The Daily Grind: Should MMOs get rid of levels?

I would like to say that when I was a kid playing my first MMORPGs, I was impervious to the grind, that I embraced taking many months to level a skill or hit a level cap. But that would be a lie. I stuck a rock on my keyboard to AFK macro overnight in Ultima Online, and a friend of mine would log into my EverQuest account sometimes while I slept to catch me up in levels. I hated it. I have always hated it. Oh, I’d spend hours per day in those early games, but I wanted to chill with friends, make stuff, run dungeons with people without worrying about level discrepancies and gear and all the obnoxious mechanics designed so transparently to slow me down and make me pay to grind. And I’ve felt this way for 20 years.

This is why a recent tweet of Raph Koster’s, quoting Elder Scrolls Online’s Matt Firor, resonated with me:

“Removing levels as a gameplay factor was the best decision for retention ever made in Elder Scrolls Online.” -Matt Firor

It’s affirmation that I’m not alone: A huge portion of the MMORPG playerbase will pay for content that pushes us together by invalidating level grinds rather than keeps us apart. Is it not time? Can we just be done with the old canard that people “need” leveling make-work to feel achievement or investment in a game, when metrics prove otherwise? Should MMOs get rid of levels?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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107 Comments on "The Daily Grind: Should MMOs get rid of levels?"

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silverlock

Some types like sandboxes need to get rid of levels. The use of levels is one of the reasons I didn’t back AoC.

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Leiloni

I actually really like levels. So much so that I can’t help but level tons of alts when I need a break from my main.

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Chris Stutzman

I hate removal of levels and zone scaling type of games. You never feel like you are weak or strong, you are just a character the entire time who can go anywhere and do anything- it leaves no excitement.

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Chris Brown-DeMoreno

How about we just make the leveling experience ‘better’ rather than getting rid of it? Leveling today really sucks because no one cares about it. No one cares about anything before what you’re going to do at the level cap. Perhaps the leveling process needs to take longer. Make getting to that cap feel like an accomplishment rather than just something that’s in the way. This obviously means that devs need to focus more on content that’s not “end-game”. This means quest-lines that are lengthy and engaging enough that we don’t want to just rush through them, mid-tier raids, and other systems that aren’t strictly combad based (see BDO for a good list of non-combat things to do).

Furthermore, don’t hide all the abilities behind high levels. Rather than treating the cap level as the one to have your final ability, perhaps give out almost all of the abilities early on and use later levels to enhance them; this should include new animations to reflect the increased power/function of the ability.

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Leiloni

I was with you until that second paragraph. Part of what makes leveling fun is having new abilities, or ability points, or various other connected mechanics to look forward to. GW2 is a good example of what it’s like when you get all of your abilities early. It leaves some of the fun out and gets a bit boring.

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Malcolm Swoboda

I like levels. I wouldn’t want them gone from my DND campaign. But I’ve always resented how grind MMORPGs mostly reset progress upon a new level cap. While there’s a lot to critique about RIFT’s design, I appreciated how they decided to not be as drastic as WoW in that regard, at least. I think if you were in the very best gear in Lv 50 Classic RIFT, that could take you to at least part way through the leveling content of Storm Legion, up to maybe just tipping into the endgame (final Normal dungeons). Still YMMV but sooo much better to me than entering a new WoW version and finding everything I had was useless by the start or end of the first new zone.

Generally I prefer levels to only slightly affect my base stats but otherwise give me more options and more powerful potential with my options. Still stronger, still an upgrade, but not so much tied to gear, nor a world apart from characters 1-5 or whatever levels below or above me.

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Carebear

The paradox in the whole story is that when there were levels that took weeks to gain, we grouped a lot more, even if there was level diasparity…

Now that we ask to remove levels so they dont separate us, we all seek solo experiences or random anonymous groups via tools..

I am not against leveling, if it is designed well… for example in most old mmos leveling was good cause there were not so much focus in endgame and also game economies were good.

But in modern games like wow nd ffxiv leveling is just a boring waste of time

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Morgan

I honestly dont mind grind it can depend on the mmo and how its implemented. Maybe max level ten just to introduce players to their abilities etc by unlocks or whatever but its most definitely a no from me. mmos should not have levelling they should have substance. WoW right now is the most disappointing game I have ever played because of it so much potential just locked away. Time-gated progression doesn’t work anymore in our society people just wanna jump in a game and have fun right off the bat.

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Crowe

I like levels. ESO did not retain me as I am obviously not their core demographic.

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rafterman

Levels are fine. No levels are fine. MMOs have a dozen other things that are worse for the genre than whether or not levels are a problem.

You want to remove something awful from an MMO, how about 1000’s of worthless drops that are only designed to fill up bags? How about 50 different forms of currency that you need a spreadsheet to keep track of? How about item inflation that makes the kickass item, that dropped yesterday, obsolete today?

Personally, I like leveling in my MMOs. Also, ESO not only didn’t get rid of leveling, it has it in triplicate. You still earn levels, you still have to earn Skill points, and at the end of the day Champion points, which are just more levels, are hugely important. Ask anyone who has done the harder content in that game if levels have been “removed as a gameplay factor”. It’s an absurd claim.

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Jokerchyld

Why are we talking about levels? The real problem is gating users through numerical zones of increasing challenge. Levels are fine, its a visual achievement of growth from progression. Lets talk about the content and how to change it from its originating tropes.

