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10 good reasons why MMOs do not need vertical progression

SengiSengi HamburgPosts: 350Member

Vertical progression is everything that makes a character stronger:

  • Leveling up the character in a game with level based progression
  • Increase a skill level in a game that has a skill based progression
  • Gaining a higher tier skill
  • Archiving better gear

The opposite of vertical progression is horizontal progression. That includes everything that gives you more options but does not make the character stronger; it just gives you more tools.

 

To remove vertical progression at first seems like a radical measure, but as I see it, it is just the ultimate result of a trend in game design that is already there.

Guild Wars 2 for example has already made vertical progression irrelevant in many aspects of the game:

  • It does not matter in PvP, because everyone is set to the same level, and gear is only cosmetic.
  • It does not matter if you go to lower zone, you level is lowered to keep the content interesting.
  • It does not matter if you follow a high level friend to a higher zone, because your level is increased accordingly.
  • The leveling curve is flat, you reach max level fast.
  • You can craft top level gear with easily available materials. (There are legendaries that are hard to obtain but they offer only a tiny power boost.)

As I see it Guild Wars 2 is already 3/4 there to be a MMO without vertical progression.

The only thing that is holding it back is the preconception that RPGs are somehow about vertical progression and leveling. But that must not be true. A mechanic that works well in single player games must not work in a game that has some thousand players playing at the same time.

I believe vertical progression only holds back the genre and is rather a leftover from the way how mmorpgs have evolved from tabletop rpgs and single player rpgs. There is not much roleplaying in mmorpgs either, even though it’s in their name. (Unless the players bring it into it by themselves) Removing vertical progression would just free gamers and designers alike from unnecessary ballast.

 

Now onto the 10 reasons why is vertical progression bad in a MMO:

1.) It keeps players from enjoying the game content:

Vertical progression reduces all game content just to a means to an end. You are not doing it in the first place because you enjoy what you’re doing but because you want the reward. 

It creates this power leveling mentality, where nothing else is important than hitting the level cap as fast as possible. Developers sometimes don’t even bother to make the leveling content interesting, because no one will care and just rush trough it to get done with the grind. There is no time to look the story connected with a quest or experience the game at your own pace; you have to keep up with other players that are forced to rush through the game as well. Since when are we playing games just to get over them?

 

2.) It splits the player base:

Everyone likes to play with his friends, but you can’t do that if they are on another level then you. If there is no vertical progression everyone can join everyone else no matter how long he is already playing.

 

3.) It often leads to boring content:

I often hear that no one would do the content if the game would not force him to do it in order to level up. That is only half the story. The players would still do well constructed quests and interesting storylines; but no one would like to kill 10 of x for the 100th time, and that is a good thing.

The quest grind has made these vast amounts of samey quest necessary in the first place. If there was no quest grinding the designers would be forced to create content that is interesting on its own.

 

4.) It leads to linear content:

Having a steep vertical progression means that the player hast to take a predefined path through the game, always following the leveling content. A game without vertical progression would open up all content immediately and let the player choose in what order he wants to experience the game.

 

5.) It creates problems for pvp:

Because characters are so different in power there are almost never fair fights in world-PvP and there needs to be a system in place that keeps high level player from just going to low level zones and gank everyone.

Even in battlegrounds players have to be divided into groups according to their level. Guild wars 2 has come up with a better solution and just makes everyone max level for PvP.

 

6.) It lends itself to exploitive game design:

As you might know, many games rely on skinner-box-mechanics to force you to grind through boring content. If the developer wants to force the players to grind, this is done much more effectively when the player needs to level up to see the rest of the game, instead of having him grind for a skill that won’t make him more powerful and is not mandatory.

 

7.) Levelling up does not change the gameplay:

When you level up it may feel like you archived something, before you notice that the only thing that changed was that you now can pass on to the next location where you fight slightly stronger differed coloured mobs. The game has just switched some numbers around. Dealing 5 points pf damage to a mob with 20 hp, is not differed then dealing 10 damage to one with 40 hp.

Some people have told me that it is fun to them to go back to a low level zone and steamroller everything there. But c’mon how long is it fun, to torture virtual ants with a magnifying glass that don’t even run away, for 2 minutes maybe?

