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General: Crushing the Dream of No Levels

StraddenStradden Managing EditorMember CommonPosts: 6,696

In this week's Staff Blog entry, MMORPG.com's Jon Wood presents a theory on why we aren't likely to see future AAA games deviate from the level system that so many MMOs are based on

I read a lot about people looking for an MMO that doesn’t have levels, and I can understand why. Levels can be restrictive. They force players into small niches of other players of the same level, force players who bring new friends into a game to roll an alt in order to play with them, encourage linear game design where a leads to b leads to c ending with all of the “maxed out” players clustered at the “endgame.” Then there’s what might be the biggest complaint about levels, the fact that they create the feeling of “grind” for players and the feeling that anything below the level cap is simple hamster on a wheel to get to the “real game” at the end.

The problem is though that using levels is an easy and efficient tool that developers use to craft their games. Games, of course, need to be fun. They, and MMOs in particular, need to stimulate that part of our brains that makes us want to continue playing, and in the end paying for, the game. The easiest way to do that is to give us the feeling of achievement and a reward to go along with it. That’s what motivates us and keeps us doing pretty much anything. Why, for example, do you go to the office every day? Unless you’re very lucky it’s probably to get that paycheck every two weeks and maybe get a promotion (leading to higher reward).

Read Crushing the Dream of No Levels

Cheers,
Jon Wood
Managing Editor
MMORPG.com

Comments

  • John.A.ZoidJohn.A.Zoid Member Posts: 1,531

    SWG Pre CU system was perfect for me.

    The problem became when they added holocrons in so you had to grind professions you didn't even like to unlock Jedi. The system before it was better where it didn't tell you how to play the game but you played how you liked to. The game didn't feel like a grind then because you were playing the professions you liked and doing tasks you enjoyed.



    I also wish they added more content in the game so instead of having to grind mission terms I could do quests and dungeons and stuff to gain XP. I mean say WoW had this system then I could go to any part of the world and do whatever content I wanted to do with my friends. It's no linear and it doesn't make me wait through months of grinding to do it and play with friends.

    What they also needed to do is allow normal professions to gain XP via PVP and have proper PVP battlegrounds instead of the ones that were in and were broken the whole time and then got taken out.

     

    Instead all we had to do was boring mission terms because SOE were too busy ruining Jedi each patch for the tards who complained they were too hard when that was the whole point of the timeline.

  • AbrahmmAbrahmm Member Posts: 2,448

    It basically comes down to "that's not the norm so we're not going to try it" mentality from developers. It's really sad to see it, as levelless systems are far superior to level based games.

    Tried: LotR, CoH, AoC, WAR, Jumpgate Classic
    Played: SWG, Guild Wars, WoW
    Playing: Eve Online, Counter-strike
    Loved: Star Wars Galaxies
    Waiting for: Earthrise, Guild Wars 2, anything sandbox.

  • OddjobXLOddjobXL Member Posts: 102

    "The problem is though that using levels is an easy and efficient tool that developers use to craft their games. Games, of course, need to be fun. They, and MMOs in particular, need to stimulate that part of our brains that makes us want to continue playing, and in the end paying for, the game. The easiest way to do that is to give us the feeling of achievement and a reward to go along with it. That’s what motivates us and keeps us doing pretty much anything. Why, for example, do you go to the office every day? Unless you’re very lucky it’s probably to get that paycheck every two weeks and maybe get a promotion (leading to higher reward)."

    Games, of course, need to be fun.  Define fun.  Fun for him or fun for me?  Fun's a fairly subjective barometer of success.  Do you mean fun for most of the people most of the time?  If that's the case we should just bag MMOs and focus on browser based puzzle games, right? 

    Some of us are pretty funned out about being rats in some predictable maze with obligatory bits of cheese doled out here and there to keep us running around in circles.  Maybe not most of us but enough of us and more all the time.

    Sure, I go to the office everyday so I get paid so I can play games that are fun for me to play.  If they paid me to play WoW I might just consider it.  They don't, I don't. 

