Friday, May 29, 2009

Vertical Progression

Players are like girls who say they want a nice guy. What they really mean is they want that nice guy on the side, just like their horizontal progression. When it comes down to it, it is the vertical progression that gets them going.

I hear a lot of lip service given to how bad vertical progression is and how much better horizontal would be. WoW would be the poster child for vertical progression. Each new major content release gives players higher levels, harder ( equipment wise) bosses and higher level equipment. As much as players are abused by this system, they always go back like it's some sort of Lifetime movie.

When WAR's launch was approaching, a lot of people liked it due to the focus not being on vertical progression. It has 40 levels and that will likely be the upper limit. Instead they provide things like Renown ranks, which are important, but not nearly as important as experience ranks.

They also put the highest end equipment in the game from day 1, the Sovereign armor set. I'm not sure how they could ever trump this set, as it comes from the supposed final encounter of the game. The ceiling in WAR has been set, all that is left is horizontal progression (renown and new characters).

What do I end up seeing in game? All of a sudden, everyone is a farmer. Rewnown farming is an age old practice in the game. When influence came out, folks farmed that. They are farming tokens now. All so they can fill up the bars and get the loot. What happens when they get to the end? Many Renown rank 80 players have left the game as there were no more bars to fill.

This seems to be all too common in WAR and other games. Do players really want horizontal progression?


It's a matter of habit I think... Most people are used to that vertical progression stuff. Some may even lost the sense for gaming, if it involves other things than collecting stuff.

Sure.. getting new items or ranks is nice, but if it's just hunting them and this is the only joy someone can experience in a game, than it's no least for me.

The problem on dev-side is that it's much easier (and faster) to present some new shiny items/ranks than capture the essence of (something that might be) fun for (most of) the players in the game...That's a really tough.

I think you are right when you ask if horizontal progression is really what the players want... Old horses don't learn new, lengthy tricks ;)

I see it as a sort of testament to the mini version of Warhammer in that you collect hundreds of figurines to build an army. Each piece is delicately hand-painted over the course of many painstaking hours to a detailed level of perfection rivaled only by the clinically obsessive compulsive. Following the comparison, each character you build represents an army, and the progression you make on it is the painstaking and time consuming detail. When you finish one off, you start another! These "armies" all play differently, and take just as long to raise to the same levels of power. It's an obsession really. I have 2 R40 toons at the moment, and 5 more in the works. Kinda nice :)

Every MMO launches with the "highest end gear in the game." Players will rush to max level, farm the raids to get that max gear. Then an expansion reset it all with a level cap increase.

I foresee the same happening to WAR.

I doubt anyone will ever convince me that PvP and Levels (as they've been implemented in DikuMMOs) mix. At all. WAR launched with levels and made a big fuss that the "real game" is the end-game RvR. So naturally players rushed to level cap. Mythic opened a can of worms here, and just like they've had to backtrack on everything else they said pre-launch, they will most likely have to increase the level cap because their remaining players will expect it.

@Scott: I don't see how WAR will have anything greater than Sovereign. That is the final game encounter. It's the goal of the game to take down the king.

The King is certainly not farm-able (except on very unbalanced realms), so having the gear from it be a pre-requisite seems unlikely.

@grimnir: That is the kind of horizontal progression I like and something WAR does have going for it.

Great analogy, and an accurate observation I think. People keep asking for horizontal progression but really don't buy. "Wouldn't it be great if..." is a game I've seen played over and over in pre-launch forums. Upon launch, the small group of players that were involved pre-launch in those discussions may like the feature, but it is largely ignored by the general populace who are going to try to play the game they way they understand it. Whether the developers gave them that game or not. If a game doesn't meet the GP's expectation they are simply on to the next thing and never look back.

There is a great deal of danger in diverging from the standard path in AAA MMO's today. Developers do so at their own peril.

They really don't. At its core, most MMO players value character progression. And character progression cannot be measured in simple, grey tempaltes that are easy to get to. Guild Wars has some success with this, because the treadmill is relatively short, but the gear and the speccing tres still adhere to the same, grindy, repetitive processes.

You're never going to get an MMO that doesn't have vertical progression because the RPG in MMORPG at its core is about character advancement. The successful MMOs (and WAR I think has been pretty good at it) disguise and hide the grind, making it a natural consequence to your every day play.

@Werit: But that's just it... are you therefore saying that Mythic's "5 Year Plan" is to still have the goal being to take down that same king? There's no way anyone will stick with a subscription game to do the exact same thing for 5 years when they can just bite the bullet and play TF2 or thousands of other repeatable PvP games for no sub.

4 years ago Ragnarok was THE ultimate encounter for WoW. That is no longer the case and just because WAR might be focused on the RvR, I just don't think you can launch a game that starts off based on vertical progression then just leave it stagnant and expect players to tolerate horizontal-only progression afterwards.

And I suspect that is actually the key point to many people's wish for a more lateral progression scheme: start with it, don't pull a bait-and-switch starting with vertical then shift to lateral at the end.

@Scott: Good points. I will continue this with a post about the future of WAR this week.

As long as you can make progression gear wise, most of people stay happy. It's sad, but that's how it seems to be.
LotD will have gear equal to Warlord which is one below Sovereign, the last gear. So they have room to expand at least once. Although as they have the new capitals to put in at some point, I have a feeling there will be some shuffling of the deck at the same time they introduce a new capital pairing and put empire/chaos back to designtable.

They can shuffle the pairings introducing new things for quite a while I think. Lastly they can introduce them in all at the same time, as was the original concept back then when all looked new and sweet..

After that? Well I'm hoping then it would be time for expansion and the third faction would come.. Not likely, but one can hope..;)

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