Everquest is an amazing game, 18+ years later its still amazing. Its just incredibly outdated. Start there and add a bunch of new ideas (scaling, skill based, visuals, etc). I can’t see how that wouldn’t be well received.

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Robert Mann

Personal opinion, yes. There’s simply too many ways already explored in gaming (from pen and paper to single player and even MMOs) that are far more interesting and immersive.

Not… that this has to apply to all games. Some people do seem to like the level based setup. I think the biggest problem in all of MMO-land is how hard it is to get anything outside the current trend. Developers need to have the fortitude to tackle the questions of their bosses, explain that they want to tap underserved markets rather than chasing the last big success that already soaked up all the players for that game type, and get some variety out there.

oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

I keep seeking fun which levels may or may not provide.

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rafael12104

Progression, in my view, depending on what you like, should mean different activities. Leveling as a way to mark advancement and reap rewards can certainly be a part of a broader progression scheme. But it shouldn’t be the only requirement.

Loyheta
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Kickstarter Donor
Loyheta

Yes please. I hate artificial content. Every time an expansion comes out all my amazing gear, which I farmed so hard for, is obsolete. Horizontal expansion is great but it does spread the community thin. However, I’d rather have 30 dungeons to go through randomly than 1-2 per 5 levels until cap. I know some games have a level cap version of the dungeons you leveled with but it seems like all fluff.

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thalendor

Some MMOs should get rid of levels; others should not. If it’s just going to be a few days race to the end-game where the “real” game starts, then sure… just get rid of levels and let people start their raiding, “mythic” (to use the WoW terminology) dungeons, or whatever interests them from day one. If the journey to the end game is supposed to be truly meaningful, then sure… keep levels, and even make the leveling process take longer than it does in most modern MMOs. Then again, maybe it’s just me and my own view that having a super-quick leveling process is the worst possible middle ground between not having the traditional concept of levels and a slower leveling process that doesn’t move you through the world like some tourist spending not even 5 minutes at each attraction…

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Jeffery Witman

Anyone who thinks that the Skinner box of level rewards is what keeps playing misses the whole point of MMOs. It’s social rewards and achievements that matter. Being a completionist can be satisfied by single player games easily. The only reason to play an MMO over single player titles is because you care about having other people around.

Levels can be replaced with other things that aren’t so punishing to players. It just requires some fresh ideas instead of the same, tired formulas of game creation.

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Arktouros

Okay a few things.

First, levels matter immensely in ESO because of how absurdly strong Champion Points are. One of the biggest things I struggled with going back to ESO was the lack of desire to grind out those champ levels to make higher end (DLC Vet or even non Vet Dungeons for example) content doable because much of it was designed with max level champs in mind. So “removing levels from gameplay factor” never really happened in ESO.

Second, MMOs are progression. Whether it’s levels, skills, or otherwise people like having their characters grow stronger. They like being able to put in time and see the growth. Collecting new fashion sets or mucking about with achievement “honey-do” lists is not progression for a lot of people. We saw this at GW2 launch when a lot of people simply capped out levels, capped out gear, and then it was like “Ok that’s it.” and they simply walked away.

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Dug From The Earth

Id rather things be gated by content and achievements, than by levels.

Imagine this:

So there is that uber mega powerful sword that typically, you cant used until you hit level 1000. Remove the levels and level requirements, and a player just starting, could be “twinked” into getting it with the help of others…

unless… that sword required you to have completed the large amount of content leading up to where you get it AND have earned specific achievements.

Levels were never a sign of really accomplishing anything, other than time spent earning xp. Something a monkey could do by grinding mob xp, or picking flowers. (there are people who hit max level in games doing nothing but harvesting resources in the starter zones).

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Melissa McDonald

achievements, levels, feels kinda same to me. Achievements give XP, which lead to levels…

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Dug From The Earth

What game are you playing where achievements give xp? Most mmorpgs, achievements reward NOTHING. At best, they grant a title, or rare occassion, mini pet.

Achievements typically are just a written down notice saying, “The player Did XYZ thing”.

While there are truly some absurd achievements out there (ie: Player opened his bank for the first time!”), many are there to signify that the player has completed something.

This enables a dev trying to gate content, the ability to say “You cant ride a mount until you have X, Y and Z achievements.” Or, to use a legendary sword, you might need the “sword master” achievement, which might require you to have finished the entire Samurai quest chain, as well as having master crafted your own sword. WoW did this with unlocking flying, and it worked as an alternative to earning levels.

Gating content like that, actually requires players to play through content, and complete set tasks.

Levels only require XP, which can be earned by questing, but can also be earned by simply farming spawns while half asleep. Reaching max level in most mmorpgs isnt something to be proud of, since a monkey could do it.

Which feels more fun and enjoyable to you:

Grinding a spawn of goblins for 4 hours, to get to level 20 to unlock a new sword ability…

or

Going on a 4 hour chain of quests to find a swordmaster, who was captured by some evil baddie, so that when you rescued the swordmaster, they would reward you with the knowledge of how to use your weapon better (ie: a new sword ability)

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Nic Hickman

I like this idea alot.

