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The Dilemma of Level vs. Skill In MMOs 463

Posted by Soulskill
from the one-does-not-imply-the-other dept.
Karen Hertzberg writes "Since MMORPGs became a mainstream medium, players have debated the two primary methods of advancement. Which is better? Is it the level-based system that is so dominant in today's MMORPGs, or the lesser-used skill-based system? This has been a strong subject of debate on many forums, blogs, and gaming sites for as long as the genre has existed. Ten Ton Hammer's Cody 'Micajah' Bye investigates the two concepts and gathers input from some of the brightest minds in the gaming industry about their thoughts on the two systems of advancement." Relatedly, I've seen a growing trend of players saying that such games don't really take much skill at all. The standard argument is that it just boils down to "knowing how to move" or "knowing when to hit your buttons." In the MMO community, people often make references to FPS or RTS games, saying they have a higher skill cap. However, the same complaints also come from within those communities, with comments like "you just need to know the map," or "it's all about a good build order." At what point does intimate knowledge of a game's mechanics make a player skilled?
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The Dilemma of Level vs. Skill In MMOs

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  • by The_mad_linguist (1019680) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:13PM (#28610359)

    3. It's all about how much money you fork over for premium content.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:15PM (#28610403)

    They are games for a reason. They're entertaining. They do not require a great deal of skill, or they would be a sport. While I am sure there are plenty of us who like to tease ourselves into believing we have "l337 sk1lz", the truth of the matter is that we are still involved in low base entertainment designed to appeal to as many people as possible. Successful games are the ones that sell the most, thus they have to be designed for the lowest common denominator.

    There are plenty of other past times that do involve skill.

    • by Hatta (162192) *

      Try to 1cc [urbandictionary.com] any Cave shoot-em-up and tell me that doesn't require skill. Some of these games are as hard as any sport.

    • by FlopEJoe (784551)
      Personally, I consider sports to be games as well.
    • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @01:20PM (#28611453)

      I disagree, there IS "skill". It's probably not a useful quantity outside of the game, and unlike some athletic events there is probably a point at which you cannot be more skilled than another person, but there is a huge gap between some players in ability, you can call that skill. Also hardware, latency, etc. also can blur the line between skill and wealth. The problem with this topic is what "skill" means to various people.

      The latest trends in MMOGs (which WoW still seems to want to be the frontrunner) is mashing keys fast. The entire design of the latest expansion is the concept of "rotations", be it dps, healing (previously a relatively cerebral job) and tanking. On one hand they've added an element requiring players to mash buttons faster and more accurately (throwing in some proc effects that require you to adapt your rotation periodically). On the other hand they've almost entirely eliminated strategy and situational awareness. But yeah, it plays a lot more like an FPS and there is "skill" in mashing your buttons fast, clicking fast and turning fast.

      Then there's FPS skill, which has traditionally been being prepared, fast and accurate, usually in that order.

      Skill is increasingly being defined, across genre's in a one size fits all way: a) competitive player versus player, b) a measure of reaction time and ability to manipulate the UI/interface well, c) familiarity with the content (and practice within it) and to a somewhat lesser extent d) familiarity with the boundaries of the simulator in question (not exploits, just how far the rules bend).

      Other things that skill could be, and in some genre's should be: a) adaptability to dynamic, unknown situations, b) coordination across groups of people, c) preparation for encounters for which a few datapoints are known, d) how to combine/synergize abilities across classes, and how to make trade-offs as a unit, etc. I play MMOGs primarily for this concept of "skill", although it's been in serious decline.

      So I guess I want to undermine the entire thesis of the article. People bitch about "level systems" versus "skill" systems, but often because they aren't playing the same game. Levels in MMOGs are supposed to be about lumping people into similar categories of character ability level, gear and progression, at least in theory. The idea behind levels is a social tool from game designers that helps people identify others with similar interests, to get together and collectively tackle content that is otherwise too difficult for them singly. This is also, not coincidentally, the idea behind the class system! You know for a balanced group you need some tanking, some healing, some slowing (in EQ) and a mix of damage (melee and magic, usually). The class system worked well for helping people identify what element they needed to round out the group, and provided enough class differentiation to make it interesting. This works well in traditional MMOGs where the game is primarily PVE, and where game designers go out of their way to use levels appropriately and define classes well. WoW blurs this a lot, and IMO, screws up the game a lot. In any event, in context of MMOGs, levels != skill. You can have one without the other, and it's absolutely OK.

      On the flip side, in an FPS where you are primarily engaged in PVP, it makes a lot less sense to rank people by arbitrary factors such as level (i.e. time spent killing monsters, content completed, etc.) and more sense to lump them into categories that allow like people to interact with like people. A tournament system works here. Of course not all contestants are in the same league as one another, some have better hardware, lower latency connections, more playtime, etc. You don't want people to feel completely outclassed. In boxing/wrestling/etc. you have the concept of "weight class". Perhaps grouping people with similar characteristics and ranking them within their class makes the most sense, providing a good level of adequate comparison of skill, bracketed within boundaries that seem rea

    • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @01:59PM (#28612077) Journal

      Actually, I think the problem is that the summary makes a hash of it. The "advancement through skill" from the quoted part, is not the same meaning of "skill" that the following submitter rant uses.

      The "skill" in the "skill-based vs level-based MMO" debate, is not about the [b]player's[/b] skills, but about the [b]character's[/b] skills. _Major_ difference.

      A "skill-based MMO" (or MUD) does _not_ mean you have to learn to circle-strafe or be a cyber-athlete or anything. They can be just as mindless affairs as WoW. (And I'm actually not saying that as a bad thing: I actually like WoW.) They just mean it has no levels, but they have a bunch of skill numbers and you spend your xp directly on the skills and stats.

