My fellow gamers and bloggers, levels are the chains that are keeping us down. Too long have we lived under an arbitrary number that determines how we can and cannot contribute to the experience of others. It is time to free ourselves from these bonds and make our own way in these virtual worlds!
Mock rallying cries aside, levels are in fact a very inelegant way of progression within a game. Just to help explore the concept, let's say I have a friend. His name is Hypothetical Fred. Hypothetical Fred is a level 70 orc warrior who wants me to start playing with him, but I am a lowly level 10 Paladin. Also a blood elf, which is doubly unfortunate for unrelated reasons.
As a level 10, there is nothing I can do to assist my friend in any way. I cannot make enough gold to help him out, because he makes more in a single daily. I cannot help him raid, or go into dungeons, or even quest without being a hilariously large burden. Nothing I can craft can help him either, unless he is a Roleplayer and enjoys having his veteran orc wearing copper armor. The only thing I can do is level up as quickly as I can in an attempt to catch up, at which point he'd probably already be in a raiding group and higher geared than me.
This is a relatively common system, and generally accepted as the standard in theme park MMO's. To be frank, it is a very unfriendly system. I have to put in hours and hours of work to be able to play with my friends at their level, or have them steamroll content for me which, though very helpful in leveling me up, is not the most exciting activity for either party. It is an intense barrier of entry: If I have friends who are already playing, then they have to wait for me to catch up or I have to play an eternal game of catching up to them. until we reach level cap.
Now, there are some systems that allow for leeway. City of Heros and Final Fantasy XI are two examples that allow a sort of temporary leveling system that brings you up or down, making the content you choose to tackle interesting and challenging for everyone. A very useful system, and I enjoy the no-hassle style of grouping it can bring, but it is simply a band-aid for the much larger problems levels bring.
I wish I had more than an examination of the flaws of this system, but unfortunately I don't. Levels work because they are the most established system for measuring player power. Skill based systems offer a different method to handle this, but even that relies on levels: just levels in a certain skill. Levels are nice: I like easily knowing what challenge various creatures will present at a single glance. But when it comes to playing with my friends, the situation becomes more difficult than it ever should be for a Multiplayer game.
EDIT - Massively just reported on a change coming to Everquest 2. Mercenaries to fill out a group. There may be plenty of players online, but I can't play with them so I have to hire an NPC to help me instead. A change that is good in spirit but illuminates the anti-social qualities that levels create.