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[Column] General: Levels

SBFordSBFord Associate Editor - News ManagerThe Land of AZPosts: 17,617MMORPG.COM Staff Uncommon

There is no question that leveling in an MMO is one of the main features of any game. In his latest column, Matt Miller talks about levels and leveling and much more. See what Matt has to say before launching into the comments to continue the discussion.

The “level cap” of an MMO is an important statistic to many people. These people will judge an MMO using just this bullet point. When Dungeons and Dragons Online launched with “10 levels”, a vast majority of players wrote it off as not having enough content. The fact that each “level” was subdivided with bonuses and perks for each partial level achieved was something that they wouldn’t even know unless they played the game (or had someone tell them, as I did trying to convince my friends to play).

Read more Matt Miller: Levels.


"We as MMO gamers need to get past the concept of levels = content."

Associate Editor:
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom



  • ScellowScellow Posts: 125Member Uncommon

    Levels are important, but disive a game with "level sectore" is a bad idea ..

  • EiviEivi DundeePosts: 96Member
    Nice column. Apart from the obvious "coh 2!" remark which is bursting from my brain. Leveling is something that i used to love, now it appears as an obstacle. I would love it to be entirely free roam gear based. The only issue i can see is new players may feel alienated due to how far ahead veterans are. PvP could be an issue too due to the gear difference.

    again, nice write up :)

  • BattlerockBattlerock Youngstown, OHPosts: 1,393Member Common
    Leveling to me is important, but not from a leveling for enjoyment perspective. Leveling to me serves as a hidden tutorial so to speak. It gets you acquainted with your class and lets you get a feel for the skills on a progressive basis. I dont think 90 levels is necessasry and I dont think it should take more than 20 hours of gametime to reach cap. If your playing an mmorpg you want to play with other people. So get everyone familiar with 20 hours of hidden tutorial aka leveling and get them on the same page. That way we are not waiting on each other to reach cap, and we are not just getting everything but the kitchen sink thrown at us right out of the gate.
  • lmollealmollea GEnovaPosts: 37Member Uncommon
    Quite interesting, how does Matt feels about TSW way of "levelling"?
  • OzmodanOzmodan Hilliard, OHPosts: 7,342Member Uncommon

    Levels are the absolute dumbest thing to be introduced into MMO's ever.  Give me a skill based game anytime or if you have to have levels at least institute them like Asheron's Call did where they are essentially meaningless beyond indication of progression.  AC1 also had a high initial level cap of over 100 which it took years for people to reach.

    Gear was not level based in AC1 either, it was skill based.  You got points every level to put into your skills.  Still one of the better designed MMO's out there for  the mechanic design.

    UO had no levels and still was a great game.  Neither did SWG initially.

  • QuizzicalQuizzical Posts: 14,997Member Uncommon

    How you use levels needs to fit around what you want to do with the game.  If you start by saying, we're going to have 50 levels, and then change other game design decisions to fit that, then you're doing it wrong.

    I kind of wonder how it would be received if a game said, we're going to take the normal size of levels and subdivide them so that we'll have a level cap of 500.

  • phobossionphobossion PraguePosts: 56Member Uncommon
    Levels are a tool, it's all about how you use it. If, in a multiplayer game, you use levels to separate players from each other then there is something wrong with your approach...
  • QuantaQuanta Redding, CAPosts: 3Member

    Levels in a game give me three things: a guide line to follow, a goal while playing, and a sense of achievement for playing. I have played many games since the computer age and the lack of structure, the lack of achievements and the lack of accomplishment equals the lack of fun. That being said the best game that gave me all three was City of Heroes, especially the sense of accomplishment. The badge system was very rewarding for me (probably because of my time in the Boy Scouts), and gave me a secondary goal while I played-even at maxed level. Now one game I play that doesn't have levels but progress based on time/skill points is EVE. Their system will allow you to use any item in the game but it lacks structure as compared to  a level based game. I will add they have went to great links to improve this but its no where near the quality of level based games. EVE's system allows you to be anything you want to be as long as you are willing to put in the time to train you skills online or off but it lacks the sense of achievement needed to keep playing. I remember not playing EVE for 30 some odd days while a skill trained up so I could fly a better ship and paid for those 30 days with no sense of accomplishment what so ever-an empty feeling. I might add though EVE is based on PvP with only a minor focus on PvE where the lack of direction comes from and really gets players confused on where to begin. To sum it up, level base games are needed for structure, direction and accomplishment.

