It’s easy to understand why levels are the status quo for MMO games. Based on the Dungeons and Dragons level dynamic, MMO levels generate an automatic hierarchy of players, based solely on sunk effort. It’s very easy for game companies to deliver new content in the form of additional available levels and linked rewards. It’s also very easy for players to understand their own capability based on a numeric level.
But over time, levels create gameplay based on “pushing a lever for another pellet.” Grinding for experience is a phenomenon unique to numerical level systems. Players will repetitively play lower-level, less exciting parts of the game in order to get high enough in level to tackle the “actual,” fun parts of the game. Raph Koster says, “killing things [has become] the primary mode of interacting with a virtual world despite the wide variety of possible interactions.”
By the time players finally reach a level of relative competence, they are fatigued by repetitive and uninteresting gameplay, and are rewarded only with the ability to beat other players in the same old style of gameplay.
In addition to these fatigued top-tier players, there are newcomers who are hopelessly behind in level. These new players are forced to also grind in order to catch up, so that they can finally “actually play” against the higher-level players. This creates an enormous barrier to entry for most level-based MMO games.
MegaBits encountered the level gap phenomenon in our earliest round of beta testing. One particular player reached our level cap of 25 in just a few short days, while some players were stuck all the way back around level 8 or so. Friends were left essentially unable to battle each other, based purely on variations in how much unrewarding grinding they had done.
Does that all sound like fun? Not really.
And so we embarked on our journey of levellessness, modeled loosely after trading card games. Card-based games are some of the most balanced PvP systems available. They manage a finessed balance by not making cards better or worse — just different.
By creating an MMO without levels, we hope to remove as many barriers to entry as possible. Obviously, this will present some difficulties. Primary among these difficulties: discernible player progress. But don’t you worry, we’ve been very busy and very clever in the last few months. Here’s how:
- We’ve created a system for MegaBits abilities. Abilities are passive functions of individual MegaBits that contribute something to the metagame. They are drawn at random from a list available to each MegaBit species, and can have substantial variance. Abilities will likely also change upon evolution, lending more variance to the battle experience.
- We’re still experimenting with ways of divorcing evolution from levels. You won’t see it just yet.
- We’ll be approaching moves a lot like cards: each move contributes some stat modification to the equation, and has its own specific effects. By combining MegaBits with abilities and moves, you build out your “deck” to the strategy you like.
- We’ve introduced a dynamic system for choosing party size in each battle, so that players can choose the size (and thus the duration) of each individual battle.
All of these level-subversive tactics have the end goal of removing barriers to entry, and creating a varied game that is actually fun to play. We want MegaBits to be a battle game with myriad possible interactions, rather than just a bunch of players “killing things” until they reach the next arbitrarily assigned numeric goal. We want MegaBits to be fun.