Thursday, July 29, 2010

All About Progression

As you may have learned from my review, I didn't have a great time with World of Tanks. So naturally it came as a huge surprise to me that I was actually somehow compelled to keep playing it, even though my gaming ADD has forced me to abandon tons of games I actually ENJOY.

So what was it about this game that compelled me to keep playing? That's easy, captain. Progression. Just seeing that exp bar fill up and thinking about my next upgrade was enough to make me feel good inside and give some purpose to my empty, pointless life.

Humans are funny like that. Even the illusion that what we are doing is somehow building to a worthwhile conclusion is enough to keep us slogging away. Are we really that easy to manipulate? Over 11.5 million World of Warcraft subscribers would probably agree.

So it should come as no surprise that every other game developer has figured out that rewarding players who spend tons of time playing their game with some form of progression is a surefire way to keep people playing. I think we can give credit to Infinity Ward for discovering that people just love getting experience points, even if it makes no sense in any context. Then, instead of giving players all their weapons and equipment from the start, let's make them unlock everything by earning arbitrary amounts of experience points!

At first I thought it was absurd and shallow. Really, people will piss away hours of their life for a new emblem? That's just sad. But I'd be a liar if I said I didn't spend hours in Modern Warfare using guns I hate just to get the title and icon for them...

So now every game has levels. You level up in car racing, zombie killing, horse riding, street fighting, space jousting, scone eating, etc. However, progression alone isn't enough to keep people playing a shitty game indefinitely. But it IS enough to make a decent game much more addictive.

Maybe this doesn't come as a surprise to any of you. I mean, there are already so many examples of this in real life. People working awful, soul crushing jobs with the hope that one day they will reach the top of that corporate ladder and it will all be worthwhile. We also know that most people never get there, and in the end it probably isn't.

Perhaps that's why we like progression in video games so much. We know with 100% certainty that our efforts are going to be rewarded. No butt kissing branch manager is going to steal our level-up. We don't have to wait for a rank 50 general to retire before we can reach our next rank. Our wife isn't going to divorce us and take half our unlocks. It really is escapist fantasy at it's purest.

Some interesting stuff to think about for sure. So what is my point here? I guess I am saying play the games that you like, but stop once in a while and ask yourself if you're really having fun. Is the reward really worth the time and effort you're putting in? There are a lot of times I'd truthfully have to answer "No."

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got 5 more bronze stars to earn in Bad Company.

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