Why we DING! – Part 1: A Short History

The kobold sniffed the air. Did it smell an intruder, its small brain wondered, but before it could begin to process this information, glowing green vines appeared at its feet. With a howl it took off after the elf already running off into the distance. As it chased the speeding elf, its feet hampered by the snaring vines, the elf tossed swarms of stinging bees and smoldering embers at it. Finally, the kobold could take no more and fell over, lifeless. A short distance away, the elf happily told his friends “Ding!”

These days, every level in every MMORPG is a celebration. This celebration began in the days of EQ, when leveling up truly was an epic situation. Unleveling, the “Gnid”, was also frequent in these days, but I’ll talk of that in part 2. Because you took so long to level, anywhere from several days to weeks, a level was a major event. People would shout to the zone their happiness, and you’d get some cheers and jeers back. It didn’t matter, because you finally leveled! The sound that this leveling made was iconic. I used to have it as my new mail sound. (I was really into EQ though – I had the “quest completed” tone as my computer shut down sound at work.) The sound was your only notification that something glorious had happened, and thus leveling became known as “dinging”.

The first game to actually make this a celebration was Anarchy Online in the summer of 2001. EQ players were thrilled to discover that when you leveled you did a back flip. Now, other people could tell when you leveled, so that besides you shouting ding, you actually SHOWED a ding! Dark Age of Camelot, released shortly thereafter, took it a step further making it a spray of light. This has continued and evolved through the years, with some game companies revamping and enhancing their level-up animation. Lord of the Rings online, which tells everyone in your group for you that you have leveled up, went from a splash of light to an explosion in a pillow factory. Rift has a player being struck with lightning, almost like the Highlander movies, and at several milestones people in the immediate area and your guild are also told of your achievement. While this is neat, it seems not as much fun in games where the leveling is so fast. A ding used to be a truly amazing event. When EQ added 10 levels, the speed grinders would still take almost a week to grind those out, even playing in shifts. Rift, on the other hand, took less than 3 days to have a person hit max level from release (and that was with server downtimes and crushing queues). The ding just doesn’t seem as epic.

Now don’t get me wrong – this is not the standard old person gripe of “I had to suffer, you should too.” No way. Hell levels were not called that because we were out of adjectives. But I do wonder if we have sped up too fast, to give too much fast or instant gratification, and removed that feeling that only a DING! can give. Or perhaps, in a real life world that seems to be out to crush us more and more, the right thing is to give people that nugget of happiness as often as possible so that those who use the game to escape can have that feeling, however fleeting, at least somewhere.

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Jaded old gamer, and father of gamers, who's been around long enough. Still, he's always up for giving the Next Big Thing a whirl.

6 thoughts on “Why we DING! – Part 1: A Short History”

  1. For the last couple of years I’ve dreaded the ding. I’ve dreaded it because it means that now I’m just that little bit more ahead of the level that all the quests in my log were designed for, a little bit closer to point where following along with the story and exploring the zones and, you know, actually doing a bit of crafting on the side, means I’ll be fighting stuff that I can kill by sneezing on, whilst suffer nary a stubbed toe in return.

    Yes, closer to the inevitable point where I unsubscribe because I just can’t face the prospect of skipping whole zones that are obviously next part of the progression in yet another game YET AGAIN, where the build up of those little incidents where I notice myself avoiding doing something because it would give me XP and thus move me closer to the horror of the ding, fills me with just too much fear and dread to continue.

    TL;DR: WTB MMO that isn’t any actually harder or mor difficult, but just has about 15-25% less XP than is apparently popular. KTHXBYE.

  2. I hope that never again a game will rely on such stupid mechanics as levels to make players happy. When I leveled up in WoW, I was far from shouting to zone chat or whatever, but rather thought of the 20 levels still before me, where each would take longer than that before. It was frustrating at the very least.

    I am more of a casual player, and certainly not someone who levels fast. And WoW would hide all the good content for so utterly long, making me do stupid quests over and over again to finally get to the fun stuff. Today I wonder why I struggled so long (I finally made it); was the endgame really worth it?

    My hope is all Guild Wars 2: flat leveling curve and reasonable amounts of time to get to level 80 (reflected, by the way, by a rather short and unflashy level-up animation). Plus even the lower level stuff should be fun, according to the developers. What a paradise.

  3. I think really no matter the struggle to level it should always be a thing to be happy about. If it took 10 minutes to level or 10 days I think it is all pretty much the same. Sure a lot more work has gone into the 10 day time period but then I start to think why I spent that long having to level up once. A good middle point is fine for me :D

  4. Shouldn’t you be having fun the entire time you’re playing a game, not just at arbitrary intervals? That’s kind of the problem with the level system.

  5. I think more difficult levels are perfectly fine if you give more rewards to the character along with it. Although I’d be interested in seeing *explicit* character levels eschewed all-together. Get better at things by doing them.

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