      Heck, you could even make a turn-based skill-based games if you wanted to, and in fact some have actually been made.

      A good example of a skill-based system is Vampire: Bloodlines. It doesn't have levels at all. You get some xp and you spend it directly on raising your strenght, or your dexterity, or your melee skill, or your lockpicking skill. Having more experience doesn't automatically make you tougher at some point. You could buy only social abilities for a long while for example, and be an elder vampire that can't fight worth Jack, but could probably convince the Pope and Arafat to get married to each other. Or instead you could be the toughest kung-fu master but unable to talk even your best friend into seeing things your way. Or learn a lot of spells right from the start. Or anything in between.

      A good example of a level-based game are most old D&D games. You inherently have a to-hit modifier or access to spells based on your level. Inherently being higher level makes you better.

      And Fallout 3 is actually a hybrid rather than just level-based. At its heart, what matters are your character skills, not your level. The level just gives you points to put in your skills.

      Or if you want an example based on WoW, imagine a game that plays exactly like WoW, but has no levels. Instead of your sword skill automatically raising its cap by 5 points each time you level up, you don't level up, but spend xp to buy more sword skill. Or instead of getting a new spell every 2 levels, you have no levels, but buy spells with xp. You don't get +1 this stat, and +2 that stat, etc, when you level up, you buy stat increases with xp.

      That would also mean that all restrictions on equipment have to be skill based instead of level based. In a skill-based game you don't have some sword that requires minimum level 39, you have a sword that requires, say, minimum 195 sword skill. If you want to use it, you dump your xp into sword skill. If you want to be a mage, you dump your xp into spell skills instead and don't get to use that sword too soon.

      That's really what a skill-based MMO would look like.

      But other than that, the game would still play exactly like WoW. You wouldn't need any more player skill to go do the Lakeshire quests in that setup, than you need in the real level-based WoW.

  • How is this different from any skill? Skill is the knowledge and execution of when/what/how to do things. I can bake a great loaf of bread if I follow a recipe exactly, but I'm not a savant who can stray from the recipe and make novel things taste good. Is following a recipe skill? Some would say yes, some would say no. Same with the "skill" of grinding your elf warrior to high scores or levels.

    I was hoping from the title that this would be a discussion of "advancement through earned level rankings, o

    • by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:27PM (#28610597)

      Along those lines... chess is just about knowing how to move pieces around the board.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Depends if you mean that chess is simply knowing where each piece can legally move or if skill in chess is knowing when and where to move those pieces around the board.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by WillyWanker (1502057)
          Playing a game well is definitely a skill. But you also need to define "well". Just about anyone can pick up an MMO and play reasonably well, with limited skills and knowledge. Those that go the extra mile, who learn to use every aspect of the game to their advantage, who strive to always have the best stats and gear; these are the "skilled" players.

          Of course it's a somewhat limited skill set. But it's still a skill set nonetheless.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jstomel (985001)
        Nope. Chess is about moves to mate. Once you start memorizing all the board layouts that lead to checkmate you can beat anyone who doesn't have them memorized. Chess is only a game of skill at novice and grandmaster levels. Novices don't bother learning board layouts and grandmasters know them all and only play against other people who know them all and how to avoid them. In the middle realm it's all about memorization. I still remember the first time I played against someone and about six moves in th
    • by furby076 (1461805) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:31PM (#28610651) Homepage
      If you are able to do something you have a skill in it. If you can pump gas into your car then you have a skill - pumping gas. Some skills are easier then others (pumping gas vs replacing your breaks). But everything that is not automatically done for you (e.g. your heart pumping) requires a skill.

      Now going a step beyond that there is a difference between a person who is skilled at something and a person who is skilled and innovative. A skilled player can go online and read/watch tutorials on how to beat the hardest monsters in a game and then execute those (we call that person a cook). They have a skill - they know the game, they know their characters and the know how to follow instructions. Just like the cook who knows their kitchen (the game setting), knows their tools (there characters), and knows their recipie (the tutorial). Great let them back us a cake. The skilled innovator is the person who goes into an unknown situation, say a boss that nobody has ever encountered, and figures out a way to beat it (we call that the master chef). They have a skill - they know the game, they know their character, and they know how to solve puzzles.

      I would rather be the skilled innovator but both types have skill.

      The original article is just a way for someone to get posted on /. :)
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Jstlook (1193309)
        Oh c'mon. The cake is a lie.
      • by Maniacal (12626) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @01:34PM (#28611697)
        My kid plays Runescape and anytime he as a quest (or whatever the hell it's called) to complete he pulls up walk-throughs on the web and follows them to get past it. Besides fighting other players or the standard NPC's he doesn't figure out anything on his own. It's very frustrating for me. I can't even watch him play. Hate to get all geezer here but when I was a kid playing Ultima IV for countless hours on my IBM PCjr I had to figure out all that stuff on my own. For me that was where all the fun was. I completed it, I figured it out, and I thought I was awesome because of it. I wouldn't get so nuts about him playing the way he does if I could just figure out what he's actually getting out of it. It's not just Runescape either. When he gets a new game he immediately pulls up some site that has the cheats. I don't mind cheats that give you cool skins or something that doesn't alter the difficulty of the game but he'll cheat for step 1. On top of that he's baffled that I won't use the cheats. Your cook vs. master chef analogy fits us perfectly except my cook thinks master chef's are dumb.

