Skills and Levels in MMOs

As we continue to playtest the Pre-Alpha, I think it’s time we start releasing more information about the gameplay of BitCraft. This is going to be the first in a series of blog posts which will delve into the details of the game design of our game. This first article will focus on skills, how they work, and how they’re distinguished from those in many MMOs.

In many (but not all) MMORPGs characters have the concept of an overall “level”. Generally speaking, these levels are closely related to combat. You gain experience by fighting and killing monsters or by completing quests which frequently require you to kill monsters. Most benefits are related to combat as well. You do more damage, get new combat abilities, and the ability to use better combat gear.

For an MMORPG that is primarily centered around combat, this makes perfect sense. The whole point is to build stats so you can progress through the story and defeat the various bosses. If the game is an MMO, the idea is that you’ll cooperate with other players to progress through this combat-based content. That kind of linear progression can be fun and rewarding, which is why plenty of games are designed this way.

All of that is well and good, but we believe quite strongly that that’s not the only kind of massively multiplayer game that can be designed. There’s a lot more fun out there than just this formula, and we’re interested in giving players something they don’t already have. With BitCraft, we want to take systems which are usually secondary to combat and make them first-class citizens of the gameplay.

I think that skills in BitCraft are a good example of one way we’re looking to achieve that. Rather than having a combat-centric overall level for characters, characters have a set of skills each with their own level. Importantly, no single skill is necessarily given a higher status than any other. Below is a non-exhaustive list of skills in BitCraft to give you an idea.

Forestry — Carpentry — Masonry — Mining — Smithing — Exploration
Hunting — Tailoring — Farming — Fishing — Cooking

Skills in BitCraft are designed to map pretty closely to real-world skills. And just like real-world skills, you get better at them as you practice them. We want players to be able to just do the things they like doing and get rewarded with the relevant experience as they do them. We certainly don’t want to force new players into making a decision about what kind of “profession” or skill they want to choose before they even get a chance to play the game. Those of you who are familiar with Runescape or Albion will recognize this philosophy.

In addition, instead of highlighting an overall level in the game, we highlight whichever skill is a player’s most practiced skill or whichever skill they prefer to be highlighted. This means that in game, you’ll be known as a “Level 34 Apprentice Forester”, rather than a “Level 34” player. By highlighting a player’s prowess in a particular skill we also aim to allow players to specialize, without them feeling like they’re falling behind because they aren’t focusing on their “main level”. That being said, you’ll be perfectly able to rebrand yourself as a Level 5 Smith if you’d like a career change. It’s up to you.

Each skill in BitCraft is designed to have long term progression built in. BitCraft is not a game which only starts once you reach max level. The gameplay is very much about the journey. It’s about building relationships and knowledge of the game world as you skill your character. We are designing each skill to have potentially years of content. We believe that this kind of per-skill long-term progression is critical to designing a game world which is resilient to “coolness inflation” or mudflation. Importantly, very long-term progression also strongly encourages specialization because for most people it’s impractical to progress every skill to the max simultaneously. This means that your average player will only be deeply skilled in 1 or 2 different skills since there’s only so much time they can devote to the game and it’s more rewarding to be highly skilled in at least 1 area.

Specialization is an extremely important aspect of gameplay because it drives player interaction through collaboration. Specialization requires players with different skill sets to cooperate to get things done (build towns, create tools, transport goods, etc). Cooperation also makes it more rewarding for players to spend most of their time on a single skill since they’ll be able to utilize other players’ skills through cooperation to reach the high level game content more quickly. Specialization can also drive the creation of vibrant economies. In order for large-scale cooperation to develop, players need a way to cooperate with other people without needing to trust each other. This is most easily accomplished through trade and commerce.

This brings up another important point about skills in BitCraft: while skills are an essential part of player progression, they’re not the only way to progress in the game. Players can also progress by amassing wealth or items, through changing the landscape to suit their needs, through building advanced buildings and towns, or building up a network of social connections and relationships. Ideally, all of these other ways of progressing in the game should feel just as rewarding as skilling if players would prefer to go down that route. We want players who choose to progress in these other ways to also not feel inferior or left behind because they are not skilling. Assuming we can achieve this in a satisfactory way, we’d even like these other types of accomplishments to also be displayable in lieu of skill level.

Lastly, this highlights one of the most important aspects of skills in BitCraft. While there are many aspects of your character you can show off in BitCraft, skills are accomplishments that should *only* be achieved through hard work. Just as in the real-world, becoming a master of your craft can only be achieved through practice and dedication. In this way, skills in BitCraft are, in other words, Medals of Honor.*

*I still think it’s important to note that it’s the social expectation that “skills” are meant to be earned that makes them a Medal of Honor, not the fact that they’re called skills. You can imagine a game which had a “merchant skill”, whereby the only way to increase your level would be to pay money. Since, the only way to advance in that “skill” would be to pay money, the social expectation would be that the “merchant skill” is meant to be bought, not earned. Now, whether or not it’s reasonable to call such a thing a “skill” is a fair question.

— Tyler (3Blave, Cofounder of Clockwork Labs)

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Creating virtual worlds through precision engineering.

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