Category Archives: Games

What is horizontal progression?

I was reading Gidorick’s post on the ESO forums:

In which it appears that many people do not understand (including the proponents of the idea, or at least they have trouble explaining the idea) what horizontal progression entails. So I thought to myself “surely someone has a well written article explaining horizontal progression” after a fairly lengthy search I located the following article:

It does an ok job (in my opinion) of defining horizontal and vertical progression at a fundamental level however it and many other articles I examined failed to clarify applied examples and explanation. In this post I attempt to explain the ever illusive idea of horizontal progression using concrete examples and finally I end with an example of how the champion system could be modified to fill this role. It is a bit lengthy and I apologize for how long the explanation for these two words [horizontal progression] ends up but I think that clarification will help everyone in eso (and maybe the developers?) To better understand what some players are asking the developers to develop.

First, a detailed explanation of what is Vertical Progression.

Vertical progression is any progression which increases the power of your character. Typically this includes levelling where your stats (hp, magicka, stamina, resistance. Spell power, weapon power etc…) increase as your character develops and progresses. This type of progression increases the strength of your character at a very basic level.

A quick example: I have a skill called “Jab” currently Jab does 25 damage everytime I use the skill. After 30 minutes of questing and killing loads of enemies with Jab, I gain a level. From the level gain my base stats are increased and now when I go back out into the world and kill the same mobs that my Jab was doing 25 damage to…it suddenly does 30 damage.

That is a quick simple example of Vertical Progression, it can include more damage, more armor, more resistance, more hp (hitpoints, health points, life etc…), more mp (mana points, magic points, magicka etc…), faster weapon speed, faster movement speed, faster blocking speed, higher blocking potential, more mp/hp/sp regeneration….heck in ESO the rider skills for mounts is even a vertical progression. A vertical progression might simply be defined as any progression that might cause two characters doing the exact same action to perform differently.

Gear Grinds are vertical progression, yup vertical progression isn’t limited to “levelling” an easy to grasp example of this kind of vertical progression is in the item quality systems commonly utilized in many mmorpg and even more classical rpg games.

Example: Typically item quality vertical progression includes white, green, blue, purple, gold tiers but different color schemes are also utilized in different games. These are where identical items are of differing “quality” thus a higher quality item provides higher stats. These higher stats improve our characters ability at various actions (such as making our Jab do higher DPS, by reducing the cast time for the skill Jab). Yup, decreasing the time to use a skill is also vertical progression.

Typically higher level requirement gear or any gear that can be “upgraded” is also a vertical progression of sorts. Vertical progression can come in many forms and can be wrapped in different packaging but at the end of the day it is any progression which increases your power when doing identical actions. Vertical progression creates a very good carrot on a stick for players to strive for and thus is a good motivator to maintain player interest.

Ok, I think that demonstrates vertical progression adequately and I think vertical progression is fairly well understood (at least at a fundamental level) by any experienced rpg or mmorpg player. However, if all of that is vertical progression then what in the world is horizontal progression? What is the point of horizontal progression if it doesn’t make you stronger? Why would any non-vertical progression be desirable?

These are all very good questions! Let’s move on to the second topic and briefly explore what might be considered horizontal progression and what would not be considered horizontal progression. Perhaps it is best to begin with some examples of what is not horizontal progression:

Achievements are not horizontal progression, horizontal progression requires progression of your character. Achievements are a shiny prize a reward for doing something….you get it you hang it on your shelf and it does nothing for your character.

Quests are not horizontal progression, quests are activities that your character does. A character may progress through a storyline but at the end of the day the character will not be any better after the quest (assuming, no vertical or horizontal progression is rewarded for the quest) than it was before the quest. The player may however get enjoyment from the quest.

Dyes are not vertical progression, dyes are cosmetic and aesthetic which might benefit the player but provides no benefit to the character.

Crafting is likely not horizontal progression. More often than not crafting is disguised vertical progression. You craft armor or weapons that are more powerful than you’re currently equipped weapons and armor or enchantments/potions/consumables etc…which increase your stats and make you stronger. This is vertical progression but it can also be cosmetic inprovement.

