What is Horizontal Progression, Really?

Last time, I talked quite a bit about endgame, and how games might be designed to avoid “grinding” for progressively more powerful gear once the character has reached “max level:”

Use a skill-based, horizontal progression system rather than a level-based, gear grind system.  Give us a huge pool of options and gear to buy, but let players find their own right combination of skills and gear.  Place an upper limit on the most powerful gear in the game, but provide lots of it—variety of abilities and gear should be the progression for players who play for epic achievement.

More players than ever are starting to demand horizontal over vertical progression in their games.  Recent dust-ups around Guild Wars 2’s introduction of a new gear tier brought to light how much emotion there is on the issue – thousands of posts protesting the decision on the forums after the announcement.

But what does horizontal progression really mean, and how does vertical progression conflict with it?

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