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.