    Yes, level-grind addiction is very real and can feel fun.  But eventually, and this probably plots along a curve that's commensurate with native intelligence, you pretty much get the idea of what happens when you hit cap and you can anticipate the repetition and the burnout to come.  Only really hardcore MMO mafiosos stick with endgame content for long and people who can summon up the ability to care about grinding and maxing an imaginary character, to ridiculous extremes of perfection, and have the free time to do so are a minority.

    Look at the percentage of players in WoW that actually participate in high end raid content.  Look at the percentage breakdown of player accumulated SP in Eve.  Newbies and journeymen players are the majorities.  Once the grind gets too boring or too time consuming they move on.  Possibly to a new alt in the same game or in another game entirely or by swearing off MMOs altogether.

    Levels also, on a more subjective note, break immersion.  Power inflationary systems make for characters that simply don't exist in any real sense on the same plane.  There are ants and gods drifting past each other in completely disconnected ways that have no meaningful reason to interact or pursue shared goals because there simply aren't any.    City of Heroes can offer Exemplar or Sidekick opportunities to let lowbies and dinos adventure together but one or the other is simply going to feel like they're wasting their time aside from any pleasure they get from helping out or hanging out.

    SWG's old system was much beloved for several reasons.  One is that everyone was basically in the same ballpark.  The best and toughest wasn't insanely more powerful than a relative newbie.  Dangerous creatures were generally dangerous to everyone while also offering a chance for players working together to overcome them and even a newbie with a rifle could be handy to have around.

    Eve Online also lets newbies fill useful roles by piloting ships that while essential to tactical success don't require uber skills to pilot.  And in packs, and with a bit of luck, even the weakest of the weak can take down all but the mightiest vessels out there.  Dinos may have millions more in SPs than a newbie but no one ship type is going to make use of all the millions of SPs that Dino's invested in.  Get him in a vessel he's not optimized for and he's in the same shape as the journeyman pilot with a few hundred thousand SPs invested or possibly worse off.

    This kind of balance creates a sense of realism.  Nobody is superman.  Nobody is an utter nebbish.  You may have veterans and greenhorns but they exist along the same, plausible, curve of power and might need one another to succeed.

    Always notice what you notice.

  • angus858angus858 Member UncommonPosts: 381

    I agree that going without levels is more difficult and a bit more risky, but it has been accomplished successfully by small developers (CCP) and large (SOE).

    As someone above me has already said, the original SWG (pre-CU) was close to the perfect "no-level" system.  If another mmorpg came out with a similar system I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

  • HluillHluill Member UncommonPosts: 149
    Originally posted by OddjobXL


    "The problem is though that using levels is an easy and efficient tool that developers use to craft their games. Games, of course, need to be fun. They, and MMOs in particular, need to stimulate that part of our brains that makes us want to continue playing, and in the end paying for, the game. The easiest way to do that is to give us the feeling of achievement and a reward to go along with it. That’s what motivates us and keeps us doing pretty much anything. Why, for example, do you go to the office every day? Unless you’re very lucky it’s probably to get that paycheck every two weeks and maybe get a promotion (leading to higher reward)."
    Games, of course, need to be fun.  Define fun.  Fun for him or fun for me?  Fun's a fairly subjective barometer of success.  Do you mean fun for most of the people most of the time?  If that's the case we should just bag MMOs and focus on browser based puzzle games, right? 
    Some of us are pretty funned out about being rats in some predictable maze with obligatory bits of cheese doled out here and there to keep us running around in circles.  Maybe not most of us but enough of us and more all the time.
    Sure, I go to the office everyday so I get paid so I can play games that are fun for me to play.  If they paid me to play WoW I might just consider it.  They don't, I don't. 
    Yes, level-grind addiction is very real and can feel fun.  But eventually, and this probably plots along a curve that's commensurate with native intelligence, you pretty much get the idea of what happens when you hit cap and you can anticipate the repetition and the burnout to come.  Only really hardcore MMO mafiosos stick with endgame content for long and people who can summon up the ability to care about grinding and maxing an imaginary character, to ridiculous extremes of perfection, and have the free time to do so are a minority.
    Look at the percentage of players in WoW that actually participate in high end raid content.  Look at the percentage breakdown of player accumulated SP in Eve.  Newbies and journeymen players are the majorities.  Once the grind gets too boring or too time consuming they move on.  Possibly to a new alt in the same game or in another game entirely or by swearing off MMOs altogether.
    Levels also, on a more subjective note, break immersion.  Power inflationary systems make for characters that simply don't exist in any real sense on the same plane.  There are ants and gods drifting past each other in completely disconnected ways that have no meaningful reason to interact or pursue shared goals because there simply aren't any.    City of Heroes can offer Exemplar or Sidekick opportunities to let lowbies and dinos adventure together but one or the other is simply going to feel like they're wasting their time aside from any pleasure they get from helping out or hanging out.
    SWG's old system was much beloved for several reasons.  One is that everyone was basically in the same ballpark.  The best and toughest wasn't insanely more powerful than a relative newbie.  Dangerous creatures were generally dangerous to everyone while also offering a chance for players working together to overcome them and even a newbie with a rifle could be handy to have around.
    Eve Online also lets newbies fill useful roles by piloting ships that while essential to tactical success don't require uber skills to pilot.  And in packs, and with a bit of luck, even the weakest of the weak can take down all but the mightiest vessels out there.  Dinos may have millions more in SPs than a newbie but no one ship type is going to make use of all the millions of SPs that Dino's invested in.  Get him in a vessel he's not optimized for and he's in the same shape as the journeyman pilot with a few hundred thousand SPs invested or possibly worse off.
    This kind of balance creates a sense of realism.  Nobody is superman.  Nobody is an utter nebbish.  You may have veterans and greenhorns but they exist along the same, plausible, curve of power and might need one another to succeed.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     



