In his introduction, Lopez explains what exactly gameplay progression entails:
"Most people who play games are probably familiar with the concept of difficulty progression, at least at a subconscious level - that games should get harder over time. Most designers presumably know to build increasing difficulty into successive levels, missions, worlds, or courses (usually the single player experiences). But difficulty is only one portion of the overall game experience, and there are several other elements that need to be structured, managed and revealed carefully in order to provide the user with a truly compelling and enjoyable experience throughout gameplay. So, what exactly is Gameplay Progression?
n 1: a series with a definite pattern of advance [syn: patterned advance] 2: a movement forward [syn: progress, advance] 3: the act of moving forward toward a goal [syn: progress, procession, advance, advancement, forward motion, onward motion]
[ WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University (via dictionary.com) ]
All 3 of these definitions for progression apply to games, because it is both the realized pattern of advance and the act of movement towards the ultimate goal (winning the game) that are essential to an enjoyable experience for the player. The pattern or structure of the advance is what will ensure a rewarding experience during gameplay and will ensure the further continuation and replay necessary to turn renters into buyers."
Lopez also provides an outline of the various key elements of gameplay progression:
"1. Game Mechanics – all controls and interactions within the game, including new weapons, abilities, powers, vehicles, and environmental states or events.
2. Experience Duration – the average time it takes to complete each stage, level, mission (including deaths if applicable) or course (using the most relevant vehicle).
3. Ancillary Rewards (visual, aural, decorative, etc.) – exciting environmental wonders, fancy visual effects, scripted events, etc. It is great to weight some of the more spectacular environmental wonders and effects up front (Medal of Honor style), but an enjoyable game needs to have all the level, course or mission experiences built so that new visual rewards are staggered at a pace that keeps the user interested (in other words with an Environmental Progression in mind).
4. Practical Rewards (gameplay relevant) – new game modes, upgrades and practical unlockable content are very useful as the carrot on the stick that entices users to continue playing the game.
5. Difficulty – not just how hard it is to pass obstacles and NPCs/bosses, but also how much risk is taken with respect to player injury/death, weapon depletion, or vehicle/equipment damage or loss."
You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject, including an exhaustive breakdown of each of the key elements, and the inherent dangers of substituting ancillary rewards for more practical ones (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).