A recent thread on the official forums got a lot of attention from SWTOR fans, both those who agree with the leveling system in Star Wars and those who would like things done differently. There are those who feel a skill-based system would be better than simply grinding XP and levels.
Lead combat designer Damion Schubert felt he should chime in on the discussion and posted some interesting facts and points about skill-based leveling progression and why Star Wars: The Old Republic will not stick with the typical leveling:
Not to go into the details of what advancement systems we will have or not have inside the game but… this doesn’t always work out this rosily, without great designer care. I worked on Meridian 59, which was a wholly skill-based game, and learned a lot about the strengths and pitfalls of systems like it. One of my great pet peeves of pure skill-based systems is that they claim that they are more realistic, but they in fact can create extremely unrealistic situations inside the world.
In the original Everquest, it was not uncommon to see a player throwing himself off a cliff over and over again to improve his safe falling skill, or to see a person macroing some random text gibberish in order to improve his languages. In Meridian 59, players used to park themselves in front of low level monsters and leave the keyboard – they were unlikely to die, and could accumulate defense points in a slow, steady and totally risk-free manor. In Oblivion, the best way to build an assassin character is to hop through fields picking flowers. Jumping improves your Acrobatics (I believe), and the player needs enough flowers to grind up his Poisoning skill.
Sure, each of these could be destupidified with enough designer/programmer time and focus, but then you’re coding, QAing and exploit-proofing a different advancement mechanism for every skill in the game. And you’ll probably still end up with some silliness somewhere.
I know some people are offended by the idea of do stuff->gain experience->gain level->somehow get better at something completely unrelated. – I know I was too, young in my career when I designed M59. But one of the most important thing for advancement systems is that you get the behavior you incentivize. In a classic XP/Level based system, you are incentivizing your XP-granting behaviors (which in SWTOR is tilted strongly towards questing). In skill-based systems, it is trivially easy to accidentally incentivize really stupid and boring behaviors.
I have to say I agree with him: most of us already leveled multiple times in other MMORPG games and usually find it boring, but considering the faults of alternate character progression ways I guess classic experience and level progress is the best way to go.