You've heard the expression 'money doesn't go on trees' right? Unfortunately, your parents were right about that one, but in the world of gaming at least, something else grows on trees - skills. You've probably come across the concept before, but perhaps haven't seen it called a skill tree, so let's take a look at the meaning of a skill tree, its application, and examples to help us understand the term.
If you play roleplaying games where your characters have the ability to develop and customize their powers and abilities over the course of a game then your character will have what is called a skill tree - a visual representation of how their skills grow as you play.
Skill trees follow a linear pathway - acquiring one skill unlocks the option to gain another skill or choice of skills so that over time you create new branches for your skill tree like higher abilities and favorable traits.
Each new branch represents either a new specialization or taking an existing skill to a new level. Sometimes you'll have more than one skill tree, each one focusing on a different themed set of skills, and often you'll find that a game gives its skill tree a bespoke name - the skill tree in Rift for example is called the Soul Tree.
Let's look at how it works so that you can visualize how to develop a skill tree. You start with a very basic character with a couple of simple skills, so perhaps your skill tree just has two basic branches. Let's say you're a wizard and your branches represent basic fire and earth spells.
Throughout the game, you develop one or both of these skills, perhaps completing challenges or tasks, and gain a new skill, which in turn opens up two more possible branches to follow. Perhaps you learn a water spell, and that opens up another three potential water-related branches. Maybe you decide to develop your fire spell branch further and take those spells to a higher level.
Skill trees take skill in themselves to build, as the best ones require planning and strategic thought in deciding which branches of your tree you want to develop and which skills are going to be most useful to you. Make good choices and before you know it, you've got a huge tree with multiple branches and are an expert wizard with a vast magical realm.
This is a subjective question because different types of games appeal to different gamers. Some prefer simple character progression while others will love mind-bendingly complicated skill trees with multiple branches.
The Tree of Skill in Salt and Sanctuary for example is often heralded as one of the best skill trees in gaming because of its sheer size and complexity. As you play you'll have a choice of over 100 different skills and stat upgrades - not a skill tree one for the fainthearted.