Monday, 25 January 2010

Levelling up

Career progression is usually an unappreciated grind of doing the same task so well that after a little while, you are given more mundane tasks in exchange for a pat on the back and a few more pesos. The same experience is usually found in MMOs, but where as most people have to work hard as a necessity, players of these also do it in their spare time for fun.

Having recently started on Aion and experiencing this grind first hand, I really struggled to comprehend why I couldn’t stop logging in and making my hands do manual labour to increase the value of the pixels projected on my screen.

I found myself questioning just what the hell I was doing; sure I am mashing small animals in to a light and fluffy XP paste to fill up a progression bar at the bottom of the screen, but why?

Finally achieving that next level makes you more powerful, gives you access to a few more things and possibly gives you more e-hard on. Unfortunately though it also resets the bar you worked ever so hard to fill, and makes the bastard a bit longer. Where’s the satisfaction in that?

It’s a bit like getting to the top of a ladder, after an entire day of climbing it, to find a prawn cocktail and a note saying ‘climb the ladder over there for a fillet steak’. True enough you see another ladder, as the note indicated, but it stretches even higher in to the sky and each rung has a liberal sprinkling of broken glass and salt.

The moment of satisfaction is very short lived.

The trouble is that in most level driven games, this is the overwhelming feeling. It’s weird how addictive they can be, considering that 99% of the experience is working up to that single moment of excitement before doing it all again. It’s all very sadomasochistic. MMOs are the equivalent of women in high heels treading on your sensitive areas to give you kicks (you know, if you like that sort of thing).

Of course this feeling only continues as long as you don’t get bored, driven insane or reach the pointy ceiling we all know and love as level caps. When the game shakes you down and writes all over your battle scarred body that there is no more progression to be had.

So far in my relatively seated life I have yet to experience what it is like when you are told ‘no more’ by an MMO. I imagine it’s a bit like what would happen when you get to the end of a rollercoaster, only you don’t get off, there’s just an infinite track that extends in to the distance. When you have nothing in particular to aim for what do you do?

I suppose it is why I liked Eve Online so much as there were no levels to cap, so to speak. You would buy and then train a skill which would have a completion time (like 1 hour, 12 hours, 54 days, etc) meaning you only needed to grind for money. With so many skills to train and no limitations on who can train them, it is pretty much impossible to run out of areas to perfect.

The one problem with this system is that it took a heck of a long time to get the really good stuff, and even when you did get there, it was usually only a very specific type of really good stuff, unless you took even longer, tedious training sessions. The sky is the limit, but only for as long as you are happy to pay for game time.

So, levelling up is a pointless pursuit of unhappiness with rewards that in no way reflect the effort you put in to getting them. Why is it then, that it is more more-ish than crack cocaine dipped in barbeque sauce? I haven’t the foggiest, but it seems to be a winning formula. Crafty little dev teams…

2 comments:

Sinan said...

It's amazing the things that can lead yourself into believing actually matter. I'm so glad I don't play WoW anymore, really I am.

Anthony said...

Hehe, yeah. My advice for any MMO fan is 'get out whilst you can', as they are very good at sucking away time. I'm not too bad at the moment though and I'm hoping it stays that way.

I do find it a bit demoralising though, realising that even when I've levelled up, I'm just going to end up doing the same thing again, even though it isn't really that fun. Why is it so compelling?

Maybe I should take up something a bit less addictive, like smoking perhaps?