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Behind this mysterious title I'm hiding some hard work that might be published someday ;) The purpose of this blog is to share thoughts with you who love/hate MMO.

Author: Deewe

Time to get rid of LEVELS!

Posted by Deewe Sunday October 26 2008 at 3:06PM
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So the new big title, read SWTOR, will have levels.

Not that I'm surprized even a bit disappointed. Altough I do understrand the choice Bioware did to level down the learning curve and to lower the difficulty to balance the game.

Sadly I don't have more experience of non level based MMO than SWG.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the pros and cons of levels.

In the end they really lack the feeling of character customization and ownership.

I read Bioware would answer to the later with storyline. I am afraid it isn't enough.
It is an interesting feature, but when people will realize their (hero?) story is quite the same as most of all others [insert class name here] they will be disappointed. Moreover when they'll find the supposedly choices would limit the character story.

At first I thought, in SWG, the ability to choose your skills was really the only part that made it interesting vs levels. Then I found out a few embedded layers.

The first one is there where no mandatory templates to join a hunting group. As long as you could hold a weapon you would be welcomed. I also liked how 20++ grouped, noobs, players could still kill a dark jedi... after many cloning and aggro management.

The second one that's often forgotten was switching skills. Usually in a MMO you have to delete and redo either all your skills or your character. SWG had this really smart feature: you delete a skill only when you needed skill points. So going from Master BH to master Cook you would slowly loose your uber combat skills. Yes it's some kind of grinding, still where much difference between your toon and a fresh new one.

The third one is zone limitations. Contrary to level based MMOs in SWG you could venture to anywhere in the world, provided you knew how to mange aggro or being grouped with the right people. There where very few places where you would be 1-2 shots killed because of  "levels" differences

The fourth one is equipement. There where much less feeling of having items only for a few levels then switching them for higher ones. Was it a bad thing? I don`t think so. The crafting system made it so players could keep looking for better crafted items. (Note that I'm against decay, explanations will come in another blog)


ArcheusCross writes:

I agree on most, lets see where to begin.

1. Leveling should be an afterthought, not the whole game being based around it, that way there are no linear guidelines.. more freedoms.. kinda like swg.. the leveling was really a skill tree, which was a perk... but not needed to go have fun with friends... it was truly brilliant.. oh and should i mention one of the best communities of all time?

2. Zone limitations. I agree... when you zone things, it is bad... and it kills immersion.. especially when you make battleground instances like wow and war did.. bad bad bad... war doesnt realize it yet.. but they killed thier world pvp due to that. But they will realize it before its all said and done.. however.. lets move on.

3. Equipment. Swg probably had the best equipment plan to date, incuding the crafting and the resources... perfect synergy. The crafting window in general could have been a bit more fun.. but the outcome was nice.

My disagreement? Decay.. it really is a necessary evil for an economy to work. It fuels supply and demand, and keeps crafters doing what they enjoy best.

Just my two cents.

Sun Oct 26 2008 3:52PM Report
ArcheusCross writes:

Other than that :) you get a bump! Nice post.

Sun Oct 26 2008 3:54PM Report
EndDream writes:

lvl's = teh suck

ill never played a lvl based mmo again.. lvls are for singleplayer games

Sun Oct 26 2008 5:06PM Report
xmoleculex writes:

I started with the UO beta test back in '96 and I have never really understood why so many MMOs ended up following the EQ model rather than the UO model... I guess just because EQ had more subs? Maybe it's easier to balance a game based on levels than skills?

A lot of SWG was designed by the same guy who designed UO, so the similarities made a lot of sense. It's unfortunate that he has more or less left the traditional MMO scene to work on Metaplace. I would have loved to see another solid commercial MMO designed by Koster.

Maybe one day we'll see a game as expansive as Vanguard, but based on a skill system rather than a level system. I would prefer the game to hide the numbers as much as possible to preserve immersion.

Sun Oct 26 2008 6:02PM Report
Trashcantoy writes:

ppl go for lvl based mmos cause lvling feels satisfying, lvl up -> another step closer to that skill u want to learn so badly -> one step closer to the piece of uber armor u looted in a raid (for example) -> and so on...

ppl can say "i made it to lvl xxx :)", this will prolly seem so dumb to the UO/DF fans out there but thats why people go for lvl based mmos. lvls come with status. all these things are ofc present in non lvl mmos (the status, the accomplishment etc) but in a different way.