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Daniel Reasor

Elder Scrolls Online is an interesting outlier to bring up in a discussion of leveling, and the reason why ESO’s abandonment of leveling works is worth identifying. Because of the way that the game uses skill points, ESO was able to keep the “start with a simple character, learn a new ability, and practice working it into your repertoire for a bit before you learn the next” mechanism – which is the most important benefit to leveling. For my friends who aren’t grognards and who don’t have 12 button gaming mice, that smoothing of the leveling curve by letting the character learn its class over time is what makes MMOs accessible.

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Jokerchyld

But lets be clear. ESO did not get rid of leveling. You still have to level from 1 to 50 then champion points from 1 to 630 something. What they got rid of was level gated content where you were funneled from particular zones appropriate for a particular level (essentially telling you where to go). And I agree this needed to go. Its an old trope from the early days of MMORPGs and needs to be advanced.

And ESO does do it better. Validated by the fact that One Tamriel reinvigorated the game. Now you can do whatever you want, go where ever you want whenever you want, but still have progression of gaining levels from doing what you enjoy.

WoW is *slowly* starting to do this same thing with Legion (which I’ve enjoyed for a full year). Giving you the ability to start in any zone as well as level scaling so you can complete it anyway you like.

What this feature allows is for the player to focus on their character instead of the levels. But in order to support this the design has to change. Less ‘quest hubs’, ‘level gating’, poor story and more open world content that matters, epic chains, and strong lore which provides the incentive to play it every day.

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Witches

Aren’t the level requirements the real problem?

The levels themselves are more like a placebo, they give you the illusion/feeling of progress.

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Sally Bowls

Exactly. There is no point in getting rid of grinding 100 levels to need to grind the same amount of time to get tier N+1 gear or attuned so some ePeen content.

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steve

Levels make sense within the traditional RPG milieu, but such a system is a kludge when trying to build a virtual world.

Some people’s love of MMORPGs is founded upon the RPG part, with the multiplayer being a novel feature. The industry has held to this more or less as a standard, so the more you try and remove traditional RPG elements from MMOs, the more you’ll distress those traditional fans.

As large as this traditional group may be, however, I don’t see much further potential for growth in the traditional model. I don’t believe that level-based RPGs will go away, but I do think they hit their market saturation point long ago.

I think the realization of virtual worlds is inevitable, and will require a completely different paradigm of thought as far as engineering and mechanics are concerned. Levels don’t make sense in a virtual world, and even in traditional MMOs they’re nothing but a poorly-implemented content gatekeeper.

In the future I don’t want to know if you have the level required to fly my starship. I’ll want to know that you’re certified and hold a commission in good standing with a reliable standards body. I’m certain this will disgust many of the traditional RPG fans.

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Sray

If levels and the leveling game serve no real purpose other than checking a off box on the “expected things of a MMO” list, then you should get rid of them. If you’ve built an “endgame is the real game” MMO, then all that levels do is create a barrier to players being able to get into the real game. There are too many games out there now for players to put up with games that are deliberately built to piss away their time. If your game sells max level character tokens, then your leveling game is meaningless, and should be eliminated: get rid of the levels (obviously, not the content).

But, if the real game begins at level 1, where the player makes permanent choices that affect their character, and their place in the world along the way, then you have a game where levels actually have meaning, and should remain.

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Mush V. Peets

Of course we should get rid of levels! Or, if not, at least reduce the number of levels to something reasonable, like 15 or 20. Spending thousands of hours grinding through filler quests and meaningless little levels just to reach what is considered ‘the game’ proper, and being left with nothing but a false sense of investment and commitment, is rather unhealthy, I find. Beyond that, it scares people who might totally enjoy a massively multiplayer online game away by associating ‘MMO’ with ‘months of grinding levels’. If we must keep a leveling mechanic, it should really just be there to smooth players’ introduction to the game and its mechanics, and allow players to be introduced to certain things linearly, but it shouldn’t ever take more than four or five days to reach “the real game.” However, even this should probably be done more organically, with things that make sense in the lore. (e.g. you’ve recieved such-and-such blessing for your service to the realm, enabling you to cross the Great Barrier and venture into the wilderlands, blah blah)

And if we really want to keep XP/point grinding, which isn’t actually a bad mechanic for some purposes, it should not be global. You should be able to earn experience in specific tasks, as you often can in MMOs, but without the character XP bar. Get better at what you want to do, by doing what you want to do.

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Sorrior Draconus

Honestly I love leveling based games but some games it just gets old fast as leveling content gets abandoned(see wow)

What I wouldn’t mind is maybe an old school style game using a system akin to what most would tie to oblivion where you use skills to level them up so a classless free form game.

And I don’t mean open world game fest I mean where if I want to build a battlemage cool I use fire magic to gain better mastery of it and two handed great axes to gain great axe bonuses (half of which could carry over to a general 2h weapon level and a quarter to a general melee pool)

See masters in your art for sone new skills but alot you auto learn as you acquire new tricks just by fighting.

Level wise I like them alot tbh. Helps me focus on my goals instead of going all “ohhh a flower OMG MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB” and heavy story narrative as well.

To me mix these things abd you would have a great mmo.

Oh and I know how eso works but it is not quite what I mean. You gain skills for using stuff yes but classes themselves are too prevent abd magic tied to weapons outside of classes is just annoying. If I want to ignite my great sword into lightning I am not even sure I can do that. Systems too limited

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Ket Viliano

Every argument in this entire thread can be broken down into an advocacy discussion between Achievers vs. Socialites and Explorers.

