Google+

Current-gen's obsession with online progression is wrecking multiplayer (and making you a worse gamer)

Shares

Yes, by nature of playing long enough to level up you’re bound to get better to some degree, but I can’t help feeling that by allowing ourselves to be constrained and distracted by the constant high-calibre carrot dangling we’re shifting our gaming mindset in the wrong direction. We’re no longer thinking “How do I get better at this? What can I learn and discover and invent?”, we’re thinking “How much longer do I have to wait until the game makes me better at this?”

And that’s just screwed up.

I understand why so many games have adopted the model, of course. Publishers increasingly want buyers to keep hold of their games instead of trading them in. Level grinding is addictive, so a long-term-drip feed of smoke-and-mirrors pseudo-self-empowerment keeps those discs in loading trays and off pre-owned shelves. And the illusion of improving is a cheap way of letting weak players feel like part of the big kids’ club without actually having to make much effort. But I can’t help feeling that it’s damaging to both game design and the experience of gaming in the long-term.

If I’m going to be a cynical conspiracy-theorist about this, I could even offer the suggestion that with online progression to keep players hooked, there’s less and less incentive for designers to work at creating deep, malleable, open-ended experiences for players to really develop through their play and exploration. Why take a chance on players becoming enamoured with long-term experimentation within your game-world when you can easily just hook them with the promised dangling of trinkets and baubles if they stick at it for long enough?

It’s not healthy. It turns what should be a shared human collaborative experience into a single-minded, selfish race towards a gratifying end-goal that will never come. It takes the focus away from the game experience being its own reward, and instead turns the game into a mere tool through which to get stuff. It used to be that the sole purpose of playing a game online was to enjoy an online game. Now it feels like the game is just the bit that fills the gap while you’re waiting for your private stash of virtual gear to expand.

But I don’t expect it to change any time soon. In fact there’s an unpleasant sort of symbolism hovering around multiplayer at the moment. The most satisfyingly ‘pure’ new MP experience of late has come from XCOM, a game with its roots in the old-school PC gaming of the ‘90s. And now Halo, long the consoles’ bastion of freeform, player-driven sandbox enjoyment for enjoyment’s sake, is taking more cues from Call of Duty’s ‘multiplayer career’ approach than ever before.

Let’s round off by considering chess for a moment. Because it has a lot more in common with Street Fighter than you might think. Chess has lasted for over 1500 years because of a few basic fundamentals.

It’s (relatively) easy to grasp the basics of. It gives its players a perfectly level playing field. It contains immense depth for those willing to properly explore it. It’s fuelled entirely by pure and direct human interaction. Now imagine if a chess game wasn’t won by the most tactical thinker, or the player who could most effectively play mind-games with his or her opponent. Imagine if it was instead won by the person who’d been grinding away for long enough to unlock a bunch of special pieces that can move in ways the others couldn’t. It wouldn’t be chess. It would lose everything that made chess great.

And we certainly wouldn’t still be playing it now.

Quake III though? That's still going strong, 12 years after its release. Just saying…

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

We Recommend

67 comments

  • BaraChat - November 9, 2012 4:14 a.m.

    Very interesting article, I really enjoyed it. Couldn't there be a game mechanic that would reward "skilled" players over "just playing for a long time" players? You'd only get "XP" at the end of the match, and you wouldn't get any if your performance was bad. Take Battlefield 3, you'd get rewarded only if you armed more M-Coms than other players, protected the most areas on Conquest, or had the most revives/heals, or had the best kill/death ratio, or having the most suppression kills, etc. This is not a perfect example by any means, but I'm sure there's something to be done there with rewarding "skills" only.
  • VagueRaconteur - November 8, 2012 7:52 p.m.

    This is why despite playing both, I have infinitely more love for DotA than LoL. DotA delivers absolutely everything, straight away, with the only purpose of levels being a help for average level of experience and a custom appearance item reward when you go up one. In LoL, playing with a high level friend means not only do the opponents you face have experience on you, they have extra masteries giving them an advantage, and runes capable of giving them another 10-20% more than you'd ever be able to do without them. It's a really disappointing feature in games, and I hope it gets removed one day, but until then, I'll just love those that don't make grinding a necessity.
  • dwighty - November 8, 2012 6:50 p.m.

    My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can't believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do, Fox92.com
  • Youngtree - November 8, 2012 6:47 p.m.

    Very good article. Thanks for that insight! I completely agree also - The "needs more jetpacks" attitude that games have these days makes them burn out quicker and quicker. The Yearly releases of COD are going down in price much quicker per year also - another (behind the curtains) sign that consumers are getting tired of the evolution of multiplayer games. Something inventive and new needs to come and replace the void thats been created by the mindless Online Level-up's and unlocks! Even my beloved battlefield has gone the way of COD with it's unlocks and close quarters combat etc. Is nothing sacred?
  • Javv - November 8, 2012 10:37 a.m.

    I get what you say, Im not against leveling up and giving your character dumb stuff like a golden gun, or some different threads, as a thank you for playing 24 hours online on my game. But giving new weapons and tactical equipment sucks. Thats not a prize, its a punishment for the guy that just begun playing online. Practice is the only way to get good at anything you do, and playing 24 hours online gives you a nice practice on the game. But if after 24 hours of playing, you get the equipment you want to, then you only begin practicing, and thats just dumb. Also, games where you need different profiles to play on the same console are the most stupid shit ive ever seen.
  • ParagonT - November 8, 2012 9:48 p.m.

