Thought for the day.

Tobold writes:

“But unlike the current raid endgame, a pure leveling game can tune that a lot better: A lack of performance would not mean that you get totally stuck like a guild that can’t get past a certain raid boss. In a pure leveling game your performance would directly be reflected in the speed of your progress. Thus somebody playing badly would still advance, because sometimes he gets lucky and kills a mob and gains xp. But somebody playing better would advance a lot faster.”

Personally I think the best sort of levelling game is one where you forget there’s an XP bar at all, and thus there is no concern for ‘progress performance’.

I’ve had those moments occasionally in MMOs, where I’ve enjoyed the game tremendously to the point where gaining a level was an incidental bonus to my entertainment. For me, that’s got to be the aim of it: make the game-play the reward for playing, the ‘role-play’ trappings should still be entertaining and involving, but perhaps no more than supplementary diversions.

I wonder if MMORPGs have perhaps maintained the fixation with the character sheet to the detriment of actually making things fun.

Put another way: has progress in the MMO genre been stifled by the fact that we’re all still obsessed with the idea of character progress?

13 thoughts on “Thought for the day.

  1. Melmoth Post author

    Guild Wars has a very short ‘character progression’ section, and yet people are still entertained by the game-play. I would argue that EVE also takes a large step away from the idea of character progression with its skill system – you don’t so much progress your character as build them to perform a role you desire, it is incidental to the amount of focus players put into the game.

    Both of these games have a strong, but not exclusive, PvP element to them. This may have some bearing on their differing approach to character progression.

    Both EVE and Guild Wars can be considered very successful games by any sensible standard (i.e. anything other than ‘Do they have more subscribers than World of Warcraft?’)

    WAR was not terribly successful, has a strong PvP element, but also focuses quite heavily on character progression…

  2. Dril

    I never played EVE but certainly could not agree more regarding Guild Wars (where I’ve never played any PvP outside of the guild, btw.). I’d also like to point out that gameplay (and fun!) in GW does not relie on gear at all, which is another MMO fetish that might not be quite as widespread but is still very common.

  3. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    As I’ve said a few times, I think there are some “traditions” that we stick with despite them not being all that useful anymore. Character progression (primarily through levels) is probably one of the biggest. Although, I don’t think we can simply discard character progression immediately; it’d be nice to see it become something other than the primary focus of the game.

    On the other hand, Achievers have proven that they’ll fork over the cash. Repeatedly.

  4. Melmoth Post author

    @Dril: Yes, I tend to forget that Guild Wars doesn’t rely on gear much, or at all, either. Good point!

    @Brian: I think levels have their uses, but it seems that character progress has become the High Score system for MMOs, and as such it encourages players to race through levels. Combined with the tradition that many of a character class’s most useful abilities can only be unlocked by attaining the correct level, and we have a situation where developers are using positive reinforcement to drive players to gain levels as fast as they can. We know that players are happy doing this… but only for the comparatively short time that it takes them to get to the level cap, whereupon they have ‘won’.

    It’s almost as if we need a phase-shift in the perception of what it means to win in an MMO. Again, I think EVE is a fine example: what is the victory condition for that game in the minds of its players? At what point does a player declare they have won, and that they have done all that they can do?

  5. Gankalicious

    Couldn’t agree more…with everyone!

    I loved GW pvp for the fact you could, if you wanted, roll a rank 20 toon and jump right in. Gear was a matter of cosmetic taste, and not necessary for your performance (or survival as in WAR’s case).

    WAR drained me of the will to play (live) with its level, RR, and gear obsession. I have said in the past that I’s still be playing (and paying) if I could roll 40/40 toons to play even if only in sc’s.

    EVE was another one that for the reasons you mentioned. Now World Of Tanks has me in its steel grip because, although there are advancements and upgrades to be had, you can still have fun. The match-making system also seems to work rather well and keep it mostly even.

    I have never raced for the end-game and always prefer games that focus on providing fun all the way through rather than: if you just grind this out for a few months you can finally get to play the ‘real’ game with everyone else. The very fact people now commonly refer to leveling up as ‘grinding’ which, outside of a nightclub or brothel doesn’t sound like any fun, should be an indication we’ve lost the point of it.

    Grinding sounds like work. Games should be fun.

  6. Klepsacovic

    Due to an out of date addon I spend a year or so without an experience bar. I did quests as long as I wanted and no longer, able to quit the moment they were no longer fun, since I never felt pressured by external rewards to alter my behavior. When I did eventually fix the addon, I manually hid the bar. Now and then I’d check on it, but I was a lot happier not turning in a quest and having my eyes dart down to the bottom of the screen to see how much the bar moved.