Bartle’s player types still reign.

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Hirku

I’d like to get rid of automatic leveling. I hate being forced to skip content because completing it would overpower me for the main quests and turn the game into a boring faceroll.

The Secret World was perfect with its skill point based progression. You could sit in Kingsmouth as long as you want, complete every single mission, find every piece of lore, hack up hundreds or thousands of monsters, and still be at the appropriate level of power for the area just by letting your skill point pool build up and not spend the points until you were ready to move on. There are many reasons I’m no longer playing SWL, but automatic leveling is at the top of the list.

capt_north
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capt_north

I’m burned out on jumping through the required hoops in the required order to arrive at an end-product that plays just like every other character of that class/spec/template.

Sometimes you just want to be the best baker on the block. That implies a progression system of some sort, but keying everything off combat class levels is silly. Surprisingly few bakers can take down a dragon single-handedly (or want to).

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Schlag Sweetleaf

.

sneaky homer dings.gif
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Hirku

Fus DOH! Ra!!!!

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Jadefox

I think that MMO’s have really failed with making leveling meaningful. In modern games you often have multiple levels where they often have very little meaning other than some HP and an increase in basic stats. Then one get to a level tier and get a big boost. then back to meaningless levels.

MMO Devs should go get a AD&D Players Manual and looked at a Magic Users leveling.
Every level increased the ability of the player.

magicuser.png
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Melissa McDonald

EQ2 is like that. Your older spells increase in potency as you gain levels, not just gain new ones.

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steve

That would be fine in a world without power creep (Or MUDflation as we called it back in my day, when wearing an onion on your belt was the fashion).

It becomes a real waste of resources in a short period of time.

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Sorrior Draconus

Think old wow kinda used this but agreed

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A Dad Supreme

I’m not wholly convinced getting rid of levels for every MMO is the right thing to do.

Sure it sounds good on it’s own, but is that just a knee-jerk reaction to a bigger problem that the companies and devs create themselves with questionable content in their games from the beginning that we can’t see?

I think we all remember just a few short years ago (about five) when everyone was convinced that P2P MMOs were “the problem” and that F2P games would be MUCH better for everyone and that paying a sub was such an outdated prospect.

You’ll see”, everyone said. “The games will be much better because everyone will be included and companies will put out better products because there will be more competition because people can just leave your game if it’s too expensive”.

Initially, almost everyone railed against any existing (or planned game) with a sub with a fervor. “F2P will open up the MMO market and bring all players together, not just those who can afford $15/month”.

Now everyone sees the aftermath. Total and complete devastation in the MMO sphere of quality games, Substandard Kickstarter games begging left and right while never officially “launching” but continuing to suck money with open cash shops before the game even opens and “quality ‘Vet’ packages”, and let’s not forget the biggest and greatest event we gained: the proliferation of P2W games and the Lockbox Era. Yep, it was a great idea to get rid of that “outdated” sub model.

I believe people who haven’t learned from the past and simply jump on the popular bandwagon without exploring all the possible ramifications simply because it’s “popular” are just part of the problem, instead of the solution.

Just because it works for one or two games(ESO I guess?) in some fashion, doesn’t mean it should be an industry standard because a few don’t like how it’s been done.

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Sray

Blaming the end of the subscription model for the woes of MMOs is a gross oversimplification that ignores the fact that all of the problems you mentioned are also being faced by non-MMOs that never charged for subs to begin with: even $60 single player games are being loaded up with microtransactions for single use consumables and lockboxes now. Lockboxes, toxic players, P2W, eternal early access, and crowdfunded disasters are problems for every part of the video game industry, not just MMOs; and not just free to play games (games like PUBG, Overwatch, CS:GO, and GTAO all charge up front for access, and all have these problems too).

In the specific case of MMOs, the fact is that continuously running PVE oriented MMOs (ie. WoW, GW2, FFXIV, SWTOR… basically all the big names) are not reasonably sustainable. They’re just no way of constantly cranking out enough new content without having resort to some type of anti-consumer monetization that takes far more than it gives. Whether it’s charging a subscription that totals up to $150 per year for $40 to $50 worth of new content, or predatory lockboxes, both are schemes to keep sustaining something that is inherently unsustainable. A business model like Destiny makes more sense, regardless of what a person thinks of the game itself: a game that is designed to be replaced with a new version of itself every three or four years (preferably with players having the ability to choose to either jumping in fresh or carrying some type of progress forward) is something that is sustainable without having to treat your players like money pinatas you need to whack as hard as you can.

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A Dad Supreme

“Blaming the end of the subscription model for the woes of MMOs is a gross oversimplification…”

“A business model like Destiny makes more sense,…”
=====
Not doing that at all. What I’m pointing out is that there was a headlong, wholescale rush by almost everyone to get rid of P2P MMOs which you can’t deny.

F2P would be better because it would bring in more players, create more competition (and therefore more/better games) and be fair since companies were taking sub money and not putting it into the game or so the argument went.

Now after that revolution has happened, people are screaming even louder that F2P games suck, lockboxes, P2W MMOs that require even more money than if they were paying $15/month, and a cheapening of quality instead of improvement.

