Why Games Should Scale Horizontally Instead of Vertically


“Vertical scaling” is the de facto way that most MMORPGs are designed: gamers level a character up to max level, then they grind out tiers of gear in PVE or PVP. And if you roll another character, you repeat the same process.

Here are the issues with the vertical scaling:

  1. It’s grindy
  2. It creates brackets. You can’t do content with other players unless your character levels / gear scores are sufficiently close
  3. It causes power creep. Content is initially too difficult, but once players obtain the gear to do the content, it becomes progressively less difficult until it’s trivial
  4. It creates dead zones and content. This happens when the bulk of active characters are at level cap and whenever expansions are released with new content

I believe that “horizontal scaling” – where new characters have a baseline set of necessary tools and progressing your character is about broadening your capabilities instead of centering on gear acquisition – would provide a much better solution for both gamers and developers.

Here are the benefits of horizontal scaling:

  1. There are no brackets due to level or gear score. You can roll a new character and immediately group with other more-experienced characters
  2. It levels the playing field in PVE and PVP. Performing well isn’t about your level or gear score, it’s about your ability to play your character effectively and work in a team
  3. Content (zones, instances, etc) stays relevant forever

Here’s how would progression could work in a horizontal scaling system:

  1. Take achievements to the next level, so that the game tracks performance at a granular level…
    - What’s my fastest time-to-clear for this instance (because this instance is never outdated)?
    - What’s my fastest TTC for this boss fight?
    - What’s my fastest Huttball match win ever?…and then have these stats feed into Leaderboards…- Which players / guilds have the fastest TTC for this boss for this week / the past x weeks / all-time?
    - Who had the highest DPS on this boss fight this week / month / all-time?

    So doing content for competitively-minded players is about excellence in execution, not getting geared up.

  1. Support customization of the character’s look (armor / weapons / clothing) and guild heraldry based on achievements and performance
  2. Have weapons with different capabilities, so that “gearing up” is about building up a collection of weapons that you can use in various situations or to support particular playstyles. So you acquire a Cinderburn staff if you want to buff up your Mage’s DoTs capability, or you acquire an Earthbind staff if you want to buff your Mage’ earth-based CC capability. But you just have to acquire each weapon once. There isn’t a +1 Flaming Sword, +2 Flaming Sword staff, etc – there’s just a Flaming Sword

I believe horizontal scaling would create a much more fun experience for gamers and also provide better ROI on content for game developers.

Let me know what you think!

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81 comments on “Why Games Should Scale Horizontally Instead of Vertically
  1. Leiralei says:

    Wow, we are totally on the same wavelength. Are you reading my mind? O.O

    • taugrim says:

      Leiralei :

      Wow, we are totally on the same wavelength. Are you reading my mind? O.O

      Maybe I was reading your mind 2 months ago :)

      I recorded this back on Feb 15, but I hadn’t gotten around to editing it until today. A friend reminded me that it’s easier to criticize game design than to try to propose what things could or should look like, so I decided to edit and publish the video today.

      There are a few things that have been happening over the years:
      1. players are getting burned out of the gear treadmill / grind

      2. vertical scaling is killing developers because they have to keep creating new content because their system inherently allows content to get outdated.

      It’s simply not scalable from a business perspective, either to launch with sufficient content to make players happy or be able to keep generating content fast enough to keep subscribers around and still be profitable

      3. some games have shown glimpses of what a horizontal “level-the-playing-field” is like. E.g. 10-49 PVP in SWTOR is *mad* fun

      4. recent games are showing that re-playing the same content / maps is fine with gamers, so long as the game is fun. E.g. League of Legends

      Game developers have been supporting a model where they keep players around by making them grind, but that is a high burnout method and too easily leads to dissatisfaction.

  2. baromega says:

    I can’t wait for Guild Wars too either.

  3. Chaz says:

    I guess Vertical Scaling is the de facto way most MMORPG are designed because that’s the way Pen and Paper RPGs were designed (like Dungeons and Dragons) It’s not a bad design for 5 friends playing, but as you said, when you apply it to a massively multiplayer online enviroment it creates problems, however these are problems that can be avoided, for example:.

    1. The content is grindy when it gets really repetitive. I think Bioware made a fair attempt to avoid grind by introducing story, at least for those that care about the story, is a great motivation to keep playing, also the Legacy System will be introducing XP bonuses for your alts, making rerolling new characters a faster experience.

    2. Some game developers have introduced the sidekick/mentor system in which a player can be brought down (or up) to his friend’s character level so they can experience content together

    3. Difficulty modes is something that has existed in single player games for decades and the introduction of something like this to online games can make content that was faceroll easy a new challenge

    4. I think deadzones are more of a fault of the developers than an actual flaw of the vertical scaling, for example in swtor you can play the Taral V flashpoint at lvl 30ish, and then replay it again in Hard Mode at lvl 50, so there is a reason to go back and replay older content.

    I personally like the feeling of my character becoming more powerful as I advance through the game, but sadly, it takes considable development time to create more and more vertical content for me to play, I belive there could be a good hybrid progression system where you level up traditionally (or vertically) but when you reach level cap you can work on your achievements, unlocking appearances for your character or your items and vanity items, instead of grinding for more and more gear.

    There is nothing wrong with having horizontal progression from the start either, as far as I know, Guild Wars 2 is taking this approach and the game is very promising: All Im saying is that vertical progression can be good, but it has to stop at some point (like in single player RPGs) because when the developers try to artificially extend it, it creates problems.

    • taugrim says:

      Chaz :

      2. Some game developers have introduced the sidekick/mentor system in which a player can be brought down (or up) to his friend’s character level so they can experience content together

      It’s an attractive system. People want to be able to play with their friends.

      Chaz :

      3. Difficulty modes is something that has existed in single player games for decades and the introduction of something like this to online games can make content that was faceroll easy a new challenge

      I love having different difficulty settings for content. People can group up to try to clear X dungeon on Hard Mode for the first time. It gives something for people to work towards, strategize about, etc.

      Chaz :

      4. I think deadzones are more of a fault of the developers than an actual flaw of the vertical scaling, for example in swtor you can play the Taral V flashpoint at lvl 30ish, and then replay it again in Hard Mode at lvl 50, so there is a reason to go back and replay older content.

      If dungeon content dynamically scaled based on the players entering it, then it could work. But it would partly depend on how “powerful” characters got with each level. E.g. think of applying the 10-49 PVP Bolster, but to PVE.

      Chaz :

      I personally like the feeling of my character becoming more powerful as I advance through the game

      I do too, but it’s always struck me as silly that a level 80 character could kill fifty zillion level 1 mobs.

      Games tend to scale too much.

      Chaz :

      There is nothing wrong with having horizontal progression from the start either, as far as I know, Guild Wars 2 is taking this approach and the game is very promising: All Im saying is that vertical progression can be good, but it has to stop at some point (like in single player RPGs) because when the developers try to artificially extend it, it creates problems.

      The single-player RPGs, like old-school pen-and-paper D&D, had a very different feel to them. Leveling to 9, when you get your keep / castle / men-at-arms / whatever took freaking forever. But what was important was the journey and experience socially to get through dungeons together. Granted, getting your +1 Flametongue or better yet Vorpal Sword was way cool. But it wasn’t all about gear.

    • Doulos says:

      As mentioned by others. Many pen and paper games also did away with levels. Skills type ‘horizontal’ progress is favored by just about every game other than the D&D (d20) system.