Sun Oct 26 2008 6:28PM Report
cosimusta writes:

 Darkfall = no levels nubo

Sun Oct 26 2008 7:28PM Report
Raston writes:

I've been arguing against the level based MMO system for a long time now.  That being said, I do not see another MMO going for a non level system until 2010 when it is anticipated that world of darkness is going to be 'possibly' released.

There are several good PnP systems out there where levels are irrelevant (WEG's Masterbook and the White Wolf's WoD system) but MMOs are still suck in the DnD mentality and as long as they are, you will not see the level of innovation needed for a game to truely step up and be a next generation game.

Sun Oct 26 2008 7:37PM Report
Raston writes:


Let's try for a non level based game that isn't a bunch of epeens running around and being jerks, then I'll listen, ok?

Sun Oct 26 2008 7:37PM Report
Deewe writes:

WoW, ...err nice! ;)

Didn't thought I'd had so many comments that fast.

Where to start...

[ArcheusCross] Don't worry you'll have a dedicated blog with the decay as topic, something like "Time to get rid of DECAY & REPAIRS"

[xmoleculex]I'm also in favor to hide some numbers, better for PvP and immersion. This also will come in another Topic.

[3on1]I'd say most people go for lvl based games because they don't really have the choice. But I agree I don't see the point to say "ding" in the guild channel

[Raston[] I also enjoyed Chaosium Inc. games. I was DM at RuneQuest it was really an improvement over D&D rigid system.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to post here.

Sun Oct 26 2008 8:03PM Report
yusaku5 writes:

Thank you!  I've been thinking for a long time that levels actually take away from the fun in MMORPGs.  Levels are especially frustrating when you're trying to PvP.  I play FPS games like Team Fortress 2 a lot, and the reason I play them is because of the fact that there are no levels.  I just wish the makers of MMORPGs would understand this concept, and that it can be just as fun, if not more so, if we did away with levels.

Sun Oct 26 2008 8:08PM Report
Abrahmm writes:

I completely agree with you, levels are an outdated and quite honestly, completely retarded game mechanic that has no reason to be found in modern games. Unfortunately, lvls provide a "gold sticker of coolness" to the "Casual" gamer, and everyone knows the companies are all digging into that pot.

Sun Oct 26 2008 8:11PM Report
Loke666 writes:

I'm with you, levels are a stupid way of solving character development. It's all D&Ds fault and frankly, most other pen and paper games had better system.

I was really dissapointed that WAR didn't use the simple and fun system from "Warhammer fantasy roleplaying game", it was leveless but really well balanced and would work great in a MMO.

Sun Oct 26 2008 8:36PM Report
Raston writes:


I'm a casual gamer and I hate levels, if anything levels hurt casual gamers more than the 'hardcore' ones because we have less time to play and thus tend to be left behind.

In a levelless game, we'd be able to join with our friends doing anything in the game regardless if we were a day one player or having played for 5 years, it wouldn't matter.

Sun Oct 26 2008 10:46PM Report
Krogan writes:

It's Everquests fault if anything, but its really the industries fault that connected Everquests success to levels when that had nothing to tdo with it. Lore and graphics was the reason it did so much better then UO not levels and classes.

But the main reason so many mmo's use levels is because their game is to limited and its a cheap way to add content.

Sun Oct 26 2008 11:15PM Report
Krogan writes:

on a side note Darkfall is the name of the game

Sun Oct 26 2008 11:22PM Report
Lexin writes:

Me personally i can't stand level up MMO's anymore they are just way to time consuming. I have not played WAR but i have played WoW and for me it took 6 months to hit 60 pre-bc then it took another 6 months to hit 70 so i wont stick around for WotLK.

Skill based games sounds so much better then a level game. I have yet to play a skill based game but i would hope its not as big of a grind as leveling.

Sun Oct 26 2008 11:50PM Report
zymurgeist writes:

There has never been a MMO without some form of character progression.  Skill grind or level grind it's all the same. The only thing is how steep is the progression. SB has 75 levels and you can do it in a weekend.  UO had skills and some of them could take weeks. The differences are window dressing.

