Valenna and I were discussing the other day some of the reasons that World of Warcraft has managed to be so successful, especially relative to its competitors who have managed to capture only a fraction of the market share that Blizzard has. One of the reasons we decided they've done so well is that they've included so many outlets for progression, outlets which are — in many cases — independent of gear and level. Here is a list of the progress "tracks" we were able to come up with:
- Level This is one of the more obvious ones, and pretty much all MMOs have it. It is, however, fairly easy to max out and really serves as a catalyst to grant access to many of the other tracks. The Talent trees can probably be considered part of levelling since you can only progress further in them as you gain in level, even though you can pay to adjust your points later.
- Reputations While there were several faction grinds available prior to the Burning Crusade (Cenarion Circle, Thorium Brotherhood, Wintersabers, Furbolgs), TBC introduced a plethora of new factions. So many added at once allowed Blizzard to make each individual faction easier (and more fun) to improve.
- Inventory and Bank Space This includes the number of bank slots you've purchased. It would also include the size of your profession-related bags (such as a 24-slot enchanting bag). Take it a step further to include the size of your bank slot bags (I only have two 18-slotters in my bank). And while we all have the same 16-slot backpack we received at character creation, that may soon change. Even the keyring grows with you.
- Professions This includes your two Primary Professions as well as the three Secondary Professions (Fishing, Cooking, and First Aid). Gathering professions unlock new levels of potentially gatherable materials while production tradeskills allow you to build a repertoire of rare, often expensive recipes. Even if I know I will never use a recipe (Mail resist gear, for example), I will still buy it to help complete my collection.
- Keys and Attunements This includes both Heroic and non-Heroic keys (like the key to Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery) as well as character "flags" like the attunements necessary to enter Molten Core or Blackwing Lair. I personally didn't complete my Scholomance key until a few months after the release of Burning Crusade. And I know many players still hope to complete their Naxxramas attunements, even if it won't be necessary in Wrath of the Lich King.
- Gear This is a pretty self explanatory one, but can be measured in a variety of ways (individual stats). Some enjoy the "quest" for gear so much that they dedicate an inordinate amount of time toward building gear sets for their offspecs or complete resistance sets they don't necessarily need. This would also include a PvP set, which often require players to optimize differently than they might for PvE content.
- Raid Progression Strongly tied to gear progression, raid progression is something that's generally derived from one's guild or a guild alliance. This is so strongly typed that different class-specific sets are numbered for the "tier" of dungeon from which they are acquired (Tier 4, 5, 6).
- Battlegrounds Stats There are a number of progression stats associated with Battlegrounds and the Honor System including Honorable Kills, Honor totals, reputations with each BG faction (including the special title for reaching Exalted with several), and total damage/healing/kills/etc. in a given game. Alterac Valley even has a separate progression track for the trinket that hearths you to your base.
- Arena Stats Your wins-losses record, team rating, overall participation and how much of a particular Season's items you've been able to purchase all help comprise this 3-bracket track. At the end of each season, the top-performing players are additionally rewarded with special titles (Challenger, Rival, Duelist, and Merciless Gladiator) and the best of the best receive a special flying mount. And coming in Season 3, you'll be able to improve your Personal Rating, as well. This is one of the few progression tracks that is necessarily competitive.
- Mount Class The different levels of mount class can be described as standard ground mount, epic ground mount, prestige ground mount (rare dungeon drops and reputation-based), standard flying mount, epic flying mount, and prestige flying mount (Netherdrake, Hippogryph, Skyguard). This idea is parodied by the Blood Elf female flirt emote, "I normally only ride on EPIC mounts ... but let's talk." (In real life, I drive a standard ground mount, a Ford Escort. I guess that makes me a car n00b.)
- Money Often used as a catalyst to propel you along one or more of the other progression tracks, some players horde their money and make playing the Auction House for fun and profit a whole game in and of itself. Raliah, an adorable gnome Rogue in my guild, has been known to go Scrooge McDuckin' in her bank vault.
- Interface Layout Whether you develop addons yourself or simply pride yourself on your computer's ability to run at more than 5 FPS with 150 addons going, developing the "perfect" UI layout is a lofty goal for many players (myself included).
- Exploration Newly-discovered zones in World of Warcraft have a Fog of War enabled before you've mapped out individual regions (which also yield experience prior to reaching max level). At one point I played with this Fog of War disabled via an addon but I found exploration a lot less fun and rewarding. Exploration also includes the collection of new Flight Points, making your overall travel easier.
I take a great deal of pride in the number of inventory slots
wastedoccupied by glass bottles of colorful fluids. I carry five types of mana potions, health potions, Battle and Guardian Elixirs, zone-specific Flasks, delicious fishies, bandages, three types of mana regenerative water, Intellect and Spirit scrolls — not to mention four stacks of Druid-specific reagents. One would assume that these items would take up less space over time since they're called "consumables," but that doesn't appear to be the case.
- Collectibles This category includes things like non-combat pets (particularly the rare ones like those acquired from seasonal events), dresses and special occassion clothing, and fun "toys" like Steam Tonks, the Snowball machine, and [Elune's Lantern]. Due to the perceived difficulty in acquiring these items, they are also one of the largest culprits for "wasted" bank space. A special subtype in this category are the items acquired from TCG "loot" cards (like my fishing chair). These items are "special" because not everyone can get them. And the people who desire them most for the sake of character "completeness" are more likely to get "hooked" on a collectible card game, as well. It's a win-win for Blizzard!
- Class-Specific Skills This includes skills like Lockpicking, Pick-Pocketing, and the special, vanity Polymorphs available to Mages. These are skills that you might not ordinarily increase or progress in the course of levelling. This might also include the optionally quested Warlock pets (such as the Infernal) or even the Hunter pets tamed from rare, aesthetically different wild animals.
- /played time For some, a high /played time is something to celebrate; for others, a low /played time relative to their accomplishments is considered better. The latter is generally true of alternate characters or newly-minted mains as it's often an indication of how quickly the player was able to get the new character "up to speed" with those of his peers.
- "Landmark" quests These are quests that players might feel are "essential" to their characters' backgrounds. These might include the quest to kill Van Cleef in Deadmines or Onyxia Attunement. Some players even get a kick out of completing ten daily quests every day (sickos).
The sheer number of individual progression tracks (of which I've only mentioned a few) is likely one of the reasons so many enjoy playing alternate characters. The instant gratification of being able to progress so many new tracks at the same time is ... well ... gratifying. It's also likely a big reason that Blizzard has been so reticent to introduce Player Housing to the game. To be excecuted well, such a momentous endeavor should likely incorporate many of those tracks listed above in addition to several new tracks that would need to be introduced. I have no doubt that, should we ever gain the ability to "play house" in Azeroth, I will neglect all of the above-mentioned progression tracks in pursuit of Sims-like progress. And all my guildmates will be left asking if I can "come out and play."
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