      The other systems do have power creep, but it is much less verticle.
      LotFR for example still has ‘levels’ but it is mostly about skills, and there are only 5 levels. and just about any starting character could kill a rank 5. however it may be unlikely.
      Gurps is all point based. in that system a strong character vs a weak is only 3x times a strong roughly at most. and even in that case, it is reasonable that a gang of starting characters could kill something with three times the points.

      D&D though, like WoW. even a medium level character, say, lvl 20, would slaughter tens or even hundreds of lvl 1 characters. Starting characters have almost no chance at all to even put a dent in a max level character single handedly. Swtor trys to even that up with bolstering, but in open world pvp, you can see this difference just like WoW.

  4. Trey says:

    Agree of course.

    I am still shocked at little thought goes into the endgame of MMOs in the era of the WoW clone.

    Just look at SWTOR, 95+% of their “content” is “play once” if at all. All that work to build pretty ghost towns that players have to pass through to get to an endgame that consists of dailies and gear grind.

    MMOs have drawn the wrong lessons from previous successful MMOs- or rather the EQ>WOW progression.

    Meaningful endgame has to be about player interactions with other players- whether that is PvP or competition/cooperation of another kinds.

    I think you are probably a bit too optimistic about “achievements” being a solution to anything. However, along those lines, players have shown that they will go to great lengths for visible items that confer no combat advantage in game. I think that players also will work very hard for even the slightest advantage when it does come to combat bonuses, so why make the steps of your tiers so disparate? (Other than the gear check on PvE content of course- puke).

    The good news is that the free to play model can afford to be experimental. Also it probably can’t afford to invest heavily in what is passing for “content” in MMOs these days. Also the MMO playerbase is maturing and has more of an appreciation and taste for PvP and true player interaction.

    The playerbase was not have been ready for the Shadowbanes and DAOCs of the game world (and they were not ready technologically to deliver on their stated goals either). But the safe PVE raid endgame based games- well that base is covered in spades now- and I suspect that it will shrink rather than grow in the future.

    There is a better way, but it will take some extreme courage to bring a game that truly moves away from the EQ.WoW mold to market, rather than just changing 5-10% of the features…

    • taugrim says:

      Trey :

      Meaningful endgame has to be about player interactions with other players- whether that is PvP or competition/cooperation of another kinds.

      Agree 100%

      Trey :

      I think you are probably a bit too optimistic about “achievements” being a solution to anything. However, along those lines, players have shown that they will go to great lengths for visible items that confer no combat advantage in game. I think that players also will work very hard for even the slightest advantage when it does come to combat bonuses, so why make the steps of your tiers so disparate? (Other than the gear check on PvE content of course- puke).

      I think achievements would matter to the extent they foster bragging rights.

      The non-casual gamers tend to be highly competitive, wanting to be in really good guilds that kick butt in whatever they kick butt in.

  5. greyf0xuk says:

    A great read, and definitely on my wavelength.

    I would say though, that a purely horizontal progression path tends to work best in a competitive PvP based game. I’m a massive fan of fighting games (Street Fighter, Soul Calibur etc) and have sunk thousands of hours of my life into those games. I enjoy games where my success is based on me hitting MY skill-cap, rather than my character’s level-cap. However, take League of Legends for example, whilst incredibly popular with the “Achievers” and “Killers” amongst us, it does little to entice the “Socialisers” and “Explorers”.

    Vertical progression appeals to players that aren’t looking to perfect their game. If your focus is on exploring new content, the “grind” of an MMO can be very appealing; the sense of achievement of a level treadmill is incredibly effective at driving people through the content. Admittedly it has its drawbacks for socialisers when it comes to grouping, but various MMOs have used bolster/sidekick mechanics to minimise that problem.

    For an MMO, I think a hybrid system has the most potential to keep a wide range of player personalities happy. Guild Wars 2 seems like it has a lot of potential in this regard, it has a purely horizontal progression path in competitive PvP, letting you create max level characters with maxed out gear from the outset. In addition to this though, they still have vertical progression for PvE, catering to players less interested in pure skill based gameplay.

    It also sounds like they are going to have PvE endgame plateaux into horizontal progression once characters hit max level, which has very positive implications for long term content, allowing older dungeons and areas to remain relevant, even after new content is released. I’ll be interested to see how they treat progression into expansions, whether they’ll boost the level cap, or simply expand horizontally (adding new classes/races) like they did with the original Guild Wars.

    • tigertheory says:

      Taugrim is a competitive pvp player, so it’s only natural that his ideas carry bias toward the competitive gamer. While not all gamers are competitive, I think that his horizontal scaling could still work really well for the casual explorers and social dungeon crawlers. There’s nothing that says the new dungeon coming in patch 1.x has to be a level/gear tier higher than the last.

      • taugrim says:

        tigertheory :

        While not all gamers are competitive, I think that his horizontal scaling could still work really well for the casual explorers and social dungeon crawlers. There’s nothing that says the new dungeon coming in patch 1.x has to be a level/gear tier higher than the last.

        Yep.

        I would argue that a horizontal scaling system is actually very attractive for casuals, who normally don’t have the time to spend grinding to get the highest-end gear.

  6. What you’ve described sounds a lot like what ArenaNet is doing with Guild Wars 2. Sure, there is a vertical progression to level 80, but from what I’m hearing, this won’t take nearly as long as it would in a traditional MMO. You also unlock skills as you progress, and that’s the main progression really, the hunting down of skill points and using weapons enough to unlock all of their abilities, gear really doesn’t change too drastically stat wise nor does your character. Moreover, when you DO hit level 80 you are looking at horizontal progression in the form of explorable mode dungeons and various world events. You are also free to, at any level, go back and play content you missed or go back and play with lower level friends and still have a challenging, rewarding, and fun experience because the game will level you down to content level automagically.

    While PVE in GW2 may not have been a great example of horizontal progression, it is a HUGE part of how PVP works in GW2. For organized PVP and tournaments, all characters are leveled to 80 and are given all abilities, even if they haven’t unlocked them in the PVE game. There is no concept of “PVP gear” with special PVP stats, in fact your gear itself isn’t even a factor. Someone who just bought the game has the same abilities and statistical effectiveness as someone who has been playing for a year, the difference between the two comes down to player skill alone. Aside from tournaments that may or may not be sponsored (let’s hope Anet gets that observation mode implemented), organized PVP nets you points which you can spend on cosmetic gear. WvW is a similar system, but IIRC your gear is what you’ve acquired in the regular game and that, while you are leveled to 80, you only have the skills that you’ve unlocked. However this doesn’t matter as much because of how massive WvW is. A person with very few abilities unlocked can still make a difference in a fight by, say, escorting a supply caravan, or taking over a camp that’s lightly defended.

    Personally, I find the horizontal leveling approach, as it’s implemented in Guild Wars 2, to be quite refreshing. I’ve been very hardcore in WoW, Rift, and SWTOR when it came out but what kills my desire to play more than anything is the gear grind that I am forced to do if I want to see end-game PVE content or if I want to be competitive at all in PVP. The PVP gear grind isn’t so bad because it’s PVP and that is usually a fun activity but it really is a revolving door and a stigma of the genre that once you get that full set of top tier PVP or PVE gear it’s, hey look there’s a completely NEW set of gear I have to sink hours into just so I can enjoy being competitive in PVP or experiencing the new content!

    Yikes.

    The Secret World also centers mostly around skill unlocks and IIRC, the gear you get is mostly cosmetics. Planetside 2, while a shooter, focus on skill unlocks and doesn’t have a concept of getting more HP, or a better gun, it’s just all in how you’ve set up your skill layout. I think that in the future we’ll see other MMOs embrace a horizontal leveling approach, even if they may have some vertical leveling too. Would that be diagonal leveling? ;)

  7. I think pure vertical is as you say, inherently limiting. However I do think that pure horizontal can cause some issues as well.

