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Community Spotlight: An MMO Without Progression?

Posted by MikeB Thursday May 13 2010 at 4:12PM
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 This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “Would you play a MMO without character progression?” by jusomdude. In the thread, jusomdude wonders if we would play an MMO without character progression since he believes that most players are into end-game raiding these days:

“It seems many people are all about end game raiding these days.

So would you play a MMO that was all about raiding, and gear progression with no character progression?

You could still customize your character with talent trees or something.

If there was a game like this, I think there would be a ton more raid content than current games, since developers wouldn't have to make content for leveling.

Personally, I don't know if I'd play a game like this, because I like advancing my character through levels and abilities more than just getting new shiny pieces of gear. And I don't like raiding that much.”

Jenuviel offers an interesting perspective, suggesting perhaps the opposite would be ideal, a game with tons of levels and remorts (clearly a MUDder, I haven’t heard this term in forever!) entirely absent of raiding:

“I'm actually on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I'd happily play a game with 500 levels and unlimited remorts (the ability to start over at level 1 with perks gained from the previous incarnations) and no raiding or pvp whatsoever. For me, that forward momentum is my primary source of enjoyment. I'm all about character growth, but not particularly about "stuff accumulation." If it had grouping all the way similar to the grouping in CoH, I'd group all the way. If it didn't, I'd solo all the way. Either way, I'd be happy.

I sit at a desk typing in patient information all day, every day, and I typically feel like very little (if any) progress has been made. When I get home, it's a relief to sit down, spend a couple of hours, and walk away with that sense of "getting somewhere" that levels give me. Sure, they're meaningless in the big picutre, but that part of me that needs to be putting one foot in front of the other gets temporarily sated by it.

Once I reach a level cap, I generally reroll (if there are any other classes or skill combinations I'm interested in) or leave. With a mechanism in place to allow virtually unlimited leveling, I'd stay subscribed for virtually an unlimited amount of time. A game like that would probably have to throw away quest-based advancement entirely, though, and revert to pure grinding. I think those days are behind us forever, so I'm basically a virtual tourist now. Play game, see sights, move on. Getting shinier, spikier armor just doesn't motivate me in the same way, nor does lateral advancement. That's sad for me, but good for the industry; I buy a lot of MMO boxes.”

Kyleran wouldn’t play such a game, he instead argues that character progression is part and parcel of defining the MMO experience:

“I'd have to say no, I wouldn't play a game w/o some form of character progression, though I'm not a fan of "leveling" per sec, I like EVE's system much better. (where the focus isn't on "working for your progression".

I've been playing Fallout 3 lately and over the weekend I hit level 20 (the max w/o expansions) and suddently found myself wondering what my goals in the game were.  I went ahead and finished the mainline quest and ended the game even though I haven't seen almost 1/3 or the game at least.

I'll go back and continue to play of course, esp since I can still find items that will improve my character, but its not quite as much fun knowing I'll not get to allocate new skill points or gain new perks. (except of course, I did buy the expansion, time to install it I think)

But back to MMORPG's, character progression is a defining element of MMORPG's, otherwise you are creating basically an "adventure" game like Myst and I never cared for playing those style of games.”

Dreamscaper suggests that she would be interested in a game without character progression, as long as the gameplay itself was as fun from moment to moment as City of Heroes is to her:

“If the game was built like City of Heroes, then yes.

It's really the only MMO that I've found to be fun for the sake of it, not because of progression. It's because of the combat system - combat in the game is simply fun in a way that I normally only find in non-MMOs. I love tossing baddies around with my storm/energy defender, or completely controlling the battlefield with my ill/kin controller. You can take away the XP, enhancements, and it would still be fun to jump into a group with some of your friends, turn up the difficulty, and start blasting away.”

I on the other hand would probably not play such a game. I love the progression in MMOs and it’s partly what drives me to play them. If the only progression for me was the raid to gear, gear to raid cycle, I don’t think I would be interested, and it is one reason I often don’t really get into the raiding scene.

I enjoy being able to chart a progression of my characters abilities from a total newb to max level, and being able to look back at how he has changed both in look and ability since I started him out.

Axehilt brought up an interesting point in the thread as well, noting how progression was important and how he probably would not have played Modern Warfare 2 as long as he had were it not for the game’s progression system (which borrows heavily from MMOs). Modern Warfare 2 also has a Prestige mode which lets you reroll your character once you’re max level in order to re-level it again to earn more coveted Prestige ranks. This sort of ties into Jenuviels point earlier with regards to having many levels and “remorting” or gaining bonuses from your previous progression and starting anew. I think such a system might be an interesting alternative to your typical endgame.