    They remedy that by pairing you with players near your rank.
  • Rowdie - November 8, 2012 8:24 a.m.

    100% spot on! I call it nerfing the noobs. Games that nerf noobs should have a "Shut up and play" mode where everything that affects game balance is available from the beginning.
  • Vittles05 - November 8, 2012 6:46 a.m.

    Fantastic article, although I have to admit that I'm a sucker for the "unlock everything" aspect that online play has been going for lately. It's probably the only reason I'm still playing Mass Effect 3's multiplayer.
  • Virtute - November 8, 2012 6:32 a.m.

    This is an excellent article - I miss Halo 2's days of being able to lose level if you weren't playing up to the standards of that particular level. All the hours I put into getting to level 40+, only to be kicked back down by facing teams who were hands down better than the people I played with was a great experience - my carrot was then having to up my personal game as a team player, work with my friends at call-outs and assisting each other until we could reach level 40 and continue progressing, fighting closer and more focused battles as we progressed in skill. To the hardcore, it shouldn't be about the number you reach or the badge beside your name - it's about continually being tested and growing in skill within that games mechanic. Prestige and level now doesn't drop if you aren't pulling your weight, consecutive kills without dying aren't their own reward on most current-gen FPS, thanks to point streaks. Games should be able to reward those that grind for hours with cosmetic upgrades. But when it comes to mechanics and eqipment, everyone should be on an equal ground. The real reward should be being able to play in higher skill rooms.
  • samstreet101 - November 8, 2012 4:17 a.m.

    David, What an absolutely first rate article. I totally sympathise with what you feel on this one. It's why I found Counter Strike: GO such a refreshing experience, took me right back to the days when I would play CS 1.6 and CS:S for hours and I would get better at it by learning, because if I didn't I'd get my ass handed to me. We need more multiplayer that takes this now seemingly 'hard-line' approach
  • xx_CaPTiiN_SpAiiN_zz - November 8, 2012 1:54 a.m.

    wow congratulation on makeing yourself look like an asshole david.
  • winner2 - November 8, 2012 5:39 a.m.

    I think you're in the minority here on this debate, so you lose. And I know you're pissed because he ripped on your beloved CoD series. I recommend going and playing multiplayer on said series. It's comfortably mind-numbing.
  • xx_CaPTiiN_SpAiiN_zz - November 8, 2012 3:37 p.m.

    thank You, leonardo da vinci was in the minority so I guess you feel a little stupid know huh :)
  • brazmanoqk - November 7, 2012 10:24 p.m.

    I do hate when you use the word "is" like that.
  • xx_CaPTiiN_SpAiiN_zz - November 8, 2012 3:38 p.m.

    yeah i agree it is just his subjective opinion so he should say 'in my opinion'
  • Gavo - November 7, 2012 9:23 p.m.

    I feel that if ranking up doesn't give you an actual advantage, I love it. Thinks like skins, new armor, banners, you name it. It gives me things to look forward to, plus, leveling up in of itself is addicting. P.S.I just wanted to say thank you to the staff for writing actual articles like this, they're a joy to read. Top 10 lists are fun, but this is real video game journalism. Keep it up.
  • rocketfuel - November 7, 2012 8:42 p.m.

    I immediately thought of StarCraft (Brood War and 2) when I clicked on the article. I'd 100% rather beat somebody on an even playing field rather than beating them because I've "leveled" up more. Leave lvling to the rpgs please. Great article.
  • Jacko415 - November 7, 2012 7:30 p.m.

    EXACTLY! THANK YOU. Ever since CoD4 i felt like every gamer stopped playing as a team and went only for their own glory. This is extremly highlighted in Newer BF games, especially when it comes to unlockables. I'll more often than not, get into a server where most people are trying to have the best K/D in the game, completely ignoring the objectives. That's cool, You're top of the leaderboard, and we're very impressed, but you spent all your time in a corner instead of helping your team, so we all lost, douche bag. But good for him because he unlocked a shiny new trophy. It also leads to extreme balancing issues. Just got the game? well good luck learning to fly or anything because everyone has flares and you dont, so dont bother, you're a lemming at that point. That whole mentality ruins the battlefield experience, you should get a rewarding experience when your team succesfully works together, applies good tactics, and pulls off a win. But nope, that doesnt matter, you get rewarded for being the most selfish, unhelpful douche you can possibly be. I blame CoD, and idiot publishers trying to make everything like CoD.
  • Jacko415 - November 7, 2012 7:37 p.m.

    I Mean, whats the point of making you're whole games focus be on teamwork, communication, tactics, and huge ares if, in the end, you add a mechanic that sidesteps that whole experience and commends the selfish and lazy?
  • SpookMeister - November 7, 2012 4:50 p.m.

    This is the exact reason why I became a huge Gears fan not too long ago when I noticed that I never really evolved skill-wise in games where level progression is key. As of now Gears of War is also one of the last remnants of pure competitive games... Hoping that Judgment doesn't change that

Showing 1-20 of 67 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000

OR…

Connect with Facebook

Log in using Facebook to share comments, games, status update and other activity easily with your Facebook feed.