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News & Features Discussion  » [Column] General: The Case for Never-ending Progression

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Associate Editor - News Manager

Joined: 6/28/10
Posts: 16248

OP  1/16/13 12:54:57 PM#1

Developers have been having increasing difficulty keeping end-game players entertained and have struggled with what to do to keep them involved as customers. In today's column, Bill puts on his sweater with elbow patches, lights up the professor's pipe and weighs in with theory-crafting about endless progression. Check it out, class, then submit your work in the comments.

One could argue that having levels at all is the real issue at hand, but levels and the RPG are part and parcel. That number which gives you some measure of growth in a persistent world isn’t going anywhere. Even games that have tried to eschew levels do so by creating some new form of levels altogether (The Secret World comes to mind). Even in games where there are no set levels, some sort of advancement occurs. Ultima Online has its skills, for example. But you’re still leveling them.  You have a cap there, too.

Read more of Bill Murphy's The Case for Never-ending Progression.

Associate Editor:
Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom


Apprentice Member

Joined: 1/21/07
Posts: 1729

1/17/13 8:12:04 AM#2

good read, bill!


the kind of end-game system i would design to get around the "end game dead-end" problem would be more like (not exactly like) the system they have in, for example, mabinogi.


in other words, your character gets to max level, s/he has one more great escapade, and then--


he or she retires.  your character in the game then becomes the original character's offspring.  perhaps give players an estate or something where they can still see the original character(s) and maybe they can even still progress them in non combat ways.  crafting anyone?  "greatfather, how is your progress on alchemy coming along?"


just a thought.



RIP Ribbitribbitt you are missed, kid.

Currently Playing EVE, DFUW

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Novice Member

Joined: 8/05/04
Posts: 29

1/17/13 8:14:18 AM#3

A few thoughts on "Levels Without Limits" (LWL):

What happens when a newer player comes along 6 months later?  Can they possibly catch up? 

If skills are merely scaling the numbers, are you truly progressing?

If there was a zone that allowed for "Infinite Cosmic Power" what would the requirements be to enter it?  Would that not provide a soft cap or "wall of sorts" where someone might say "you can't enter until you are at least "X" powerful?  Would that not be.. another grind of sorts as players simply work to get to "X" as fast as they can?

Just thoughts.


Elite Member

Joined: 7/02/11
Posts: 2150

1/17/13 8:23:29 AM#4

I kind of like the idea of reincarnation.  Once you reach max level as, say a fighter, you either pass away or retire by choice of course and you are replaced by a new incarnation of a different chosen class, but with a legacy of fighter skills and strengths to supplement the new class.  This way you are continuing the journey, leveling the whole way, starting a fresh new path, but not having to do so completely from scratch as a weak first level character.  This of course requires world building so that there are multiple, multiple paths of upward progression with little overlap in those paths in order to alleviate the "been there, done that" syndrome.  World designs like EverQuest and Vanguard come to mind.  Only, instead of racial starter areas, you'd have incarnation starter areas, spread out in order to facilitate the consumption of fresh new content and still have the ability to move over to areas you've done before if you so desire.


The key being freedom of movement between content paths with many options / zones / content areas per level range.


Elite Member

Joined: 2/27/07
Posts: 7201

1/17/13 8:26:39 AM#5
Very good read.  AC1 had close to a a never ending progression, it took well over two years for someone to achieve max level and then they raised it soon after.  Of course many of the f2p games also do this.  Funny thought it was a good idea in AC1 and not so good in the f2p games as most require significant investment in the item shop to keep leveling.
  User Deleted
1/17/13 8:31:07 AM#6

"Ultima Online has its skills, for example. But you’re still leveling them."

Every argument against leveling and how the older games were sooooo much better -- Defeated in one sentence. Nice.

  User Deleted
1/17/13 8:32:44 AM#7

Ragnarok Online had an interesting take on ressurection and advanced classes, which were more powerful, but not overly so.