 

8.) It locks players out of higher level content:

Low level players can’t enter all the zones because they won’t last there very long. This helps to structure a storyline. The hero has first to fight the minions in the lower zones and gather xp and then he can enter the lair of the main villain.

I believe it is often not necessary to lock new players out of some zones; and if you think it is, there can still be a lengthy questline that takes you trough whole game world to complete before you can meet the main villain.

 

9.) It creates a Dragonball-Z-problem:

With every level the mobs you fight get higher stats, so they need to look more menacing too. Therefore the game starts as low as possible with lame opponents like rats and then makes the mobs larger and larger until you end up with dragons. And once there is an expansion the game has to come up with something like Super-Dragons and then Ultra-Dragons.

Or the high level mobs look just the same and are mysteriously much more powerful than their low level counterparts.

 

10.) It makes the game unnecessary complicated for players and designers alike:

As you see in point 7, levelling up does not really change anything. In the end the level is just a label that shows what mobs you should fight at the moment.

So if the level is not much more then an achievement, why not make it an achievement. Display it to other players to show how much you have already achieved in the game, but don’t have it change your stats.

If there was no vertical progression it would just remove one unnecessary variable from the game. The player would not have to juggle with absurd high stat values; and all the content would be the same level of difficulty for everyone and therefore easier to manage. Instead of high and low level zones there could be zones that offer easier or harder content.

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Comments

  • nariusseldonnariusseldon santa clara, CAPosts: 22,441Member

    and the number 1 recent why those 10 good reasons failed to change the way MMO is designed .....

     

    People like vertical progression, and the skinner box works.

  • jalexbrownjalexbrown Indianapolis, INPosts: 120Member
    It's all nice and great that you can tell us what's wrong with the way things are being done right now (everyone can, or else this forum would be dead), but you don't propose anything as a solution beyond a simple definition of horizontal progression.  Are you willing to outline and open to all of our critique a possible design plan built around horizontal progression?
  • galphargalphar Independence, KYPosts: 65Member Uncommon
    Guilds Wars is a better example to use than GW2. You only had 20 levels, but you could still gain XP which led to you earning more Skill Points to purchase new skills. And if you didn't want to level up that way, you could just create a PvP only toon. 

    image

  • asdarasdar Tequesta, FLPosts: 662Member Uncommon

    I agree with the OP totally. Horizontal progression could be gear, housing, trophies, buildings, landmarks, pets or boats. Maybe even just statistics would be enough. What percentage of the world have you explored, where are you on mob progression/dungeon progression stuff like that. Skill progression is still possible without vertical levels. GW PvE side you could capture Elite skills, that's progression that has nothing to do with vertical levels.

    Anything that's based on what you've done and not what level you are is horizontal. Another example of a problem with vertical progression is when you face a red mob. I want red to be difficult, but I don't think it's right that I hit for zero damage just because of level. If I'm willing to face a mob with 10X the HP and damage as I'm 'supposed' to face at my level then I should be able to hit it with my little dagger for my 14 points and not some level checked BS.

    Asdar

  • sunshadow21sunshadow21 Omaha, NEPosts: 354Member

    You can't get rid of vertical progression entirely. Even if you as a dev remove it, the players will find benchmarks that amount to the same thing. The trick is to make horizontal progression just as important as the vertical progression. Final Fantasy XI and EVE both are good examples of how to do this; both involve a good mix of the two types of advancement. as well as a few activities that do little to advance the character directly. SWG, at least at first, also did a very good job of mixing the various types of advancement and rewards so that the vertical aspect did not  overwhelm the rest of the system. Vertical only advancement, such as what the current trend in most games today is, is not a good thing, but as a whole, it;s one of the big things that draws people to the genre, so abandoning it entirely is not a valid option, even if a redesign is certainly in order.

    Final Fantasy XI also did a really good job of mixing the level of the content of any given zone nicely so that even if different characters were fighting different beasts and doing different quests, they were still in the same area interacting with each other, and thus really helped enhance the overall experience and highlighted the fact that vertical advancement need not separate people if designed correctly.

