19 December 2017

Leveling: Tutorial or Part of the Game?

Ah yes, you start a new MMORPG and the first thing you'll have to do is level your ass up to the end game, what a great way to start off your game. No wonder some games scare people away. Sometimes the leveling goes too fast, sometimes it goes too slow, but why?

Leveling As Tutorial

Some might argue leveling is a tutorial. The problem with this statement is that leveling takes a lot of time in many games. Tutorials usually take a few seconds up to some minutes in other games and now you want to tell me these tutorials take days and up to or more than 40 hours? What am I supposed to learn? Well, I guess there's a lot in some MMORPGs. Let's check out what you can learn in WildStar.

WildStar Tutorial

WildStar has a tutorial but that hasn't gotten much to do with leveling. So let's just look at what you unlock when leveling.

There are 50 levels. The first two levels do not unlock anything with level 3 you get the looking for group-tool, Player vs Player, the skill tree basically and two new zones. Level 4 and 5 each unlock one new skill and another skill slot. Level 6 unlocks three skills of your alternative role (e.g. healer), your first instance and the first PvP instance, as well as two new maps. Level 7 gives you the 6th skill slot and two new abilities. Level 8 unlocks salvaging and another skill. Level 9 gives you 2 new abilities and a 7th skill slot. Level 10 unlocks crafting, two skills, the last skill slot and the first point for the skill tree and the first point for upgrading your skills. From here on out every level unlocks another point each. Level 12 gives you the ability to create guilds, the next instance, and two more skills. With level 14 we get two more skills, housing and two new areas including our main city. Level 15 gives us the ability to craft upgrades for our gear, the ability to upgrade our skills further and a new PvP and PvE instance. The next level unlocks just a new skill, followed by unlocking of another instance. Two more skills with level 18. With level 20 our skills can be upgraded even further, we get two more skills and access to a new PvE instance. New area and two more skills are unlocked with level 22. Two more skills with 24. 25 allow us to upgrade our skills further and we get two more PvE instances, followed by another instance at level 26. Now it takes a while until we unlock more upgrade possibilities for our gear as well as raising our skills further, two PvE instances, one PvP instance and a new map with level 30. 31: a new PvE instance. Now it takes until 35 to unlock another PvE instance and the ability to upgrade our skills further and a new map. With level 40 we get skilled riding, the ability to further improve our skills, three PvE instances and a new map. Level 45 gives us the ability to push our skills to the maximum and a new map. Another map with level 46. Two new maps with level 49. And we did it. Level 50 with PvP arenas, more PvE instances, raids,  improved riding, special quests (contracts) and some more maps.

Alright, that's a bunch. But as you might have seen some levels do not unlock anything but points for the skill tree. Nothing wrong with this, but for a tutorial hardly meaningful. However, there is a reason leveling may take this long. Let's look at the possibilities you have.

Build Possibilities

You start off with three skills and three skill slots. Only one possibility for your build. With level 4 and 5 we get each another slot and another skill. We have five skills and five skill slots now. With level 6 we unlock three skills. Now we have eight skills but only five skill slots. The number of combinations is now:

C(n,r) = C(8,5) = 8! / (5! * (8 - 5)!) = 56.

So with level 6 we already have 56 combinations. With level 7 we get a 6th slot and two new skills. We now have 10 skills and 6 skill slots.

C(n,r) = C(10,6) = 10! / (6! * (10 - 6)!) = 210

210 possibilities now. Of course, not every possible build is also useful or makes sense. Anyways the next change we have is at level 8 with another skill:

C(n,r) = C(11,6) = 11! / (6! * (11 -  6)!) = 462

To speed things up here's a list of levels and combinations:
  • Level 10: C(15,8) = 6435
  • Level 20: C(24,8) = 735471
  • Level 30: C(28,8) = 3108105
  • All abilities: C(32,8) = 10518300
This is only taking into account the skill bar. The skill tree and the ability points that can be spent on upgrading our skills allow for many more combinations. Especially since they go hand in hand with the combinations above.

Guild Wars 2 Tutorial

Like in WildStar the actual tutorial only consists of a small instance. The leveling here goes up to 80.

The level rewards can be found here: Guild Wars 2 Wiki: Level Rewards

In Guild Wars 2 it's even more complicated than in WildStar. We have a lot more combinations here. For example, you can wear a two-hand weapon or a one-hand weapon in the main hand and off-hand. Each weapon gives you class and weapon-specific skills. There are already several different combinations here and that's only the start. There is even more with the utility skills, heal skill and elite skills you get and you can combine one weapon set with another weapon set.

Well Sounds Like a Lot

And it is a lot and learning to use it all takes some time, but it might not take as long as the developers may have anticipated. In some cases like Guild Wars 2, the developers want people to test different builds and skills creating a higher leveling time but also having the time not to level too fast enjoying the area and beauty of the world.

Guild Wars 1 Tutorial

Anyone who has played Guild Wars 1 knows: Once you have reached the maximum level you're done with the tutorial. Now the real game starts. This tutorial only took a few minutes to a few hours. Nothing compared to the leveling nowadays. This is a fine example of how leveling as a tutorial works

Path of Exile Leveling

Path of Exile is an extreme opposite of this. Here the leveling doesn't stop even in the end game. At level 90 the continued leveling is extremely tedious and time-consuming. Especially since you lose the experience of your current level when dying. So it often happens that people don't reach the maximum level of 100 in a season.

Is Leveling a Tutorial or Part of the Game?

Going through all these examples I'd say it can definitely be used as a tutorial and also as a part of the game. Whether you like leveling or not is something everyone needs to know for themselves. There are ups and downs to this system. Also, it helps out to prolong unlocks to not overwhelm the player. Especially in MMORPGs which nowadays should and partly do focus on offering people all kinds of different content from achievement hunt to costumes to difficult content and even a little grind here and there. So with growing content and possibilities for the players to come these need to be introduced slowly. However, developers should keep in mind that the leveling doesn't go too slow nor too fast. Finding the right speed for the players is hard though.

Another way to use leveling would be like in real life. You never stop learning new things, you never stop leveling in real life. So you could make a leveling system in similar games. Keep in mind that this doesn't work well with people who seek to "complete" everything though. They might not like something infinite.
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I'm a junior game developer and software developer and I created this blog to share my ideas, thoughts and whatever I'm working on or doing.