     

    Quoted For Truth

    I especially agree with the immersion statement.  As a casual Roleplayer, I find it difficult to RP level advancement.  How does it correlate?

    While I sometimes enjoy PVP I am consistently frustated with level disparity to the point of not participating.  I don't like picking on weaker players and I get tired of being owned by stronger ones.

    If a game doesn't allow for a level-one noob or a trash-mob to get lucky on an uber-maxxed character, then it is not really balanced.  If there are not repercussions for indiscriminate murder, then there are design issues.

    I think is the level system has become the easy way out.  It lacks innovation.  It restricts creativity for both developers and players.  Sure, open-ended skill-based systems require more work, does that mean there is no market for them?

    In a few games I have reached the level cap and became bored.  I didn't have the time or friends to raid, to take part in the end-game content.  I really had no reason to log in and continue to pay my subscription.

    TSW, LotRO, EQ2, SWTOR, GW2, V:SoH, Neverwinter, ArchAge, EQ, UO, DAoC, WAR, DDO, AoC, MO, BDO, SotA, B&S, ESO, 

  • KordelioKordelio Member UncommonPosts: 16

    Monster Hunter

     

    it's not an mmo but it has the online feature.

    braap

  • KilrainKilrain Member RarePosts: 1,179

     Darkfall Online, closest thing i've played to Eve Onlines skill system. Instead of time based skills you raise them by doing them. The only problem with it is that there are those people who think they are sub par ( just like level based games) and need to grind the shit out of everything they do to increase their skills. 

    me and my friends play the game without that worry, we kill other players, we do just fine in probably the best NPCing I've done in a game in a long time, and we are having a blast. Having the skills is a way to measure your accomplishments for sure, and knowing that i'll be able to craft that badass bow when i reach bowyer mastery 50 is great, but we don't need to be there tomorrow. We're having a blast playing it. Roaming pvp gangs, exploring the lands, fighting npc's.

    that is the way the game was intended to be. I'm not advertising Darkfall on purpose here, just pointing out that yes, there are many different types of people out there, there are many that have fun with one type game albeit leveling or skill system that wont with another. Even in a game such as DF, there are still those that wish to "grind" , even though it is absolutely not necessary.

    IMO the reason why dev's are afraid is based on other games successes, why would you want to build a game like EVE Online or Darkfall when you could try to make the next WoW and take their customers? Everquest, Asherons call, UO, and many others of that generation were amazing games that had huge success.. of what? 200k subs? maybe 500k subs? Their is nothing wrong with numbers like that, in fact that is down right fucking insane. however with wow coming in and claiming 10mil subs now? No wonder , they're not afraid to make a different type of game because they're afraid no one will subscribe, they wont because they're afraid they wont have 5 mil or more subscribers. All about greed.

