Alt, or alternative character, in MMO is something that most of the players will create at one point or another. Be it a bank mule or a seriously played toon of another class or race, it's all the same: it's not the main character the player is playing, or planning to play, for the imminent future. Some stick to one character, some get a case of altitis, requiring them to create several alts to accommodate their moods for
Jason from Channel Massive blurted out in episode #109, that he had a hiatus from MMO's during which he played only single player games. Now that he's returned to his favourite addiction, MMO's (Champions Online to be precise), he has found out that he is concentrating on one character instead of his earlier (severe case of) altitis. He also states that this has somehow slowed down the urge to clear all content from all angles in the game. And that he's enjoying the game.
This commentary in the podcast got me thinking the issue with alts and the possibility to play several toons in a game. It's quite clear that in strongly PvP based games it would be kind of cheating to have a toon on both sides of the PvP factions, and the new and coming sandbox sci-fi game Earthrise has already asked the members of their forum about the possibility to have more than one toon on a server, clearly concerned about ruining one element of the game (in game spying of another faction) by allowing toons on both sides.
I also connected this with my recent spree of Oblivion: somehow it didn't even cross my mind to start a new toon in the game. I guess it's the same in Fallout3 and other Bethesda games, and hopefully in the forthcoming Star Wars: Old Republic MMO, in which the questing is supposed to be reminiscent to the one in the Fallout/Elder Scrolls games.
I myself am playing three toons at the moment: warrior Laiskajaakko, priest Pupunen and banker. The time spent on Laiskajaakko is easily three or four times the time spent on the others, so I can easily say that I have only one toon in the game. Then again I have several toons of my own on other servers, too, and three on Horde side on the same server as these three.
The question is, is it necessary to have more than one toon in a game? And how much does a crew of alts affect the overall immersion in the game?
My answer to the first question is that no, it's not. Really, in the 'old days' of the computer gaming you plunged through the games with one toon till they died. You still play single player games with only one character, even the games where you create the character yourself, and you are completely happy with it! So why would an MMO be any different from those games?
Like I stated, I have several toons, but I enjoy the game most when I can jump into the shoes of one character only and follow his advancement through the game. I've already seen how hard it's to take on the lower levelled priest and remember the quests which my warrior has done... only to notice that the priest has completely different quests on the area. The immersion is broken in a way for the second toon, and I cannot imagine how little of the RPG part you really can put into the nth alt you're levelling.
And there I gave my answer to the second question. I don't think that running around with several alts can be immersive: it's bound to be more a game of finding out how this or that class works and functions, not like writing the story for the character at all.
Big part of this problem comes from the fact that the quest system and the level of involvement in the game are not working. (But that's another story.) In single player games you are immersed to the game's overall plot and quests by involving you -the player- through the direct contact with your character, and the quests in a way come to you unnoticed and tie you as a player in personal level to them. In MMO's the quests hubs have NPC's with exclamation marks just waiting for you to collect the quests and there is nothing that would involve you to do those quests except the rewards. MMO quests are impersonal.
Anyhow, what do you think? Do you really need the option to create several alts from the beginning or should this possibility be 'unlocked' by playing your 'main' to certain level first?