Player housing is not horizontal progression, it might be parallel progression? Parallel in the sense that you do progress by upgrading your house and by upgrading the interior of the house and maybe get your own npcs….etc…so perhaps you can progress and maybe even vertically or horizontally in creative application of housing but by itself housing is not horizontal progression or vertical progression.

Ok, so now we know what vertical progression could be and some things that are not horizontal progression but that doesn’t leave much to be horizontal progression…right?

Well kind of…perhaps the best way to teach the idea of horizontal progression is through an example. The best implementation of horizontal progression that I have every experienced was in the game “The Secret World” (TSW). Now TSW doesn’t have levels, your character never gains a level throughout the entire game. However it still has vertical progression through gear.

TSW also rewards points (similar to experience) when killing enemies or completing quests. These points, similar to experience, progress your character. However, unlike experience points these points do not increase your level or the basic strength or power of your character or your abilities. Instead these points are used to unlock passive and active skills/abilities.

Going back to the earlier example instead of Jab we might bow have Jab and Kick if we used the points to unlock “Kick”. The ability Kick functions in some unique way making it different from all other abilities that a player can get. It isn’t an upgrade to Jab where Kick is better then Jab perhaps Jab does 25 damage and takes 1 second to cast and kick does 75 damage but takes 3 seconds to cast. In three seconds both abilities are capable of doing the same amount of damage (75). However there is a fundamental difference in how that damage occurs (the length of time to cast). This difference could make Kick better in some situations and Jab better in others and in yet other situations they could be completely interchangable.

Example: Your player can stealth, from a stealthed posisiton you can Jab or Kick. Stealth is not broken until the ability is cast. In the case of kick you have front loaded 75 damage (3 seconds worth of damage) before the enemy has seen you and has the ability to react. This is superior to Jab, because using Jab results in you taking damage sooner.

Example: You are now out of stealth fighting an enemy. You can choose to Jab or Kick this particular enemy has an interrupt with a one second cast time. If you Jab the enemy they cannot react fast enough to inturrupt the abilot thus your 25 damage is very likely to hit. If you choose to Kick instead the enemy has 2 seconds to detect the animation and press the inturrupt button. If successful then the character will have completely negated 3 seconds of your characters damage. In this case Jab is the superior ability.

Example: Let’s suppose the enemy did not have an inturrupt but due to vertical progression you have 76 life and your enemy has 125 life. You brought Jab and he Brought kick and no one was stealthed at the beginning and you both begin fighting at exactly the same time. Your 5’th Jab will land 1 second before his second kick and you will kill him before he kills you. Had he been stealthed though you would have been at -74 life and him at 50 life…and if you had identical life at 150 and started simultaneously then you would both kill eachother at 6 seconds.

As you can see one ability can be better, worse or equal to another depending on the situation even if they do the exact same amount of damage. So spending points to unlock an ability increases the options a player has access to but it doesn’t increase the power of the player.  A player with both Jab and Kick can thus perform better in more situations than a player with only one or the other skill.

Example: You have 100 health, your enemy with 100 health has kick…you have Kick and Jab, You kick out of stealth and then Jab killing him before his first kick can hit you. Alternatively, you opponent begins to kick you and 1 second later you begin to kick him back (your reflexes were off today). Three seconds into combat you’receive at 25 life, at 4 seconds he is also at 25 life, you Jab while he is kicking again at the 5th second he is dead. Had you only had kick, like the enemy, then he would have won because he got the first strike but your horizontal progression allowed you to have superior options during the fight.

Ok, so horizontal progression is unlocking options? Well that is one kind of horizontal progression….kind of… I mean in this case it is more about who has unlocked the most abilites and can keep massive skill bars organized to use the most effeciently. This isn’t fun because it still provides the same problem as vertical progression….someone that has progressed further is better (obviously if I have unlocked two abilities, Jab and Kick, while you only unlocked one or the other then I have a clear advantage over you….expand this to me with 100 abilities on my skill bar and you with 25….). This is where a limited skill bar is useful. If we can both only pick 5 abilities and I can pursue abilities in any order I choose (not you must unlock abilities in a linear fashion, where every character unlocks abilities in the same order everytime). Suddenly my 25 abilities might allow for advantageous 5 ability combinations that you may not have in your 1000 abilities or maybe I am just more skilled at finding synergistic combinations.