The same thing happened with the whole “Tab Targeting (too old) vs “Action Combat” (new hotness) in game makeup. Again, people were finding out that “new” is not necessarily better and that there is no “one size fits all” solution to MMOs.

That makes the question of “Should MMOs get rid of levels?” very relevant as it pertains to past history. No I don’t believe so for all MMOs or even the majority of them as a blanket solution. Things have to be taken case by case rather than a whole-scale purging simply because people think it’s outmoded.

Making it simply a “yes/no” question to get rid of levels is rather simplistic and shouldn’t be done that way because we saw where that got us with pricing models and gameplay.

Further, Destiny isn’t an MMO so you bringing that into here isn’t related. It’s a console game (designed for) that came from Halo, a game that already had it’s own pricing model where Halo was replaced by Halo 2 and Halo 3, etc.

That doesn’t work with MMOs. You don’t make ESO then make ESO 2, then ESO 3 etc every two or three years.

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Sray

I’m really not trying to be belligerent, but I honestly have no idea what anyone is talking about when they say “Destiny is not a MMO”. Could you please explain to me why someone thinks Destiny is not a MMO?

Persistent shared world? Check.
Ability to team up with other players? Check.
RPG style progression? Check.
Fleshed out world with lore that gives character actions context? Check.

What exactly is it that keeps Destiny from being a MMO? Can’t just be consoles: FFXIV, STO, Neverwinter, ESO, and DCUO are all on consoles. Can’t be first person: huge number of players play ESO exclusively in first person. Can’t be smaller, unconnected world zones: DCUO world zones are also quite small and not physically connected. Can’t be twitch based combat: that’s all over the place now. Can’t be the “you are the Chosen One” narrative: that’s pretty much all of them.

I look at all of that, and literally have no concept of how a person can say Destiny is not a MMO.

Is it because there’s no elves? Is it literally a fantasy genre thing? I don’t understand.

———————————————–

As for making sequential MMOs: WoW has actually been doing that for years, but they’ve actually just kept bundling them into a single client. March of the Pandarians, Warlords of Dreanor, and Legion are all just sequentially new games designed to be replaced every two years or so; hence the reason that they’re very disjointed in many ways, and adopting/dropping new systems each time. Losing the facade of a single client simply makes it a workable for game companies that don’t have 200 million to spend every two years on a new game.

So yeah, you can make ESO, then ESO2, then ESO3 if you want to. Unless you enter into the truly rarefied air of World of Warcraft, financially it makes so much more sense than continuously pouring money and man hours into a game that will continuously lose players to newer games and always be on a downward revenue trend.

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Sray

Sorry, woke up very late today and coffee still hasn’t kicked in. When I saw your comment, I clearly didn’t grasp that you were getting at “no one-size-fits-all” solutions, rather I thought you were using this as a forum against F2P for whatever crawled up your butt today. We’re actually in complete agreement.

My bad.

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A Dad Supreme

Don’t sweat it… worse things for me to get offended about in today’s world. :)

To clarify about Destiny, the main reason I consider it not to be an MMO is it lacks the one thing in the description, massive.

Although there is a lot of content, it’s still a great 3-6 multi-player co-op game, not really a game played by a massive number of people at the same time like most typical MMOs.

Minimalistway
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Minimalistway

Yes please, i would love to see level scaling or no levels at all, Guilds War 2 did it right IMO.

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ichi sakari

I’m looking forward to playing a game that won’t have arbitrary skills points for levels; where my skills improve from practicing and playing and learning how to do things better; where my actions affect my reputation which opens up more content; where by accomplishing something I receive a tangible reward (like gear) that provides me with an increased functionality.

Grinding levels should be obsolete IMO, progression should come from rep and the acquisition of ‘stuff’.

ps do away with class limitations too :)

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Kickstarter Donor
Serrenity

Right now, I think MMOs use levels as a means to measure progress within the game world NOT because it’s the best way, but it’s the easiest way because it requires the least effort on developers part. Everyone knows levels, everyone expects levels. Its a relatively simple system used to create artificial constructs around all kinds of other aspects of the game (must be X level to equip this item because reasons or gating content etc).

If you consider where we started with levels, it was really table top RPGs, and we had a really limited number of levels to grow to. Like I said below, I think DnD was like level 20 was max? Or at least close to it. Because of the scarcity of levels in comparison to the amount of time you spend with your character, each level was more meaningful and impactful. Compare to something like WoW where there are sometimes where you’ll go 10 levels without getting any new abilities (talents or abilities) and just get a passive increase your base attributes that you actually have no control over and most people are probably unaware even happens.

Why? Because levels. Seriously, that’s the only reason. My problems with levels isn’t that they exist, but rather that they exist in a ridiculously archaic form that clearly isn’t serving the games were implemented in and have a negative impact on the rest of the game because developers have to prance around their implementation of levels in every piece of content they develop.

I think our progress through the virtual space can be more meaningful measured by new systems to replace / expand the concept of levels. I think that levels would be more meaningful by having fewer of them (seriously, GW2 — why 80 levels? why?) and having progression systems tied to how well you do a thing. Want to be able to cast a fireball that does more damage? Cast moar fireballs. Want to be able to swing your bastard sword harder? Use your bastard sword more.

The underlying motivation of ‘gotta level up!’ is to do a thing better / stronger / faster. I think providing a more meaningful way to progress your character outside of a completely arbitrary value that for most games means next to nothing outside of a gating mechanism would be a huge step forward for MMOs.

