Last time I posted about how adventure is a key component in D&D and MMOs. Another signature characteristic is character progression. Your avatar in the virtual world is not a static being. It is constantly changing and developing as you play in an MMO.
MMOs approach this different ways, but the concept of experience, levels, and the improvement of abilities and powers over time is undeniably an influence from D&D. I dare say this is likely the most important game design for an MMO. The advancement of abilities and skill, all keyed to playing time, is crucial to implement right. Have advancement too slow, and the game will seem repetitive where you feel as if you are going no where. Have it too rapid and eventually the novelty of all the new powers and skills wear off for the player. God forbid a player ‘hit the level cap’ or the ‘end game’ where they have no means to progress further, and eventually boredom creeps in.
Another means of progression is the acquisition of gear and items. Most MMOs have treasure and loot as an important part of the play experience. The acquisition of a new sword or armor, or obtaining some magic item from a quest. It is all a form of character progression. The player is constantly trying to obtain directly, or through in game resources (like coin and treasure), new items and gear. This is a huge draw to keeping a person playing, and again a form of character progression.
I think this has morphed over to other mini-games within MMOs. Crafting, fishing, and other non-combat pastimes a player can undertake in game. They are all types of character progression. The rewards may be small, but for many it is the draw to increase a skill by ‘just another 10 points’, or simply a means to gain other in game resources like gold (again for better gear and equipment).
I think the dirty little secret of a few MMO designers is that they have little regard for some players. I think these type of game design mechanics in MMOs tap into that desire for some to do repetitive tasks, over and over again, all to just see a number click over to the next digit. A lot of small mini-games in MMOs might be nothing better than treadmills, all so players can feel an accomplishment gaining a ‘skill’ increase.
I really feel this behavior latches onto the psychology of certain players. Mind you this is something clearly out there in plenty of other video games (take Bejeweled, Mafia Wars, or Farmville). However, as tedious as some people might find it, I clearly see it as some manner of character progression. And I think most MMOs would have subscribers clamoring for these mini-games if lacking in an MMO.
So progression, from gaining ungodly powers, to becoming a better cook, is such an important part of MMOs. The gradual development of abilities, your character becomes a dynamic creation and not something set in stone from day one. This is the constant push to reach that next ‘level’ to get a new power, or obtain that new set of armor that draws so many people to play MMOs.
You can’t deny the influence of D&D on this characteristic of MMOs. And I have to admit that D&D does implement a pretty good curve of advancement among the editions. The broadening of powers and abilities, it varies from edition to edition, but that experience of gaining a new level, getting new spells and abilities, all have a strong influence on a player’s desire to keep playing. That feature of D&D, where your character is not some static creation but something that grows and changes, is something that MMOs have tapped into. Clearly a nod to how important D&D has been on so many video games and MMOs out there now.