    Not to sound like a fanboy but I do think that Guild Wars 2 is embracing a good blend of both systems and has a stronger leaning towards the horizontal system. The automatic scaling to level of area or battleground. The dynamic event system. The dynamic loot acquisition that scales to your “true” level so you always feel rewarded. The rewarding of people based on participation without need of pre-organizing (raids) which allows for more spontaneous fun and that again level isn’t an issue to this spontaneity.

    Granted, you cannot scale up in the PvE side and I’m unsure that removing levels from PvE would “feel” right. There is something in us that needs a measure, at least in me anyway. In PvP you have it without levels due to the leaderboards. You have that measure that is reflected in your performance.

    Perhaps they could do something like that in PvE but I’m unsure how to do that and still give that measure of accomplishment that leveling ends up bringing to the table. Call it a failing of my design I suppose or that I’ve played “level” based games (PnP and electronic) for the last 28 years and it is so ingrained in me that I cannot see the alternative correctly. Maybe if I saw it in action my mind would wrap around it.

    WoW is embracing horizontal as you mentioned with achievements and now with challenge modes, as well as the leaderboards they will have for dungeon clears. They could do more, the dynamic systems from GW2 would breathe life into the vast world that WoW has, not to mention many other MMO’s currently on the market.

    I think that at least from what I’ve seen, it’s possible the current model GW2 has may find a way to ferret out the “sweet spot” from both styles.

  8. Potent says:

    Nailed it.

    I discussed this sort of thing a lot with guildies and friends back when I was playing WAR. It seemed so obvious that for an RvR game, rather than having gear and stat advantages for killing a lot of players, you should get bragging rights/titles/trophies/cooler looking gear/more customisation. Obvious ones would be things like getting titles and trophies for big killing streaks in scenarios, or killing 100 players in a zone in under an hour etc. The statues in the capital cities of the highest renown earners (which didn’t ever seem to be working) were a great idea too! Who doesn’t want a statue of themselves?!

    • Trey says:

      Well what a game like WAR needs is to be able to actually affect change on the world. Players wont need nearly as much “vertical” progression if the game is progressing on a social or political level.

      You need to be able to work towards a goal- it can’t be just raw character power.

  9. belamp2y says:

    Isn’t the “vertical” scaling brought on by the “RPG” part of an MMORPG? Not an inherent byproduct of being a MMORPG.

    RPGs are always about vertical scaling. The concept of progression through levels and progression is always a huge factor in RPGs let alone MMORPGs.

    Also the concept of “horizontal” scaling is what most other genres of games (not rpgs) use to extend the life of the game. More maps, more unique weapons (not progressive), new skins or characters. Achievements etc.

    So in essense what you want is a MMO without the RPG part.. but more of a different genre of game willing to take on the title of “massively multiplayer online”. Or rather.. MMORPGs should be less RPG and more like the other popular games with good “horizontal” methods of life extension.

    I feel like some titles are onto this. As some people mentioned, GW2 and WoW etc. But I believe most developers (even the two mentioned titles) are afraid to give up the vertical progression ideals. Simply because of the legacy of “RPGs” and why people play them. Heck, even look at Skyrim. That game has “vertical scaling” written all over it and there are alot of people out there who can’t get enough of that design system.

    A better request would be for the gaming industry to try more MMOs without the RPG. For us people who are tired of vertical scaling.

    • Gothic90 says:

      I don’t think single player RPGs created this endgame gear grind progression. When your beat the final boss the game ends there. Replay a single player game means create a new character and experience a new story or play style. Or install mods to experience a new story or play style.

      I also don’t think in most SP RPG the vertical scaling is as “steep” as in most MMORPGs today. In Kotor, the lightsaber you get a level 8 and the lightsaber drops from an enemy at level 20 does exactly the same damage. In fact people will probably prefer a more “flat” vertical scaling for MMORPG’s PvP.

      Well, maybe Diablo 2 is the father of this very steep vertical scaling but it does not represent all RPGs. Many people even argue whether Diablo 2 is an RPG or not.

      I also don’t think Skyrim is a good example for vertical scaling. It shows exactly its drawbacks: it’s boring as heck to level your crafting skills to max level and after that the fights become extremely easy and most item rewards from quest lines become obsolete.

      However, it’s a good example that Skyrim, as a single player RPG, could mitigate the drawbacks of vertical scaling. You can switch between different difficulties (while if you do that in an MMO people will expect better rewards); you can install mods and different mods suit different players; you can start a new character and gimp yourself on purpose such as making a rule of not using crafting station and etc.

      None of the above is doable in an MMORPG.

      Also in most SP RPGs, late game bosses can be designed to only advance the story and does not offer any additional reward, such as in Baldur’s Gate series, Neverwinter Nights and many of its modules, Dragon Age Origins and etc. There can also be plot moments where you lose all your gears (such as in A dance with Rogues) or even most of your abilities.

      So there you have it. There are a ton of ways to mitigate the problems of vertical scaling in a single player RPG whereas an MMO is much more restrictive and there are only very few ways to do it.

  10. zezza04 says:

    I agree with you to some degree, but I am skeptical on how well this works, and would like to see a successful MMO based on this system since I have a somewhat hard time seeing how this would actual work and be achieved in reality.

  11. BossFi says:

    Totally agree! There is so much potential a true horizontal MMO can offer that it’s seems to have been overlocked. GW2 appears to be going in the right direction but it could have been so much more. I get bored of MMO’s with level caps, I feel character progression is is halted at that point. I can only dream of the day when levels are gone and quest markers are gone. I would sooner play a true horizontal MMO in a dynamic world any day of the week!

  12. EuchridEucrow says:

    belamp2y :

    RPGs are always about vertical scaling. The concept of progression through levels and progression is always a huge factor in RPGs let alone MMORPGs.

    This isn’t actually true. Dungeons and Dragons popularized the basic idea of a level-based rpg(i.e. “vertical scaling”). D&D was introduced in codified form in 1974 but the advanced form(AD&D) didn’t come out until 1978. Between 1974 and 1978 Marc Miller created Traveller, an SF rpg, that did away with level-based game play and focused on skills instead. So getting away from “vertical scaling” as the term is being used here was something that happened VERY early on in modern role-playing games.

  13. Daniel says:

    I think that vertical levelling is too engrained in both the minds of developers and players for it to be realistically removed. That being said there are some things you can do to make progression more horizontal:

    1) The bolster system that is currently in 10-49 war zones for swotor and the system planned for guild wars 2 WvW mean that you have progression, but everyone can participate without having to grind. Granted you will be much weaker at a lower level, but you will still be able to contribute and have fun.

    2) Make higher levels of gear more about customization than raw stat increases. When I talk about this I mean it in two senses. On the one hand as you progress you should get better looking gear, but in talking to my friends who like to pve that is not enough. Pure cosmetics don’t feel like enough of an achievement. So what if higher level gear allowed you to have more control over which stats are in your armour. This would not provide a significant advantage over uncustomized people, but would allow players to base their gear around their play style to a greater degree.

  14. Shaidarharan says:

    Love your Idé Tau, never liked the horisontal scaling, started my mmo carrier with Anarchy Online, not saying the game isn´t horisontal, but most of the content is still doable with people in some lvl dif, and gear isn´t everything.
    From what i´v seen, Secret World is damn close to your idé.
    Gonna be fun to see how it works in reallity.