  7. Randomessa

    As one who plays GW but does not take part in any PvP activities within, I can say that my fixation is on story progression and not character (gear/level) progression. In this way, Guild Wars’s short journey to max level, where you’re still only a fraction of the way through the storyline at the point of your final “ding”, suits me just fine and keeps me coming back for additional (non-dungeon) content even when there’s not much in it for me equipment-wise.

    Even in Rift, I’m mostly only interested in my level bar because when it fills up I might get a new skill I don’t want to miss out on. Otherwise, my goals are more related to location (get to Meridian) or what I can craft.

  8. Jim

    I like the analogy that mmorpg’s provide us with a slow, steady i.v. of achievement. Progression mechanics are the foundation of the genre…the “fun” is the straw house built on top.

    I don’t recall ever getting a tell saying “Congrats on having so much fun in that zone last night!”

  9. Sente

    Recently I started playing Fallen Earth again. When reading the game forums a while ago I saw a post from a player who has been around from the start that he now was about to continue to the next sector from the first sector in the game, i.e. the lowbie sector. He had simply just enjoyed everything these was in the first sector, no thoughts about leveling speed or anything. What his level was, was never mentioned.

    What also was encouraging was replies that essentially said “yeah, that is pretty much how I play also” and generally positive comments to it.

  10. Void

    I love games where I forget about the xp bar. When you mentioned it the first thing that came to mind was Mass Effect 2. I loved the story, characters, exploration, and battles. The leveling up game became a bonus on top of it, but I never once felt like I needed to grind a level. I can’t even remember looking at my xp bar once in my entire playthrough.

  11. Melmoth Post author

    @Klepsacovic: Interesting! I might have to give that a go and see how I get on. LotRO supports AddOns now, so if I can’t hide the bar manually I could write something to do it for me. Having a ‘ding’ as a surprise could add an enjoyable element to the game, as you relate from your experience.

    @Randomessa: Absolutely; for those who do manage to get into Guild Wars, I understand that there’s still a tremendous amount to do once you’ve hit the level cap, and plenty of ways to continue to develop and improve your character without out-levelling that content – collecting new skills, for example.

    @Jim: I think you’re right in that players will still respond well to progression mechanics, but I think perhaps that we focus too much on those mechanics rather than building the fun game elements on top of them. If the game is enjoyable then perhaps the players will find that they don’t need to rely on the progression mechanics in order to feel that they’ve had fun. I think we should definitely aim for feelings of both accomplishment and entertainment as a result of game-play, but I feel that perhaps the genre is a little too focussed on the accomplishment side of the scale at present.

    @Sente: A splendid tale, and precisely the sort of thing I’m talking about. Instead of dragging out the levelling curve, or desperately trying to create more content, there’s definitely scope to capture the imagination of players and enable them, encourage them even, to spend time off the beaten path. Again, EVE is another fine example, where, for example, players have taken to the wormhole system and adventure with no real levelling progression in mind, they simply create their own adventures from day to day.

    @Void: Yes, another good example. There’re definitely rewards in Mass Effect 2 for levelling-up, but the pared down skill system meant that a lot of the interesting abilities were open to you early on, and it was more about choosing which cool ability you wanted now, and which ones you would wait to pick later; I think the fact that the choice belonged to the player – less a case of ‘you must be this level to get this brilliant skill’, and more a case of ‘you must be this level to have all these brilliant skills, but you can still have some of them now’ – is an important distinction.

  12. nugget

    Gadzookery! Indeedicus – level is nothing in GW, really. What improves (after you’ve gone and gotten all the skills, yes there are silly titles for that too XD) isn’t you by virtue of having the skills, but you by virtue of learning to wield them.

    GW very recently did a huge update to Dervishes – they basically rehauled the entire class, and I must say – playing around with a Derv while everyone is equally n00bie at it is great. Plus, I really like the new ‘feel’ of the Dervish class. That, and in an update after, they finally allowed 7 hero (AI) parties. Which has let some of my poor heroes that I rarely let out to play… out to play. And has opened up for me the option of going to elite areas by myself.

    See, I only like exploring elite areas if I am a) alone, so I can do it at my own pace, or b) with very good friends, who add to the fun. Go with a PUG while I want to see the sights and they just want to get things done? No, thanks. Plus I do sometimes have suicidal lemming-like tendencies… CHARGE!!!! …which I prefer not to inflict on groups of humans who might possibly be nice. XD

  13. Melmoth Post author

    Oh you! Now I’m tempted to go back and dig out my Dervish again, and I’ve already got LotRO, Rift and Dragon Age 2 on my gaming plate. Ah well, there’s probably still room for a little side order of lightly seasoned Dervish without feeling like a total gaming glutton.

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