The problem with scaling is that you are either more powerful, which creates balance issues, or its pointless, which would make it not feel like progression in the first place. In GW2 you scale down, but you are still more powerful until you reach the cap.

Honestly I am a bit over the pointless grind. I like choosing skills etc as I level, but grinding new sets at max level has always bored me. I would much rather unlock new appearances or skill appearances by doing content.

I remember in EQ2 I farmed appearance gear almost as much as I did progression gear.

Or even have a variety of gear with interesting effects, but not statistically better than other items. Again EQ2 did this pretty well in TSO with a variety of proc effects.

  User Deleted
1/17/13 8:34:56 AM#8
Always having a way to progress is great, but if there is a competitive edge that is aquired and functionally proportional to time spent playing, then count me out. I hate playing with hardcores that live in moms basement don't have a job and sacrifice thier real life for the virtual one.

Novice Member

Joined: 4/14/12
Posts: 1

1/17/13 8:37:33 AM#9


Good read. I wish the industry would shake the mentality that games must be casual friendly. This shift has created a monster of an idea that frankly ruins games. What developers don't seem to realize is that by providing a game environment tailored to hardcore gamers it also provides plenty of content for casual players to enjoy. So what if X player has better gear/stats than you? Put in the effort to make it there or get close enough to where you are content with your current standing.


Unfortunately we live in a society that expects everything handed to them and that is transposed into the gaming world.  Until we see a shift back to the hardcore environment, we can expect more of the "this is the best mmo ever" hype that starts or falls quickly into a BtP model in order to generate some sort of last resort transaction from players.


Apprentice Member

Joined: 7/31/06
Posts: 2115

1/17/13 8:48:30 AM#10

Having no levels would be better than leveling for epeen sake.  And content can be just as infinite.  Most mmo quests are so simplistic that the only thing that would separate a randomly generated one and a uniquely crafted one might be humor,  specific references, etc. 

Done right,  generated missions could be involved,  interesting,  and widely varied.  So far no dev has made a serious effort to create such a generator,  but logistically,  I've done it,  so I know it's far from impossible or even impractical.

Then theres dailies.  There is endgame achievements, titles, and cosmetics.   


I just cant imagine that myself and most people looking for a serious immersive mmoRPG would even be on the same wavelength with someone satisfied by a singular number next to their char portrait.


Elite Member

Joined: 1/06/05
Posts: 18485

1/17/13 8:53:10 AM#11

I love the idea of long leveling and levels that never end. However, the issue is that new players will never catch up. In and of itself this is not bad. I have no problem with a part of the playerbase being gods while a new batch must start out as mortal men/women. But this of course means that there must be a new batch of players and historically that seems to be an issue.

One thought is to have a shorter vertical progression and a LOT of horizontal progression. That could help solve it though you will always have a new player who is behind the curve. Without a robust new player/low player community it will be a problem.


Advanced Member

Joined: 1/15/11
Posts: 1202

1/17/13 8:55:14 AM#12

I doubt it would work, it seems your your just trying to prolong hitting a wall with a false sense of never ending progression to fix a lack of good core gaming systems to keep you hanging around the game. At the heart of all this you still need a core great game and exciting ever-changing world to make you want to stay. Adding forever leveling will only really be there for the people who like to max achievments, after you get the skills and abilities that your playstyle fits into to a place where you are like a god, you will only have other crap you don't use to work on. 

How would new content fit into your plan also Bill? What level would you make the content? If you go to high you force people to level more which would turn off alot of people, if you go to low you add nothing to the hardcore players that play in the world.


Novice Member

Joined: 11/14/11
Posts: 15

1/17/13 9:07:10 AM#13
I just killed my sub to SWTOR after the introduction of faction grinding into the game. The endless hamster wheel of dailies are bad enough, but once they brought in faction grinding, it was goodbye time. Back to Wurm where I can at least endlessly grind for a purpose.

