The thrill of competition isn’t enough to keep me engaged in today’s multiplayer games. This generation’s most successful competitive and cooperative experiences dangle a carrot in front of the player both on and off the battlefield. When I down a foe, I expect experience points in return. When the word “Victory!” or “Defeat” flashes onto screen, my next step is to see if I unlocked anything new.

The gameplay is still the driving force for these games, but I’m finding that their longevity is tied to perks and items unlocked along the way. The Call of Duty series does a fantastic job of rewarding players from the moment they start playing to the point that they have to decide whether or not they want to Prestige. New weapons and skills are earned with most promotions, and fun little bonuses like nameplate graphics give players something to collect.

But even this isn’t enough to keep me hooked. Once I reach max level, the only options offered are to stay put or Prestige, sending me back to level one and repeat the same path. Progression ends, and this just may be me, but a lot of the excitement is sucked out of the experience at this point.

The multiplayer market is primed for a new progression system. Mass Effect 3’s cooperative component may be our first look at a potential future for all multiplayer games. I’m speaking specifically about one idea in particular: The ability to purchase packs of cards. I know this sounds silly, but most people enjoy collecting things. Whether the item of desire ends up being Pokémon or Magic: The Gathering cards, once a collection begins, I usually cannot stop until I get everything. If handled correctly, collecting becomes a rewarding game within a game.

In Mass Effect 3’s case, cards gift players with new weapons, characters, one-time use items, weapon mods, and upgrades. All of the items directly affect gameplay and player progression. Even repeat cards of specific weapons or characters gift players with upgraded levels and bonus experience points.

Just the act of opening a pack is exciting. Will you get the weapon your friend has been bragging about for weeks? Will you unearth a new firearm? Will you finally get the upgrade that gives you the firepower needed to attempt a higher difficulty level?

Mass Effect 3’s card system is a random loot generator. Rather than dropping weapons at the feet of player (à la Diablo and Borderlands), it saves the excitement of getting something new until the end of the match (much like the slot machine system in Lost Planet 2). Most of my discussions post-match are about the loot that is earned.

I’m not saying that this is the only way that unlockables should be delivered. Picture randomized loot inserted into the current setups for Call of Duty and Battlefield. Base weapons are still unlocked at specific levels and for completing skill-based tasks, but currency earned along the way is used to purchase additional random loot that you cannot earn any other way.

For competitive games, the balance of gigantic payloads could be difficult for developers. Even if one person has a weapon that is slightly better than his opponent's, it gives him or her an edge. At the same time, maybe the player on the other end of that powerful pistol has better armor than the other player.

Lootfests rank among my favorite experiences in gaming. Mass Effect 3’s loot delivery system scratches that itch in a new way. I find myself playing the always dangerous game of "just one more match" solely to earn the currency needed to unlock one more pack before calling it quits for the night. I'm addicted to it.

If BioWare plays its hand right, DLC and updates will expand the size of the card set – hopefully offering new weapons and characters. Once I unlock everything, I'm sure my engagement with the game will end. I know this sounds horrible, but if I don't become engrossed with a multiplayer experience to the point of joining a clan and organizing play dates with friends, I usually lose interest in it when I reach the end of player progression.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What do you want from your multiplayer experience? What drives you to keep playing? Are you a fan of Mass Effect 3's card system? Leave me a comment and let's get this discussion started.