As I have now been levelling up totally new characters in the RP server (Argent Dawn-EU), I have been experiencing the first 10 levels. The 10 level experience is important factor in making people to stay in the game, at least according to Blizz who has made their trial last for so long. The players -trial players- who make it beyond lv10 are only 30% of the people who activate trial, which is something that caused a slight stir in the blogosphere. And quite naturally at the Blizzard Marketing Division.
Leading to several changes to make the initial 10 levels as easy -and compelling- as possible.
The initial starter area where the character begins its journey to heroic deeds is way too easy. There is only one red -aggressive- creature in this area, where as there were earlier several. Heck, there were areas in the starter area where you wouldn't have gone right away because of the fact that all the creatures in there would have jumped on you and eaten you alive!
Now it's a stroll in the park. The aggressive monster is as easy as earlier neutral ones, posing no threat to the survival of the newly created character. The same goes on in the adjacent area, where the neutral and aggressive mobs are mixed together. However, the aggressive one are so weak that you have to make a terrible mistake to get killed. Like fighting your way into a campsite of the mobs and get jumped on by respawns. It happens, but... not likely.
However, at this point you get into the first capital city and enter the first 'contested' area. And that's when the drag starts. First of all, the first five levels in the beginner area come in such a rapid succession that it doesn't even feel nice. The level up seems more an annoyance than a reward, as the actual progress in the power level of the character comes more from the -poorly itemised- gear than from the few skills. Levels five to ten change this the other way around: the game becomes a constant struggle to get enough money to get all the skills, especially if you enter the tradeskills. The levelling becomes very much slower than it was. At level 7 I struck a kind of soft wall with all my toons, a situation in which the levelling seemed to slow down very much. The next such wall comes before level 15: the game becomes cyclical in progress.
The reason why level 10 is such a barrier IMO is the fact that the beginning is too easy: it poses no challenge, and no social contacts. Its the epitome of a massive single player game. Where the beginning area is too easy, the next stage of the game is too demanding for a player who has never set their foot on an adventure game or MMO: the challenge changes abruptly from super easy to the level where it should have been in the beginning.
The progression isn't smooth, it's erratic.
If I started WoW now with the knowledge I had when I first began, I doubt I would progress past the beginning area. It's just too lame, easy and unchallenging.
Here's my fingers crossed for Cataclysm to make it right again.