Whilst its true some games use these point systems interchangeably and mix up the names. I’m differentiating in this post the characteristics of XP or eXperience points that set it aside:
XP is not scoring
Having more XP in a game, might be a way for you to compare yourself with other players in a multi-player game, however, the comparison does not invite competition. The objective is not to out-XP (or out-score the other person). Even in the case of a player using their high score as a way to better their performance the next time, scoring is tied to the feeling that the points accumulate for a single event. A battle not with other players, but yourself to beat your high-score, but that next time in another attempt might not be repeated.
XP is not about shopping
Gaining XP gives you access to more powerful skills and makes progressing in the game easier. This is more similar to currency (e.g. gold) gained in the game to buy equipment that augments your character’s skills. However, the equipment exchanged and used is seen as transitory, whilst the experience points ‘spent’ are seen as a long term development of your character’s specialisms and playing style.
XP is about learning
This is the key differentiator of XP to other uses of points. It accumulates over time and keeps building until you level-up, which merely sets another bar for more XP to be gained. You don’t spent it and you’re never done. No other points as discussed previous are awarded in a way that so closely mirrors our analysis and understanding of the path to master and learn a system.
- Going up the levels steps up in difficulty, with each higher tier needing bigger and bigger chunks of experience.
- The actions that you need to do change, so to keep gaining the most amount of experience, you need to try new and more challenging actions.
The differences are made even clearer if you consider the very different reactions we have when we see cheating across these 3 different types of points.
If it were money, you are seen as cheating the system. With a score you are seen as cheating other players, but cheating to gain XP, first and foremost we recognize this as cheating yourself.
Experience points, when used in this way means designing systems that treat these points as a moderator as well as marker for the progress being made in the game, and avoiding short-cuts to learning.