  • TorvalTorval Oregon CountryPosts: 7,592Member Uncommon

    Like the poster above me, levels provide a measurement of progress, a goal setting mechanism, and a sense of achievement (which is tied to the progress).

    My favorite leveling system was Lineage because although there was a cap, the xp curve was tremendous and took quite a while to meet.  It almost seemed the intention was not so much to meet it, but to provide a never ending sense of progression.

    I'm not a fan of fast level to cap and then grind gear.  Even alternate advancement systems are no replacement for the level progression.  At best they supplement it and add depth.

    Like another poster said above, how levels and caps are designed should depend on the game mechanics not the other way around.  Matt mentioned the paradigm of leveling solo and then grouping at cap.  Many games hold to this and though they provide a blend of both while leveling or at cap, the foundation is leveling = solo and cap = group gear grind.  That's not fun for me.

    What made leveling fun in Lineage was that there was no specific group or solo content.  The game was open world pvp with an xp death penalty.  People grouped for safety and efficiency.  They also grouped to take on tougher mobs than their level would allow.

    Most games now aren't fun for me at level cap.  I'm not interested in gear grinding or contrived group content.  I don't mind systems where leveling is obfuscated or relegated to another system (EVE and TSW), but none of my games right now gives me that same sense of progression that Lineage did.

  • Whiskey_SamWhiskey_Sam Lynchburg, VAPosts: 297Member Uncommon
    As long as I can improve my skills and stats over time through use, I'd love to see levels done away with.

    Have flask; will travel.

  • SavageHorizonSavageHorizon ParisPosts: 2,211Member Uncommon
    The system that Age Of Wushu uses works best.

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  • ZooceZooce B, FLPosts: 586Member

    What’s your opinion of levels? Love them? Hate them? Have a better idea?

    A quick indicator of overall character progression is helpful when competing against players or NPCs.

    Is gear the answer to gating content? Should content be gated at all?

    Expected progression (gear + character exp) and player aptitude should guide difficulty tuning, but I prefer the sandbox "go anywhere" approach (seamless world).  Let me wander into dangerous areas and get chased away by aggressive monsters instead of giving me a portal to click on that displays the message "sorry you are not XX level to enter".

    Right now MMOs are stuck in a rut, and I’m curious to know what you guys think of this single aspect and how it can grow and modernize.

    The path to "modernize" or revolutionize MMO leveling is to look for inspiration from first-generation games such as Ultima Online or Asheron's Call.  Place the burden of character experience distribution amongst attributes and skills on the player.

    Darkfall: Unholy Wars employs a refreshing level system.

  • logan400klogan400k Owings Mills, MDPosts: 68Member Uncommon

    Levels were not the only way to do things from the early days of role playing games. Runequest used a skill based system. In many ways it was totally different from D&D and Chaosium still uses its BRP (Basic Role Playing) system to this day for games.


    I am not sure how it would translate into an MMO where players demand instant gratification from the system to compel them forward. MMO's are a competitive sport now and we mine them like gold or drill them like oil until the precious substance is gone and then move on. So a system where skills moved up incrementally from use and a player had REAL choices about how to make their character and what path to follow might not be desirable by the game paying public. Right there is the crux of the issue: convincing the current slate of game payers i.e. those who spend the money on MMOs OR convincing different people to spend money on a non-traditional MMO.

    Just My 2 Lunars

  • Po_ggPo_gg Twigwarren, WestfarthingPosts: 2,855Member Uncommon

    "MMO gamers need to get past the concept of levels = content."  agreed.

    TSW is great with its horizontal development and the "soft levels" of 1-10 (too bad it has a huge gear grind in the end, but that's needed only for Nightmares)

    STO has only 5 ranks (6 if you count your rookie starting Lt.) but I always say it has 50 levels because I met the same experience you detailed in the column... When I told a buddy there are 5 "levels" and you're progressing continously as you play he said it's a lame concept. "my bad, slip of the tongue, it has 50 levels, not 5  - oh, that's awesome" :) I guess you can't help a powerleveler-type of a player...