    I do think a combination would be the best thou, say 75-80% of the game focuses on horisontal scaling and the rest in to vertical, with a lvl cap set high enough that you will start endgame contents long before you reach it or even remove the cap and just make it so it only benefits minor to be superior in lvl and let skill/teamwork easily overcome lvl differense.

  15. Great post :)

    I definitely agree, especially with the part about being sick of the grind. I can’t even deal with it anymore. Hopefully the mmo industry starts to move more this way!

  16. dynamicnet says:

    /signed.

    taugrim, I agree with you.

    BTW, “The Secret World” by FunCom appears to be taking the horizontal approach.

  17. dbidbi says:

    Taugrim,
    Thoughtful comments. I like the mmorpg games but I don’t have the disposable time to commit to them the way others do. It would be preferable to just learn to play more effectively than grinding through the levels and gear.
    Of course it would be great if you had solution in mind, a mmorpg to point to for example.

    Does the skill wheel of The Secret World fit the bill?

    Regards..

  18. ShrEd says:

    The real issue here is rewarding players; grinding for the sake of grinding isn’t worthwhile, whilst putting time and effort into something knowing you will be rewarded along the way is acceptable.

    The disparity between casual and hardcore gamers causes further problems because a hardcore might not like the grind but they will ‘accept’ it as they know they will be rewarded with something tangible that will advance their characters over others. Casuals will then complain that they are at a disadvantage not due to skill but to gear disparity due to time invested.

    If you change the verticle scaling to horizontal you have to make sure the reward isn’t reduced to the extent that the fun of participating and the reward is outweighed by the act of participation (e.g. in SWTOR I wouldnt find warzones fun after say, a month, if all I was rewarded with was a title and some cosmetics).
    Changing the reward to something that enhances your character but doesnt impact others would be the ideal goal, but doesn’t that go against the nature of an mmo?

    Personally I like the ideas people here have suggested about the reward being the ability to mod your gear or stats, so that you can enhance your character. Limit it to within the framework of a shared pool that each player has (the same gear, resources, and the same stat pool) but gives a player to, for example, min/max or customize their character to be a particlular play style.

  19. Chuggs says:

    I guess I’m not seeing how this system is truly “horizontal” rather than “less vertical.”

    If you need an Earth Staff to be good at Earth Magic, then you’ve made a vertical progression, and you’re going to have content where the Earth Staff is required (or whatever other item it is) and thus things won’t be truly level.

    Alternatively, maybe you’re talking simply about broadening a player’s set of abilities, (IE I could roll an Earth Mage and start with an Earth Staff, or I can roll a Fire Mage but then progress to also learn Earth magic). However, for it to be a horizontal progression, the learning would have to be in a way which DOES NOT increase effectiveness (because if it increases effectiveness then you’ve once again gated new players out of content) then you’re talking about just giving people more options, or purely cosmetic changes. For example, your fire mage could “level up” to learn to be an earth mage too, but he’d have to be in one stance or the other, otherwise he would be more powerful than a pure fire or earth mage alone. For people who are only interested in one playstyle though, learning these other abilities/playstyles isn’t a reward, since they don’t want to use them (IE many warriors don’t want to heal, DPS don’t want to tank, etc).

    Basically, in a PvE environment, I don’t know that horizontal scaling provides enough carrot to keep the player going. Once you learn a fight, there is no personal challenge in going back, so the only reason to do so is for a carrot.

    In a PvP environment, I COMPLETELY agree that horizontal scaling is appropriate, because in PvP there are constantly new challenges from other players, you can’t “learn the fight” and auto-pilot yourself in PvP. There is also a more visceral and real struggle for bragging rights in PvP so you can give people the carrot of leaderboards or prestige and keep them coming back.

    • Bnol says:

      I agree. I don’t see how horizontal scaling would really work in a PVE context. Either the rewards of horizontal scaling are not meaningful enough to encourage enough people to replay content, or they are meaningful and they create a vertical progression.

      Content is king in PVE, and most players only want to do the content a few times. Vertical progression gives incentives to repeat that content so that they can attempt new content at a later date. For most PVE players it isn’t about the leader-board as they either to do not have the desire to, or are unable (time, skill, social restrictions) to compete, so I doubt that would keep people playing the same content for long. Horizontal progression would just not have the same draw to keep existing players. Sure, it is great for new players because they have a wealth of content that is relevant, but then again with the experienced players leaving (either for good, or until the next content patch) the new players will have fewer people to experience the content with.

      Even with the vertical progression you will need a constant stream of content, but then the content will be consumed quickly and then servers become ghost towns until the next content patch comes out. And, it becomes questionable whether you will be able to get those players to return each content patch.

      Horizontal works fine in a PVP environment, and all of your examples are from PVP environments.

  20. Benny Soo says:

    Ed, I agree wholeheartedly with your post. This is the exact reason why I stopped playing WOW after vanilla, Rift after seeing that there were XX amount of PVP tiered gears for one level, and SWTOR seeing the 4 tiers of PVP gear for max level.

    These are some elements I wanted to see SWTOR implement to help with the horizontal expansion:
    -Dejarik
    -Pazaak
    -Podracing
    -Droid construction
    -Multiplayer Space Combat
    -Bounty system
    -A reason to go around the world rather than stay on the endgame fleet

    Unfortunately it would be a good long time before SWTOR ever implement those ideas above. I have moved on from SWTOR sadly… from a guild of 110 unique members down to just barely enough to run any instance in 3 months.. As a Star Wars fan, I was devastated to see a game like this plummet.

    Currently I am playing a game called Wakfu. You may be interested in this since it is such a huge difference from other MMOs. This game seems to scale both vertically and horizontally. The game is grindy with 100 levels… however these are where the game shines:
    -Player operated government system (Governor, Vice Governor, Treasurer, Head Guard, Ecologist, etc..)
    -Citizenship (Align yourself to 100
    -Ecology system (Ability to make mobs, trees, and herbs extinct. Also allows for ecoterrorism)
    -Open world PVP with outlaw system (You can kill anyone anywhere except their player housing, but if you kill enough you can become outlawed. Also allows for player created bounty systems)
    -Jail system (When an outlaw gets killed, they are sent to a jail in which they work their way out via time OR break out using crafting skills within the jail)
    -Police system (Players who kill 10 Outlaws in their time get “guard” status allowing them to do more damage to Outlaws. Anti-griefing)
    -Multi-faction (Instead of the usual good vs bad, sith vs jedi, alliance vs horde; there are 4 nations to choose from)
    -Nation War (A nation’s governor can declare war on another nation making citizens of each nation outlaws on enemy land. Currently one nation declared war on the other 3 nations)
    -Player Housing (You have a bag that you go into that is your home, you can personalize it, expand it, decorate it, lock it, sell items in it, and craft in it. This is the only PVP free area in the game)
    -Auction House + Player Operated Stores (Allows for sales based on Supply/Demand)
    -No bind on equip (Gear found can be traded to friends later on or sold via Auction House OR Personal Bazaars)
    -Equipment has limited restrictions for usage (Level is almost the only restriction for gear use. No armor rating so sometimes wearing a level 46 piece of gear for the unique stats may be better than level 76 gear of the same slot. Want to wear a giant two hand axe as a healer? Sure!)
    -Full stat allocation (Like Diablo 2, you can pump your stats to whatever you would like them to be. Want to be a tank healer? Sure!)
    -Leveling (As long as you kill monsters with a level total close to your group’s level total, you will gain optimal exp. This means if there is a group of monsters level 100, I can have a party of 2 people one level 80 and one level 20 and get good experience for both. This allows for me as a more veteran player enjoy the game with newcomers.)

