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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).