Big thank you to ennymith for his comment in my last entry that inspired this post!
What unifies video games in general? How you could put World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Super Mario or which ever game you want in same bucket? One thing is progression. You gain gear and levels in WoW, CoD you gain new weapons and learn to play the game better and in Super Mario you progress in the world, heading onwards on your quest to save the princess.
All games have some form of progression (prove me wrong!), but in MMO's progression tends to be focus of things. I guess it comes from the ancient PnP RPG rulesets that most MMO's still rely on; where almost every time your performance is related to your statistics. More strength, more damage and more damage, better I am.
Also the nature of MMO's where you are in world full of other players tends to bring out the competive spirit in some of us, we just have to be better than the guy next to us. Be it because we must beat him in PvP, take his spot in the raid group or just to look down at him, we must be better!
Like I pointed out earlier there are few ways of progression and this is the case with MMO's aswell. Here are few of the most common types I came up with:
Power progression: The most common one in MMO's, you gain power by gathering levels, stats or whatever advantage you are given.
Skill progression: This is the 'FPS progression', learning the game and honing your skills. You learn to do right things just by playing the game and generally get better results as time progresses. You learn to adapt to situations and react them in most efficient manner.
Cosmetic progression: You gain new things that do not affect your performance or increase your power. Be it minipets, fancier pants or a new hat they generally make you look cooler and are desired as tokens of progression. Others can easily see that those fancy pants you are wearing took a small lifetime to get and thus you gain recognition.
Lateral progression: Lateral progression is where you gain new skills and goodies but they do not necassarily give you direct advantage over others. EVE skill system is good example of this: someone who played 4 years only has more options to do things than someone that has played 1 year. He does not necassarily do things better, just has more options.
Lets analyze our dear World of Warcraft as is customary in this blog. WoW has mentality 'more is better' and has crammed each of these four progression types in the game in not so subtle manner. There are loads of ways to progress and things to achieve! Achievements! Pets! Gear! Levels! Skills! Dungeons! But is more actually better? From consumer point of view the more content there is more value I get for my money, right?
Wrong. Even if the WoW content is top notch it doesn't interest me as there is heavy emphasis on power progression. There is no shortage of power that you can obtain by playing the game, they pretty much make the game all about the power as game really doesn't have that much skill progression. That easily translates to time=win, competively speaking. Competiviness is the key here as I want to be able to compete in MMO enviroment but don't want it to become race of time spent in the game.
I'll say Guild Wars 2 went for better direction. Guild Wars 2 does also pretty much all of these different progressions but balances them differently. The greatest decision of them all: the amount of possible power progression is low! After you reach level 80 and buy your gear you have pretty much all the power in the world. Rest of the game is either lateral, cosmetic or skill progression. Fortunately Guild Wars 2 has invested heavily in all three to compensate for lack of power progression. They have 'grindy' dungeons as well but these offer only cosmetic progression. Skill points offer lateral progression, giving you more options but not making you stronger compared to everyone else. The combat has more reactive elements so one could argue that there is higher ceiling for skill progression than in your average MMO.
Power progression has long been industry standard in MMO's, this is another aspect of MMO's that Guild Wars 2 revolutionizes. Yes I know it is not the first game to do it but hopefully the first mainstream one to do it succesfully. As power progression has been industry standard it is another thing that many find odd in Guild Wars 2 as they expect more power as main way to develop their character.
Overall it feels to me like Guild Wars 2 makes things less focused on whole progression treadmill replacing it with fun instead. Making things we do most in MMO's (combat! quests!) fun, who would have thought of that..