I was trading off playing between Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) this week with a bit of The Secret World (TSW) and recalling many of the frequent comments from players lamenting that MMORPGs had become “too easy” and “too casual.” It’s an interesting assertion since these two games in particular have a very different feel as far as difficulty is concerned. LOTRO questing is in many ways similar to the World of Warcraft in that expeditions are on the “easy” side – it’s pretty straightforward taking down the bad guys or collecting relics on the beach or whatever the game asks of you; but the feel of the game is more calm and relaxing. There’s certainly a nice aspect that; causally exploring the countryside, taking in the view of distant ruins or mountains while hunting boar hides is a mode of questing that can be a nice reprieve, especially after a stressful day, or as a nice way to get rolling in the morning with a cup of java.
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?