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  • Progression Mechanisms: Blessing Or Curse?

    - Pascal Luban
  • You have no doubt noticed that almost every action-adventure game that has been released during the last decade offers players progression mechanics heavily inspired by those of RPGs. So is this a good thing or is it a sign that the industry is struggling to renew itself?

    Let's quickly review what these mechanisms consist of. In action-adventure games, the players control a character whose abilities will develop as the players advance in the game. This allows them to broaden their range of actions, to access equipment. to perform better and to improve their characters' attributes like strength or health. In short, these progression mechanics enrich the gameplay.

    The way this feature works is simple. Players' actions earn them "resources": Currency, experience points, natural resources, artifacts, etc. These "resources" then make it possible to unlock new equipment, new actions and new game functions. Then, players unlock them in a partially linear fashion.

    For us game designers, progression mechanics have been the best idea since the invention of frozen pizza.

    They allow the player experience to be renewed throughout the game by gradually unlocking new gameplays. They give us the possibility of offering players medium-term goals and rewards, an important dimension to ensure the player's investment in the long term. They bring choice to players, an excellent practice in game design. They encourage players to explore every square meter of the game.

    And that's not all.

    They are easy to design and develop. They appeal to editors who see them as a proven good design practice.

    « Hey, Pascal, a design mechanism that appeals to everyone, designers, publishers and gamers; Where is the problem ? »

    While this mechanism offers undeniable advantages, it suffers from several flaws:

    To begin with, if it's too complex, it makes the game uncomfortable for players.

    Then, the stages of progression are largely imposed; players cannot unlock what they want in any order they choose. If they want to access the combo or the equipment of their dreams, they will have to "farm", that is to say, play a lot to amass enough "resources" and unlock the previous stages, a source of frustration for some players.

    But its real Achilles heel is that it can be found, without much innovation, in all contemporary action-adventure games. Let us never forget that curiosity and the attraction of novelty are strong motivations for many players.

    Can we then consider alternatives? Sure we can. To do this, you have to understand the reasons behind the success of the progression mechanisms and use a little imagination to find new ones. To demonstrate that, I took a few hours to design two of them.


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