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
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.

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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
, 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.

  href="" target="_blank">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 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
development teams along with Ten Ton Hammer's own premium
members. So strap yourselves in, it's going to be an entertaining ride!

href="" target="_blank">Advancement systems, at least in the vast majority of MMORPGs, are a
piece of the core element that makes up our favorite past time. The
thrill of announcing "Ding!" to your guildmates hasn't dwindled in the
years since its origination in EQ, and every mainstream MMO to date has
had some form of progression.

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Therefore, the selection of a game's advancement system comes with a
great deal of pressure behind it.  Development teams need to
pin down exactly how players are going to be progressing in the early
stages of pre-production, and so I thought it would be appropriate to
ask our gathered panelists to give us their reasoning behind why they
selected their particular advancement systems and why it was
appropriate for their title.

Of course, all of the answers rang with a similar sort of tonality that
stated, "This is the game that we're making, and this was the
advancement path that fit that our product." It seems like most of the
designers had a specific idea or setting in mind, and thus their core
systems fell in place around the product. Fallen Earth's lead game
designer, Lee Hammock, was the first to chime in with this notion.

"On a very basic level one of the goals of Fallen Earth was providing
players with choices," Hammock said. "We have a huge world that players
can explore, ten crafting skills they can pursue, and six factions to
ally with (and change their allegiance) among other features, so a
classless system seemed the logical extension of that overall design
philosophy.  Also the post-apocalyptic genre does not have the
strong archetypes that the European fantasy tradition or the fantasy
RPG ancestors of most MMOs do (wizard, warrior, rogue, etc.). Instead
you’ve got more multi-skilled characters that fit into narrow
roles less easily."  

The Bulgaria-based Earthrise's CEO Atanas Atanasov had a - not
surprisingly - very similar answer. Although Fallen Earth and Earthrise
are completely different games, their pseudo-futuristic, reticule-based
combat systems almost appear to lean more heavily towards skill-based,
open option systems.

"The skill-based system's particular strength is in the freedom of
choice and the versatility of the character," Atanasov commented. "In
level-based games, players often feel confined within set archetypes
and their only choice is to accept it or not; they cannot define their
own character around their own actions. While developing Earthrise, we
have decided to encourage our players to experiment with all available
options and to evolve their character as their play style changes over
time. One of the greatest benefits of skill-based advancement is that
we never run in a situation where the player may not like the direction
their character is moving towards and can always change it. "

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On the other hand, NetDevil's Jumpgate Evolution and ArenaNet's Guild
Wars are games that focus on level-based gameplay, but both sets of
development teams seemed eager to point out the variety of achievements
players can explore while they're leveling or after they've reached the
level cap.

The folks over at ArenaNet had a very interesting take on the dilemma,
which is what you'd expect from a team that put together one of the
most unique and innovative titles on the MMO era. Here's what Isaiah
Cartwright had to say about their initial development strategy:

"When making games for a large number of players with different play
styles, it’s important to make sure your advancement route
has plenty of reward opportunities for all," Cartwright answered. "In
Guild Wars, we tried to break the mold a little by having the
power curve cap quickly, so high-level PvE and PvP players could focus
on improving their skills over time rather than increasing their
character’s power over time. In addition to high-level PvP
and PvE, we offered many other ways to play the game and feel
rewarded—collections, titles, weapon and armor skins, story
completion, lore. We played around with different styles and different
ways of doing what we did in Guild Wars, but all of our ideas were very
different from the normal level-based system."

Among all the developers, it seems like allowing for player choice is
an important aspect to their development philosophies, although the
importance of those player decisions seems to be something that varies
from studio to studio. Those that give players the option to choose
their own skills rather than simply setting them on a level-based
appear to have the belief that giving players the options to determine
their own future - for better or worse - is the correct course to take.

However, studios like NetDevil are sticking with the leveling formula
to keep their core advancement system simple. Hermann Peterscheck,
producer for Jumpgate Evolution, is always vocal about what he thinks
are the correct and incorrect ways to approach game development, and he
weighed in on this topic.

