There are some video game genres that would be empty without progression. 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 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.
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. Average players who have played for hundreds of hours can earn weapons and armor to make them untouchable to new players with superior skills, which creates an imbalanced battlefield.
Starting players have the weakest weapons, the weakest armor, and the carrot to get them to continue to play is the promise of better gear. With the addition of loot crates, it could take significantly longer than earning experience points, but the lure of earning that all-important loot is enough to keep players hooked.
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.”
Ultimately, the video game design decisions that have gone behind these decisions are psychological. Video game developers have realised that they can create video games without innovating in the shooter genre, but by including unlocks and progression to hopefully get their player-base addicted. Being rewarded for doing something keeps the player’s motivation to keep playing high enough to keep going. Each unlock means a cursory glance at the next one, 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 items. Shooters should be all about skill – and that’s it. Players should want to play more because the mechanics of the game they’re playing are fun (and, hopefully, innovative) and because they want to improve. Nothing else should matter.