  • Four0SixFour0Six Missoula, MTPosts: 1,170Member Uncommon

    Levels aren't "content", they are a measuring stick.

    TSW isn't levelless, just look at the LFG channel and see all the "QL-X healer/dps/tank LF X dungeon"

    That is the truth right there. You cant have a levelless experience n a RPG, since levelless means no development. Be it gear, skill, or just flat leveling, it has to be there.

    I do support a more "open concept" to leveling, and very much like the DF:UW, and the TSW system of spending my points how I like. The issue with this is when an inexperienced player misspends, and ends up gimped. This I have experience with as I ended up having to replay through several zones to gain fresh AP/SP to spend to fix my gimpy build. A personal fail I know but still one that drove me from the game.  

  • todzilla85todzilla85 mchenry, ILPosts: 7Member

    I don’t think that levels are the problem in MMO’s today, its more so how the developers fail to realize on what leveling should entail.  KingofHartz said this as well, and I’ll say it again.  Leveling should be your tutorial of the game.  Leveling should provide you all the tools to learn how to play your character, while progressing thru the story of said game.  It’s when developers get waaaaay to into all of their quests; they end up forgetting what players are going to do after they just breezed thru their 300 hundred quests in 24 hours.  There has to be that sweet spot where you are satisfied with what you just accomplish leveling thru the game, but then have the whole world unlocked to you on what to do next.  And that’s where I think most games miss their mark……..

    That being said I think the main problem with MMO’s right now is the lack of progression systems after you reach the level cap.  Yes purples are nice and all, but I think it’s vital that games start having ways to power up your character aside from getting purples.

    I’ll use your CoH for example :).  The Incarnate system was probably one of the best after level cap progression ideas I’ve seen thus far.  Although unfinished, whenever I got that new power or passive on my character, I was excited because I knew that getting it, would make me that much more powerful.  That to me was pretty groundbreaking, because getting excited over something that wasn’t a piece of gear was not the norm…….

    DCUO is another game ill mention because after you hit cap, you still had ways to progress your character.  Now they may have killed two birds with one stone, with having one of the only achievement systems actually mean something, other than titles and mounts.  Skill points gave you that extra edge in that game, and since they were tied to achievements, it also gave you a reason to get out in the world and want to have them, other than just for your epeen. 

    But yea developers need to stop making their game all about the levels and see it for what it is, a tutorial.  It should progress you thru the story while teaching you how to play your character, it should not be the majority of your game.

  • meddyckmeddyck Athens, GAPosts: 1,139Member Uncommon

    "all too often gamers will look at the level cap of a game and determine if it is worth their time"

    Do they really? I do pretty much the opposite. I look at what a game will require me to do at the level cap then decide if that's something I'd enjoy. If it is (usually means it has some kind of RvR system and little to no raiding), then it doesn't really matter to me whether the level cap is 40, 50, 80, or 100. The pace of leveling is different from game to game anyway so level 50 in one game could take more time to reach than level 80 in another.

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  • kharzankharzan LondonPosts: 14Member

    I have to say, I love levels. I hate reaching the level-cap in a game as I feel that it usually means the story has largely finished and everything I do has little purpose from that point. I don't care for gear-grinding, personally I don't care what sword or breastplate my character is rocking, as long as I feel I'm progressing up that level ladder.

    I'd love there to be an almost unattainable amount of levels so that you could continually progress, but as I mentioned, this would have to be tied into an ongoing story so would be impractical.

  • galphargalphar Independence, KYPosts: 65Member Uncommon
    I loved the Guild Wars leveling system. Anet did it right when they set the cap at 20 but allowed you to still gain XP and skill points. This allowed you to unlock all the skills for all professions on your toon and also kept a level playing field(if you don't count those that made the innovative and seldom used builds). Now I just wish Anet would revert back to that system for GW2.


  • danwest58danwest58 Cincinnati, OHPosts: 1,074Member Uncommon
    The days of Themeparks that are based on Level is coming to a time where they are only played for short periods of time.  People want something new or well an older idea; UO type of Skills which will allow players to mix and match what they want.