    Here are the possible negatives:
    -Turn based battle system (Some people are instantly turned off by this!)
    -Can get grindy, skills has levels(the more you use the skill the better, don’t use a skill and it will never level up)
    -No stat resets (Like Diablo 2… there are no way of resetting stats. You mess up you have to either remake your character or wait for a global stat reset due to class changes. I think they are implementing a stat change)

    Secret World has the potential to be a horizontal gaming experience, but something tells me not to get my hopes up. I think EVE is probably another MMO that has great horizontal replay value… although it has a vertical scaling with skill levels. Truly I think MMOs will always have some vertical aspects, but having both vertical and horizontal aspects can keep it long lasting with good appeal. Blizzard is trying to add this element with the Pokemon expansion making people revisit the world to find pets that can also battle while you wait to raid etc. This allows for people on PVP servers to have good old Tarren Mill/Stranglethorn/Booty Bay pvp fun while with purpose(finding the rare pokemon spawns).

    Lastly sorry for this long post, If you are still in the city we should grab a bite or something again and discuss!

    -Benny, Dreampiece Founder.

    • Lian Wan says:

      You are listing the player stores as a positive? Have they made a huge change from beta? Loved the crafting but the player stores were a nightmare to deal with. Having to click through every player store to check prices/product availability was a huge chore. I believe FFXIV had a similar issue. Additionally the only way you could sell things was to other players so choices were use/discard/attempt to sell to other players. Hopefully they’ve fix some of these otherwise the whole economy is just a chore.

  21. Chaz says:

    Something I liked about the Rackghoul Event the implemented is that it applies to this sort of horizontal progression Taugrim mentions, what do you get from the Event?

    - A rare color crystal
    - Companion customization
    - 2 new pets
    - A title
    - Codex Entries

    Of all af these items the only one that increases stats (by a tiny bit) is the crystal, and it’s an artifact quality item, but all the rest are vanity items and stuff.

    I belive there is an entry level of 25, but the mobs scale with your level (they have a protective caparece that absorbs the 1st hit, detect the level of the atacker and then increase the level of the mob to match the player) So I was just doing the quest next to level 40 and 30 players.

  22. rowan dax says:

    Good article (yet again…) As a few others have stated, The Secret World appears to be making great strides in the “horizontal” progression with over 500 abilities to pick from and make your character exactly how you want with on the fly preset swapping a’la Rift allowing you to fill any role as needed. Added to that is the limit of 7 active and 7 passive abilities. To me it’s a breath of fresh air compared to 5 quickslot bars full of abilities…

    The pvp looks very awesome as well with 3 factions battling on a warzone map, and the big warzone with over 100 players, faction wide benefits and 24/7 continuous play (yes the BIG warzone has no beginning or end; it is always on) and no PvP gear.

    While I was intrigued by the horizontal progression and immersive storyline, the reason I pre ordered was because of the amazing potential I see within the PvP scope of the game.

    As for the folks citing GW2; I don’t know but I was rather unimpressed with it and walked away with the taste of vanilla. Maybe it’s just me because others rave about it.

    And thanks to Mr. Ed Park for helping me to improve my PvP game, one lightsaber at a time.

  23. Razik says:

    All i can say is, Go do it! We need new games out there and we need new ideas, SWTOR is a lot of fun and hits a lot of good points… but still depresses me in the amount of how similar to wow it is!

    Keep passing this idea around and everyone should share it, someone will pick up on it soon and a legend will be created! Nice thoughts Taugrim. Maybe once when people realize its not all about the money, good games can come out again.

  24. Jade says:

    I agree with you. I think it was what Mythic kinda had in mind with Warhammer, it just didnt pan out that way in the end too bad really.

    Horizontal progression would I think keep people from standing around the capitol city waiting for the next LFG pop to get into whichever dungeon they want.

    Also would mean ppl might not get to lvl cap and say, “To hell with this the gear gap is too great” when they are fresh level capped players trying to progress in pvp

  25. Doulos says:

    PvP is already about ranking, stats, titles, and visual distinction. And just about 100% of pvpers dispise grinding. Some of them do enjoy destroying helpless opponents, but the vast majority enjoy a level playing field where skill wins, not gear.

    PvPers in general really really want this kind of system.

    I assume competitive PvEers would be super excited about this kind of thing. Ranking vs other guilds, stats, titles, and visual distinction can all be rewards for PvE. For example WoW has holidays, and Swtor right now has a live event that has unique items. People go crazy over these events with little to no real gear advantage. Mostly it is about achievements.

    Last but not least, new players and old players alike truely enjoy playing together. I go through great lengths to make a character to play with my wife and keep it the same level. I would love to do PvP or events with this character, but I have to sit it on the shelf so I do not accidently get out of sync. It is very frustrating.

    In summary; I agree.

  26. Will Munslow says:

    Trey touched on it earlier (I skimmed a lot), but like to I’d re-emphasize the point that having an actual effect on the game world would be another way to make horizontal engaging. For instance, if people kill the big bad guy, the big bad guy could stay dead. The game would be run more like a campaign, where actions have permanent political consequences.

    For a brief period, there was a Battletech game (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiplayer_BattleTech_3025) where players joined houses. The PvP battle results determined the borders (size/strength) of the different houses.

    I would prefer these types of achievements over timing based ones.

  27. Jeff says:

    I partly agree with the application of horizontal scaling to PVE. PVE is about growing and personal progression more than acheivement acquisiton. Like you mention, it harkens back to the paper and pen D&D days. Level up, acquire new shiny things. Small controlled areas can have horizontal scaling though, e.g. instances, crafting.

    However, PVP i have always believed must have horizontal scaling in order to be fun for the largest slice of a game’s players. SWTOR’s 1-49 bracket is perfect example. You can still be more powerful as you gain more abilities but your overall damage and defense are evened out…you just get more “tricks” at your disposal as you grow.

    For PVP, the goal is to have fun killing opponents and climbing leaderboards/getting mvp votes/bragging rights, not so much in acquiring shiny objects.

    For PVE, the goal is to have a fun killing experience the first few times, then it’s about acquiring shiny objects.

  28. poisonman says:

    Sounds pretty much like your describing Guild Wars 2 :-P good article Taugrim

    • Zarovich says:

      Actually GW2 sounds more verticle with the 80 levels it has.

      • Riddark says:

        it might have 80 levels but you can go back and do anything in the game and it takes you down to the level of the content and still get xp for doing that content. No content in the game is too low for you and you also get loot drops that are for your level. So really the only thing the levels do for you is give you skill trait points and new abilities. the gear is generally not that much of a difference. Similar concept as to what taugrim is describing.

  29. clarkjry says:

    I see your point and agree with some of you ideas, but I will take issue with one point you raise regarding using speed as a reward…

    I agree that MMO’s can become “grindy.” Not a big fan of timed or speed runs though. I think people are already in too much of a hurry to “finish” whatever they’re doing. I experienced this in WOW when people would group for instances and skip bosses or content so they could get through the instance as quickly as possible. To me an MMO is about the journey more than the finish.

    It also became a problem in PVP with the “hurry up and lose” concept that developed in WoW. It made WOW PVP a miserable experience for the most part. I can’t understand why people like to play a game that way. I always felt that if you did the content, or fought the battle, the gear and the rewards will come as a result.

    Timing things for rewards would cause a whole new set of problems in my opinion.