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"We chose [a level-based system] because we thought it best fit with
the kind of game we're making," he explained. "It really is that
simple. I think it's a bit silly when developers think about unique
advancement strategies outside of what makes sense for the game. I
think that we should focus on making a great game and that they systems
and features should support the game, not the other way around. That
being said, it's fun to try new things and see where it leads and I
think that this is a natural impulse in creative people; so as there is
an increase in parity there is pressure for diversification. Level
advancement is easy to understand and well established so it has the
advantage of not requiring much explanation. We started with a level
based system and never had any reason to change it. That being said we
have lots of alternate advancement methods in the game such as
licenses, crafting, faction ratings and so on. What we encountered is
that people need to feel like they are progressing as much as possible.
Level is just a nice easy way to show that."

Finally, we heard from the folks at EVE Online, specifically Game
Designer Matt “CCP Greyscale” Woodward, who really
took his time with each question and cogitated on all possible aspects
of our questions.

"I’m not in a position to comment on the exact reasoning
behind the original decision, although it’s reasonably public
knowledge that there were a lot of UO players involved in
EVE’s gestation – the skill-driven system we have
today may owe something to that fact!" he answered. "That said,
EVE’s system hardly represents a
“standard” implementation of a skill-driven
progression system, with the biggest departure from the norm being the
real-time skill advancement. That is to say, once you select which
skill you want to advance, it continues to improve at a set rate per
day until it either reaches the next level or you switch to a different

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"This delivers several advantages over other skill-driven systems,"
Matt continued. "For example, by removing the ability to affect your
progression rate, we also remove the compulsion to constantly work to
maximize that rate, which in turn frees you up to do what you want to
do rather than what will maximize your progression – but
without also losing the sticking power you get from persistent
progression systems. It also lets us bypass some persistent issues of
use-based skill systems, such as the encouragement of repeating
mindless tasks to progress and the macros that inevitably follow. As
with all systems, it has drawbacks too – it’s an
oft-repeated maxim that EVE’s system means newer players can
never compete fairly with veterans, and while this is largely untrue
(due to the relatively small number of skills applicable in any given
situation and the relatively low cap on progression in a given skill)
it’s a perception we have to work against constantly."

So which do the players really prefer? Among our polled gamers, there
didn't seem to be a major consensus, although the major set of thinking
- and I paraphrase - that there just hasn't been any major contenders
in the skill-based advancement category.

And why is that? Why hasn't there been a AAA type of skill-based game?
Although there are a number of skill-oriented games that have been
released recently or are going to be released in the near future, what
has kept the market for these types of game advancement systems so
small, without much love since Ultima Online?

For this answer, we turn again to EVE Online's Woodward, who surprised
the Ten Ton Hammer staff with his extensive answer:

Of course, there’s also the deeper skills versus levels
discussion, which is linked intimately to the skills versus classes
discussion. Within this limited area, there are I think two similar
separate choices to be made. Firstly, are you going to constrain the
scope of abilities that a given player can possess or improve? On the
one hand, you have a system similar to the one in EVE where you can
acquire and train basically any skill, giving a much wider range of
potential combinations, whereas on the other hand a strongly
class-based system limits the available combinations to only those
which a developer has explicitly approved.

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The first, “arbitrary abilities”, system (I
don’t think there’s any inherent need to implement
this as a traditional or semi-traditional “skill
system”) gives more freedom to players to choose, customize
and progressively modify their roles, but by extension also in its
purest implementation gives the player the ability to seriously mess up
their character, and of course is significantly harder to balance as a
system due to the number of combinations involved. It’s
extremely hard to prevent “flavor of the month”
builds from emerging: even if your title doesn’t contain any
PvP, the power delta between an optimized FotM build and an unoptimized
one is going to cause you significant content-balancing headaches and
ultimately end up having a lot of the drawbacks of both the arbitrary
abilities approach and the class abilities one.

By contrast, a “class abilities” system makes
balancing significantly easier, leads to more homogenous power levels
for a given amount of progression, and generally makes it easier for
players to understand their progression path. The downsides are that
you remove a big chunk of player agency, and also tend to end up
locking characters into specific roles, which can place a player into
situations where their character just isn’t very useful, and
the only solution is to start from scratch.