  • nariusseldonnariusseldon santa clara, CAPosts: 22,441Member
    Originally posted by asdar

    I agree with the OP totally. Horizontal progression could be gear, housing, trophies, buildings, landmarks, pets or boats. Maybe even just statistics would be enough. What percentage of the world have you explored, where are you on mob progression/dungeon progression stuff like that. Skill progression is still possible without vertical levels. GW PvE side you could capture Elite skills, that's progression that has nothing to do with vertical levels.

    Anything that's based on what you've done and not what level you are is horizontal. Another example of a problem with vertical progression is when you face a red mob. I want red to be difficult, but I don't think it's right that I hit for zero damage just because of level. If I'm willing to face a mob with 10X the HP and damage as I'm 'supposed' to face at my level then I should be able to hit it with my little dagger for my 14 points and not some level checked BS.

    Gear is not horizontal in most games.

  • DamonVileDamonVile Vancouver, BCPosts: 4,818Member
    Originally posted by jalexbrown
    It's all nice and great that you can tell us what's wrong with the way things are being done right now (everyone can, or else this forum would be dead), but you don't propose anything as a solution beyond a simple definition of horizontal progression.  Are you willing to outline and open to all of our critique a possible design plan built around horizontal progression?

    Yeah pointing out the flaws in a system isn't very hard. We all do it :)  The people who can actually come up with something better and trick people into trying it before they judge it bad..... are few and far between

  • Vunak23Vunak23 In your house eatin'' your cookies, FLPosts: 635Member
    Originally posted by nariusseldon
    Originally posted by asdar

    I agree with the OP totally. Horizontal progression could be gear, housing, trophies, buildings, landmarks, pets or boats. Maybe even just statistics would be enough. What percentage of the world have you explored, where are you on mob progression/dungeon progression stuff like that. Skill progression is still possible without vertical levels. GW PvE side you could capture Elite skills, that's progression that has nothing to do with vertical levels.

    Anything that's based on what you've done and not what level you are is horizontal. Another example of a problem with vertical progression is when you face a red mob. I want red to be difficult, but I don't think it's right that I hit for zero damage just because of level. If I'm willing to face a mob with 10X the HP and damage as I'm 'supposed' to face at my level then I should be able to hit it with my little dagger for my 14 points and not some level checked BS.

    Gear is not horizontal in most games.

    Just because it isn't in most games doesn't mean it can't be in others. FFXI has a form of vertical progression with their gear, they don't trivialize old content. They give ways to bring your gear from old content up to the level of potency of the new content (sometimes it is even better). It at times forces players to do old content and then upgrade that gear through new content. It isn't completely horizontal because your gear is still progressing vertically in strength, but it also isn't completely vertical because you're still using gear from previous inclusions to the game. 

    I like vertical progression to endgame. A leveling system or skill system. But once you get to that later game content the gear should plateau out and increase very slightly as not to trivialize older content, or allow easy ways to upgrade older content gear. 

    "In the immediate future, we have this one, and then we’ve got another one that is actually going to be – so we’re going to have, what we want to do, is in January, what we’re targeting to do, this may or may not happen, so you can’t hold me to it. But what we’re targeting to do, is have a fun anniversary to the Ilum shenanigans that happened. An alien race might invade, and they might crash into Ilum and there might be some new activities that happen on the planet." ~Gabe Amatangelo

  • thinktank001thinktank001 oasisPosts: 2,027Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Sengi

    The opposite of vertical progression is horizontal progression. That includes everything that gives you more options but does not make the character stronger; it just gives you more tools.

     

     

    Having more tools for your character would make it more robust and therefore be counted as vertical progression.     I understand what you are trying to say, but horizontal progression doesn't exist in any video game.    Even Mario was able to find upgrades.

     

    I think it would be interesting to see a game with vertical regression.   Your character would start with everything and the goal would be to keep it.     

  • LeiloniLeiloni None of your beeswax, ALPosts: 432Member Uncommon

    The biggest and most important point you failed to discuss is making horizontal progression more interesting than vertical progression. Yes, GW2 is a good example of how to do it, but people got bored in really large numbers and stopped playing the game. We all went back to our old vertical progression games because they keep us interested and having fun, despite the complaints we have.

     

    How are you going to make a horizontal progression game more addicting? What is going to make us want to play it instead of other stuff? Because GW2 proved to us that no matter how much we truly deep down want horizontal progression, it just wasn't as fun.