        This is offtopic but while I'm ranting about my kids game play I have to get something off my chest. When he and his friends get together and play they often like to play something called "Super Smash Brothers". For you guys as old as me out there, it's a fighting game with all the Nintendo characters as the fighters. When you play the game your damage is counted up as a percentage. Except, get this, wait for it...., you don't die at 100%. In fact there's no set limit you die at. The game just decides it's your time to die. Sometimes their damage is at 150% or higher. WTF is with that. I can't even be in the same room when they're playing that. I go friggin nuts. The game itself makes me nuts because of what I just described but the bulk of my frustration comes from him and his friends not recognizing and acknowledging that there is something screwy about it. They look at me like I'm nuts.

        Maybe I am nuts. Before you post a bunch of "lighten up psycho" messages know that I'm not this crazy controlling freak. I've just always been a gamer (not hardcore, just a gamer) and I always looked forward to sharing that with my kids. The way gaming has changed came as a surprise to me.
        • by blahplusplus (757119) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @02:00PM (#28612095)

          " Except, get this, wait for it...., you don't die at 100%. In fact there's no set limit you die at. The game just decides it's your time to die. Sometimes their damage is at 150% or higher"

          The problem is you haven't played smash brothers, smash brothers is in fact a skill based game. The more damage you take the easier it is to ring you out, the idea is to take the least damage as possible because the more damage you take using special moves at higher damage percentages will ring you out instantly for a win.

          You just have to learn which moves will ring out and smash people out of the screen at high percentages.

          The damage system is actually innovative in that you *do* increase your risk of dying by people who actually attempted to understand the game.

          Ironically your complaint that your son didn't try to figure it out himself, when you didn't try to figure out smash brothers system is itself a bit humorous. :)

          • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@gmail. c o m> on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @03:21PM (#28613273) Journal
            One skill-based game I really enjoyed was Bleach: Dark Souls. There is a "leveling" aspect in the unlockable in-game powerups but even ignoring that part of the game won't kill your chances of success. To get really good at it, you have to go online, get whooped, and bring yourself up to that level. The best thing that can happen to you is getting beaten repeatedly by a master player.

            It starts getting really complicated when you start predicting flash steps (very fast movement that appears like teleportation, but can be interrupted with costly special moves). You have to guess where the other player is going to flash step and then flash step to a position where you can attack the other player when they appear. But then what if the other player knew you were going to do that and goes somewhere different where he can attack you when you falsely guess where he's going? But you could forsee this and change where you flash step to as well ;) There's practically zero margin for error in timing and distance and it's amazing how deep you can get into predicting the other player's moves. This whole mind game is over in a fraction of a second and you can see exactly what your opponent was thinking by where and how they appear.

            It gets really tricky and requires a mix of quick reflexes, quick thinking, strategy, and fingers that don't get tired :P
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Feyshtey (1523799)
          Edit his hosts file and redirect his favorite cheat sites to bogus IPs :)

          My boys know that if I caught them using cheat sites or hacks or something I'd lock the computer down completely for a while. I'm a firm believer in earning advancement, and the greater appreciation it gives in success. I have no evidence, but to me cheat sites (and any get-it-now shortcuts for kids) are the beginnings of a pattern of behavior that will lead to compromises in principles for the sake of instant gratification. And tha
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rgviza (1303161)

          Agreed... The problem is if you group with other players and you haven't read the walkthroughs, most get all pissy with you and kick you from the group. They want you to know how to do the quest before you've done it because they are on their 25th loot run of the day and don't want to be held up.

          I prefer to figure the stuff out on my own. Most people prefer to "follow the recipe" to beat the quest and have all the figuring out done for them. Part of the reason I don't play MMO's...

          I get 0 satisfaction from

    • I can bake a great loaf of bread if I follow a recipe exactly, but I'm not a savant who can stray from the recipe and make novel things taste good.

      That's because you haven't. Take some time to understand why the recipe tells you to do certain things and experiment with changes and you will.

  • by Sowelu (713889) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:17PM (#28610439)
    From the article itself:

    "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."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

      His name is Soulskill. He has been waiting his whole life for this moment. Don't ruin it for him.

  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:18PM (#28610445) Journal

    FPS: Knowing where the power weapons are on the map. (Halo 3: Shotgun whore wins)

    MMORPG: Its knowing which class is overpowered. (Vanilla WoW: Nerf Warlocks)

    RTS: Its all about who is Korean. (I'm new to SC, want to play? I'm a nub go easy)

    • Vanilla WoW? you're joking right? They were only good for debuffing mobs for the mages who would roll ignites all night long.

      The OP class in Vanilla wow was the mage. They were not as good in BC but now they're OP in LK again.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Anyone who has raided well enough knows that raiding doesn't in fact take any skill. It has always been a matter of pressing the right buttons at the right time, and could easily be choreographed by 5 people at 5 computers each.

        I was referring to PvP, which in Vanilla Wow, yes, Mage was ALSO an OP class. With Their IWIN button (AP POM PYRO) they nearly 1 shotted every class. Their biggest enemy: a Soul Link Warlock. No mage could outplay an equally "SKILLED" warlock. A very talented and skilled mage could o

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      RTS: Its all about who is Korean. (I'm new to SC, want to play? I'm a nub go easy)

      I know you were just going for the humour, but - it depends on the RTS.

      Company of Heroes, for example, is a highly-advanced RTS that you can successfully play at reasonably high levels with a CPM of under 50. I've been hooked on the damn game for several years now, and every other RTS is just completely bland after it - mindless clickspamming and rushing for $BEST_UNIT.

  • skill? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tsm_sf (545316) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:19PM (#28610475) Journal
    At what point does intimate knowledge of a game's mechanics make a player skilled?

    I'd say that this is the definition of skill for an online game.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      I'd say thats the definition of skill for any game, online, offline, PC, board game, card game, drinking gaaaaaa well maybe not drinking games.

