A Massively OP commenter recently opined that “without gear progression, [a game] is a MOBA not an MMORPG,” and I would really love to talk about that because I’ve seen similar sentiments crop up a lot in the last year.
Many of my personal favorite MMORPGs are usually those that do away with gear progression or render it unimportant. Classic Star Wars Galaxies, Guild Wars, City of Heroes — never mind sandboxes like pre-Trammel Ultima Online or Glitch — all had minimal gear progression if they had any at all. Detractors might crow that Guild Wars 2 went back on plans to avoid gear progression, but I think most of us would still agree it’s relatively tame compared to the gear-grinds of themeparks like World of Warcraft. Are those not MMORPGs?
I agree that without some form of character customization or advancement, either vertical or horizontal, something that goes beyond swapping in a cash-shop skin for your avatar between matches, a game tips away from being an MMORPG. But I don’t think it needs to be gear. In fact, I think gear-based progression is cheap and lazy choice for an MMORPG to begin with.
What do you folks think? What’s the true deciding line between whether something’s an MMORPG or mere MOBA or online shooter? Is an MMORPG still an MMORPG without gear progression?