Would you play an MMO that was all about the endgame and consisted of essentially nothing but raiding? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!

Isane writes:

Jenuviel all the way great point. I for one would play in a similar vein. It is all about the journey I like to play with people who wan;t to contribute to a Wrld no stomp all over it......

Thu May 13 2010 4:31PM Report
BigJohnny writes:

Yes, I would.

But nothing but raiding? Hell no!

I'd like to play a game that has no character progression, but good PvP. Some questing will be great too if I want to get into the lore of the game. But I have absolutely zero need for levels or xp or gaining my abilities gradually.

Honestly, I'd like to see something along the lines of Magic the Gathering. Not the turn-based aspects of it, or the slowness so much, but the fact that any player is equal to any player. That it's all about engineering your deck ahead of time, finding a strategy, and executing that in combat, plus the randomness of the PvP nature of it.

In the most fun games I ever played, I was never asked to level. I never went to the arcades and had to pick a lvl1 Zangief and level him, and only then fight against someone else. I never had to level up my pawns into rooks in chess. The closest thing is actually "gearing up" my deck in Magic by finding better cards. And that would be fine in an MMO.

Thu May 13 2010 4:35PM Report
Benedikt writes:

i agree with jenuviel (also was a mudder before :) ) - progression is much more important for me than the "end-game". tho my best game for me would be game with unlimited character progression focused on world (event) progression

Thu May 13 2010 4:48PM Report
Soultice writes:

If the Dev's game design if to level so you can experience PVE raiding for endgame, I do not know if I can play another MMORPG.

I have player MMORPG since UO and honestly I am tired of leveling so I can raid.  Warhammer with all of its problems made leveling fun and easy.  You could even level doing pvp.  Mythic just blew the game design and did not fix the game.

I think a mmorpg with just raiding and no levels might be fun.  Kinda like Guildwars and pvp.  I would play it.

I do think if there is nothing to strive for in a game it will fail.


Thu May 13 2010 5:09PM Report
maplestone writes:

When everyone is moving in the same direction, you can't help but judge yourself by how fast you are moving.  I like systems that allow me to come up with my own definition of progress - where character development is as much a fashion statement as a progress bar.  But I don't think you can completely eliminate progression ... whether they are levels, achievements or momentos, you need goals of some sort to focus the imagination.

Thu May 13 2010 5:14PM Report
Athcear writes: Progression is just the mechanic by which you can overcome great challenges. Whether it's new abilities, xp, gear, or whatever, any rewards that you obtain from anything you do is progression. Even just getting to the next stage in Ninja Gaiden is progression. You need some kind of goal, even if it's just unlocking the next challenge. Thu May 13 2010 5:51PM Report
Raithe-Nor writes:

Almost every computer game has progression of some type.  You progress through stages of the game, you earn points or money, you increase capabilities and get new weapons to use.  Game playing is largely about testing new strategies and gaining new insights (learning), there is no point to a game that is purely repetition.

It's hilarious that progression (character dynamics) is being cast as the repetition villian here.  The real villain is the mass of people who don't really want to be playing RPG games, but are here to make sure that people who do like RPGs don't capitilize on the massive amount of fun that these games can provide.  It's one of the most heinous cases of social insecurity and outright jealousy doing massive destruction to creativity that has ever existed.

As a final comment, MMOs are MMOs because they are about social simulation and roleplaying.  If you aren't attempting to simulate such an environment in your game, then not only do you not need to have RPG game structures, you don't need to be an MMO.  You can get by with having 12 or less players in the same scenario at the same time.

The two game features go hand in hand.  Try to remember that.

Thu May 13 2010 6:33PM Report
just1opinion writes:

Absolutely NOT. There are already assorted genres that have no real form of character progression and customization. I'm starting to think that a lot of people that are just burnt out on the MMO genre need to simply go play games at for a while so that they don't end up "expressing" their  frustrations to the point developers start trying to UN-MMO the MMO genre. Sure...the genre could use some fresn ideas, but to rip out parts of the very CORE foundation that defines the not the answer.

Please....if you're burnt out on MMOs....go play something ELSE for a while. You probably need a break. There are new MMOs coming out over the next couple of years. Why not just wait to see what some of these games have to offer to the genre before trying to rework the entire foundation of the genre itself?

Thu May 13 2010 8:03PM Report
kellerman24 writes:

All my friends are obsessed with progression in this one, well known game.... probably that's why I'm not playing it anymore, they forgot how to have fun, numbers is all that matters to them (from recount to guild rankings etc.)

