 4 STR > 7 to begin quest]")

If you put an item-crafting element into the game, from there, you should be able to auto-generate stat/att requirements, based on, say, the components used to make the item (or used to enchant/patch the item), their quantity, if they have different potencies, et cetera.

Now you have gear that ANYBODY can use...... IF THEY HAVE THE ABILITY TO USE IT, or let them use it anyway, but apply a penalty to misuse.
Give everybody the ability to use a minigun, but if they don't meet the strength requirement, then slow their movement speed by req_str - player_str units of movement per turn (or a multiplier, depending on what a move-unit might look like in your game).

Give everybody the opportunity to use a sniper rifle, but without high perception and agility, make it impossible to hit anything...

The point of the whole thing is that if you want to foster replayability with characters who are unique, then you want to limit what each character is allowed to do.
Therefore, each character with different skill-sets will have different advantages and disadvantages.

Just be sure to spend a lot of time balancing them, and make sure that every major quest point is solvable in at least 3 or 4 different ways, based on characters who MUST play to match their skills, and make side-quests accessable in only 1 or 2 or 3 ways:
Not every character needs to access all content, and instead of thinking about adding class-specific stuff, think about removing access to things based on character-weaknesses.

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SWTOR has a legacy system which i love. You could somehow make new skills if items in the game available to all char's. So that way players will want those skills or items so they will try and keep all their "classes" leveling at the same rate to unlock the skills for example: when you have a lvl 10 "soldier" and Level 10 "medic" all characters can use the stimpack during a battle. and then have a super large ladder like that. You could have powers that required X levels chars in all classes.

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What you're essentially asking for is for the player to like starting over again.

Games like Diablo or Diablo II had me do this because of the random generation, the possibility of finding new weapons or armor on different plays. Diablo kind of left you with a sense of something being unexplored in those other games you started but didn't progress in, which is I guess what made me go back and play those lower level characters further.

Games like Final Fantasy 6, did not have me do this (I had a single "important" save game with very high level characters) because the play through was pretty much the same, and the variability in play due to item drops was kind of minimal (barring that time I got 2x Minerva armor from defeating Pugs in a treasure chest! And of course what you can get in the Colloseum, but that is very late in the game).

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The first key is to have a diverse system of customizing your characters, specifically giving each character choices in the abilities they'll have and what they can do, so you can make your super cool single character, but that single character can't do everything. What this accomplishes is it motivates multiple characters to have access to all the abilities. Maybe your main damage dealer won't be able to heal, so having a healer is nice, or some enemies are resistant to your main's abilities so you have a secondary damage dealer.

^This encourages diversity which is usually enough, but to help things along you can have higher level characters assist in leveling up lower characters, which will help those with high level characters bring up new characters without a long grind. Something that can be done in addition is allow different characters to give passive, boosts to the rest, which will encourage full teams of characters.

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