On Game Design: Vertical versus Horizontal
I read a blog post on Player Versus Developer and I found it to be very reflective of what matters to me in a game, especially an MMO:
I like to call this the "pants optional" argument - no MMO I am aware of has a mandatory requirement that characters wear pants, but very few players opt to go pantless. The choice technically exists, but is largely uninteresting, as there is almost always no benefit to going without pants and the player would then be obligated to upgrade the rest of their gear to off-set the stats from the missing leggings
..If paying customers feel like they are obligated to do something that they do not believe is fun, it does not matter if the customer is theoretically incorrect.
The need/desire/wish for gamers to stop being little crack addicts and play games for fun and challenge instead of gimmicky mechanics that give the player the illusion of being skilled.
This is how Vertical Progression or scaling destroys the game environment by imposing a slash and burn/scorched-earth type approach that gamers must adopt in order to stay viable in the game world. Huge swaths of the game's content become undesirable as developers must crank out more and more inflationary content over time.
Vertical progression as opposed to Horizontal; the latter system acts as a preserver of the game's content while the former lights a match to it and leaves it a smoking ruin.
There's a reason why nearly every game in existence is based on a vertical progression: it's easier and fast. It's fast food for gamer consumers.
Horizontal systems make more sense and have lasting appeal and value.
As a principle, Horizontal Scaling has a solid basis in reality.
Holistic approaches will always be preferable to atomistical designs because the former strengthens the whole while the latter tends to detract from the whole.
A real world example of a similarly limited mindset can be found in the early days of refining oil, gasoline was considered waste and was often dumped directly into the nearest river. The immediate goal of "farming" the oil completely ran roughshod over any other consideration.
Progress should always give us the ability to examine better ways of doing things. MMO's are not exempt from this concept. By harnessing the resources of the creative process in an "environmentally" responsible manner, everyone can benefit.
The better way is a road less traveled.
New methodologies are always risky because people are prone to cling to old models. The new model is often referred to as Horizontal Scaling or Progression. Taugrim explains it very well here.
Vertical Progression plows under content and wastes the creative energy of developers because they must constantly add to the artificially defined "end game".
A recent example is GW2, it was to be the game that had no end-game. Its developers had bravely aspired to free the MMO genre and its players from the shackles of vertical scaling.
The mistake is thinking that the two models can coexist in the same game, they can not.
You can have some HP elements in a VP game but sugar-rush/inflationary nature of VP content will always come at the expense of HP viability in such environments. The parameters of the gamer's human nature are well established.
It's for this reason that games which contain PvP and PvE have always had a hugely difficult time at maintaining integrity, usually sheer trickery becomes necessary and the game becomes a segregated and segmented disharmonious mess.
If more games adopted the horizontal model, developers could concentrate on actual *new content* which is enjoyable to play versus content that is largely enjoyable for the reward of the power increase it offers upon completion.
The ever dangling carrot treadmill grows old fast where as extensively broadening the progression of a player character can make a gamer feel like they are an actual part of a game world.
Power Creep is evil.
Rewards are fine, but games can be rewarding without blindly following the legacy of the current cancerous game design models.
Meleagar posted a commentary on where we currently stand in the MMO-verse:
...is that many of us now have a much better understanding of what we want - and do not want - in a game, beyond the terms "casual" and "hardcore". It turns out that there are much more quantifiable and objective game design commodities that divide the potential customer base than simply "how much time you play".
- 1. Stat-progression vs Stat-capped end game
- 2. Gear-gated content vs non-gated content
- 3. Grinding vs non-grinding
- 4. Vertical progression vs horizontal content
Both extremes can coexist within the MMO genre, just not within the same game. The two can not be reconciled though I understand why developers would attempt to try. Simply put, the incendiary nature of VP will never allow the benefits of HP to blossom in a side by side execution.
I hold out for the day when I can play a game that takes the road less traveled.
Camelot Unchained may represent that possibility.