Do MMOs Need Leaderboards?

Since my days in the arcade, I've been obsessed with gaming leaderboards. I would always wonder who the man or woman was behind those mysterious initials like "ALL" or "OLD," but when my own...
Since my days in the arcade, I've been obsessed with gaming leaderboards. I would always wonder who the man or woman was behind those mysterious initials like "ALL" or "OLD," but when my own initials would grace the top of those leaderboards, I would make it a point to show all of my friends that I was indeed the best player of Raiden II out of anyone in our little home area. It was a symbol of pride, a badge of honor that I would defend every time a new player walked in and tried to top my score. There was something memorable about being the best and having it clearly defined on a game's leaderboard. Like George Costanza and his Frogger record, I wanted that score to stay forever.

EverQuest II was one of my first experiences with full fledged leaderboards.

Of course my score didn't last and eventually the Raiden II machine was evacuated out of the building for a newer machine, but those days of high scores have always stuck in my mind. So when the first MMOs decided to put in ways to track a player's progression in a world, I was ecstatic. Not only was I able to see where I stood compared to the progression of other players in the game world, but I could also see if any particular tactics were influencing my movement compared to other players.

One of my first experiences with this sort of gameplay began when I got my pre-order for EverQuest II in the mail. Although I'd played some in competitive games like Dark Age of Camelot, Jumpgate, and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, I never really spent enough time with those games to really develop any sort of need to be at the top of the player leaderboard. In EverQuest II, however, I knew going in that this game had competitive elements in it specifically centered around character progression and exploration. The idea of "server firsts" took on a whole new concept in EverQuest II, with players specifically gunning to be the first person to find "Dragon's Temper" or "Gorynn's Fist" so they could forever have their name inscribed beside the item as "first discovered by" such and such.

For awhile, I actually maintained a relatively high place in the overall progression for EQ2, ranked as the 16th best Paladin on my server in the very beginning weeks of the game. Although real life eventually kicked me until I dropped out of my position, the idea of being a real leader on my server was a phenomenal feeling. My kills and loot had purpose. Suddenly you're the most desired player out there simply because you are that much better than every other player of your class.

Remarkably, the leaderboard concept seems to be an off-and-on sort of idea for developers. Although Warhammer Online implemented them for their PvP purposes and Lord of the Rings Online has dozens of achievements for players to earn, I don't know if any game has implemented leaderboards to the degree that EverQuest II did. Remarkably, even World of Warcraft has really jumped on the leaderboard bandwagon, even with all of their methods for tracking player data beyond simply PvP statistics.

Jumpgate Evolution should have some awesome leaderboards.

One upcoming game that I know will include a variety of leaderboards (and that I just previewed here at Ten Ton Hammer) is Jumpgate Evolution. In a space combat MMO, it would seem almost ridiculous not to be accurately tallying every piece of information that a developer could pull out of the database. Capital ship kills, player kills, PvE kills, wealth, loot, items crafted, resources mined, scenarios won....all of these statistics should be tracked and easily accessible for the players on leaderboards and in their own character UI as well. Due to the short amount of time I spent with Jumpgate Evolution, I wasn't able to discern what kind of statistics are kept and tracked by the developers, but I can only imagine that their will be ample ways to pull up data for your character.

In fact, the original Jumpgate has one of the most complete leaderboards I've ever found in MMO gaming. Everything from faction kills to missles fired to net worth is all tracked on a leaderboard that's updated every 2-5 minutes! The NetDevil developers certainly know how to make their leaderboards, and I can only guess at the sort of options that will be available to the JGE pilots.

Frankly, I'd like to see all of MMO gaming take a more JGE approach to their leaderboards. There should be an incredible amount of leaderboard options for players to fight over, from death to kill ratios to successful quest attempts. With so much data at a developers fingertips these days, it's almost a disservice to the players to not offer bigger leaderboard options and more ways for player to brag and say "I'm the best!"

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe leaderboards break immersion, drive players to not enjoy the game, and merely lead to more internal strife among players. If you disagree, I'd like to hear from you either on the forums or via email. Until next week, you've been In the Trenches. 

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