      • Not necessarily though, there are a lot of people who understand (American) football. However, not everyone is going to make it to the NFL. I'm sure there are some people who simply can't play football well even though they know everything about the game, perhaps even more than the actual players, yet simply is not good at football.
        • by Fred IV (587429)
          Some combination of knowledge + ability to execute + ability to adapt is probably a better definition. Your armchair quarterback isn't skilled at American football because he is unable to execute. An amateur with both knowledge and ability may not reach pro levels of play because of an inability to think on his feet and adapt to changes on the field. In the same way, someone in an MMO may know what all of their abilities do, but their level of comparative skill may suffer because they aren't able to link
    • by I.M.O.G. (811163)

      At what point does intimate knowledge of a game's mechanics make a player skilled?

      I'd say that this is the definition of skill for an online game.

      I'd mostly agree, although it takes a combination of intimate knowledge of ingame mechanics as well as ingame coordination. Accuracy and efficiency are attributes of ingame skill which could be reasonably considered ingame coordination and often take time to develop, hone, and ulimately perfect.

      So the intimate knowledge alone isn't enough to excel, and the comb

    • Re:skill? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by relguj9 (1313593) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @01:03PM (#28611165)

      At what point does intimate knowledge of a game's mechanics make a player skilled?
      I'd say that this is the definition of skill for an online game.

      Oblig. Bruce Lee quote:
      Knowing is not enough, you must apply.

    • by citizenr (871508)
      Not for twitch games. Take Cod4 hardcore mode for example. Im brilliant when it comes to game mechanics. I know maps well, have memorized every nade spot, all gun stats, every single game timer. I use good headphones and almost always know where the enemy is ... yet I still get shot plenty times in the face by 12 year old 0.00001s reflex kid.
  • by Experiment 626 (698257) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:19PM (#28610479)

    It sounds like the article is talking about character advancement mechanics being based on skills (you use a sword, your guy gets better with a sword) instead of levels (you character suddenly gets better at everything). The editor writeup, however, is a commentary on player skill.

    • This had me confused too, but I figured it was because I only skimmed the first page of the Article...

  • My take on the situation:

    Mix the two. I'd just love a game where I have both approaches available. Where I could bring my personal skills to the game, but where I don't have any or find it too exhausting (i.e. not fun) to use them, compensate with points, levels, whatever.

    The main problem of game design is to make sure it's a complementary, but not additive system. You should be able to offset lack of skill by points, but not have it add up. Someone with the maximum level but no skill should be equal to som

  • Hey, i think we can all agree that WoW seems to have the best of all the worlds.
    12 million can't be wrong....and on top of that there is still 2 expansions left before they defunct the game.
    Although i am sure they will keep servers rolling, or offer server solutions to those who want to host their own gaming server.
    I am not talking the hacked kind either...!

    • by T.E.D. (34228)

      Hey, i think we can all agree that WoW seems to have the best of all the worlds. 12 million can't be wrong

      No, we can't. I could use your same logic to claim that all games must have ambulatory cows in them.

      You would make a great film executive through. "Hey, that movie with Will Smith and explosions that came out on July 4th weekend sold great. Let's do that every year!"

  • No it doesn't take skill, in these games, to go from level 1 to whatever. Even in warhammer online where you have ranks (level) and renown ranks (primarly, but not always, levels from pvp) it doesn't really take skill. Even a computer nub can hang out in pvp areas (in the warhammer example) and lose every single game and eventually get a high level. It will take him a long time but he will have it. So no these are not measurements skill but are measurements of level. Yes the game is button pressing and d
    • Having been in guilds from #40 to #3, it is my opinion that the primary factor is time spent on the game.

      If time were limited, skill would matter more because efficiency would matter.

      However, the ability to play 24x7 after a new expansion and rapidly max levels, the ability to generally play 12 hours a day, the ability to afford multiple accounts and multiple computers to multi-box is important.

      And, based on what I've seen at the highest level- the willingness to cheat in various ways is a big factor.

      Key ex

  • Both are bad. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:22PM (#28610523) Journal

    The problem with too many RPGs is that easy encounters are easy, and hard encounters are impossible until you level up, at which point they are easy. It FEELS like you are gaining skill at the game, which is enjoyable, but in fact your character is just tougher. You didn't learn shit.

    It makes sense for your character to change over time: that makes the game keep feeling new. But the best system of all is one where your new characteristics are a tradeoff, and every player's capabilities remain somewhat balanced. Success should be from solving a problem in novel ways, not grinding. Like TF2, StarCraft. It is of course very hard to build games like this.

    This has come up for me playing crap iPhone games. Since there isn't enough development time for them to put in real challenge, every goddamned thing has a level up mechanic. And certain things are just unbeatable until you level up, and then they are beatable through button mashing. It is lame as hell and apparently the customers don't care.

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      I really have to agree. There is no real skill in a game if a complete noob can pick up someone else's character and do pretty well. Compare that with an RTS or an RPG, where using somebody else's character doesn't really help you at all. Character is just the way you look on the screen, and has no bearing on how high you can jump, or how accurately you can shoot. I think games like this are much better for online play, because when you win, you know you are actually better than the other guy. Whereas,
      • Re:Both are bad. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:47PM (#28610923) Journal

        Compare that with an RTS or an [FPS] (that's what you meant, right?), where using somebody else's character doesn't really help you at all.