Advanced Member

Joined: 1/18/08
Posts: 1146

1/17/13 9:10:04 AM#14
DAOC has had never-ending progression for over a decade via realm points, realm ranks, and realm abilities. That's one of the major reasons its RvR was so addictive for so long.

Camelot Unchained Backer
DAOC [retired]: R11 Cleric R11 Druid R11 Minstrel R9 Eldritch R6 Sorc R6 Scout R5 Healer


Novice Member

Joined: 5/03/12
Posts: 294

This is like trying to drive straight through Schroedinger's minefield!

1/17/13 9:14:50 AM#15

This could actually be done if the "power increase" per level is well balanced so that two levels difference isn't already a one-hit scenario.

I'm thinking about a difference of perhaps ... say 40 levels, where the difference in power first starts really showing.

And content with endless scaling isn't even THAT hard to imagine. It would get hella crazy once the first LvL 1000000 player starts showing up but that is a thought experiment for another day.


Novice Member

Joined: 8/17/09
Posts: 3217

"A very special kind of stupidity"

1/17/13 9:23:13 AM#16

EVE has no cap on character progression, but there is a finite amount of skillpoints that can theoretically apply for whichever activity you're currently engaged in. For new players, their character progression is fairly close to vertical; as the character ages, its progression is increasingly horizontal. The character can do more things perfectly, but he can't get better than perfect.

And that asymptotic power graph is the way to square this particular circle. Bill says that levelling is "part and parcel" of RPGs, but that's nonsense. It wasn't even universally true in the pen-and-paper RPGs. Levelling is the very mechanism that makes indefinate progression unworkable. Cast it aside like the trash it is and you're free to design horizontal progression ad infinitum for your players.

Give me liberty or give me lasers


Novice Member

Joined: 8/17/09
Posts: 3217

"A very special kind of stupidity"

1/17/13 9:25:15 AM#17
Originally posted by itgrowls

"Ultima Online has its skills, for example. But you’re still leveling them."

Every argument against leveling and how the older games were sooooo much better -- Defeated in one sentence. Nice.

"Levelling is a form of progression, therefore any form of progression is levelling"

The fallacy is too obvious to need further explaination; you're wrong.

Give me liberty or give me lasers


Novice Member

Joined: 8/28/05
Posts: 675

1/17/13 9:30:03 AM#18

I would really like to see other MMOs use GW2 system of leveling scaling.  One problem I have with other mmos is that your level and your friends/guildmates are often going to be different (until level cap), so if you come to the party late you are stuck lvl'ing alone.

Not so in GW2.  At max level you can still go to the starter zone and group with your buddies, because your level has been 'lower' to that zone.

This isn't good just for pve. What about games with a pvp server where max characters find themselves the same level as the newbies they came to gank?

What about upscaling, so low levels could group with their max level friends?

I'd like to see a game with progression, but where levels are flexable.


Advanced Member

Joined: 7/19/04
Posts: 115

1/17/13 9:39:24 AM#19
Lineage 1 had no level cap, just HUGE xp requirements past lvl 48.

Advanced Member

Joined: 9/28/04
Posts: 1843

1/17/13 9:48:49 AM#20

Nice read...but the answer was already given at a GDC a few years ago.

100% scalable content where the CONTENT scales to the player, not the player to the content.

The developer gave a slideshow showing how to do it.

player = level x with y skills

mob then = level x with y skills

if player = priest, mob also has z skills and x loot table

he then showed a graph on how to scale a mob to the player no matter their level and how the mob would remain a challenge. He then moved on to how to scale a mob to a GROUP, with skills for each type of class in the group so a mob would be custom fit no matter the group combo...and that it can even be done for full groups of 5, 10 and even RAID sized groups.

The man came up with a way to make 100% of a game 100% viable 100% of the amount of time playing no matter the players class, level or group size.

“I hope we shall its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country." ~Thomes Jefferson

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