Topics Not Covered because I should probably do work sometime: Power Inflation (see WoW – jumps between pretty much any expansion), TSW’s original system, the GW2 model, the TESO model, the Anarchy Online model, etc.

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MMOBro

Levels in D&D also work because a tabletop group plays as a group, not as a bunch of soloers trying to end up in the same place so that they CAN play as a group.

I think the leveling system is great for small groups and single player games because it does provide a satisfying power bump and incentive to continue growing one’s character. It’s just that with MMORPGs the satisfaction is complicated by splintering communities and friends from being able to play the same game together.

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Schmidt.Capela

Very much why I like traditional leveling in single-player games but go with level-less games for most of my multiplayer gaming.

For the most part this includes MMOs; if I feel like levels (or gear levels) are making it hard for friends to play the same content at roughly the same efficiency level, I’ll likely play that MMO mostly as if it was a single-player game.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

“A huge portion of the MMORPG playerbase will pay for content that pushes us together by invalidating level grinds rather than keeps us apart.”

Objection! Assertion not supported by facts in evidence!

One of the most tiring tropes when it comes to complaining about MMORPGs is the assumption that if devs just built the thing you like, everybody else would like it too.

Levels didn’t show up just to make us grind, they were used to give measure to progression, and progression is one of the three legs of the tripod that make for sustainable PvE content. That so many games use them is a testament to their acceptance as a measure of progression. Making levels pointless in a game that already has them undercuts progression. As for removing them completely, there have been MMORPGs without levels before, but that tends to lead to a sandbox-ish design, and that is not a path that anywhere close to a “huge portion of the MMORPG playerbase” has deigned to tread.

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Serrenity

Levels don’t really show progress anymore. In a game like WoW, you have 2 effective levels – Max level, and not Max level. The granularity in between the two points is, by and large, moot. While true that players enjoy leveling, from the developer perspective the only care about max level and non-max level. Similar situation with FFXIV.

Levels do not cause progression, they only reflect it. Removing them cannot undercut progression because levels are not progression by virtue of being levels–they are an arbitrary number assigned assigned to show how strong a character is in relation to another character (PC or NPC). They only demarcate progression because they reflect other achievements / milestones of the character.

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Ket Viliano

Objection, facts are in evidence. You just need to look at them, but you don’t have to like them.

Levels serve to separate the playerbase in a game whose key feature is playing with your friends! Why else bother with the netcode ( and anti hax ) needed for a MMO?

Levels are great, for single player games. Or, rather, some kind of progression system is great for single player RPGs, it gives the player something to do.

On a deeper layer, what we are really arguing is Achievers vs. Socialites and Explorers. Those sandboxes you spoke of were depopulated by Killers, which is why a good sandbox ought to keep the FFA PvP confined to it’s own corner. You know, so all the other kids don’t get sand kicked in their faces.

It all comes back to Bartle in the end.

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Utakata

I suppose there are other ways to measure progression other than physical levels. The question becomes whether those others ways merely replace physical levels (and what’s the point if it does?). Or a new system that truly evens the playing field (as in, “jumping right into Tomb of Sargeras with a toon just rolled in Northshire Abbey” even playing field). o.O

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Ket Viliano

Something needs to replace Levels as a measure of Achievement. Or, rather, to replace an increase in power.

AtticLion
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AtticLion

They did. Or rather, the players did.

In many games levels have become largely meaningless as a measure of actual progression, because max level is the norm that everyone is expected to hit and everything else is just chaff.

It’s why we had/have things like linking your achievements or average ilvl to denote real progress.

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Utakata

But the obvious danger that it will be something that replaces levels, defeating the purpose of removing levels.

Personally I am okay with levels to a degree. But a few readers have expressed desire to get rid of them altogether. I am not sure how that can be done without creating some sort of progressions system that would end up mimicking levels, with all the gating and locking out content that comes with it. I think the answer instead comes with creating better and more progressive leveling systems and mechanics IMO, as opposed to throwing the progression baby out with the bathwater.

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Schmidt.Capela

The most obvious substitute for levels (or power) as the gating mechanic would be story-based gating; it’s what games without levels, where a fresh character would theoretically be able to defeat the final boss, typically use.

I would welcome that, but there are a lot of MMO players that despise quests and would hate such a system.

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Utakata

…admittedly, that sounds like an interesting idea. O.o

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Ket Viliano

It is the increase in power level that gates the content and separates friends from playing with each other.

Character ability content can be gated horizontally, by not making a fireball do more damage than a single target fire bolt, and by not increasing damage with leveling. For example, the player has to progress to get fireball, but gains only the AOE ability, not additional damage.

Still, I fail to see why a new player should be denied access to all the toys.
Unless, there are so many toys so as to overwhelm most new players, where by gating serves to train the player and ease adaptation to how the game plays.

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MMOBro

I’ve written about this before and am totally on board with killing the current mainstream leveling system. A huge issue of the vertical leveling system is that friends can’t play together unless they play on similar schedules. ESO fixes this and enables you the freedom to cooperate based on mutually unexplored content. After a certain point (CP160), there is still a fairly typical equipment grind for those that enjoy seeing their stats improve. These are more incremental gains, and while important for trials or PvP, don’t decimate the ability to play with a friend who is just starting the game.

