Levels or Levels?

(Reposted from VWTheory's themepark section.)

I was thinking about this tonight, why do we create systems of "levels" in MMOs, then restrict those levels to "zones" in the meager hope that people will play through our content in the correct order? Why not just make Levels in the traditional sense, and as players progress through levels they get additional gear(think Zelda's Boomerang, not Shaman's boots) and so forth. Players then have to complete a level to move on, but would be rewarded for coming back to old levels with stuff that might be either universally useful, or useful on whatever level they were currently on.

Granted there are problems with replayability, but since we are already talking about themeparks, why not focus on making better rides? You would need to focus on your social elements, avatar customization, houses and leaderboards for example, but if you can get them to feel some meaning in the their persistence it could very well take off.


  1. Asheron's Call wasn't like that at all, till everyone started asking for it to be and suddenly you could predict exactly what you'd find in any given area. Were EQ or UO like that? I guess most of the MUDs were.

    Trying to think back to tabletop games, and earlier on you'd never see that. By later iterations stuff would be arranged in nice concentric areas around the starter town. It's always pissed me off, but I suspect it's not going away anytime soon.

  2. Levels, IMO, are just the human way of categorising the game elements. It makes life easier for the gamer, as s/he can immediately see her/his restrictions ingame.

    My preferred rules in tabletop RPG's were the Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying (RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer et al), in which there were no levels. Instead the players were poised with the dilemma every time they encountered an unknown monster/opponent: can we take it? Will we be eaten? Should we run?

    And usually it all ended in tears and laughter.

    The levels, as we have gotten to know them, are as artificial boundaries as can be. The games would be too 'challenging' for the casual gamer if there were no signs telling them "DANGER! You are leaving your comfort zone!"

    I want my Mummy!


  3. The problem with using tabletop paradigms for MMOs is that tabletops were built around the concept of persistent groups. Characters and scenarios came and went but the group enjoying them was persistent from session to session. Of course the group could evolve, take on more members, loose others, but the core group generally remained. MMOs are about persistent characters in a persistent setting, groups come and go, but your character persists. Any other persistent element is purely incidental.

    MUDs had already made most of this transition, though some were still small enough and the groups tight enough that they still required a certain amount of group persistence. MMOs are entirely different beasts though. When a one percent change in population is thousands, and in some cases tens of thousands, of players the concept of making group persistence a requirement to play is simply untenable.

    Levels seem, to me at least, to be one of those elements people keep using because it works for their limitations, without considering the consequences. If the goal is to build the world such that the player is required to view a certain amount of content, it's simply more efficient to built the world that way in the first place. I'm sure players will be more forgiving of a game where they have to kill a dragon to get through the door behind it, than a game where they have to kill ten dragons to reach the magical ding point that makes fighting better dragons mathematically possible. We know how to make good games, what boggles my mind is that we are so bogged down making MMORPGs we aren't trying to make MMO-good-games.

  4. Ah. The distinctive difference between a MMO and MMORPG. Of which my opinion sadly is that there is no such beast as a MMORPG. Just a MMO which has the clothes of a RPG.

    Take the current craze for WAR: bloggers are describing to a painful detail the game mechanics and details, but the lore and the rpg elements are never mentioned. Not even the characters are brought into the texts as of yet.

    What it boils down to is that people are playing the MMO's still like any given game: to win or to achieve a simulacrum of winning. When in a real rpg there is no win as such, no 'game over' screen or 'you win' position in the game world.

    Which should change more, the games or the players?