Mon Oct 27 2008 1:46AM Report
originalegg writes:


<3 how people who cant think of any other reason to bash it now are citing how the community will be before the game even releases or has open beta.  Not everyone uses forums people....the vast majority dont in fact

Mon Oct 27 2008 3:43AM Report
craynlon writes:

@raston & some others

i might be wrong but as i remember pen&paper vampire tm there still skill levels. i think the difference between a lvl 30 char in wow and a no-lvl mmo char with swordsmanship skill lvl 30 (opposed to  lvl1) is not that great. sure leveling skills instead of classes give players more flexibilty to build their char but it doesnt solve the core problem wich is inflation of power.

if you need 10month play to get your attackskill to lvl 30 and you need at least 28 attackskill to beat monster x or player y youll pretty much have the same situation as todays mmos.

so the real alternative to levels is not a skill(level)-based game but a game that puts diversity over specialization. look at a cardgame like magic the gather. the power of your game didnt come solemnly from a single card but from the sequence that you used them. sure there could be some rare skills that are a bit more powerfull but in general the power should come from having 20different skills instead of 2 and from picking just the right one for the situation.
you encounter a mummy that is weak to fire: good if you have a flamesword skill. normally you would do 10damage to the mummy now you do 13damage, and so on.


Mon Oct 27 2008 7:54AM Report
Petrosis writes:

yeah, stop that leveling maddness ... why no one can make a game that won't copy the WoW model? I'm pretty sure, that if SWTOR will go with skills, that you can combine as it seems fit to your own playstyle, then many people will stop playing games with levels and stick with SWTOR. The players that left SWG are waiting for gameplay similar to the pre-CU SWG. All those players left because of the classes, levels and the crafting that had no meaning anymore. Wanna have a lot of players (mostly adults) that will remain true to SWTOR? Then make it skill based, no levels, crafting that produces the high end content and sandbox world .... it will be a smart decision to make.

Mon Oct 27 2008 9:37AM Report
greydor writes:


about the only thing Blizzard can't put in WOW is not leveling and if someone did it right they would try to figure out how to put it in

Mon Oct 27 2008 10:44AM Report
Evasia writes:

what can i say GO FOR DARKFALL!!!!!!

Mon Oct 27 2008 11:57AM Report
Evasia writes:

EA THEMEPARK forget sw:tor its mainstream to make only big bucks a easymode mmo it will be as awefull as wow:P

Bioware is lost to big bucks and blinded by blizzards succes.

Mon Oct 27 2008 11:59AM Report
daeandor writes:

I've got to agree about levels.  The "levelless" system, ala pre-CU SWG or EVE-O, are the way to go in my book.  Heck, even Saga of Ryzom levels work better than what we see in the generations of EQ, WoW, and Lineage clones out there.

Mon Oct 27 2008 1:00PM Report
Camthylion writes:

I HATE LEVELS DO AWAY WITH THEM OR I WILL NOT PLAY YOUR GAME!!!  p.s questing for 10 years it gets old after um the first year!!!

Mon Oct 27 2008 2:12PM Report
Deewe writes:

OP here

thanks for the comments, happy to see I'm not alone anymore ;)

I'm a bit surprized I see no one posting why level are better than any skill based system.

Note: even if you don't / can't take the time reply and like this topic please bump me. (You are free to bury it also, but I'd appreciate to know the reasons)

Mon Oct 27 2008 2:51PM Report
Raston writes:


No, WoD games use a very low skill system where you can get decent pretty quick, but to become 'more powerful' can take time, but you get a real diminishing curve the higher you go.  Same thing with Masterbook/Torg system (the original, not the new one).

But that is the point of a skill progression versus a level progression game.  One, without levels, everything is open to the players.  Want to take out that dragon, go ahead, just bring friends.  New friend starts today, but you had scheduled a dungeon run, no big deal, bring them along.  The key is to keep the skill progressions low to keep the scale of the mobs in line.  For games like WoD, you had attributes from 1 to 5 and skills from 0 to 5, so the most you could have in any given skill is 10.  This allows for the ability for there to be a minimal difference between that 1 and 10, unlike a level based game that goes 1 to 80, where the difference between a level one and a level 80 is so extreme, it can't be compensated for.

Another reason I like skill progression style games is they become less of an item grind, the long sword you get on day one is likely to serve you for a lot longer period of time than it would in a level based game where after 10 levels it is worthless.  This allows for someone to RP out a past where they use their father/mother/brother/etal sword that they were given when they were a kid.  You can't do that in a level based game because gear is transitory.  Think back to the last fantasy based story and really look at how often the main characters changed their weapons.  It doesn't happen often, so why should it be different in a game?  Heck, even in DnD, you didn't often change gear (unless you were doing a monty haul type).

But look at what levels do to hurt a game, content that is around that noone wants to do because it is too low, but yet must be maintained due to the possiblity a newbie might come along or an alt.  Characters get spread out to their respective tiers and thus cut off from others.  Centers of Interest (ie, cities) tend to become ghost towns because they serve no purpose other than possibly a place to bank and/or quick travel to somewhere else.  All of these things can be easily corrected with a simple skill based system, where content never really becomes unusable.

