Is It Time To Shoot “Levels” In The Head?

Veteran MMO designer and blogger Richard Bartle is back making waves in the MMORPG community again this week – this time, with a vitriolic rant against the concept of a “level” in MMORPGs.

He’s arguing that “levels” make no in-game sense, that they separate friends from playing together, and that it would be trivial to come up with a better solution:

“Example: suppose you have some kind of secret agent game. Player characters have gone through training in their backstory and are now ready for the field. They’re all just as good as each other. You don’t have to have completed a thousand quests to be able to figure out how to use some over-powered sniper rifle: it’s the same as any other sniper rifle, you just aim and pull the trigger. You don’t get to use the heat-seeking drone bomb only when you’ve killed a hundred enemy agents, it’s not rocket science, you can use it straight away if you can get hold of one. The only difference between you and the experienced player is that you’re not yet trusted by your agency yet your colleague is. Your colleague has completed five hundred missions in places like Oslo and Vienna and Rome and Algiers, and is now trusted to go to Moscow and Warsaw and Prague and Shanghai. ”

And The Ancient Gaming Noob responds to his post in turn, with a discussion of both why levels eventually fail so badly, and why developers keep implementing them in the first place:

“Except, of course, people keep making level based games like this. Are they mad? Do they hate us?

The thing with levels is that they are simple. They are easy to create and explain. They are usually visible to other players, so everybody knows about where you stand in the game. While there are many ways to gate content… factions, quests, or currency could all be implemented quite easily as gates… nothing is quite as simple or as visible as that level number attached to your character.”

What do you think? Are levels disastrous?