World of Warcraft's Recruit-a-Friend Reward Structure is Flawed

Written by J. David Smith
Published on 05 April 2014

What instigated this post?

Last night, an unnamed redditor asked the WoW sub-reddit what the fastest way to level these days is. Why? Because their girlfriend "has been wanting to start playing wow with me". Seems reasonable, right? S/he goes on to ask about RaF.

I immediately jump in and try to head off a disaster in the making. "What disaster?" one may ask. Simple: RaF dungeon spamming isn't fun. In fact, I wrote that "Personally, I wouldn't even use RaF because of how it completely screws up the structure of the early game." This set the gears in my head to whizzing frantically. What changed that made a really cool system actively harm the game? And – more importantly – how can it be fixed?

What is Recruit-a-Friend?

In order to answer those questions, it is important to understand what the RaF system actually does. Blizzard's FAQ does a good job of describing the system. There are actually a lot of perks to using RaF, but there is one in particular that really hurts the game: triple XP.

For levels 1 - 85, while in a group and similarly leveled the recruiter and recruitee gain 3 times the normal amount of experience. This isn't simply mob kill experience either: quest experience is also affected. The result these days is that – if you aren't spamming dungeons to power-level – you out-level zones just as you're starting to get their stories. To understand the impact of this effect, we need to first dig deeper into what the reward structure for WoW is.

I Saved Westfall and all I got was this stupid T-Shirt!

World of Warcraft is not unique in its structure. You help people, kill monsters and collect rewards. There are two general classes of rewards in WoW:

  1. Power-increasing rewards

    These rewards increase the player's overall power level (although perhaps not immediately). Examples of this are loot (literal character power), gold (economic power) and experience (character power – albeit slightly delayed).
  2. Emotional rewards

    These rewards tug on the player's heart-strings. Whether it's saving an adorable little orphan boy or laughing maniacally as you help Theldurin punch Deathwing in the face, these ones make you feel good (or bad) for having done whatever it was you did. Type 1 rewards are a subset of this reward class.

In my experience, the latter are much more important than the former. This is upheld by observations of the reaction to the Madness of Deathwing fight and Deathwing in general. While players got more powerful than ever before, there was something missing. Emotional reward was lacking, and it showed.

How does this relate to Recruit-a-Friend?

The RaF system increases the gain rate of a particular Type 1 reward: experience. However, it not only causes problems with the rate of gain of other Type 1 rewards, but often outright prevents the gain of Type 2 rewards!

Recently, I leveled through Darkshore. Starting at level 11, I finished the quest achievement at level 24. Had I been using RaF, I'd have only made it through the first 1/3rd of the quests in that time. This would have left the story hanging and broken the illusion of world-changing impact that Blizzard has worked so hard to create.

As a result, emotional investment can become a liability preventing enjoyment rather than a boon aiding it. It's like reading the first third of every Spider-Man comic in order to 'catch up' to the current. Sure, one would reach your goal faster, but at the cost of enjoying the process of reading comic books. Even once you were caught up, you wouldn't understand all of the stuff going on in the current issue.

I've seen situations where one player wants to get their significant other into the game using RaF. In every case I've seen where the core benefit of RaF is used to its fullest (ie by dungeon spamming), the SO quits playing. Therefore, I believe that the overall benefit of RaF for the new player is non-existent and in many cases it even causes damage to their perception and enjoyment of the game.

Two Birds, One Stone

The solution to this problem is relatively simple. While simply removing the XP bonus would go a long way towards preventing the damage currently being done by RaF, why stop at simple prevention when it can be used to make the game genuinely more enjoyable?

Think back, ye die-hard WoW fans: what problem always crops up when questing as a group? Yes, that one. You know it well. Someone plays while the others are away, gets ahead in both experience and quests and is either forced to wait for the group to catch up, retread the content you just did, or leave the group behind.

With long-time players, this isn't much of a problem. We have alts, we have mains, and we can always do something else while the group is offline. For a new player, however, such options are severely lacking. PvP grants experience, dungeons grant experience, even gathering mats to level crafting grants experience these days! Imagine if the Priest class is the only one that really clicks with your friend. Are you going to ask them to not play when you aren't online? To roll an alt? A second priest?

This problem is solved relatively well by the combination of massively boosted XP and level granting: the increased XP rate encourages moving on to other quest chains with relative frequency and level granting ensures that the older player can keep up (most of the time). However, if triple XP is removed from the system, then the problem again rears its ugly head because the player no longer has such an incentive to move on in the middle of a quest chain.

Sure, the two players can remain evenly leveled, but what about quest progress? Forcing the new player to retread content is not exactly ideal, so why not allow the new player to catch the older one up not only in levels but also in quests?

What I am proposing is this:

This would prevent XP gain from completely overriding any other sort of reward in the game and would allow new players to continue questing with their friends without worrying about quest dependencies and level discrepancies. To my view, this would be superior to the current system – especially since the store is now the go-to way to pay for a fast 90. However, one question remains to be answered.

Why was it designed this way in the first place?

World of Warcraft is not the game that it once was. In ye olden days, when Azeroth was yet young and paladins still only had 2 buttons for the first 40 levels, there were fewer quest chains and it was common – up til Outland, at least – to complete a zone without having out-leveled it. In that era, there were far fewer tales of merit told in the quests.

Way back then – near a full 6 years ago – tripling the experience rate made sense. It meant that you'd have to do one zone to get through a level range instead of 2.5-3. Still, those days are gone and now, with the world designed to take one player through a level range in one zone, it no longer makes sense.

Here's hoping that Blizzard fixes this system soon. It bothers me to think of the people potentially missing a great experience because something that should be rewarding can easily become the opposite. With all of the dramatic WoD changes incoming, this could be the perfect time to do it!