The second set of choices is whether you allow players to progress
different abilities at different rates and progress at arbitrary
intervals, or clump progression into milestones – this is
more the “skills vs levels” side of the debate,
although it’s obviously interlinked with the above decision.
Arbitrary progression generally allows a more granular power curve (as
you’re improving lots of numbers by small increments on a
regular basis), which usually leads to a less black-and-white
“you must be this tall to kill this monster”

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However, it makes it more challenging to implement really interesting
and new abilities for players to unlock unless you also build some kind
of ability ladder or tree into things. It’s also much harder
to mechanically assess how strong a given character is with this
approach, which makes for significantly vaguer content gating
– without being able to easily tell whether a given character
is strong enough for a given encounter, you run the risk of generating
lots of player frustration due to unexpected and unfair failures.

The level progression approach makes gating content much easier, as you
have a nice clear number to tell you roughly how strong a player is
(and if used in conjunction with a class system, as is usually the
case, a good idea of exactly what build options they’ve had
to choose from, refining the assessment further). It also makes it
easier to drop in new abilities at the right point in the power curve,
and makes for nice clear milestones for the player, giving something
tangible to aim for. The gating that’s a characteristic
strength of this sort of system is also a big weakness – by
separating players in ability so strongly, and optimizing combat around
specific levels, it also serves to separate players socially, making it
very difficult to play with characters of higher or lower levels.

So the obvious question comes next: How does EVE solve this problem? It
doesn't seem like something that could be easily remedied, but the
outside-of-the-box thinking of the CCP devs has come up with a unique
solution, which Matt details below:

The EVE system looks like it’s fairly strongly
arbitrarily-minded in both respects, and in terms of just the
progression system it is, but it’s pulled more back towards
the centre by the way those skills are utilized. In particular, the
various ship classes available are in fact a fairly strong surrogate
for traditional classes – your choice of ship determines what
role you play in a given combat. You are, however, allowed to own as
many ships as you like, although flying them is gated by having trained
the right skills.

This creates something of a hybrid system under the above schema, where
your core progression and abilities are fairly arbitrary, but which
effectively unlock different classes (which you can switch between at
will) when the right combinations of skills are achieved. I think it
makes a pretty good middle ground; in particular, the ability to
arbitrarily switch between defined “classes”
(ships) is something which I think is worthy of further thought.

It has taken a number of years, but MMOs based on skill advancement are
once again forming in the core of developers' minds. Games like Fallen
, Earthrise, Mortal Online, and Darkfall are featured regularly in
high caliber articles from every major gaming press outlet.

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But why the sudden change in thinking? Why didn't the developers just
stick with the systems that they knew were relatively popular among
gaming fans? The leveling system obviously has limitations, but don't
the perks of a simple, well-known progression feature outweigh those
issues? We asked the developers to find out what they thought.

Atanas Atanasov had a fairly realistic point-of-view. Rather than
claiming that Earthrise was going to be the end-all-be-all of MMOs,
Atanas presented his honest argument, which seems to be fairly sound
from this game journalist's opinion.

"For a long time MMORPG design has been dominated by the success of
traditional titles, most of them set in the fantasy genre,"
Atanasov said. "As MMORPGs mature and expand into new genres and
universes, it will become evident that designers are more and more
willing to take risks and implement new mechanics and ideas that have
long been ignored. Although we don't expect a skill-based game to
become a flagship title for the MMORPG genre any time soon, we think
that this type of game has a healthy and growing audience that has
specific needs to be catered to."  

The CCP developer also echoed Antanasov's. Woodward again provided an
insightful view into the reasons behind an expanding skill-based game

"[It's] possibly a backlash against the gating limitations in
particular of a level-based system – stopping people playing
with their friends is something of a downer – possibly simply
an attempt to differentiate themselves from the market leader," he
said. "EVE recently had its sixth birthday, so this isn’t a
question we’ve had to wrestle with in quite some time
– you’d have to go back a few years to see what the
state of play was when the fundamental decisions behind near-future
titles were made to get a handle on this question (or be a developer on
one of those titles, of course). I suspect that the further you get
from levels and classes, the harder time you’re going to have
explaining your progression system to players, which makes it more
difficult to achieve the same broad penetration, but I’m not
sure that an inspired skill-driven system couldn’t do just as
well as a level-based one."