        Iduno. TF2 has done this very very well. Character determines many things, including how high you can jump. If you spend a lot of time at the game, you get new capabilities. But every new capability is a tradeoff, and a beginning player using your items wouldn't necessarily do any better than without. If there were RPGs where time spent provided you more very well balanced tradeoffs to choose between, that would be perhaps interesting. And hard to develop.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)
        That's the point of a role playing game - the character's skill is more important than the player's skills. That's what makes them different from action and strategy games. Of course, most of the modern MMOs are really action/strategy games with only a thin veneer of role playing on top. Which is why you see a lot of players who seem concerned about player skills.
      • by AK Marc (707885)
        With an RTS, you play the same game over and over to infinity. Sure, you can change maps, then you play that one over and over. It's a definate start, a definite end, and then repeat. You do what works over and over, and change tactics slightly if the person you are playing against is beating you. With a FPS, play the same things over and over as well. Your ability to control your character is the primary determination of success. But again, you do the same levels over and over, with the interaction w
    • Success should be from solving a problem in novel ways, not grinding.

      Wish someone had told the lads at Mythic this. Every time someone came up with a clever solution to a really hard quest, Mythic would change the quest so that solution no longer worked...

    • by Kjella (173770)

      The problem with too many RPGs is that easy encounters are easy, and hard encounters are impossible until you level up, at which point they are easy. It FEELS like you are gaining skill at the game, which is enjoyable, but in fact your character is just tougher. You didn't learn shit.

      Half true, half false. Usually you have more attacks, more skills, more HP and mana management at higher levels. You just don't notice it because you're getting pretty good at it. Of course every MMORPG includes one click-the-button class (usually warrior) for those that just want to be part of the group and not manage anything like that.

    • It FEELS like you are gaining skill at the game, which is enjoyable, but in fact your character is just tougher. You didn't learn shit.

      Using WOW as an example, you the player learn skills when you can go kill orange or red mobs without dying. You also gain skill when you learn how to leverage each class in a small group and which roles your character can fill. Anyone who's been in a dungeon knows how easily Leroy Jenkins can get the whole group killed, so yes, there is some skill involved.

    • by Dan Ost (415913)

      And that's exactly why the only computer game I keep coming back to (for the last 20 years) is nethack. I've read all the spoilers and strategy discussions, but it's always a challenge to apply what I know to the game. It's never impossible, but the difficulty scales faster than your character's abilities.

      Maybe some day I'll win...

  • by uncledrax (112438) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:23PM (#28610531) Homepage
    Just a quip about it. The editor is thinking about 'Skill as in I twitch faster or know the map', whereby rather I believe they are referring to a Skill Point mechanic instead of a Leveling Up mechanic... that is, I have a "46.5% skill in Swordmanship" instead of "I'm a level 20 Swordsman". Usually a Level based mechanic has some aspects of a Skill Based system as well (but usually it's relegated to Crafting in online games like WoW or DAoC); but to me the main difference was rather looked at as a "Class Based System" vs a "Skill Based System", which has been a debate in gaming long before computers came to the genre with things like "DnD" being a CBS and "Star Frontiers" being a Skill based system. Personally, I generally perfer a Skill based system for a variety of small reasons.
  • The goal of MMORPGs are to make money. Because of that they need to reward those who have kept paying their fees and keep buying the expansion packs. As long as the subscription and expansion pack models stick around, you will see that the only methods that get used are those that reward play time with the best characters. Really, Blizzard wants you to have a better character if you are a person terrible at WoW but have been playing for the past 3 years, then the person who is amazing at RPGs and has only b
  • usage based (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tom (822) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:26PM (#28610589) Homepage Journal

    One simple change could be to make progression depend on skill, not trivial success and grinding.

    Or, in simpler terms, something that every dofus could do should give no XP at all. And yes, that includes the death of a monster. Instead, why not give XP for successful attacks, combos, or whatever defines your class? Balancing would be a lot more difficult than the current "monster is worth 123 XP, share between party members" system, but it could be more fair and more rewarding, and eliminate grinding.

    What if combat would not give you XP for killing monsters, but for how well you fought? You get XP for every attack, depending on your skill of execution. Of course, that would require replacing the simple "click here for an attack, you'll automatically hit" system. But it would allow you to gain your XP slowly by very low XP per boring standard attack, or more rapidly if you know how to fight. Healers, mages, etc. would get XP for their successes, i.e. healing wounded party members, etc. - again, not on a flat system, healing someone who really needed it would give more XP than the standard "I'm throwing a group heal around, just in case anyone needs it".

    Absolutely non-trivial to implement and balance, so it's probably not the end of the idea. But it might be a start.

    Basically, imagine Oblivion where your athletics skill doesn't increase just because you bunny-hop through the world, but only if you actually use it for something useful.

    Reward not use, but useful use.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)
      ....Because its trivial to use a macro to gain combos on monsters? For example if all you needed to do is do the "great laser of death combo" that you need to do skill 2 then 3 seconds later press skill 1 then 5 seconds later click skill 3 and defend. While that isn't going to work for bating a live person, on monster attacks this would be trivial to do and reduce your idea of "skill" down to pressing a button, waiting and pressing another button when the monster had died.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Trebawa (1461025)

        ....Because its trivial to use a macro to gain combos on monsters?

        Tom is saying that there would have to be mechanisms for actual skill in defeating enemies, which calls for an overhaul of the traditional button-mashing system altogether:

        Of course, that would require replacing the simple "click here for an attack, you'll automatically hit" system.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Tom (822)

        Yes, that's why anything that can be scripted, etc. should not be rewarded.

        Now I can't say how exactly such a system would look like (if I could, I'd try to sell it to someone). It's a bit like obscenity: Can't define it, but I know it when I see it.

        As humans, we usually know skill from level. Someone who can shoot straight will be more successful in an FPS than someone who can't. So rewarding hitting more than shooting rewards skill. That's the basic idea.