  • RaysheRayshe London, ONPosts: 1,284Member
    My opinion is obvious. i'm practically a TSW spokesperson at this point.

    Because i can.
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  • kjempffkjempff AarhusPosts: 883Member Uncommon

    Agree with no 2. All the others have nothing to do with "vertical progression", and I think your reasoning is based on certain problems in certain games, but forgetting those where it has worked well.

    Progressing your character IS the whole point of mmorpgs, and as I welcome new ways to progress, the standard "vertical progression" is something that is easy to control.

    Up and Downlevelling characters to be able to play with friends is nothing new, eq2 did it back in 2004, and that is still "vertical progression" just adjusted to the experience in hand. I don't agree GW2 removed "vertical progression", but where they did make attempts is where the game become dull.

    Every game needs progression, a mmorpg need character progression, and removing progression will only make a game pointless. If you don't like the usual progression scenario, come up with some other progression types.

  • LeiloniLeiloni None of your beeswax, ALPosts: 432Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Rayshe
    My opinion is obvious. i'm practically a TSW spokesperson at this point.

    TSW is different but it's still a vertical progression game. It's fun yes I enjoy it, but it's still fairly standard.

  • BadSpockBadSpock Somewhere, MIPosts: 7,974Member

    UO and SWG had elements of vertical progression, and worked just fine in PvE and PvP.

    It's not black and white.

    All designs could succeed or fail it's all about implementation.

    Just like WoW is/was a huge success using the EQ formula, but the rest of the MMOs to try the same since have only enjoyed limited success.

    And then you have a game like GW2 with very limited vertical progression at the cap - and it's also doing just fine.

     

  • AeanderAeander Walker, LAPosts: 523Member Uncommon

    I have to agree with the OP. Vertical progression tends to lend itself to bad mechanics and only serves to addict simple-minded players. It is largely included in games out of habit or out of a new to exploit the fanbase through forced playtime and/or forced spending. 

     

     

    Guild Wars 2, for example, would most likely be a better game without any levels whatsoever. While it can be said that all content is retroactively viable via downscaling, it is only viable in the sense of challenge, not in rewards. Treating all content like max level content would have been the way to go to best meet their manifesto and design a game that allows you to be rewarded for playing your way. 

  • LeiloniLeiloni None of your beeswax, ALPosts: 432Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by kjempff

    Progressing your character IS the whole point of mmorpgs, and as I welcome new ways to progress, the standard "vertical progression" is something that is easy to control.

    Right now yes but that doesn't mean games can't do more. I remember back when I first started playing MMORPGs, I had only up until then played single player games. One of the biggest things I liked about MMO's was that they never ended, you couldn't just "beat the game". It was a permanent virtual world where I could always log in and do something fun. I think we need to focus more on that, instead of the typical vertical progression rewards that end up separating people. Yes GW2 got boring but that was not mainly because of it's progression model - if GW2 had better combat, a trinity role system, and put more importance on server and guild communities in the way standard MMO's do, it would have lasted longer. I think game devs can do better and keep us interested.

  • tats27tats27 Wilmington, DEPosts: 76Member

    GW2 had horizontal progression and the end game was extremely boring. 

     

    So, no thanks OP I'll stick with my carrot on a stick.

  • LoktofeitLoktofeit Stone Mountain, GAPosts: 13,675Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by thinktank001

     

    I think it would be interesting to see a game with vertical regression.   Your character would start with everything and the goal would be to keep it.     

    The majority of video games from Space Invaders to MOBAs are designed that way.

    There isn't a "right" or "wrong" way to play, if you want to use a screwdriver to put nails into wood, have at it, simply don't complain when the guy next to you with the hammer is doing it much better and easier. - Allein
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  • RoinRoin Baltimore, MDPosts: 2,927Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by Aeander

    I have to agree with the OP. Vertical progression tends to lend itself to bad mechanics and only serves to addict simple-minded players. It is largely included in games out of habit or out of a new to exploit the fanbase through forced playtime and/or forced spending. 

    Ah so most that like the old "carrot on a stick" is simple minded? Silly me I thought it was because they found something in them they enjoyed.

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    In Peace - Vigilance.
    In Death - Sacrifice.