In regards to vertical progression, Eve Online is a great example of allowing cooperation between players of disparate character skill levels. Players can train in frigates early on to reasonable competency. Dedicating further to frigates adds some small percentage differences. It’s enough of a stat improvement to matter but not so much that’s in insurmountable for opponents. Of course, during this time players are still able to improve skills on bigger and better (and slower) ships.

Multiplayer games should be inclusive and MMORPGs have spent over a decade excluding people from playing with one another. The genre is still plenty big, but other subgenres have stolen numbers from persistent world MMORPGs because they cater to the experience of playing with anyone, anytime.

I think any solution to the “leveling problem” needs to address the ability for friends of all experience levels to play with one another freely the way they want to play (i.e. without creating alts or limiting play time). ESO and Eve both work, but they are hardly the only two answers.

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Tobasco da Gama

Yes.

With one caveat. I think Secret World Legends made the right move by adding levels to a game that didn’t have them, but only because they weren’t willing/able to go all-in with dynamic scaling like ESO has. TSW had a quite punishing progression system even without levels, and the retrofit they did allowed players to at least understand why they might be underpowered for certain parts of the story. (Or, indeed, ensure that they don’t reach certain parts of the story at all until they’ve hit a certain baseline of power.)

ESO’s approach of aggressively level-scaling everything is definitely better, but it’s difficult to do correctly. A game that started from the very beginning with no concept of power progression could do it much better.

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Slaasher

Personally I love the grind of leveling so long as it is diverse and full of challenge and fun.

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Modrain

Depends of how meaningful the levelling is.

I dislike to play to level up, but I don’t mind to level up by grinding. It’s only true in games that make the grind interesting, by offering multiple activities, and by rewarding them properly, though. If the levelling feels like a bonus or an afterthought of activities done during a gaming session, then it’s all good. I’m fine with it as long as I’m not playing to level up. If I have to play by focusing on activities giving the most XP (usually questing) because everything else is painfully time consuming or unrewarding, it will quickly turn into a hassle. Something that I feel is much more present in short, rush to endgame levellings than in longer, slower ones. In that particular case, then yes, levels can disappear.

Paradoxically, I enjoy more long levellings that make it clear that you won’t reach the top before long, allowing you to focus on other things and to ignore that there is a 20h difference of /played between you and your friends, because you’re still all at the same level, than short levellings that keep telling that you’re close to the next level, and prevent you at the same time from both enjoying your time at your current level and playing with your friends that played more/less than you.

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Joey

Levels aren’t the problem. If done right – they’re more a general perception of your character.

Take Asherons Call (/cry)…. yes it was a grindy as hell game, but to be honest levels really didn’t mean THAT much. A lower level player had a shot at killing higher level players/monsters if they knew how to play. In fact – most of the time I played AC I really never payed attention to my level. I just went out with friends and did our thing.

Now… levels still had their place in the game as they gave you skill points to train new skills. But, it wasn’t something that you needed RIGHT NOW like in most modern MMOs.

I think the biggest problem with levels right now isn’t the levels themselves, but the world they’re put in. If the world is interesting and gives you stuff to do… then levels kind of fall to the wayside, but still passively track your progression.. if the world is uninteresting … then you just want to hit max level to get to the real stuff.

I just woke up so.. sorry my thought process is all over the place.. lol

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Ket Viliano

Getting rid of levels makes power level design and balance much easier, and allows the dev team to focus on better content. The worst time sink in any workplace is meetings, and power level related design requires meetings.

kjempff
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kjempff

There is certainly a going agenda against levels (and other kinds of progression) these days. I find it to be misplaced, trying to pin blame for every bad thing on systems that are not really the core problem; therefore their reasoning fail on me. Horizontal “progression” preachers just replace something like levels with some other number system, because going full horizontal will just ruin a mmo (though it works well for survival/builder/pvp-lobby game).

Levels are not the holy grail neither the root of all evil. You are fooling yourself if you think any real problems are rooted in having or not having levels. MMOs are all about progression; levels is an easy way to make progression, not the only way but it must be replaced with something else… however removing progression (which is ironically called “horizontal progression”) is just killing the reason and fun of a mmo (which is again not the same reason you play survival/builder/pvp games).
Horizontal preachers … leave my mmo alone.

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Schmidt.Capela

My issue isn’t with levels per see, but with power progression. And even then, not for everything.

Basically, I like power progression in games I play solo, and a lack of power progression in games I play with friends. Which, BTW, is why I tend to log off from whichever MMO I’m playing and launch something else whenever I want to play with a friend, even if we both play that MMO.

Or, in other words, power progression drives me away from group content, and in particular organized group content. I might try a bit of LFG-based group content in games with power progression (assuming the automated LFG tool can assemble balanced groups), but that’s it.

(BTW, I believe a large part of the allure of MOBAs like LoL is the lack of persistent power progression. No progression-related barriers for playing and enjoying the game with friends.)

kjempff
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kjempff

Mmo’s are not supposed to be balanced, and also not designed to be anywhere near a table-top experience so trying to force those kind of mechanics onto a mmo will ruin what makes mmo’s good fun.
I get what you are saying about playing with friends, I do the same .. play balanced and shorter pvp games with friends, and for mmo’s I play “alone”, meaning with anyone in game of course guild/friends list first. So I get what you are saying, but I accept that is how mmo’s work and that is what makes me play them – I am not trying to make mmo’s into the opposite of what they are.