    • by Lunatrik (1136121)
      I think Star Wars Galaxies tried something like this - e.g., healers got XP for healing ect., but it made different classes *far* easier to level and thus they ended up with a dramatic shortage of some classes. Its no fun LFG for two hours!
    • Re:usage based (Score:4, Insightful)

      by 1WingedAngel (575467) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:44PM (#28610887) Homepage

      Your solution here doesn't really offer anything better than the current grinding systems. In fact, it makes it even more frustrating.

      You move the end-of-battle award to mid-battle and for some classes, you would reward them based on the play of others?

      To take one of your examples: A healer gaining XP based on the party members health. So, the goal here would be to consistently let your party get as low on health as possible before healing them? And you would penalize them for keeping everyone full up? I can't think of a single worse reward mechanism for healers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tom (822)

        No, you misunderstood me. That would be rote playing which I specifically do not want to reward.

        It's hard to come up with a good system along this line of thought. The basic idea is that anything that's trivial to do should give trivial (or no) XP. Simply waiting until the others are low on health is trivial to do.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by elrous0 (869638) *
          Computer have a very difficult time in understanding the concept of "trivial" unless you could specify it in very concrete terms. And coming up with a version of that that couldn't be gamed would be very difficult. That's why so many MMORPG's keep it simple. Everyone WANTS to get rid of the grind, but in practice it's very difficult not to have it or something like it. Even Eve, with its skills based system, is a grindfest.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Tom (822)

            Yes, that's quite true.

            One idea I just had was that it's often easier to specify the opposite. Maybe give monsters an encounter value, but substract from it for everything that goes wrong. If someone in the party dies - less XP for the healers and the tank. If the monsters get to use their skills too often, less XP for the debuffers. If it survives for too long, less XP for the damage dealers, and so on.

            Maybe this way around it's easier to define the specifics, while at the same time making it harder to gam

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by WinPimp2K (301497)

        To stick with the healing example, it is even worse than that. At some point good play by the other characters would involve them taking little or no damage (the tank that gets really good with his shield/parry?) so there would be no healing required for fights that would still give other characters an opportunity to improve their skills.

        In short, the whole "useful use" concept pretty well falls to pieces. Having said that, I must also admit a desire to see an mmo game with advancement based on character sk

      • Re:usage based (Score:4, Interesting)

        by lymond01 (314120) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @03:11PM (#28613149)

        Straight up healers are a lame idea anyway, always have been. Darned health bar voyeurs. I mean, did Aragorn bring along a surgeon in his quest to destroy the ring? Leave the healing-only clerics in the bloody church in the center of town...tithe them when you limp back in after battle and they'll patch you up and send you on your way.

        But if you're out adventuring with me, you better know how to kill something. The D&D cleric, at least the way we played him, didn't just hang out in the back -- he went in with his mace, knocked a few helmets off, then healed people up as he could afterwards.

        To implement this, change the damage system. Aragorn got thrown across a cave into a stone wall by a troll...he got knocked out, but wasn't even badly bruised. Make our characters heroes, not spreadsheets. If we die, make it an epic death -- we're too cool to be chased down and mauled by a rodent. If it doesn't kill us, let us carry on with our quest -- let us be heroes. Dent our armor, even weaken our sword arm, but don't put us on the edge of a virtual cardiac arrest until we get magically healed or wait an hour.

    • How about eliminating the grind altogether by making XP the measure of your highest achieved level of proficiency at something rather than the accumulation of points for doing X thing Y times? So if I can kill a level 10 monster that makes me level 10. Then I have to gear up, learn some tactics, whatever before I can beat a level 11 monster. But if you already know or have that stuff you can just jump ahead. Oh wait there goes the "Over 50 hours of gameplay!" tag...
  • Guild Wars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bhsx (458600) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:29PM (#28610631)
    Once again I think this is an area where Guild Wars does well. There is a lvl20 cap on all players. The game mechanics become very important, it's all basically rock, paper, scissors. Everything has a counter. It makes for a much "tighter" pvp game if that makes any sense. Basically all you have is what's on your bar, and it's only eight skills max, and in pvp you want one of those skills to be resurrection signet. It becomes a game of how much power you can pack into those by "chaining" them together. There's no changing armor in pvp, no potions or elixers to boost your health; those have to be fit into your skillbar as well. I think it's a fine balance that takes so much of the grind out of the game, at that point it's all up to how you like to play, and GW gives you tons of options there through different ways to pvp, pve, and in some circumstances pva(all).
    • by popo (107611)

      Mod parent up. Guild Wars PVP is pure skill, but it's not a twitchy shooter. There are dozens of play styles -- from reflex driven Mesmers, to infinitely more strategic builds. For those who like the grind, there is always PVE, and rare armor sets, rare weapons, etc.

    • by Aladrin (926209)

      This was the first game I thought of, too. It was designed from the ground up to depend on the 'skill' of the player, rather than stats, for competitions. Everyone has access to everything (with a little effort) and the level cap is low and easy to reach within a few hours.

      I think it's a great game, and I still play it occasionally... I can't say that about any level-based games.

    • Yar, I prefer the GW model of skill. You take a week or two to level up, pretty much an extended tutorial and gradual easing into the real game. By that time you also have the best armor and weapons you're going to get. After that to get better you have to... get better. Picking a good personal and team build for what you're doing is certainly a big help and you could argue that the next way to "level up" is just to learn all the skills and mechanics...