    • Benny Soo says:

      I agree! If you plan for “endgame content” you probably have a failing game in the making. There shouldn’t be an end to MMOs so there would be no rush to grind etc. The abolishment of levels could help with this… or let the levels never taper off. To me everyone already has a innate leveling system… it is called /timeplayed. The levels in games causes such a gap with newcomers.. like a collapsing bridge and the developers only cater to those that have been on the bridge before it started collapsing(max level characters) and letting the newcomers fall off the bridge or never even step on it.

  30. I also agree. But please don’t kid yourselves: the extra abilities earned during the process of going from 10 to 49 in SWTOR PvP are very much measurable advantages, and as such, the same as having a gear difference.

  31. David says:

    Horizontal scaling sounds pretty similar to some single player RPG’s. It puts an emphasis on strategy and skill than the stregnth of gear.

  32. thom says:

    Imo, something that is lacking in themepark mmos is a meaningful interaction with the environment. I’d like to see more upgrades/rewards in the form of new ways to interact with/traverse the gameworld. Example: boots that let you walk on water, or walk on walls. A cloak or a jetpack that lets the player glide short distances. A grappling hook, an ice beam that creates ice bridges. the possibilities are numerous.

    The explorer type of player has really been neglected. These kind of items would not be about stats but about giving the player more options to explore and discover new content.

  33. aceofspadez619 says:

    Good post and conversation starter Taug! Sounds like you are taking this game design as a career thing more seriously? :D

    I definitely like the “work smarter, not harder” message to developers. So much development in many industries is done “because that’s what the customer expects/knows” rather than truly innovating on behalf of the customer. We all know what games like WoW and SWTOR do to “put lipstick on the grinding pig” so to speak i.e. multiple class stories, companions, The Legacy system (to try and make it fun to grind more characters), etc but at the core there is the inherent gear based issues you discussed; and also a feel of being “locked out” if you are more of a casual player.

    What kept me for many years of getting into games like WoW was 1) the perception of needing to be a “full time hardcore gamer”, investing many hours to just get to the point where you can be on an even playing field for PvE/PvP and enjoy group content and 2) paying a sub on a game to level grind primarily solo just to get there. Why pay a monthly sub to solo grind? I can play a console game for that. I have other working friends that the first char they roll is the one they level to cap…and that’s it. They’d rather quit a game than ‘regrind’ another storyline or class b/c it’s not worth the time investment for them.

    I think the concept of “horizontal” scaling as you described it is a natural and needed evolution of MMO gaming, esp. in light of how it’s used so successfully in many social media “casual” games.

    People think these are competing concepts that can’t coexist, but I think they can and should. What’s great about the MMORPG is it’s depth and complexity, much of it implemented in the vertical design. What’s great about the “casual” games is the ability to “jump” right in, achievement based/social rewards, fun replayable content, but it lacks depth.

    I think the concepts can be merged successfully in a MMORPG and other’s in this post have mentioned games that have or plan to implement both in some way.

    Someone else mentioned that the RPG part of the game is what makes a MMORPG vertical and to make it horizontal means you are just making a MMO game of some other type. I don’t completely agree with that. Leveling is definitely a fun part of the RPG experience, but take a step back at what your level is supposed to represent. Your level should represent how “powerful” you are in the world, or how much “experience” you have accumulated. You can still apply leveling to an MMORPG without it being tied to a gear grind, necessarily. If the concept of your characters level can be expanded to be more than an increase of base stats and end game content be less reliant on gear, increased level can be tied to the ability to specialize/hybridize your character that will help you earn accomplishments to master your class, for example.

    Perhaps a truly “horizontal” based MMO would be too “casual” for the traditional MMORPG player, not offering enough depth in gameplay due to its breadth. Not having traditional character progression and playing for leaderboards may not appeal to some. The other side of the coin is to expand the basic online “casual” game to have a more MMO feel.

    With HTML5 and hardware based graphics acceleration in modern browsers, I can see the web being the platform of a browser-based, tablet compatible MMORPG that can be built around the horizontal scaling but still offer some of the depth of gameplay and immersion of a traditional MMO.

  34. Safa says:

    I think the horizontal system is a brilliant idea, the idea of having different staffs/swords to enhance certain aspects of the class i.e. better DOTs, or improved defence.

    This would stop the constant grind for new gear all the time but allow a player to keep the item’s he/she has worked hard for and they wont need to replace them when a new patch comes out.

    Also the aspect of it is too casual for the traditional gamer is wrong in my opinion, I have never liked replacing my gear with new gear every couple of months, tbh who enjoys that?
    I understand why its awesome to get new gear but it scales way too much and having a system such as you suggested, improving certain aspects of a class with different types of gear would allow players to win on skill rather than having better gear.

    Also the best thing about horizontal gaming would be starting new chars, I cant explain how frustrating it is to start another class in any MMO, you start from scratch and have to grind all the way up to a high lvl then get gear, takes sooo long.

    Then there is the matter of traditional players saying they love the story and what not, the story can still be there, but you can choose to do it or not, if you do it you get special items they may change the look of a char, achievements and other kool things.

    For me when I start an MMO I will do the story and enjoy that part of it, however I am a die hard pvp’er and if I want a new char I want the option to start it and never touch pve or do the story again, its tiresome and boring.

  35. Wassup Taugrim. I don’t know your full MMO experience and what you’ve played and what you ahven’t but I’d like to throw City of Heroes/Villains onto the table.

    Play with friends:
    You can do this via a PvE balstering system called Sidekicking. For example, a level 20 could boost a level 3 to level 19 so that can play together. He wouldn’t get more spells/powers but he would be stat worthy to play next to him, straight away and he’d gain scalled down XP for doing it.

    Achievments: CoX didn’t have them, but it did have something close called badges. Some where simple like show up at a Christmas event, or be subed to the game for X time, go to a certain place, but some where for world bosses and dungeons.

    Tier’d gear: Gear doesn’t exist. It’s all about power ups that you assign to slots and anyone can do this since it’s via gold and not raid rewards. Looks didn’t come from armour either, it came from personal choice and was only cosmetic. Veterans had access to more but apart from that they started with the same model to build on with the same stuff from 1-50 with the exception of capes which unlocked at 25. You wanted to show off, you flashed badges, not armour. There would often be Costume contests held by guilds for the entire server to get in on, where the winner would get some rare materials to make a cosmetic peice like wings or some money for stat augments too which was a lot of fun!

    Grindy: It sort of is a little, but in it’s defence the lack of gear and the Sidekick system goes along way to eliminate it.

    Zones staying relevent: The starting zone was the hangout of all cap levels. so level 1′s would stand next to level 50′s and share the same stage. Also in each zone there was a World Boss, these were my favourite thing about CoX, World bosses would scale to individuals. So a level 1 would get scaled down damage to match his level and a level 50 would be hit like a level 50 should and it did it without the Sidekick system. Eliminating level requirements for World Bosses. a level 30 DPS could be as useful as a level 50 DPS.

    City of Heroes is about 7-8 years old now and was/is far from perfect but it did some amazing things to the MMO world that never took off that should have. If you haven’t already it might be cool to watch some Youtube videos or give it a try. :)

  36. Hanshotfirst says:

    I think you’re really going to enjoy Guild Wars.

    If you like shooters at all, I also think you’d really enjoy Tribes Ascend (try a Raider; gawd they’re fun!).

    Last but not least, holy cow Ed, some studio NEEDS to sign you on as a consultant/dev. I’d play the s out of any game you had a hand in designing. You’ve really got some great ideas.

  37. [...] Why Games Should Scale Horizontally Instead of Vertically (taugrim.com) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Tags: [...]