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Schmidt.Capela

Replying to add that I do enjoy power progression in a few kinds of multiplayer content, but none of those would be readily applicable for MMOs.

In pen and paper RPGs there’s progression, of course, but you also have a real human as the Game Master, tweaking everything in the game to be a better fit for the current group; if you have a good GM, then even a just created lv1 character in a group full of max level characters should feel useful. Besides, between the players and the GM, we have full control over the game; we can, for example, easily uplift that lv1 character to match the group if everyone feels it will result in a more enjoyable experience.

In most small scale multiplayer games progression isn’t an issue either for three reasons. The first one is that the amount of time we will spend with an individual character is a tiny fraction of how long a MMO character lasts; catching up is much easier. The second one, for me at least, is that I will usually set aside a separate save for the group, which we will only play when the whole group is available; kinda like characters that are dedicated to the group in a MMO, but with the added benefit that the other group members are effectively prevented from evolve those characters when the group isn’t playing. And the third one is that, as long as the game doesn’t run on a central server, cheating is always a possibility; if we ever get to a point where power discrepancies are hindering our fun, we can just use cheats to solve the situation. Heck, most of my Diablo 2 group runs used completely artificial characters, and not being able to do that is why I never bothered playing Diablo 3 in a group.

styopa
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styopa

Skinner boxes requires reinforcement as a mechanism. Since negative reinforcement will simply drive (most) customers away, positive reinforcement is the only tool.

One can either continually deliver ongoing amounts of compelling, interesting content with rewards that broaden a character’s abilities and tools, or one can simply hand out packets of xp and make a big “ding” every X hours of gameplay. Can you tell which of these two is easier than the other to build?

I don’t see gating/scaling mechanisms as inherently bad, either.

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Sunken Visions

You need a gating mechanism for progress, the issue lies in how that is often delivered. Too many games make progression boring and repetitive, as they lack challenge and content.

A player should never feel like they need to ‘level up’ just so they can gain access to something enjoyable.

Polyanna
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Polyanna

Yes. Really at this point ESO could delete “levels” as a thing, give you all the attribute points up front, and have you only unlock skills as you go. The only thing “leveling” does at all now is let you tune your attributes and give you some free skill points. Getting rid of level as a concept for content gating though worked out brilliantly, and it was the best single big change they made to the game during the 1T overhaul. It really changes the entire feel of the game play and makes the entire world feel more open and inviting. And it has the great benefit of letting friends play together anywhere, doing anything, regardless of their progression. You don’t realize just how dumb level gating a game world feels until you play a game that doesn’t.

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Loopy

I don’t mind levels. They provide a positive feedback that your character has increased in power. I also don’t mind gating some content behind levels. In my opinion, it’s a clever way of masking linearity when it comes to experiencing the storyline, especially if there is an overarching story as opposed to zone-specific one.

I do however mind gating entire elements of the game behind levels – or my usual “end-game” gripe. I understand the need for linear progression, and I also understand that there is no point letting players at lvl 7 do group content designed for gear treadmill. But it’s not an ideal model in my mind. ESO does it right – you can pretty much do anything you wants in the game, at any level. The lower “level” you are, the more gimped you may feel, but you can still access it.

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Melissa McDonald

I don’t see it as a bad thing. It’s a benchmark that can be used in a variety of ways to track progress, reward progress, and even exclude you from content until you are strong enough to handle it, which I would say is a good thing, although some people like being beaten into paste by a boss too powerful for them, I guess, but not me.

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FreecczLaw

I like levels. I don’t see any point whatsoever to levels in games like FFXIV where they are just a long pointless tutorial hardly even a part of the game though. I wouldn’t even mind an endless amount of levels if the game just started at lvl one instead of “at cap” where in themeparks like the above mentioned game that really just means that the vertical gear grind begins, over and over and over.

miol
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miol

Not without having other means of progression, or we would only have Second Life clones from now on!

Not everyone likes economy or fashion wars as means of progression! You already have that plenty in RL! ;P

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Oleg Chebeneev

It depends on MMORPG, really. For theme park MMO like WoW with interesting quests levels are fine since its all about progression there. And developers can easily add more progression through expansions and raised level cap.
But genre must evolve from theme parks to virtual worlds. And levels have no place in virtual worlds. Virtual worlds should be all about living in them, not grinding levels.
This doesnt mean there is no place for progression. You could still find better equipment, raise in social ranks, etc.

There are MMOs where levels and leveling add absolutely nothing to the game and were added just cuz its norm and expected. Prime example is Archeage (where leveling is tedious and everything interesting happens only at level cap). This is stupid and I hope developers start asking themselves: “do we really need leveling in our game?” before implementing it

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Oleg Chebeneev

btw is it TESO on the picture?

miol
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miol

yes, you can always right click on those pics to see their names!

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Archebius

… you know, that makes things way easier.

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Utakata

90% of the time? >.>

K38FishTacos
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K38FishTacos

I find skilling up very compelling, like it was done in Morrowind or original Darkfall. You gain skill by doing something. It seems more organic. But the dark side of that is people afk macroing up those skills (e.g., Darkfall: bloodwalls, etc.), so that needs to be corrected.

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