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4:21pm on Monday, 18th February, 2013:
Levels in MMOs are no longer fit for purpose. Here are some of the complaints I have about them:
It's not difficult to get rid of levels altogether. You can keep experience points, just call them something else and don't give characters any boosts or gear related to it. A new player character is just as powerful as a high-experienced one. The difference is that the high-experienced one can go to places the low-experienced one can't unless they accompany a high-experienced one.
Example: suppose you have some kind of secret agent game. Player characters have gone through training in their backstory and are now ready for the field. They're all just as good as each other. You don't have to have completed a thousand quests to be able to figure out how to use some over-powered sniper rifle: it's the same as any other sniper rifle, you just aim and pull the trigger. You don't get to use the heat-seeking drone bomb only when you've killed a hundred enemy agents, it's not rocket science, you can use it straight away if you can get hold of one. The only difference between you and the experienced player is that you're not yet trusted by your agency yet your colleague is. Your colleague has completed five hundred missions in places like Oslo and Vienna and Rome and Algiers, and is now trusted to go to Moscow and Warsaw and Prague and Shanghai. If you want to go there, you have to do the missions in the "easy" cities or persuade someone who has already done that (ie. a friend) to take you as part of their team. When you get there, your character is every bit as good as their character in terms of skill. They may need some equipment they don't have, but they can use it if they find it. They can take it back and use it elsewhere if they like, although it might be better to save it for the more dangerous places (a listening bug will work in Vienna but if you don't really need it then you're wasting it if you use it).
In this example, experience points equate to trust. Do more missions, build up your reputation, get access to new content. Or, if you prefer, don't: just repeat the content you know and love. You'll still gain experience points, you'll still increase your level of trust and you'll still be able to go to the harder-content areas if you like.
I just thought that example up off the top of my head. It's not hard to do this kind of thing: the hard part (for a designer) is first realising you can do it and then persuading the non-designers who hold the company's purse strings that it's worth trying. I find it incredibly frustrating that after 35 years of virtual worlds we're still not seeing anywhere near enough innovation. It's as if we've sailed off in the fifteenth century and discovered a whole new world of virgin territory, but we're only ever building in the same colony. There's so much more out there to explore!
Sigh. Another attack of despair...
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