The expansion looms (ish). There is talk in various places about levelling once it hits. The thing is though that there is levelling and there is levelling. Mystic Chicanery talks about levelling not being a grind and looks forward to heading out to Northrend. BBB talks about how to ease the levelling burden when starting a new alt. Levelling and levelling - see?
I am very excited about the expansion. I quite like levelling and Northrend looks to be a really cool place (pun probably not intended). So on my main it will be great fun. However, the thought of taking an alt from 1-80 makes me feel slightly queasy - and I like levelling alts (mostly).
There is a quote on BBB's blog from Tesh: "I am deeply concerned with the 'game starts at 70' mindset. It does not bode well for the long-term viability of the game". At the moment I would say that the game starts at 60 (or 58 if you want to be picky). Outland is the place to be. There are always new people joining the game or levelling alts, but not enough to populate the Old World the way it used to be pre-TBC. We may mourn for the de-population of the Old World, but we cannot change this fact (unless Blizz takes BBB's ideas onboard, which would be great fun!). Since there is a level cap it is unavoidable that all servers eventually will become top heavy. The pattern I'm seeing is that people race to 60 mostly solo and then when they hit Outland they jump into instances and (this is purely my hypothesis) seem to get more enjoyment out of their levelling. My guess is that it comes from Outland being the place to be due to it feeling more current and alive (though I must admit that it does seem to be a lot quieter than it was a year ago). It also is more compact. You don't have people of similar levels spread out over 2-3 zones on different continents, so finding groups is a least a little bit easier.
I don't think it is a big stretch to assume that a similar thing will happen when the expansion hits. I expect barely any instance activity in the Old World as people will be even more focussed on reaching Outland as it will be the "home-stretch" before hitting 70 and being able to go to Northrend. I do think Outland will have some instance activity, though it will be less, as then the game will be starting at 70 when you can go to Northrend. So with the "real game" even further away how tempting will it be to level an alt from scratch? Particularly with Death Knights starting from level 55.
Me, I love levelling from 1 to 20. It is fast and you get to learn the basics of the class in forgiving surroundings. But I have lost count of the number of characters that I have got to 20 and then deleted as I couldn't face the 20-60 part. To me that section is purely a time sink. For various reasons I would not use a powerlevelling service or a bot - but I can completely see why people are tempted to do so. Some argue that if you don't play the character all the way yourself you won't learn how to play it properly but that's a load of rubbish. Levelling will not automatically gain you the knowledge of how to get the best out of your character. Even if there wasn't the upcoming introduction of a class starting at level 55 proving the point - how many times have you met a level 70 who didn't know how to play their class? Hmm?
Sure, Blizz has upped the XP gained for this part and lowered the XP needed per level, but 20-60 is still a huge slog. I notice that in beta they are dabbling with doing the same kind of thing for 60-70. Even doing barely any instances, I dinged 70 just having entered Netherstorm and I hadn't even set foot in Shadowmoon. Levelling in Outland felt very quick in comparison to 20-60, though I guess it might be different when you know that Outland is only something to get through to get to the fun bit - Northrend.
I firmly believe that alts are a very important part of what makes people stay with the game. If it becomes too hard to level an alt there will either be a surge of people using bots / powerlevelling services or people will leave. Surely it must be in Blizzard's interest to make it possible to speed things up. What if it was possible to pay Blizzard a sum of real money to get your character bumped some levels? A service, like the name change, that you can request from the online account management but with the proviso that you have at least 1 level capped characters on that same server. Or at least 2 level capped characters or level capped characters on the account rather than the server - depending on how stringent you wanted to make it. I'd pay for that (as long as the sum was reasonable). Say that once I hit level 20 I could request to be bumped to 60. Now, you are wondering why I picked 60 rather than 55 like the Death Knight starting point. Simply because you have already invested the time to get to level 20, but if I could only get a bump to 55 I wouldn't be complaining. Sure I'd have to go to the AH to get new gear, but that's fine by me. Once you have 1 or more level capped characters finding the funds for some random level 55/60 greens shouldn't really be an issue. Not sure how professions should work, but if they can figure out how to deal with that for the Death Knights, then this could work in a similar way.
One of the commenters on BBB's post was suggesting that you could make this kind of bump something you buy for in-game gold. I'm a bit torn about that. If the sum is something vaguely reasonable - say 500-1000 gold - then I'd be all for it. But if it was used as a money sink - 5000 gold or more - then I don't agree. If I have to spend ages grinding gold to be able to buy the service then I might as well spend my time levelling the char. You want the price to be big enough to not be trivial, but small enough that people will use it rather than powerlevelling services.
2 months ago