Vertical Vs. Horizontal Gameplay

I started thinking about Vertical vs. Horizontal Gameplay after watching a video interview with Lars Koschin, CEO of Frogster America in which he mentions how 55% of WoW players will never see 85% of the game content.

At first I was slightly thrilled at the prospect of new, fresh thinking(I’m a sucker for innovative, or innovative sounding ideas) without really knowing how to define vertical or horizontal within an MMO.

Of course I immediately drew the leveling conclusion, but somehow I knew, as I was thinking it, that I was still missing the mark.  leveling is a trademark- darn near core concept that makes an MMO an MMO, and leveling nead not be hard to do at all.  There had to be more to this Vertical/ Horizontal mumbo-jumbo than just empty developer jargon.

I went back over my past gaming experiences, both in World of Warcraft and  Runes of Magic, to see if I could shine a light on this idea that I wanted to get to the bottom of.

Then it hit me, not all at once, and not quite as a pure thought, but more like a memory of a feeling.

I started playing RoM shortly before joining my real life friends in WoW.  I remembered RoM was so fresh and new, in part because I had yet to play WoW and only played other F2P MMO’s which are all basically the same grinder.  RoM had this sense of unshackled freedom.  I could go almost anywhere I wanted, I could craft, I could decorate a house, I could do some daily quests, then switch over and craft for awhile, or do a vast number of fun things that quickly ate through my game time.

A little time later I decided to take the plunge and join my friends in WoW.  I felt like a newb but also hoped that my previous MMO experiences would pop up to help me get a quick hang of WoW.

Now you’d think an incredibly vast world of endless possibilites had opened up for me that first day I logged into WoW.  You’d be wrong.

Yes, WoW is a huge world and has a thousand and one things you can do in it, but why then, were my first two weeks of gameplay filled with mounting frustration that left me almost screaming at my friends and logging off so I could go check my blood pressure?  I was dumbfounded.  If RoM shared similar gameplay mechanics, and WoW was a much bigger game in scope, then why wasn’t it more fun?  How I started my adventure in Azeroth was one thing that led me to my conclusion.

I took a lot of time looking at sites and deliberating on what WoW class I should take, and finally settled on a Draenei Shaman(which has no negative bearing, quite the opposite, Shamans are now my favorite class).  Shamans start out on an isolated little island in the Northeast of the world map.  Well since I was playing with a seasoned WoW gamer, I didn’t stick around too long as he warped me to Stormwind and we started adventuring though low level quests.

Yes I was in awe of the fact WoW has almost zero bugs and glitches.  The gameplay is very smooth.  I was more in awe of the immense size and diversity of the lands.  As I was trying to enjoy this stuff, tiny annoyances started to pop up so frequently that I had no choice but to start keeping a blood pressure monitor by my computer.

My friend would shout monosilabic commands at me frantically while we got into a fight with a Horde and I’d be clueless just to have him tell me later that I should have told him I didn’t have this spell or that item.

After calming down I’d tell myself  “OK it’s just a few repeatable WoW specific things that I’ve learned now and won’t have to deal with anymore”

Then however, no one knew as they weren’t Shamans.  We wasted time finding out, then we found out that I had to go back to my starting island and do a series of class-specific quests to get my standard set of class skills.

This didn’t lessen either, as I had hoped, after I got through figuring out that I should have stayed in my starting area and progressed that route to get everything I needed before exploring the rest of the world.  Even into my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, there was a dozen tiny annoyances around every corner, that could’ve only been prevented had I previously experienced them, or read a complete tutorial about every aspect of WoW.  Even with that latter part, I’d have my doubts.

The first time I went into the arena was a nightmare.  I had everyone yelling at me.  Sure I had “noob” trash talk and spam.  It wasn’t anything as universal as spam or trash talk that had me frustrated.  It was finding out that I didn’t have the freedom I thought I’d have.  It was a horrible night of me asking one question after another that all started with “I have this so I can’t I use it?”

I’ve since learned a lot about how WoW works, and I am still playing it and enjoy it very much.  However my memories of starting RoM and then starting WoW are examples of Horizontal and Vertical gameplay.

There isn’t a huge black line clearly separating Horizontal MMO’s from Vertical.  Actually the two types can co-exist in a single MMO.

Using aspects of crafting in RoM and WoW should help to better understand a difference between Horizontal and Vertical gameplay.

In WoW you pick your tradeskills that will have a skill bar you fill as you mine, and craft.  You can buy or find recipes, and as you level up your skill you can make more powerful or higher level items.

The same thing goes for RoM except I could stay level 16 and given enough time and investment, I could reach max profession level of 80.

You just can’t do that in WoW, because parts of the game are based around a Vertical climb.  They require you to be a certain level before you raise your tradeskill any higher.  Which is going to make you go do quests to level your character before you can go get the recipes you want and get back to crafting/buying/and selling which may be your favorite thing to do in an MMO.

Another example surrounding crafting is access to recipes.  RoM sets up a mini solo instance that any level character can enter and the mobs are scaled to that level.  Drops come in the form of some blue recipes as well as ingredients for those blue recipes and many other items.  You are going to either have to buy the recipes from the Auction House, in WoW, for the expensive price related to the level you can get them, or you are going to have to level up high enough to kill the mobs that drop those higher level recipes.

Mystic Worlds has an eloquent little article that describes the players feelings toward what he points out is Vertical Conditioning: where it can be hard to relax and have fun, at least at first, in a game like RoM because we’ve been conditioned toward leveling, getting higher level items and gear, raiding higher level dungeons, etc…

You can also see how Horizontal Gameplay is accessible to more players while Vertical will always reach a cut off where a percentage of players will never follow.

After looking at how the games crafting system operates, I feel like I have a better understanding of Vertical gameplay yet I still feel like that newb the first time I logged into WoW.  It’s opened doors for me, but I have a lot of exploring and learning to do.

One Response to “Vertical Vs. Horizontal Gameplay”

  1. Now I am going away to do my breakfast, once having my breakfast coming over again to read other news.

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