  • nariusseldonnariusseldon santa clara, CAPosts: 22,441Member
    Originally posted by Leiloni
     

    Right now yes but that doesn't mean games can't do more. I remember back when I first started playing MMORPGs, I had only up until then played single player games. One of the biggest things I liked about MMO's was that they never ended, you couldn't just "beat the game". It was a permanent virtual world where I could always log in and do something fun. I think we need to focus more on that, instead of the typical vertical progression rewards that end up separating people. Yes GW2 got boring but that was not mainly because of it's progression model - if GW2 had better combat, a trinity role system, and put  more importance on server and guild communities in the way standard MMO's do, it would have lasted longer. I think game devs can do better and keep us interested.

    That is an illusion. Finished all the content, get all the top gear, and you are done. Continue to play is no difference than replaying a level of a SP game, or do a MP map.

    There is no shortage of games .. so i don't need them to last longer.

     

  • DahkohtDahkoht Pelham, ALPosts: 290Member
    The most amusing thing is how people in this thread can't fathom all games don't have to be the same , and just because you don't like never ending games and continual leveling that your preference is "right."

    The above poster loves to think only his way of what's fun is the way every game should be.
  • BeilochBeiloch Sun City, CAPosts: 74Member

    EQ2 has been doing 'horizontal' progression a lot lately. The cap hasn't gone up (or barely at all) and high end zones are being used long term (years). This has firmly solidified my opinion horizontal progression is horrendous and I want new zones and new levels and new skills and new shiny items OFTEN. I can't imagine anything more boring than running the same zones for years and making little more than baby steps when it comes to character/item progression.

    One of the main reasons I quit GW2 is when I went to low level areas I was forced down to an appropriate level instead of being able to 'flex' and wipe out enemies significantly faster than before instead of slightly faster. this isn't about the act itself being fun but the 'feeling' i am growing in power. If first level-low level content is still done at a medium pace no matter how much work I do no feeling of progression is gained. Except maybe besides personal knowledge and maybe a flimsy title that you did some content others haven't. This will NEVER compare to being or seeing a person wiping out swarms of enemies others are having to fight 1 or 2 at a time to win.

    horizontal progression sounds great in the short term but after you play a game for a few months and have basically gained no relative boost in power everything else is little more than bragging rights and flexibility.

    Progression in combat focused games is ALL about gaps in relative power. You can get rid of all sorts of progression mechanics but if a person who put in months of work can't wipe the floor with enemies they worked through months before, very little sense of progression is to be had. Shooters actually have a nice balance in a lot of cases. New players are still 'effective' even when fighting the most seasoned/ranked of players, but those seasoned players show a clear sense of progression and increased power and not just through raw skill.

    Originally posted by nariusseldon
    That is an illusion. Finished all the content, get all the top gear, and you are done. Continue to play is no difference than replaying a level of a SP game, or do a MP map.
    There is no shortage of games .. so i don't need them to last longer.

    If you don't like long term games playing MMO's is the exact opposite of what you should be playing.

    Also I guess you never heard of content updates and xpacs? Alts? Or are those illusions too?

    Although I do agree some MMO's just let you waltz through even their highest end of content, never stayed playing those long.

  • nariusseldonnariusseldon santa clara, CAPosts: 22,441Member
    Originally posted by Dahkoht
    The most amusing thing is how people in this thread can't fathom all games don't have to be the same , and just because you don't like never ending games and continual leveling that your preference is "right."
     

    And it does not make my preference "wrong". It just is. Same as yours.

  • Eir_SEir_S Argyle, NYPosts: 4,623Member
    Games don't "need" to adhere to any rules.  In the past year, people have started realizing this.  GW2 is doing fine, and the more variety the better.  If you like gear progression, there are always games out there that cater to that type of player, but if you don't, there are companies that realize this too.  People who state an MMO has to be one way or another... well that argument was proven wrong anyway.
  • IcewhiteIcewhite Elmhurst, ILPosts: 6,403Member
    Originally posted by nariusseldon
    Originally posted by Dahkoht
    The most amusing thing is how people in this thread can't fathom all games don't have to be the same , and just because you don't like never ending games and continual leveling that your preference is "right."
     

    And it does not make my preference "wrong". It just is. Same as yours.

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