  38. imfour20 says:

    Hire this guy Bioware! . . .before Arena.net does :p

  39. Brytag says:

    all i know is, this current system “the vertical model” by ur term, has to change. already not even 5 months into ToR and im burnt out. finding it harder and harder to log on everyday. not that the game is bad per se, its just what ive been doing in every other MMO game since WoW was released.

    but i cant believe this concept hasnt been thought up before. im sure many a devs and gamers like urself thought this same thing (i know i have thought similarily). i think something beyond them is forcing them into the current model we all see cuz of WoW’s success.

    i can see it now:
    dev guy says “hey i have this awesome idea for our game to make it better and different than whats been done to death!”
    The Man with the cash who has no idea on what gamers want says “i dont care about ur idea, do what WoW does or say goodbye to my cash and ur game”
    dev guy – /facepalm

  40. Irishbrewed says:

    This makes so much sense! Agree with it 100%

  41. rokvar says:

    Taurgrim your thoughts are right on. SWG had no lvls at first, you just gain new abilities through xp, you had 250 talent pts to spend and as you gained the xp, you were able to lvl up different talent trees both basic and then advanced professions (brawler, then pikeman or swordsman – medic then master doc – scout then ranger – marksman then pistoleer or rifleman – as well as hybrid advance classes like bounty hunter, combat medic and squad leader). Now the only questions is how to get game developers to use the horizontal approach. SWTOR as well as WOW is so vacant at the lower lvl content now. 3 to 5 years developing content that gets old in 3 months. I think giving players the ability to create and add to there world is another area that developers need to think about. Crafting is so limited in most games and it could be used so much more especially for the economy within the game. SWG was great about that. Everything a player had and used was farmed from minerals or grown and then crafted with a lengthy process. Players that made the best weapons were known on there servers. But it was not limited to weapons and armor. Clothing, food, furniture, decorations, structures and even vehicles were made by crafters. This made for a strong economy as well as giving many types of players different ways to experience the game. Some were only crafters and/or venders. Some musicians or dancers. Some were politicians. I hope to find a game that you can experience a world that you can effect. Where you can go on adventures with friends and then come home and talk about it in a cantina. Where you have epic battles with opposing factions (3 or more factions would be great). Horizonal Scaling is a great way to give develops the ability to open there worlds up for more interesting and diverse game play as well as let you start experiencing the game with your friends right away.

    • Zarovich says:

      Yeah I also felt SWG was more horizontal then vertical but lets also remember what a disaster that game ended up being. Even at its peak, SWG never came close to the 1mil subscriber base. Its reasons like these that developers most likely shy away from anything similiar. Darkfall should be considered in this catagory too and this game didn’t seem to go over very well either.

      Another thing in regards to your SWTOR comment, the lower tiered planets are the more populated. Drommund Kas on average has 40+ players there everyday while Voss is lucky to have 10 on average. Now how is the lower tiers so vacant again in comparison to the higer tiered ones.

  42. This is mainly the reason I got tired of WoW and why I’m kinda getting tired of SW:ToR.

    It looks a lot like what GW2 is doing, also it can be compared to BattleField 3:

    -You level up and get different weapons and different customizations for them. For example if you’re russian you start with an AK-47 (not the exact weapon you start with) and as you level up you can equp a foregrip for less recoil, a supressor for silent killing, but without these customizations you can pretty much still kill anyone.

    -There are camouflage customizations for your character, there is not that much of a difference, but it is kinda cool and fun!

    The more I play traditional MMOs the more I get tired of them. LoL and BF3 are great examples of games that have a really nice horizontal progression, and that is mainly because they are PvP. But what you proposed for PvE is really good too!

    Maybe with this model in GW2 there won’t be much of an issue for a lower level player to be able to play with higher level players.

  43. Riddark says:

    you realize that this is basically what GW2 is doing. You level up through dynamic events and dungeons but you can never outlevel the area cause once you get to a certain level the game brings you down to the area’s level. so if your level 80 you can still come back to anything you did and it brings you down to that level so the content is still challenging and you can experience with friends leveling or not. There is no gear grind as well in the game.

    • taugrim says:

      Riddark :

      you realize that this is basically what GW2 is doing. You level up through dynamic events and dungeons but you can never outlevel the area cause once you get to a certain level the game brings you down to the area’s level. so if your level 80 you can still come back to anything you did and it brings you down to that level so the content is still challenging and you can experience with friends leveling or not. There is no gear grind as well in the game.

      Yes I know, and it’s part of the reason I’m looking forward to GW2.

  44. tigertheory says:

    The only thing that throws me in this “horizontal” system, as good of an idea as it is (and I’m sure you’re not the first to have it), is the “Cinderburn” staff type of gear that buffs types of spells, or specific spells. Do you think developers are up to the challenge of coming up with new and interesting effects on gear? Ones that aren’t simply stronger versions of last season’s gear? For the next several years? And keeping them all balanced?

    Keeping with the staff idea: Suppose a game came out today that subscribed to horizontal philosophy. They implement staves for the mages to improve a spell. Eventually, there is at least one staff for every spell, to improve it in some way. Maybe there are multiple staves. (ie. A staff that increases the range of your fireball and another that increases the length of the burn dot that the fireball places)

    Now suppose that same mmo has lasted 5+ years. The developers, having created a game where no piece of gear is ever deprecated, are now faced with the challenge of balancing and tracking all of the 140 staves that could possibly be in play during the pvp match / dungeon at any given time.

  45. Siro says:

    Ed, you’ve basically described Guild Wars (and from the looks of things, Guild Wars 2).

    I know you’ve said you never played the original Guild Wars, but that game was all about horizontal progression and competitive pvp (just go back and look at the global tournaments they held annually), this was back in 2004.

    Here’s how things worked in Guild Wars:

    1. Level cap is 20. Reachable in a few days, however pve content extended well beyond the level cap. As you level and go through the content, you earn more and more spells/skills to choose from, but you are limited to 8 at the time. The key was to design a build around 8 skills that synergized and played well.

    For examples, see the classic “55 Monk”, “Boon Prot Monk”, “Shock/Gale Axe Warrior”. One particular person figured out a warrior build that allowed him to solo all of Sorrow’s Furnace (end game content). Think his name was WittyWas if remember.

    2. Gear progression was all about looks since level 20 gear was the max. There were some rare items (e.g., green named items), but they carried similar stats, with differences of around 1-2% compared to the conventional gear. Other than that, end game gear was just basically either bigger, or cooler looking or both.

    2. When you roll a new character, you can choose a pvp or pve toon. A pvp toon starts out at level 20, and has access to all the top level gear. As you pvp more, you earn tokens which can be used to unlock better looking gear, thus meaning you never even have to touch the pve content if you don’t want to.

    3. With the second expansion pack, they added titles and achievements, challenge instances where you face challenges and post your achievements for all to view (e.g., time, number of kills, etc.).

    4. With the third expansion pack, the added some pve only skills that were unlocked through faction rewards – these skills were helpful in the end game content, though not required and didn’t really affect the difficulty much. The also added the hall of monuments where you can showcase all your achievements and gear from past games till now.

    Remember, this was way back in 2004, and it’s shocking to me that other MMO’s haven’t adopted these ideas in earnest, given the number of people are still playing guild wars to this day. It was truly groundbreaking (and still is).

    From what I’ve seen, Guild Wars 2 is just the natural progression and expansion of these ideas, while addressing some of the flaws and complaints of the original game.

    • That sounds really wonderful. I remember liking GW1 pvp back in the day, but I wasn’t into MMOs or PvP much then, so I abondoned it. Buit even to this day, I remember there was something really cool about it. I wish I’d stuck with it.