Perhaps the most thorough answer of all came from Hammock, who
definitely has a vested interest in seeing skill-based games succeed.
With Fallen Earth, the player levels up and then spreads points among a
variety of skills. Here was his response, in full:

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There’s always a progression in games from less complex to
more complex systems.  As players master one system in a game
they look for another to master until they have mastered everything, at
which point they stop learning and the fun goes down (not all the way,
mind you, as many people play games they’ve mastered the
skills of, but the feeling of achievement is not as
prevalent).  Eventually players master one game and move on
look for something else, often moving in to a more complex game similar
to the one they just played since it will contain more new systems to
master yet still be familiar.  Thus you have players starting
out on games like World of Warcraft which, at its basic levels, has a
limited number of systems to master.  After they master the
many systems it contains, those still looking for more to learn move on
to more complex games, such as Eve Online where the learning process
begins again.

I think there are a lot of players coming out of games like WoW looking
for a bit more depth and control in game systems in terms of character
advancement, and thus start looking at skill based systems. 
Also game companies have realized there is no such thing as a
WoW-Killer, so they’re trying to target the gamers who
aren’t getting what they want out of WoW, such as the
aforementioned character advancement complexity.  Sure, that
market may not be as large as the market WoW dominates, but it
doesn’t involve as much direct competition with the 800-pound

I don’t think skill-based games will ever be as popular as
level-based since level-based games provide such a basic and visceral
advancement measure.  You have one number, and if it goes up
you’re winning.  It’s hard to argue that
sort of reward for playing and it’s something folks new to
games can get their head around.  I think skill-based games
will always be the refuge of the veteran gamers looking for more
complexity, but in the ever-growing MMO market such players are the

But do the players really believe that skill-based games can succeed?
Centrik thought that being successful as a niche game was a
possibility, but he didn't seem to think that the games would ever
achieve popularity over that:

"There is a very vocal group of players that are advocating skill-bases
games," he said. "While they have the potential to become successful
niche games, I don't think in-depth skill based games, which are
usually more complicated than level-based games, can really be as
popular as level-based games."

That said, our own staff writer Reuben "Sardu" Waters believed that
there's certainly a possibility that a skill-based game could
eventually enter the ranks of MMO popularity again.

"My own take on this type of shift comes down to a larger percentage of
players wanting a more dynamic form of advancement than we've seen
previously," he said. "AA points and talent trees have really just been
dazzle camouflage to help give players the illusion that they control
at least a portion of their advancement, when the reality of the matter
is that level based games are applying a very single-player mindset to
a multi-player environment. In other words, freedom comes in the
environments you opt to spend your time in, rather than through
advancement systems."


So why are skill-based games so hard to develop? Are they harder to
develop, or is that just a myth perpetuated by the lack of developers
willing to undertake skill point systems? Due to my inexperience as a
game developer, I won't even gesticulate on this topic, and let the
developers answer the questions for themselves:

EVE Onlin
e's Matt Woodward:

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I don’t think that skill versus level is an issue here
– the difference comes when trying to balance skills versus
trying to balance classes. My gut feeling here is that, for a given
total number of available skills/abilities, classes will always be
easier to balance simply because tying specific skills/abilities to
specific classes mathematically reduces the number of possible
combinations. That said, even within classes with at least some degree
of flexibility you’re still going to see optimized builds in
most cases. I’m honestly not sure it’s possible to
achieve “perfect balance” without making the
variations effectively meaningless and/or soullessly, boringly
mathematical. Maybe if you had some incredibly cool tool which could
calculate the damage/tank/other combinations for every possible build
and flag up the ones which were potentially problematic you might be
half-way to solving it, but you might also just be giving your balance
developers a nervous breakdown – finding problems and solving
problems aren’t the same thing!

I have a sneaking suspicion that the best way to resolve this sort of
issue is to design a series of optimal builds and then build the system
around those builds. If you have some choices which are meaningful and
tweak specific builds towards different playstyles without having a
large impact on power, and other choices where there’s a
subtle but compelling optimal choice, then you’ll end up with
a system that has “bad abilities” designed in that
no sane person would use, but you also end up with a system that gives
the appearance of choice while also (hopefully) giving you a stable,
balanced set of “flavor of the decade” builds that
you can take as given and design around. It’s kind of a class
system masquerading as a level system, and it’s pretty
underhanded, but it might at least get away from constant power swings.
Until you try to create new loot sets, of course…

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Fallen Earth's Lee Hammock:

