First, Global Agenda institutes an annoying leveling treadmill that turns an otherwise very fun tactical shooter into a timesink and unnecessarily punishes new players in a game where skill deficits are already a huge issue. Now Command and Conquer 4 is committing the same sin in the RTS genre. (Read Bilsybub’s impressions.)
Rewarding people for playing a game longer when the game consists of repeatedly playing matches that are supposedly skill-based? This accomplishes a few things, none of them are particularly good for players or game balance.
- Punishing newbies.
- Supplementing the power increase of player skill improvement, leading to a further advantage to players who should be better at the game anyway.
- Introducing a timesink that the player cannot get around.
Learning to play the game is enough of a timesink—why augment that with an advancement system that is guaranteed to progress slower than your pace of learning? It will only handicap newbies and make their matches less fun.
The people who really benefits from this nonsense? Whoever sells the game. Now you must play for 20 hours in order to even have access to a competitive set of abilities, units, weapons, or whatever.
Gating aspects of a competitive game of skill may prove to be a profitable business decision, but it’s a painful game design decision and can only erode player patience among competitive players. This takes the most soul-sucking part of themepark MMOs and shoves it into games that could not be further from the themepark design philosophy. These games will probably see much financial success because of the addictive quality of vertical character growth—this pattern will spread to more and more titles and continue to bother me and other supporters of skill-based games.
Now the same business vs game design conflict that has brutalized the design of themepark MMOs has come to roost in skill-based games. The future seems to be turning a skill-based game into an MMO by adding some “impact” PvP and vertical growth timesinks. This is bad for skill-based game design—but who cares about game design? Everyone’s in it to make money who has enough money to make such a game, so we’ll see this frustrating trend continue.