I came to a concluision that I don't enjoy that kind of endgame.

Besides that I have much stronger feeling of development while leveling (be it skills or actual levels). When I usually hit max lv in any mmorpg just get's boring fast (depemds on the amount of content). Then I either reroll, or usually quit.

It's a little like Jenuviel said, ''Play game, see sights, move on''.

It would be perfect if most mmos had 'reborn' function, at least I would have a choice, stay at endgame or relive the adventure again. Pity that so few mmos have it, and then the ones that have it are 'medicore' in general.


In the end, I don't really want levels and I want endgame to start the exact same moment that I log in for the first time (waiting for some decent sandbox) .... I just want to have fun.


Thu May 13 2010 8:06PM Report
Dracondis writes:

What about a game with scalable progression, where one could solo, group, small raid, or large raid as they pleased, without gear progression, but advancing dynamic world event targets as the goal of the game?  Character advancement, story/lore progression, character determination of direction, and the ability to decide what level of interaction the player wants to have with the people around him/her.  All by design and all at the whim of the player.

The reward, of course, would be NPC recognition, not just reputation levels, but actually being addressed by the NPCs as if the player was the hero they were playing.  Save a town in a small raid group, get recognized as the "Hero of <small town>".  Lead the armies in the Siege of <X>, get renown for it.  No one else can claim that honor.  No one else will get the opportunity to ever do that again.  They want accolades, they'll have to go find their own city to lay siege to and win.  And as you earn a better reputation, you get access to more important missions and raids.

That would be a fun game to play.  Gear isn't a subsitute for skill, and one doesn't show off skill by wearing a pair of prissy shoulderpads.  I'd have fun with it.

Thu May 13 2010 11:27PM Report
Rhowin writes:

Personally I think a big problem with almost any MMO around: all progression is about your ability to 'kill' stuff, all these games are really somewhat 1-dimensional. Even tradeskills usually require you to venture into the more dangerous areas and so to speak enhance your character in the 'kill' ability. No matter if you measure character advancement in item leveling or character leveling, I don't think it would change much and a game mainly focused on item progression is likely to seperate even more the players into different groups - you'd need to be even more constantly playing to keep up with your friends. I think they've overdone it in WoW's last expansion really.

As mentioned in some posts above some interaction with the world and an endgame content that offers more dimensions for characters to evolve and work as a community together is what I'd really look forward to. Games such as EVE show some good ideas, but I'd really like that sort of thing in a more 'Fantasy Firstperson MMO'.

Fri May 14 2010 5:48AM Report
WSIMike writes:

I couldn't enjoy a game without progression, it would be too damn boring; certainly not a MMO where there's no leveling at all, and you start raiding from day 1. I've seen that suggestion tossed out a few times and I can't help but think "How can someone possibly enjoy that for the long term?"

I realize it's "to each, their own", and I'm not about to begrudge or label anyone for their preferences.. However, I do see a strange sorta contradiction in the way some "anti-progression"/"end-game from day 1" proponents explain their views...  You'll often see some  complain that leveling is a repetitive grind. Well... I can see PvP being enough of a "changing challenge" to keep someone interested for a while, as the encounters are never exactly the same. The fact that FPSs remain popular for such a long time is proof of that.

Seems to be a MMO that's all PvP from day one with no progression would basically be Unreal Tournament on a much larger landscape. A game like Planetside seems to suit that well enough.

As for raiding... It seems to me that repeating the same raid instances over and over again, for loot, rep, or what have you is just as repetitive, if not more so, than leveling a character. At least when you're leveling a character - in any halfway decent MMO - there are a variety of ways in which you can develop and progress your character. In raiding it's all about having *The* armor set for your given character/class/whatever. And once you get that, it's time to wait for the game to introduce new raids with better gear, so now you get to grind those new raids over and over to get "The" armor set... At the end of the day, you're repeating the same handful of raid instances, navigating the same corridors, killing the same trash mobs and downing the same selection of bosses... for potentially months on end. I know people who have raided the same instance in WoW for over 3 months; they could do it in their sleep and it's not even fun anymore... but they do it "for the phat lewt".

Again... to each their own, but I just cannot see the "fun" in that.

I'm not going to say "No, they shouldn't make those games", because if there are enough people who would enjoy that, then by all means... more is more. However, the question posed in the article is if I would play a MMO without progression, to which my answer is an emphatic no. I would be bored out of my skull.

Fri May 14 2010 6:53AM Report
WSIMike writes:

I forgot to add...