      But then you get into PvP and you realize that tw
    • Mod parent up (Score:3, Informative)

      by Prien715 (251944)

      I really think Guild Wars is the only MMO where something like skill, as opposed to bunny hopping, loot gathering, and spending 3 weeks of your life getting a character up to 80, only to discover the class categorically sucks at PvP. I also think the class definitions are more complex than the traditional tank/healer/dps.

      I also really really love the multiclass aspect which yields a much larger amount of viable and interesting builds, combined with the free skill rebalancing, makes tweaking your character/

      • by Draek (916851)

        I really think Guild Wars is the only MMO where something like skill, as opposed to bunny hopping, loot gathering, and spending 3 weeks of your life getting a character up to 80, only to discover the class categorically sucks at PvP.

        Or spending 3 weeks of your life grinding for consumables. The reason I stopped playing Runescape was when I realized I lost two-thirds of PvP encounters merely because I used bread as my main healing item, and everyone else used the far more effective healing potions (why bread? 'cause the process for making it was cute as heck so we did it almost everyday with my girlfriend), and in fact it was a testament to my skill and reflexes that I didn't lose the remaining third.

        Which is one of the reasons I love G

  • by vertinox (846076) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:33PM (#28610697)

    The problem is that levels themselves are throw back to a system where it would be very difficult to measure success another way on pen and paper.

    Since the first MUDs and CRPGs just emulated the pen and paper systems, they never considered that there might be better ways.

    Ultima Pagan [wikipedia.org] and Ultima Online (and plenty others that it would take too long to mention) tried other system, but it developers unfamiliar with anything else kept with the old model in future MMOs because the formula worked.

    Now the key problem with leveling in MMOs is that it first and for most segregates your gaming populace with what content they can share and interact with.

    Warhammer Online resolves this simply by making it easy to grind to level 40 so everyone really just play the games at that point. The games go other problems but player segregation isn't one of them.

    Now this is nothing to be said about skill at this point, but there other ways a game can have progression rather than arbitrary levels.

    Personally if a publisher handed me a bunch of cash and said "Go make a game" I would opt for something along the lines of giving out 1000 skill points to a player at the character creation and that would be it. They could design him anyway they choose (and go back and redesign later) and let them go with that instead of level grind. There would need to be something else that involves them to keep playing so you would have to create player made content and politics at the same time finding a way to prevent over greifing with said content.

    People are getting bored of the level grinding for sake of leveling... I mean I'm bored it of it. I don't want to play those games anymore. Give me a breathing world without mob killing to level.

    Maybe Ultima Online spoiled but its been 10 years and no developer has done better.

  • I'm asking because really I can't imagine any MMO getting popular if players had to do something repeatedly based on actual skills earned through playing the game itself.

    Imagine a lush fantasy setting with all the higher level players as thoroughly addicted CounterStrike players.

    • by orkybash (1013349)
      As opposed to all the higher level players being thoroughly addicted WoW players?
    • You are absolutely right, a popular MMO would never have players who spend massive amounts of time playing the game.

      Sorry guys, I don't have time to eat, I've got a raid in ten minutes and I have to get two more motes of shadow. Then I have to farm more honor with that other faction.

      You are absolutely right

  • Fix Summary! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jartan (219704) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:38PM (#28610777)

    Please fix the summary. Nobody is going to RTFA and now we'll never have an interesting discussion. Stats vs Twitch is an old convo that happens every time games are even discussed on slashdot. Ultima Online skill system vs Everquest leveling is something that would be interesting though.

  • Fixing it is easy, just compare it to winning Megaman 2 without cheating. That game is so hard, there is no way to win just on getting items alone. It will take you multiple tries, and there is not a video game expert in the world that could sit down cold and beat even the last "level" of that game without having to try at least twice.

    Button-mashing won't do it, knowing the timing of things won't do it, you still can easily slip and miss a jump, select the wrong weapon, or any number of other things, and

  • If I were doing a system of ranking and the like, I would create some sort of standardized testing that would include areas of knowledge and different types of skills. It would be only through testing that players could advance themselves to different tiers.

    This would nearly eliminate the need to "build and grow" characters and bring it back to the player himself. This would be rather like the martial arts ranking system of belt color ranking in a way. So you could still have achievements and stuff, but

  • by Shivetya (243324) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:44PM (#28610873) Homepage Journal

    You had levels which gave you experience points which you used to buy up skills with. The levels gave you points in which to buy skills. At first the points to buy skills come quickly but quickly tapered off to 1 skill point per 5 levels, the highest priced skill was 16. Since not all skills shared the same attributes you could not be totally reckless with your points. Also, buying up the skill also slowed as each point cost more and more experience.

    What did it lead to that was negative. Well since both stats and skills cost experience to raise people would have absurd starting stats. You initially were given 270 points to spend across six stats (or was it seven?) which meant that 10/100/10/10/100/100 combos appeared. (think strength endurance quickness coordination intel and self:wisdom) . It was easy to over come the low stats with just a few levels worth of experience to bring them up to comfort levels. The reasoning behind this was that there was a cap to what you could spend experience wise in any stat - once it was hit no more could be bought so you started it as high as possible. Stats contributed to the base rating of each skill you bought - which again had a cap on how much they could go up.

    Overall it was a great classless system. It however was placed in a world of great lore but the mobs were different enough to keep people from readily connecting to it. Tradeskills worked just like any other skill so it was not uncommon to have trade only characters who got experience by pass up through allegiances. Initially allegiances acted like the worst MLM, the guy at the top got a portion of everyone below, at different ranks in the chain you got percentages of everyone below you. They tweaked it later to prevent the huge trees people built out of allegiances to exploit experience pass up.