I'm also for regional tradeposts, but that is for a different discussion ;)

As for the community of DF, it will be bad and I'm not talking about the out of game community.  I'm a former Shadowbane player and you will have the same mentality in DF, the game will kill itself because of griefers and gankers, they will run off any potential new players in their quest for killing the fun of others and the game will die a horrible death, which is a shame because it will probably be blamed on the game mechanics and not the epeens in the game and yet another 'non mainstream' system will get destroyed and further reinforce the level based EQ style of game.

Mon Oct 27 2008 3:26PM Report
Raston writes:


The only things a level based system has over a skill progression is ease of mob difficulity.  Thus you can look at a level 18 mob and know if you have a good, average, no chance based upon your current level.

I would rather see a simplified system, where a mob is classificed as, weak, average, strong, heroic, epic.  Thus, you can have a very basic classification of what mobs can be handled by what group of people, even though it would be possible to bring someone along for any of them regardless of their skill level, it would be harder.

The second thing is it provides a basis of comparison between players, which isn't needed but some people insist upon knowing, but it gives some players a feel good moment when they ding, as pointless as it is.

Mon Oct 27 2008 3:33PM Report
Deewe writes:

[Raston]You have a very interesting point with the identification of the difficulty of a target.

I found it was interesting in SWG, till levels, not to know beforehand attacking if a mob or even a player character was deadlier than you where.

I agree the system should give you hints but not as much as they do with levels. It removes some stress and so some fun.

I'll come to this in a future topic, already on my list ;)

Mon Oct 27 2008 3:57PM Report
Raston writes:

I used that example for level based systems because that is what they guy in charge of SOE has stated why he refused to give skill progression systems a shot.  In his opinion, people should have that information before engaging and thus should be relieved of any guess work or use of intelligence that any other system might require the player to have.

Mon Oct 27 2008 4:07PM Report
rounner writes:

I dont quite get it: arent skill levels still levels. Someone with high skill scores will still be better off than someone with low scores. Isn't the thread really saying 'time to get rid of progression'? What will be your play motiviation?

Mon Oct 27 2008 4:55PM Report
Povey151 writes:

Asheron's Call did levels properly. You got experience which raised your level... but that didn't actually do anything... it was just relative. Your stats were determined by you spending this experience on raising a stat.

Mon Oct 27 2008 5:19PM Report
Raston writes:


There is a slight difference, mainly in scales and flexibility.  Typically in a skill progression system, the order of skill improvements is upto the player, but also, without the artificial levels it does more to encourage grouping with newer players since the content and gear is less of an importance.

It isn't no progression, but a much more sutle one, one where the differences between a new player and a 3 year veteran isn't as steep.

Is it possible to combine the two systems?  Sure, but there really isn't any real reason to.

Mon Oct 27 2008 5:44PM Report
Raston writes:


I agree, AC was a great blending of the two and had the understanding of the benefits such a system could have, but it would of been nice if they'd taken just the one step more and just gave you an experience pool that you could use to advance your skills and/or attributes with some manner to cap them intelligently (such as using intelligence / wisdom as a means to show how many skills or how easily you can learn them).

AC was my first MMO and holds a very special place in my gaming heart.

Mon Oct 27 2008 5:46PM Report
Camthylion writes:

Darkfall online/Mortal has no leveling system I agree with you so much I also bumped you.  One thing I can't stand is too sit around waiting for max level I want to get to end game and do the fun stuff an pvp!

Mon Oct 27 2008 10:53PM Report
Timacek writes:

I had one character over two years in SWG. thanks to complex and freedom skill system. Ive never needed to "reroll" a new twink with new name and personality, it was only my main, It was "ME" ive had that feeling. It was right it was cool. It was my hero. Note that in Swg there you could have only one char per account, cuz you didnt needed to reroll more characters.


Mon Oct 27 2008 11:14PM Report
Seregost writes:

  I agree with a lot that is being said here. SWG was my very first MMO, one that has never been matched in pure fun and freedom. The #1 thing I beleive level based games do is force the player to grind to max as quick as possible, as well as segregat the game community as opposed to bringing it together. SWG had this and much more.

 The #1 argument I run into with people when I talk about skill based games vs level based is of course people saying that skill based is harder to balance, harder to control. People ask what is the point of character progression if I can go to high end zones and see the "cool" content with my friends right off the bat? The answer is simple, you just make every area cool content. I am so sick of end game, and I wish more developers would focus soley on game and community.

