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The Dilemma of Level vs Skill - How Old Became New Again

Updated Wed, Jul 08, 2009 by Cody Bye

The Dilemma of Level vs Skill - How Old Became New Again
There are a number of fundamental arguments that you'll run into if you spend enough time in the massively multiplayer online gaming industry, and most of them began at the very beginning of the modern MMO era when EverQuest and Ultima Online dominated the market. These were two games that were similar in their massive nature but completely divergent in a number of areas including artistic style, social structuring, and character progression.

It's the last difference that has continued to pester gamers and developers alike for the past ten years. Although MUDs and MOOs had been around for ages, using a variety of different systems derived from popular pen-and-paper RPG systems of their day, Ultima Online really started the modern massive gaming craze. Unlike the persistently popular Dungeons and Dragons, Ultima already had roots in a usage based skill progression system, which many gamers grew to know and love. But when EverQuest was released, it used a level-based character advancement system that focused the majority of a players power on their overall level rather than their skills. This dichotomy has caused quite the stir in MMORPG gamers, and blogs posts in every corner of the internet have brought the argument to their readers.

But at Ten Ton Hammer we like to do things with a bit more discussion in mind. As we've done in the majority of our premium articles to date, we went straight to the game developers and to you - the gaming public - to hear what you had to say on the age old dilemma. Specifically, we asked the gaming developers six questions specifically pointing at the future of skill-based games, the sudden resurgence in games focused on individual skill advancement, and their thoughts on whether skill-based games could ever overtake titles with level-based progression systems.

 To ensure that we're being absolutely crystal clear, this article isn't focused on the discussion concerning the differences between the pure RPG leveling system versus "player skill-based" games. That's a completely different conversation altogether, and - unfortunately - some of our paneled public and developers thought that was where the discussion was leading, and thus some answers from particular teams won't be printable...at least in this article.

Without any further rhetoric on my part, let's open up our ears and see what our developers and players thought about the skill vs. level dilemma. Throughout this article we'll be hearing from individuals from the Fallen Earth, Guild Wars, Jumpgate Evolution, Earthrise, and EVE Online development teams along with Ten Ton Hammer's own premium members. So strap yourselves in, it's going to be an entertaining ride!


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