      I hope GW2 continues in the same vein, while remaining non-pay2win (am hearing bad things, but haven’t been able to confirm anything yet).

      • Siro says:

        IMO, Guild Wars is MMO pvp done right. It wasn’t about gear, it was about tactics, teamwork, and lots and lots of theory crafting. With only 8 skills per character, and pvp being either 4v4 or 8v8 (premades), it was about putting together the right team combination in terms of classes and synergistic skills, and then getting the players with the right skills to play those classes. There were entire sites devoted to the pvp metagame, current fotm’s and their counters. Later on, Arenanet added live match replay, where you can watch an entire matches between the top guilds (or any guild of your choosing) to learn tactics and such.

        I still have very found memories of that game and played it for close to 3 years – especially the ladder ranked pvp. With GW2 coming out soon, I’m looking forward to another long stay in Arenanet land.

  46. Sorsha says:

    Have you ever played SWG Taugrim? That was one of the most fun game I have ever played, in terms of “endgame,” because there were so many things for a player to do. The game stacked content “horizontally” so none of it ever got old. You spend your entire game time crafting, furnishing your house, collecting rare items, getting the “achievements,” customizing and improving your spaceship, trying to bio-engineer a rare pet, become mayor of a city … It wasn’t a perfect game, by far, but I wish more current MMOs would adopt some of its ideas.

    • Sorsha says:

      Lol, i just the previous post in which you mention SWG. Imo the game was a “disaster” because it had a terrible, bug ridden launch and a lot of inexplicable changes were made to the core game design that ran contradictory to the feelings of the general playerbase. Despite these failings, SWG is still one of the only games where I never felt a lack of things to do at the “end.”

  47. Valkyriez says:

    I just read this article (long time reader and poster with Tau) and all it’s comments.

    Then went and cancelled my SWTOR sub. I am burnt out. The war hero grind on my main (VR 78) and the BM grind on my alt is killing me and I just can’t front up to it or log on anymore. My server is the highest pop one aswell (500 on fleet at anytime of day) but its just mind numbing now. Loved my pyro PT, but shelved it. Cancelled wife’s sub aswell. Great article. War, wow and rift have given me treadmill burn out.

    • Raygun Vapor says:

      What are you playing now. I feel the exact same way except I cancelled much earlier. I l have 9 lvl 85′s in wow and 3 50′s in SWTOR. Between Wow, WAR and SWTOR, I just can’t do the grind anymore. I am an old school high warlord and any form of pvp grind just makes me sick thinking of the 7 months grinding HWL.

  48. Gothic90 says:

    After I thought about it, gear progression, or at least the current WoW/SWTOR PvP systems, also has other problems.

    They encourage chasing gear as the main objective, which will further encourage…

    1) Bots, if individual performance doesn’t matter much (WoW’s BG)
    2) Non-objective based play style, if individual performance matters a lot (SWTOR pre or around 1.1)
    3) Bad players, who knew they won’t contribute to the game, yet still come anyways–which is also a catch 22 problem in the current system. Also current system doesn’t encourage them to learn to get better.
    4) Kill trades, playing for others, valor farming business and etc.

    I am also skeptical of what horizontal scaling exactly means. It may sound fine if it means unlocking more appearances, or totally different play styles like LoL or RotMG but I don’t think it should offer any in combat versatility or flexibility whatsoever, because I think they will still encourage the actions above.

    Thus I also think implementing things like achievement system should also be careful, so that people don’t have too much incentives to play for individual achievements.

  49. Greg says:

    The way that Eve Online works is very smart with a few caveats.

    In Eve Online, over time you train skills and those skills cannot be grinded or otherwise learned. They each pertain to the ability to fly certain ships and use certain weapon systems. A player one year in may have mastered one ship whereas 3 years in will have mastered a dozen or so.

    Conceptually, this is the perfect system. You can compete with players who have spent more time on even ground (every type of ship is necessary in almost every fight), but there is incentive to keep going and there is investment. Of course, Eve Online in my opinion starts you off too weak – I don’t like games where I can’t PVP for 3 months because I can barely fly my ship.

    A perfect system would be one where you start off immediately competitive and over time you gained *versatility*. Versatility that would not allow you to overpower others but simply give you more competitive options. Imagine it as a tree system where you first start with one tree and can respec in that one tree and over time you can learn new trees. Each tree should be balanced with each other however there is value in being able to respec into more trees because you can accomodate the play style needed rather than the play style you picked on day one.

  50. Freddo says:

    Great topic! I’m so tired of grinding! Looking forward to GW2, I really have high hopes.

  51. [...] by implementing vertical scaling systems. That’s the #1 issue. As I discussed elsewhere, horizontal scaling systems work better for having content that remains relevant and provides much be…, which still providing entertainment value for the gamer. I would argue that horizontal scaling [...]

  52. Omari Dennis says:

    This is really brilliant! I can see why you are so excited for GW2.

  53. Brittain Sluder says:

    Well said. The part about keeping past zones relevant is a biggie imo.

  54. [...] creating sticky horizontal progression, as I discussed earlier this year in my vlog entitled “Why Games Should Scale Horizontally Instead of Vertically“. Players who accomplish meaningful things should be rewarded with cosmetic items, bragging [...]

  55. grindwars2 says:

    lol it’s almost heartbreaking to read these hopeful comments posted pre-ascended. Oh well. The genre still pretty much sucks.

  56. rekindledflame says:

    I wouldn’t say the genre completely sucks. Ascended was certainly a step in the wrong direction in my opinion. I think it was in response to the drop off of players in the last couple of months, but there were many things they could have done to address that issue that would have been better. As pointed out in the video, achievement systems can garner competitive behavior that causes people to stick around. The achievements need meaning though, unlike what GW2 currently has (other than daily/monthly), also leaderboards for both pve and pvp. It is unfortunate, that ascended is the route they decided upon, considering it was not how the game was originally promoted, but hopefully ascended will be the only ‘tier’ ever involved outside of what already exists. I for one, am not holding my breath though.

    What gw2 got right though, is spvp. It is such a great experience to have access to the same gear, skills etc as everyone else and be able to competitively pvp no matter where you are in the pve experience. No matter if you’re level 1 or 80, it’s your build, player skill and team dynamics versus another one. That’s not to say the current system is perfect by any means, but that aspect at least is spot on. Leader boards as I said would help here too though. Nothing garners competition, like aiming for the top. Knowing exactly how you stack up against the world, can help push you to take your gaming to the next level as well as give you a goal to shoot for. Hopefully though, they take some aspects from their first game, improve upon them, and put them in gw2, to expand upon this great core foundation they have set up.

  57. Pineapples says:

    Great video! I link it to people all the time when trying to explain the difference between horizontal and vertical progression systems in MMOs.
    I think you might be very interested in Camelot Unchained, Mark Jacobs’s new RvR focused MMO. It appears that they will be using a horizontal progression system similar to the one you described in this video.
    Check out the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter campaign at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/13861848/camelot-unchained See what you think =)

  58. Pineapples says:

    Hi Taugrim,

    I hope you don’t mind that we’ve linked to this video on the Camelot Unchained FAQ as its the best explanation of horizontal progression, (which CU will be using) that we’ve found.

    Here is the link: http://camelotunchained.wikispaces.com/Character+Advancement

  59. Alcastre says:

    After hearing what EQN ( everquest next ) is doing I instantly thought of this article and how it made a great case for horizontal progression. Maybe someone at SOE thought so too. Be interested to know if you have heard anything about EQN Taugrim. Aside from that sorry for the necroing :)

  60. The one problem is the lack of realism. Some people are better at some things than others. You’re on to something great here.

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