I think they are always harder since so many more possible combinations
of abilities exist and the current role structure favored in MMOs
(tank/healer/DPS) begins to break down under the myriad
possibilities.  At that point you have to re-teach people how
to play MMOs to some extent and depending on how well you do that, you
may get a ton of bugs that aren’t bugs but communication

As for “build of the month” issues,
that‘s going to happen no matter what you
do—regardless of if you have a class-, level-, or skill-based
system.  People are going to develop a build they think is the
best no matter what you do. You will have thousands of players and many
fewer QA people, and your players will think up combos of items,
skills, and abilities that never occurred to you or your QA. 
It is impossible to think of all the abuses your player base will find,
so you have to concentrate on finding the most egregious
problems.  This leaves lots of smaller issues unfound that
your players may use to create their ideal builds.  When these
arise you have to consider whether they are playing as intended. If
not, what parts of the game allow such builds to dominate. 
I’m not a big fan of reducing the power of a build because
it’s effective, but instead trying to find other weaknesses
that make that build effective.  This may not always be
possible though and sometimes things need to change.  

Earthrise's Atanas Atanasov:

Skill-based systems are hard to balance because they place a massive
amount of options in the hands of the players with very little or no
limitations at all. To ensure balance, such systems require an
incredible investment in time and testing, and even then the final
result never reaches perfection. Yet, the key to the success of MMOs is
not balance itself, but the feedback from the designers that respond to
the evolution of the game and provide fast and proper changes that
cater to the expectations of the players. Instead of allowing players
to take advantage of unbalanced character builds, changes should be
made to ensure that the design team responds before such issues could
reflect on the whole game.   

Since Dungeons and Dragons, the idea of leveling and raising skills has
been synonymous with RPGs of every kind. Although MMORPGs don't follow
the same standard rules as their single player compatriots, the style
of progression hasn't really changed since its inception so many
decades ago.

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But the developers of today are the best and the brightest that the
world has to offer, and if anyone can think up a new system, its the
men that I  queried to complete this article.

And unlike the previous answers, the responses I received to this
question varied greatly in direction and tone. EVE Online's Matt
Woodward, for example, seemed genuinely open minded about alternative
methods of progression.

"Even assuming that you need a clear progression mechanic, I think
it’s safe to say that there’s more than two ways to
skin a cat," he said. "Are there more viable approaches? I’d
say yes. Should a team try something different? That’s up for
each team to decide on their own. If we’re self-selecting for
AAA titles here (a thorough discussion of /all/ MMO and MMO-like titles
would reveal a lot more variation than we’re discussing
here), we’re also self-selecting for conservativeness. That
is I suspect the answer to a lot of “why aren’t
MMOs more innovative”-type questions – there are
innovative MMOs, and there are big-budget MMOs, but there are very few
innovative, big-budget MMOs. It took EVE three or four years of solid
growth to get into a position where people would even consider it
worthy of discussion as a mainstream game, and under the hood
we’re still reasonably conservative."

From the other end of the world, the Seattle-based Guild Wars developer
answered the question succinctly, but with a clear emphasis on
execution. "There are all sorts of different systems that can be used
for achievement in games—skill usage, collection, power over
time played, power over real-world time, skill over time, and a handful
of others," Cartwright stated. "I don’t expect innovation in
every aspect of every game I play, but if you’re going to do
something new, make sure you do it well."

Peterscheck, on the other hand, was much more hesitant to simply accept
that other advancement systems are even necessary when creating these
sort of games. And it's a pertinent question; why change a system that
isn't really broken at all. You need numbers and a way to represent a
player's advancement, so why muddle with the tried-and-true formula?

"There's probably all kinds of methods that could be tried, bt the
question is to what end?" Hermann discussed. "Levels are nice because
everyone understands what level 10 vs. level 20 means - that is that
level 20 is higher than level 10. It's also a nice way to be able to
present progression. In any kind of game where you have to compare
ability and power you need some kind of relative measurement - that's
all that "level" really is. I think people make a big deal about it,
but it really is that simple. Ultima Online had a skill based
advancement system that went from 0% to 100% and that worked as well.
At the end of the day if your game has some kind of progression you
need to have some kind of number that goes up as you advance or get
better. So yeah, we can spruce it up all we want, but at the end of the
day, that's all it is. The other reason for just using level is that I
think innovating just for the sake of being different is silly. If
people understand something and it does what it's supposed to do, why
change it? You don't see every band and symphony inventing all their
own instruments and notation just to be different, so why should game
developers do it?"

