Progression: Good? Bad? Let’s Discuss.

So, as I touched upon a bit in my blog post discussing making sandbox/open world games more enjoyable, I was never typically inspired by games with no focus, missions, or storytelling elements. I like having a clear goal that I can and focus on.

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With EA Games recent backlash as a result of loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront 2, one of the more meme worthy quotes to come out of that debacle was an EA rep saying progression led to a sense of “pride and accomplishment.” It was definitely a joke for sure, considering the pay-to-win loot box system that was incorporated into the game.

Nonetheless, that whole issue got me thinking about progression in games. While many games have had progression systems, whether they be RPG in nature, achievements, or story-based progression – there has been an increasing number of games to implement some form of a progression system.

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I think Call of Duty: Modern Warfare really began to popularize this idea. While it certainly was not the first game to include progression, I think it’s wild popularity helped show that progression could be included in games beyond just RPGs. It put unlocks or gear behind certain levels. In order to reach it, you had to earn experience points (XP). Long story short, it gave a progression system to a game that would have normally just been: join match, play game, end match. This idea, while not new or brilliant, was intriguing.

Not long after EVERY game was putting in some sort of experience or progression system. The idea is pretty simple, I think: people like progressing toward things. People like having goals and things to gain some sort of prestige or recognition for their hard work.

Personally, and this might be my love of RPGs showing, but I’ve always loved games where by leveling up I would feel more powerful. This is where I think a lot of progression systems go wrong. Leveling up and getting new guns in Modern Warfare can make you more powerful, but your level of skill in a shooting game far out weighs getting a new gun or perk at a high level.

That’s where I can start to see people mocking EA for saying the purpose of progression is “pride and accomplishment” – except, oh, that pride and accomplishment comes out of a random loot box.

What I want from more games is a progression system that makes me feel like I’ve actually, well, progressed!

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When I hit high levels in Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and I have amazing spells that cause untold amounts of destruction, I feel like I’ve progressed from my lowly fire spells.

Yes, the people I fight at higher levels might be harder to defeat, so it’s not necessarily “easier” to defeat my foes, but my higher level skills and abilities give me more options and variety.

When I start out with wooden tools and weapons in Minecraft, they break easily and are ineffective. By the end when I have diamond enchanted tools and life feels a whole lot easier in the game. I think that’s another part of progression as it relates to more open world/sandbox type games: movement around the world, building or gathering materials, or crafting should get better or easier.

I love games where you start out running around the world, but then you progress to get better and get vehicles or movement abilities that begin making travel easier.

So my point: make progression more about making the player stronger, cooler, and better. Make the player FEEL the sense of progress and let them EARN it. Don’t put progression behind loot boxes or items you need to purchase via micro transactions.

Sometimes it’s okay to give players a few overpowered abilities as they reach high levels because it makes them feel awesome having earned those skills.

Hey! That’s all folks. I hope you enjoyed listening to me ramble like an idiot for a bit. If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on video games, come on by my Twitch channel or YouTube channel. Lastly, feel free to say hello and chat me up about this article on Twitter.

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