There are some video game genres that benefit from progression systems. The shooter genre is not one of them.
I’ve never been comfortable with progression in shooters (I primarily play FPS titles but the same goes for third-person shooters). These days it seems like every other shooter copies and pastes the same progression formula and it just doesn’t work. I’m all for custom load-outs but having progression hurts the shooter genre in several ways.
Time Investment Is Not More Important Than Skill
Progression systems reward time-investment, not skilful play or smart decisions. It’s all about earning experience points to unlock add-ons that make you even more powerful, giving a distinct advantage against players who play less, regardless of whether they are actually better at the game.
This ultimately means that average players who have played for hundreds of hours can earn weapons and armor to make them untouchable against newer players or just adult gamers with less spare time, even if they have superior skill. This creates an imbalanced battlefield.
Being New Sucks
This point ties in with the above one a little. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned shooter pro, you’re going to start with the weakest weapons and the flimsiest armor. This makes the first few hours with any shooter with progression mechanics a frustrating experience.
I get it, having better gear be a carrot to get players to want to keep playing isn’t the worst idea on paper. But, do you know what else works? Making a game that is actually fun.
It Gives Developers the Excuse to Add Loot Crates and Pay-to-Win Mechanics
These days, developers don’t need much of an excuse to charge players for the convenience of bypassing a whole lot of grinding. Some do it by outright selling better weapons and gear, while others sell XP boosts.
The worst of the worst sell loot crates under various names, offering players a paid-for roll of the dice where the odds are significantly stacked against them. But, it works because the lure of getting that all-important loot is enough to keep players hooked.
Players Start Playing in the Most Optimum Way, Not the Most Fun Way
Reddit and social media are rife with players saying “I’m not earning enough experience/points for doing X”, with the focus being on how many points they need to earn to get that next upgrade or nameplate. Additionally, you’ll see players complaining that max rank should be increased when they hit the cap, then leave the game in droves.
Really, should the experience of playing a video game be tied into unlocking something? Should it matter that you’ve hit a level cap so can’t add an extra 1 to your score? Shouldn’t the joy be in playing the game itself?
Some players feel that being rewarded is more important than the reward itself. They want to feel like their time playing has been justified with that little bit of progression that the game gave them, even if it is a token rank increase. But, the justification for the time spent should simply be “it was fun.”
No, I’m not going to get 1,000 pistol headshots just to unlock a fancy skin. That’s bullshit. I’m going to use the weapons I want to do and play the way I want to play. Playing in an unenjoyable and frustrating way, all while being a liability to my teammates, is not a fun way to play a game.
Progression Systems in PVP Shooters Suck
It’s the truth.
Ultimately, the decision to introduce progression systems to PVP shooters is purely based upon psychology. Video game developers have realised that they can create games without evolving the shooter genre or doing anything new, and instead they rely upon FOMO to manipulate players into wasting hundreds, if not thousands, of hours chasing unlocks and progression. It’s about getting players addicted, not entertaining them. By giving new players a distinct gear disadvantage regarding of their skill level, then rewarding them for doing something, players are motivated to keep playing. Each unlock leads to a cursory glance at the next unluck, and they find a reason to keep on shooting until they reach that next level.
Players need to stop chasing trophies and stop accepting video games that deliberately restrict them in the beginning just to make them “earn” the right to have fun. Shooters should be all about skill – and only skill. Players should want to play because they’re having fun with the game and want to improve. Nothing else should matter.