The Earthrise CEO had a similarly cautious response, although his mind
also seems open for other ways of advancement. Perhaps some that aren't
so divergent from the norm to appear confusing? Or maybe just systems
that utilize technologies that aren't necessarily a part of MMO
structures at this point?

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"While those aforementioned advancement systems are most familiar to
the players and proven to work very well in many titles, there's still
a ground for experimenting and implementing new, exciting ways of
character development. For example, offline character development takes
into account even the time that a player is not logged in the game, but
could interact with the game in new ways using various emerging
technologies - web or mobile access. "

Finally we return to Fallen Earth's Hammock who, like Woodward,
believes that there are innumerable possibilities for games to break
out of the D&D mold. Here's what he had to say:

Tons.  Tons and tons.  I would love to see a game
that used a social mechanic where you have so many XP each day and you
can give them to whoever you want (excepting other characters on the
same account or whatever other limitations are wanted) so players are
rewarded for being helpful or generous and encourages social
interaction (which is sort of the point of MMOs).  Or a
strictly usage-based system (which some games have used) where skills
go up when they are used.  Or maybe a social system where the
entire game levels up together to face game-wide threats.

There are so many possible systems out there, but people tend towards
what is familiar and so for now I think we’re stuck with the
“need XP to level/get more skill and I get XP through
missions/killing/whatever model.”  I would love to
see someone really break outside that.  There are plenty of
game designers who could make an awesome game without a level/skill XP
grind, but finding the financial backing for such in today’s
market…not so much.  Sadly the size and cost of
MMOs makes “garage game” MMOs extremely difficult,
so seeing such an MMO from the indie game scene is unlikely at best,
but hope springs eternal.

Strangely enough, it appears that gamers also have a divergent level of
thinking when it comes to breaking out of a level/skill mold.
Progression is always a mainstay in MMOs, and finding a functional
system without progression is incredibly hard to do. Gating off access
to particular areas of the world, without a mechanical number to help
players, can be disastrous as gamers run into monsters that are much
too high for their level.

Still, the day will eventually come where a developer creates a new
"norm" and every subsequent MMO will follow their lead.

As the final note to this broad-sweeping look at levels vs. skills, I
asked the developers what their thoughts were on the future of skill
point-based games and whether there will ever be a game that smashes
the level-based strangle hold on the market. Again, I'll let the
developers speak for themselves.

Fallen Earth
's Lee Hammock:

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I think both skill- and level-based games will be around for the
foreseeable future since they cater to different audiences
generally.  As MMOs grow in popularity, which they seem to do,
we’ll have a continually growing pool of both beginner and
veteran gamers, each veering to level and skill games
respectively.  I think in the long term some other design
paradigm will take over MMO progression to remove numerical measures
from the system since they feel very artificial (but are used because
they are so easy to understand).  Much as the Natal Project at
Microsoft hopes to change the way people play games by removing the
intimidation of the controller, eventually MMOs will have to get rid of
some of the math on the front end to make things more accessible.

Earthrise's Atanas Atanasov:

While it is hard to predict the direction the genre is heading into, we
believe gamers may look towards seeking some very strong skill-based
games breaking the MMORPG stereotype.

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EVE Online's Matt Woodward:

I genuinely hope that the future will see a gradual but persistent
broadening of what’s viewed as an acceptable risk for a
big-budget game, as more lower-budget titles push through and
demonstrate that other approaches can sustain big-budget incomes. If
the market keeps growing and broadening I think this is inevitable, and
I do hope that a day will come when we can all look back and laugh at
how silly the argument over whether to emulate UO or EQ seems, given
the huge profusion of successful MMO models that look nothing like

There you have it folks! While we'll never be able to answer which of
the systems is "better" for creating MMORPGs, we have delved - albeit
briefly - into the reasons behind the sudden resurgence in skill-based
games and why gamers may be itching for something beyond the standard
leveling system. Keep your eyes peeled for next week's premium article
as we continue to explore the MMO industry and get to the bottom of its
many mysteries!

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016