    By giving people distinct classes and levels it does provide an ease of entry for new players. They know their role and how to progress. It does make for a simpler game - which hopefully has complexities elsewhere to make up for it . Think WOW. While many begrudge the ease of play they ignore the complexity of raiding.

  • by DrXym (126579) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:51PM (#28610997)
    In EVE there are no levels in the conventional MMO sense. Instead you learn skills, of which there are hundreds in a skill tree. Want to mine? Then you need to learn the mining skill? Want to fly a frigate? Then you need piloting skills and then frigate skills for the class of ship you want to fly. Want to trade on the stock market? Learn trading, day trading etc. Some skills obviously have pre-requisites on others.

    Training all the skills to their maximum level is impossible so most people get a core and then begin to specialise. One nice thing about them is they train up in the background, even offline. Most skills are easy enough to get to level 3 or 4 but level 5 can take days. So if a skill took 10 days to learn you could plan it to coincide with a real life holiday, or just have it going while you do something else.

    So there is no levelling. There is no class system either although there are factions and you can put points into attributes that make a character for certain roles over others.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Pharago (1197161)
      Not to mention that skills only enable you to use some kind of new equipment, it does very little as to how, where and when to use it. In fact, being a highly skilled pilot has more to do with real skill than anything the game provides, i.e.: the new Tech 3 class of ships, they are awesome, quite expensive in terms of money and skillbook requirements, but they don't make you invincible, a good skilled Tech 1 cruiser pilot could kill you if you are not careful, using equipment worth only less than 1% of the
  • I see this as a question of Difficulty vs Market. Blizzard had done a very good job positioning here.

    Skill you can define in any "game" by using knowlege correctly.

    Leveling is progression of Avatar to "harder" portions of a game or sometimes just "different"
    portions of a game.

    Basically in WOW you have two types of people (there are more I know, but in a very high level general sense only two).

    One are those players Leveling. The other are those players who are finished leveling and are now raiding.

    They are t

  • by Rooked_One (591287) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @12:58PM (#28611091) Journal
    Don't play MMO's. Seriously - I don't know what else to say... Being a FPS guy from when id first released wolfenstien, I never could understand the point of a chat room with graphics where you are rated on your popularity by how long you've played the game.

    If you like to see how a "system of play time vs skill" is done properly, look at Battlefield : Heroes.

    No - I don't particularly care for the game, but when it starts up it matches you up against people of similar level and skill so you aren't getting pummeled by a level 20, and you are a lowly level 3 or 4.
  • 'The standard argument is that it just boils down to "knowing how to move" or "knowing when to hit your buttons."'

    That sounds like the very definition of skill to me.

    The real metric is adaptation. I remember being a rogue in WoW back in the day and evasion tanking MC bosses. Not because that was part of the game plan but because the tank would die and the raid needed to adapt to the situation. When the tank got back up and was healed, I'd vanish and let him start tanking again. Raids are saved by people

  • Relatedly, I've seen a growing trend of players saying that such games don't really take much skill at all. The standard argument is that it just boils down to "knowing how to move" or "knowing when to hit your buttons." In the MMO community, people often make references to FPS or RTS games, saying they have a higher skill cap. However, the same complaints also come from within those communities, with comments like "you just need to know the map," or "it's all about a good build order." At what point does intimate knowledge of a game's mechanics make a player skilled?

    Wrong skills. They aren't talking about player skills vs. character level in game... They're talking about character's skills vs. character's level in game.

    Some games use a level system. You kill rats for a while, get XP, and eventually ding you're level 2. You get more HP, you do more damage, etc.

    Some games use a skill system. You swing your sword for a while, and your sword skill gets better, so you do more damage. You hide behind a shield for a while, and your shield skill gets better, so you take

    • by ivan256 (17499)

      Skill + Decay

      Use your sword a lot? Sword skill goes up. Switch to a gun? Over time you lose your swords skill...

      Unfortunately, systems where players can 'lose' tend to be less popular.

  • Just play the role of someone who is skilled and of high level.
  • Think about Sudoku for a second. Let's say you never played it before. Someone gives you a board and the rules. The first step you have is to figure out how to solve it. Eventually you develop an algorithm that can solve any sudoku. Once you have developed this algorithm, sudoku is no longer an intellectual exercise. It is no longer a matter of solving a problem, but merely executing an algorithm. It becomes manual labor. Likewise, if someone gives you the algorithm, you can bypass the first part entirely.

    A

  • In D&D, your character's progression was level-based. Your character performed the actions, while you did the thinking, the plotting, the decision-making, the talking. But sometimes even your decisions depended on a dice-roll, depending on how you explained yourself:

    "I try to convince the blacksmith to sell me the sword." "That's a charisma roll," says the DM.
    "Hmm, this sword has a notch near the hilt...how about I take it off your hands for 2 silver?" "Thou art frugal!" and here's your sword.

    With M

  • by Khashishi (775369) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @02:22PM (#28612439) Journal

    The class-based system lets the developer balance whole sets of skills at once, which means that the advantages of one skill could be offset by the disadvantages of a lack of skill or even a penalty in a class. This means that not every skill has to be balanced relative to each other; only the classes themselves need to be balanced.

    Disadvantages include stuff like, inability to wield bladed weapons, or inability to wear armor, etc.

    Disadvantages are difficult to incorporate into a purely skill-based system because nobody is going to pick a disadvantage unless forced, and so the developer has to arbitrarily staple them onto a skill. Like, wielding weapons means you suck at casting spells, or wearing armor means you can't sneak around. Congratulations, you've just implemented classes in a skill-based system.

    It seems like most games these days are using primarily a class-based system with some "accessory" skills, which is essentially a class-based system with some extra flavor. It's because people haven't really figured out how to balance a purely skill-based system.

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