  • FrinkiacVIIFrinkiacVII Scranton, PAPosts: 45Member
    I like levels for many of the same reasons others who like levels have stated.  I also got excited when I read the words "City of heroes 2" in the article.  If people (correctly or incorrectly) use level cap as a metric of the amount of content a game has, I think one solution is to run with that and set up your level cap in such a way as to make it indicative of the amount of content the game has, at least at the start.  In other words, go into the design process with that in mind and make the levels reflect the amount of content.  It may not be a straight simple formula to get from one to the other, (e.g. "e.g. f a game has X levels, then it has f(x) = ### amount of content to play", but I bet it could still be a reasonable figure of merit, if the game is set up with that in mind a priori.  One could argue that DnD online made a mistake in setting up their level structure in such a way as to give themselves an image problem if people are interpreting their level cap as being indicative of their amount of content.  If market research tells you that people are apt to make that correlation (which is a mistake on their part, but one you should know they're going to make) then you either have to combat the image in some way or redo the level numbers to get with the times.  At the very least you could advertise something like "1 of our levels is like 5 levels in GAME X" or some such.  The fact is, no two games are going to be that comparable, and content get's added over time, while levels don't necessarily keep pace.   Age is a better indicator of content than levels in my opinion.  I never played WoW and I don't intend to, but I'm sure it has more quests, raid dungeons, etc now that it had in 2005.

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  • Gotrek65Gotrek65 Nampa, IDPosts: 29Member
    I absolutely hate new gear grinding, i'd much prefer levels. But I think there could be a better way to do them. I'm gonna have to agree with some of the other posters that new games need to take a lesson from older games and games like Xsyon where you have multiple skill and stats and level them up with points gotten from a level or have those skills level through their use.
  • sacredfoolsacredfool prague, TXPosts: 751Member Uncommon
    I am alright with levels as long as the levels don't divide the community (ie are flexible). EVE, Anarchy Online or Runescape have flexible levels (Ao only to some degree admittedly). WoW and Rift do not.

    Originally posted by nethaniah

    Seriously Farmville? Yeah I think it's great. In a World where half our population is dying of hunger the more fortunate half is spending their time harvesting food that doesn't exist.

  • RyowulfRyowulf Greensburg, PAPosts: 668Member Uncommon

    Levels are good and bad.

    Having a goal and feeling that you are making progress is good.

    No being able to play with your friends/guild because of a difference in level is bad.

  • SkilialSkilial Lee''s Summit, MOPosts: 30Member

    Levels are great! I personally hate power-leveling. I like taking strolls through the countryside. I enjoy questing if the zone and story are interesting. I absolutely HATE doing 10 quests in a zone, only to find out that I have just out-leveled it and the quests will no longer bring me A) XP and B) relative quest rewards.

    I like playing with friends too, and I don't like outleveling them. However, I do like the feeling of being a god when I visit a n00b area to pwn the level 11 elite that absolutely destroyed me when I was level 10. I played GW2 and found the "down-leveling" more of an annoyance than fun. I admit, I am talking out both ends (I want to complete zones without outleveling and I also want n00bs zones to quest in as a slightly higher leveled GOD!)

    I want levels. I want skills that I earn with levels. I want points to customize other skills when I level to make me somewhat unique from other Wizards, Warlocks, or Warriors, but I think the OP misses the mark a little when focusing on levels vs. skill based systems.

    Let me explain. Minecraft is not level-based, is a sandbox 8-bit adventure,  and has tons of people run around creating worlds for other to play in. WoW is arguably one of tthe best theme-park P2P with levels and character customization (maybe not so much now that the classes and talent system has been so homogenized).  Both games have had grand success. Both games have had customers from the same player base, but neither game does both skills/crafting or character development/story simultaneously. the first company to do both and you have found your cash-cow.

    Oh...just don't instance every-fucking-thing. Keep the world alive, malleable and full of surprises, with seemless maps, surprise developer intervention (I just dropped a level 9000 Ogre on your city), and have a sense of humor. Last thing...let us kite world bosses into n00bville. Everyone likes those spontaneous griefing events.


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