 I for example play MMOs more frequently and have more time to play them than my friends and family do, yet with level based, I feel guilty for wanting to go out and adventure, knowing that I may end up surpasing them and not able to group with them anymore which forces me to either stop playing for the night, or find something else to do. This same factor halts other fun events such as guild raids, events, etc. How many times have you really wanted to go out with your guild on an event but you were not "required" level to participate.

 The one thing I am soooooo tired of (and actually has begun to piss me off) is when someone says "I'm leaving, I'm not gaining any experience because I am too (high/low) level to everyone else".

Mon Oct 27 2008 11:30PM Report
dilligaf writes:

 I agree, level progression blows.

 Back in 97  UO was my first MMO. Imo UO is the best of all the MMO's I have played. I am looking forward to playing Darkfall. If Darkfall doesn't live up to my expectations, then I'll check out Mortal online.

I have heard that EVE online is skill based. I have not played EVE so I don't know for sure if that is true. Maybe someone else could clarify

Tue Oct 28 2008 12:09AM Report
Raston writes:

yes, EVE is skill based, but a very niche style game.  Good for wha it is, but not one I ever enjoyed, personall.

Tue Oct 28 2008 12:43AM Report
craynlon writes:

to sum it up, im ok with skill levels replacing character levels because that makes a char more unique. but then the topic of our discussion should have been: get rid of CLASSES

now my central questions are, if you picture your classless skill level based game:
- how big will be the power output between novice and master of a given skill ?
- how long will it take to get max level of a skill ?

i think, to get rid of a leveling feeling a master should not be more powerfull then 3 novices based on the same physical condition. in simple numbers: 3 people with strength 12 picking up swords as novices should do the same damage then 1 master swordsman. 
i also think that it should not take more then 2month of playing to get to a master level.

also for me the ideal game would have 10 times the number of skills then a traditional game and would "hide" these skills or techniques from the players making some common (like overhead swordslash) and some rare (like the armorbreaker slash)
people should not automaticly get skills but find masters or other sources to learn them from as rewards for quests or doing stuff for a certain (political)fraction.

also skills should be chainable like "weaken to flame", "fireball", "armor melt" to alow players to build skill decks (i think tcos will go that way)

on a sidenote the game would need to loose a grouping limit (or get rid of classic groups at all) to allow players to balance lack of skill level with numbers

Tue Oct 28 2008 4:14AM Report
Deewe writes:

OP here,

Craynlon you have a point but classes are still important, it helps players identify each others, or be proud of having mastering one or multiple professions.

Even I kinda agree the title could have been get rid of UNIQUE classes.


Tue Oct 28 2008 11:29AM Report
Venger writes:

I completely agree.

Tue Oct 28 2008 11:58AM Report
morrisprem1 writes:

I just want do say there are already some sort of games out there that are faceing this way Wakfu and Fury for example!!!

In Wakfu you still have levels though but you need do lvl your skills seperatly otherwise you will suck alot ^^

ând fury is a game where everything depends on the skill setup and how you use it!

i like both of them btw but Wakfu is in closed beta still so its not that good right now but it has a really good potential  =D

Tue Oct 28 2008 12:26PM Report
Raston writes:

no, because skill levels and classes are independent, you can still have classes and use a skill point system.  It doesn't change the basic concept and you can have a classless system and still have levels, just like you can have a levelless system with classes.

My preference is for a levelless and classless game (such as you have with the WoD and MB systems.  The primary difference between a levelless system and a level based system is itemization, there is simply less of it, since people don't have to go through x zillion pieces just to level, but you can spend your time on creating more unique looking pieces that are just as good at the start of the game as they are in end game playing.

You can still have some itemizations, but balancing it would be easier, since you'd have your 'cap' of abilities from the start of the game.  I agree with you on the number of abilities, they have to be substansive, but also important to gameplay, no one person should be able to do everything, it doesn't make sense to be that powerful, so in that regards, I've always felt that wisdom should be the factor of how many skills you can learn (ie, applied knowledge), while Intelligence factors how easy you can learn a skill (ie, xp cost), this would add import to these two often over looked attributes.

But again, skill levels are not 'quite' the same as adventure levels as skill levels do not necessarily become excluding in their behavior like adventure levels do.

As to your comments on balance, yes there should be some point where even a master can be overcome with sheer numbers, or by a stroke of bad luck, so even one on one, there should be a chance (not much mind you, but still there) taht a complete novice could take out a master (at least mathematically possible).

Tue Oct 28 2008 12:49PM Report writes:
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