  • kopemakopema Member Posts: 263

    The only purpose of levels is to push characters on a one-way trip through the game's content. This is vital in a single-player RPG, as it's the author's way of predictibly walking the player through his prefabricated story while giving him the illusion of freedom. 

    But there is no reason that same paradigm should exist in MMO's.  By excluding players from content - at both ends - it limits the flexibility of players, and it wastes the resources of the developer.  Of course it's easy to understand each player's desire to have a character that is "more l33ter" than all of the other characters in the game. In a single-player game, that's fine. But a very few seconds of thought should be sufficient for most people to figure out it is impossible to fulfill that desire in an MMO, and it's silly and counter-productive to try.

    When I play an MMO, all I care about is gaining a wider variety of capabilities.  Simply getting a periodic increase to a character's overall "power" level in order to kill generally "tougher" MOBs is quite literally a fool's game - both from the point of view of the player and the designer.  That's what people mean when they refer to a "treadmill."  When you're working on cardio, that's great, but in an RPG it's pretty much the last thing any thinking person wants to spend time doing.

    Don't get me wrong - of course I understand that the ADD crowd is a marketer's dream.  But studies have shown that (believe it or not) most computer game players are neither children nor drug addicts.  And when you limit that to non-console games, specifically RPG games, and consider the proportion who have their own credit cards -- that ratio goes through the roof.  The stereotype of the computer gamer whose self-esteem is locked into his character's virtual "progress" is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  There is a whole other market out there that remains practically untapped.

  • OzmodanOzmodan Member EpicPosts: 9,726

    You missed the primary reason for a leveling system, developers are LAZY!  Heaven forbid they deviate from the EQ/Wow model.  Another black mark on Smedley for introducing the leveling system into MMO's.

    Thank goodness for companies like CCP who make far better design decisions.  A time based skill system would work well in a fantasy MMO just as well as it has in a space one.  You don't have to make the skill system completely grind based.  You could even do both a time and grind based system.  I am sure someone has thought of even more innovative ideas to implement a non level based system.

    I have to disagree that it is hard to balance, UO had a plethora of skills that effected pvp and I never felt overwhelmed by any of them.  Your skill as a combatant was more a determining factor than your actual skill levels.  In some respects UO before the age of shadows was a much better game than most MMO's today.

     

  • LynxJSALynxJSA Member RarePosts: 3,233
    Originally posted by Abrahmm


    It basically comes down to "that's not the norm so we're not going to try it" mentality from developers.

     

    Whoa there. :)  That's the message from this particular article writer. I doubt he speaks for the game development community.

     

    "Now, the current popular belief is that a skill based system is the answer to the woes of the level grind. The only problem with that is that a skill based system, where a character gets better at swinging his sword or casting a spell by doing so, is that it doesn’t hit the above mentioned pros. It is difficult to balance content (not to mention PvP), players don’t experience the “ding” reward, character power growth is gradual thus denying players the goal (and reward) of instantly achieving more power."

     

    Jon, the problem that I have with that argument is that it's based entirely on only one possible way to do a skill-based system.

    -- Whammy - a 64x64 miniRPG - - RPG Quiz - can you get all 25 right? --
  • HluillHluill Member UncommonPosts: 149

    Lynx:  I agree that it is wrong to blame 'the developer" for choosing one system or another.  I blame investor greed.  The money people, just like in Hollywood, place too much on measured, marketable-qualities and not creativity.  For example: your movie will make more money if it has more action (targeting fifteen to twenty-five year-old males) and romance (targeting women).  Who cares if it is based on an awesome story that has none of that.  I think the same tools are used for MMOs: you need to have elves and levels.

    TSW, LotRO, EQ2, SWTOR, GW2, V:SoH, Neverwinter, ArchAge, EQ, UO, DAoC, WAR, DDO, AoC, MO, BDO, SotA, B&S, ESO, 

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