Alternatives to a leveling system

I'm currently designing a rough prototype of a mecha fighting game.

These are the basics I came up with:

• Multiplayer (matchmaking for up to 10 people, for now)
• Browser based (HTML5)
• 2D (<canvas>)
• Persistent (as in, players have accounts and don't have to use a new mech each time they start a match)
• Players earn money upon destroying another mech, which is used to buy parts (guns, armor, boosters, etc)
• Simplicity (both of the game itself, and of the development of said game)
• No "leveling" (as in, players don't get awarded with XP)

The last part is bothering me. At first, I wanted to have players gain experience points (XP) when destroying other mechs, but gaining two things at once (money and XP) seemed to be in conflict with my last point, which is simplicity. If I were to have a leveling system, that would require additional development. But, the biggest problem is that I simply couldn't fit it anywhere! Adding levels would require adding meaning to these levels, and most of the things that I hoped to achieve could already be achieved with the money mechanic I introduced. So I decided to drop leveling off completely.

That, in turn, removed a fairly popular and robust mean of progression in games from my game (not that I would use it well anyway). Is there another way of progression in games, aside from leveling and XP points, that wouldn't get rendered redundant by my money mechanic, would be somehow meaningful (even on a symbolic level), and wouldn't be in conflict with my last point, which is simplicity?

• As an aside, I don't necessarily think that @Byte56 was correct when saying you should put your answer in the question. You put your answer in the answers part so that it can be voted on and discussed separate from the question itself. Plus there are new features that suggest that "answering a hard question for other people's sake" is now part of the expected behavior of the system. blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/05/encyclopedia-stack-exchange – Tetrad Jun 7 '12 at 16:10
• Dang it, editing again then... – jcora Jun 7 '12 at 16:13

That, in turn, removed a fairly popular and robust mean of progression in games from my game (not that I would use it well anyway). Is there another way of progression in games, aside from leveling and XP points, that wouldn't get rendered redundant by my money mechanic, would be somehow meaningful (even on a symbolic level), and wouldn't be in conflict with my last point, which is simplicity?

Why do you think that the leaderboard is not enough progression for your players?

There are some things you can do to show progression:

• A league table of players Is pretty much mandatory for PvP games.
• Achievements for unusual actions
• Bare chested - win a battle without shields
• Last one standing - be the last surviving Mech
• Mix'em up - three kills with one shot
• Connoisseur - try every Mech
• Knockout punch - kill an enemy with life > 50% in a single shot
• Dr Robotic - loose 1000% of your health in a game without dying.
• etc...
• Weapon specialities

Higher level weapons are only available when you have demonstrated skill with a particular type of weapons, for example, lvl 5 lasers are only available when you have killed 200 enemies with lasers.

• Community bandwidth

Reward players with bigger profiles, customisable avatars, and better ways of asserting their identities in the player community. Stackexchange does this, with profile callouts for higher ranked users, etc...

• Customisation options

Players love to customise their creations. Allowing them to pick a color for their Mech, or a custom flag to display on the game chat should be rewards that show player advancement. Good way to spend all the money they've earned too...

• More powerful tools

Rather than changing the modules, give them tools that allow them to do more with what they already have. For example, unlocking a tool to combine two modules into one for a cost.

• Meaningful Ranks

Instead of having ranks based on skill level alone, why not make them more interesting by having them reflect the player's playstyle too. For example:

• Elite Scout of Chaos High level, prefers fast Mechs, High level of friendly fire
• Novice Behemoth of Sniping Low level, prefers armoured Mechs and long range lasers
• Scarred Veteran of Cyberwarfare High level, took significantly more damage than average for his level than his peers, prefers electronic warfare
• Stealth Mechanist Uses stealth Mechs and cloaking devices, high rate of repairing other Mechs
• Pristine Elite Brawler took less damage, high level, prefers short range weapons
• and so on.

As a forewarning - this is kind of redundant with your own answer but with different terms and a slightly different implementation. Also I don't really have a good idea of design for your game so some points may not be relevant.

The first thing that popped into my mind was to implement some sort of licensing system (somewhat inspired by Monster Rancher and Grand Turismo). How could something like this be applied to a PVP Mecha game? I've run through some options in my head and here is what I came up with.

A license could determine what type of equipment a player can outfit his mech with and as such equipment could have license requirements. This allows a bit of progression in your game where players have a goal to work towards other than just "I need X amount of resource Y to get Z."

A license may also determine, to some extent, what a player can do. For example, if you game has matches / tournaments / special events / whatever you can make it so that the rewards from higher licenses are better but at the same time you could have license requirements to participate.

Now the challenge is how do players get licenses? Well in monster rancher there was a set of tournaments you had to complete to prove you were ready to go onto the next rank. It could be something similar in your game. If you can make it event based, that would be fun! But otherwise this system may look similar to that of achievements where you just need to accomplish tasks X, Y, Z to get the license. Since I know you want to do matchmaking - maybe you can make a "game mode" that is a license qualifier and maybe the top X players get their license as a reward plus normal rewards.

Another option might be taking a test of some sort (ala Grand Turismo) where you have a solo challenge that you could take to prove you are qualified for the next license. Behind the scenes this could include gear checks to prove that enough money has been earned that is implemented in a way that if you don't have the right gear or enough skill you will likely fail the test.

Again... I'm kind of going out on a limb here because I don't really know how your game is going to play out, but I think this will give you some ideas to play around with in your head.

• I like the idea of licenses and unique challenges. Cool stuff! – brice Jun 8 '12 at 16:50

I think you've got the right idea with ranks, or even some sort of skill level. With this being an online multiplayer experience, you could have some sort of Player Skill Level that would be determined by both match outcome and the skill levels of the other players in the match (win a match against a bunch of people with a higher skill level and yours increases a lot; beat up some people with lesser skill levels and it only goes up a little; lose and it drops, etc). Maybe even utilize it in generating matches with players of equal skill? And as a skill level it could go up or down, unlike a traditional leveling system. It probably wouldn't be hard to implement some sort of Achievement or Rank system (promotion/demotion) on top of this either.

Things that I thought of while I was writing this question:

1. Achievements
2. Ranks (novice, veteran, etc)

Achievements are definitely getting in, but I don't think that they will solve my problem entirely, that's why I have ranks. What I wanted is a small piece of information that would allow the player to estimate his success, and that is solved by a number (level) or one word (rank), but definitely not by a long list of achievements.

I'm still, of course, looking for better ways to do this and comments on what I have so far.

• Undeleted, as suggested by @Tetrad, he has a point. – jcora Jun 7 '12 at 16:14