Sometimes, I view my mundane day-to-day tasks as a series of experience-endowing quests. Go the grocery store. 300 XP! Obtain vegetables (x10). 400 XP! Defeat the checkout line – which is, in fact, a hideously undulating centipede monster – and escape the store as it collapses into an all-consuming void of infinite nothingness. 7 XP! Is it any wonder that I see things that way, though? I mean, everything has a leveling system these days. Even when they don’t really make a whole lot of sense. Case in point: StarCraft II.
Yes, beginning with Heart of the Swarm, StarCraft II will let you gain levels for playing multiplayer matches. Why? Because, of course!
“In the Heart of the Swarm leveling system, players earn experience while playing Blizzard matchmaking modes and custom games on Blizzard maps. You’ll earn XP for the race you’re playing with each unit you build or destroy. Experience is awarded at the end of the match, and accumulates as you level up from 1 to a maximum level of 20 for each race.”
“The Leveling system is how you will earn most portraits and decals in Heart of the Swarm. We’re creating a multitude of new images for players to collect and display…These rewards get more and more epic as you progress in a race. The rewards will be different for each race, so truly dedicated players can push themselves to great heights for each of the three races.”
OK, you can now breathe a sigh of relief that levels won’t actually have any impact on unit stats, etc, but I guess my question in regard to the whole thing is… why? Somehow, I get the impression that StarCraft multiplayer – small, niche, and constantly on the brink of extinction though it may be – is actually doing pretty alright on its own. As in, by virtue of its own strengths as an interesting, remarkably well-designed game.
Now, though, it feels like Blizzard’s just adding a level system for its own sake. Really, it’s a cynical approach that I feel like a lot of games are taking these days. In essence, they’re applying Gamification to themselves, which – in addition to being about as circular as it gets – just creates a cheap, artificial reward system instead of improving anything fundamental. At this point, we’re basically building achievement systems on top of achievement systems. But frankly, I don’t need a condescending pat on the head every time I accomplish something. And I think a truly great game should be able to reward players as a direct result of their interactions with the game. “Leveling” along these lines, then, seems like more of a crutch than anything.
Phew. That was quite a rant. What do I win for it?