The reason I would be bored is because I enjoy the process of developing a character. I start from day one as a clean slate and then get to pick and choose and mold and craft my character to suit the playstyle I enjoy. I've never been one to follow cookie-cutter guides and use them, when I do, as options at best.

I enjoy assigning stats. I enjoy choosing what skills I want to level, how I want to "spec out" my character, etc.  That's why, I can agree with someone noted in the article that a game could have 300 levels and I'd be fine. I play to enjoy a MMO in its entirety, and levelign to me is not a "goal". It's a given. The end game is some ambiguous, far-off thing that I'll reach eventually... or not. The important thing is that I'm enjoying myself along the way, however far I get.

I happen to be playing Vanguard at the moment and - think what you will of it - that game offers a number of ways you can develop your character. The deeper I dig into the interface, the more options and "tweaks" it seems are available to me, and that is right up my alley. I have many levels to look forward to honing my character and developing it into exactly the type of character I want it to be. I see it as a hobby, almost. And, of course, the testing ground for how well I've done is to go out and take on tough challenges, to take on raid bosses etc...

To me, progression is part of the game, just like killing mobs, getting loot, crafting, exploring, questing, etc. etc... are all part of the game. Stripping that all out and leaving it as "end game activities only" just could not keep me interested.

Fri May 14 2010 7:02AM Report
Arkanito writes:

HMM, MMO without character progression? Okay, like Monster Hunter series. In MH, you don't level up. There is no experience points. You just fight and search for materials which let you craft new and strnger armor pieces and weapons, and with them, you can get harder quests with harder and bigger wyrms/dinossaurs/dragons, to get materials from them and create more armors/weapons, and so on.

And, geeeez, it's VERY fun. In a game without character progression, all that matters is player skill. If you can't get yourself to fight efficiently, there's no "I'l just level up a bit" to save you.

Everyone that thinks that a MMO without char progression is a >bad< idea, should look into Monster Hunter series.

Fri May 14 2010 7:49AM Report
mCalvert writes:

I would not play a game that was all about raiding. I would play a game that had little to no character progression and instead was all about PVP, industry, exploration, territory control, and was designed that way. EVE is pretty close to this.

Fri May 14 2010 8:23AM Report
ruegon writes:

I think for there to be a successful MMO experience progression is a must. As far as raid and group content is concerned. The resin it's a love hate thing for me is that its not dynamic enough! A game should be able to tell if your in a solo group or in a group of 3, 5,8 or raid whatever, and adapt to your needs. then from there a group can choose easy ,normal, hard or insane mode to play that content with the reward quality equaling the difficulty lvl.

Fri May 14 2010 10:46AM Report
Smokeysong writes:

Absolutely NOT. the "end-game" focus has hurt the richness that MMORPGs should have by now, because the focus is put on the easiest way to keep players entertained. I'd MUCH rather see Devs spend their time developing real story and good quest chains that require some effort, with quality rewards, rather than the stuff increasingly designed to blow through we have.

"End-game" thinking is hurting MMORPG quality.

Now that I've said that, I think there's room for a non-progression style MMO, just don't call it a "MMORPG". Call it something like a "MMOFPS". Don't take the RPG out of the MMO for the rest of us who want it, and are just about to go back to D&D and reading Fantasy novels becauae we are so sick of being short-changed for the sake of the "end-hame" grind.


Fri May 14 2010 11:19PM Report
Blazz writes:

Progression is great and all, and I do likes my great things, but perhaps the slow grinding nature of leveling up a character needs to be removed?

Afterall, one person swinging and axe is still a person swinging an axe. Why should it matter that one has killed a hundred thousand wild boars or not? The same things goes for Magi flinging out big ol' bolts of frost at things. I'm kind of disappointed that WoW never really had some kind of "hooray, you're a mage!" thing, it's almost like you're fresh out of the academy... oh, and now you can look at all of these OTHER spells, instead of just firebolt. Sorry we never bothered to teach you about those.

Back on topic - the other half is "just raiding" - I liked raiding... but meh! Screw that!

Sat May 15 2010 3:58PM Report
Blazz writes:

I had to leave really quickly... but now I'm back! In hungover form!

Anyway, just raiding's a bit much. And if you're talking about WoW, well, I think their current avenue for players at the level acp is quite poor. To PvP, or PvE? Hmmm...

There's no way for a player, or guild, to make a name for themselves, other than to have the highest scores in PvP or to down a boss first in PvE. That's about it. Woo.

I believe WoW's time for implementing Sandboxy things is far past it's due, but whatever.

Sat May 15 2010 4:24PM Report writes:
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