Suddenly your character is allowed to progress but doesn’t get stronger (Jab and Kick still function the same 25 damage per second with 1 and 3 second cast times resoectively). This results in PvE players with better builds to perform better, and also with more combat sense to use their skills more effectively during the fight. This shifts the paradigm from what level am I and how great of gear can I have to push my power higher?…to…how can I improve my skill as a player and my character setup to maximize my capabilities? ….In other words instead of a mindless gain more power smash things better type game you suddenly have a thinking game where the direction you progress (which skills should I unlock in what order) and how you utilize that progress (should I put Jab + Kick on my bar or Jab + Inturrupt or Kick + Inturrupt?) Both before when designing your skill bar and during (when using your skillbat) the fight.

In TSW you could unlock over 500 abilities and you could use only 5 active, 5 passive, 1 ultimate, and 1 ultimate passive. This provided almost infinite variation and options for creativity and experimentation. There were literally millions of combinations of skill bars (some combinations were obviously dumb and you would never use but there were always undiscovered builds and since all players had access to this massive set of skill choices the endgame meta was always shifting. As builds became popular a counter would be discovered and that would shift the meta, and then another counter etc…

So in a short sentence Vertical = More power and mindless, horizontal = more options and intellectual. Striking the right balance of Horizontal:Vertical ratio is perhaps more difficult as you need some vertical options (or at least vertiacal variability) to allow specialization and min/maxing to provide give and take on different stats and thus allow for variability of skills based on different stats (producing more options). Once enough verotica variability is present then additonal vertical progression is unnecessary and really only serves to outdate gear and content where horizontal expansion allows all previous and future endgame content and gear to remain relevant….again increasing player options and fun instead of limiting top tiered players to only the very newest content released. Imagine if WoW had expanded from Vanilla in a horizontal direction instead of vertical…then all Vanilla, BC, Wotlk, panda etc….expansions all of that content would still be endgame content instead of something you do to reach endgame content. A new player can join, get to 50 and then have thousands of hours of enshame content avaliable. I guess it’s just a different way of thinking about progression and focusing on increasing options instead of decreasing then at a very fundamental level.

How could the champion system be modified to become a more horizontal type progression:

Well there are several things that might be done. First the passive buffs would need to be replaced. Currently they are vertical progression not horizontal progression. Perhaps they could be more skills on the lines of “more loot from chests”, “better loot from npcs”, “more gold from thieving”, “Reduced vendor prices”, “Reduced cost to refund skill points”, things which do not increase character power. I’m not really sure how you do combat focused passives that you can put 1-100 points in while remaining horizontal … this is am interesting idea and perhaps someone else can come up with that solution. The overall idea is to remove the power focused abilities and increase player options …. maybe as points are put into trees then CSP (champion skill points) are unlocked allowing the use of active abilities from those trees in builds, maybe we gain 3 additional ability slots on our skill bar and we can use 1 thief, 1 mage and 1 warrior ability at a time. Well for now that is my best solution to the current power creep crisis …not very good I know.

Elder Scrolls Online and Inventory Management

Lately I have been seeing threads appear regarding lack of inventory space on the official Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited (ESO: TU) forums. I thought I would share my list of tips and tricks to maximize the use of your inventory space.

First make a small guild with 9 friends who can all be trusted. Then keep (as a group) a full stack of each crafting item in the bank, style material and common trait materials.

We keep all the rarer materials to ourselves and sell excess. But 500 slots worth of common crafting mats makes it a non issue on my inventory.

Another solution is to create all of your characters and increase their bag space (buy bag upgrades, and buy capacity on your horse, and buy bank size upgrades).

Limit crafts to 1-3 per character ( I usually do about two crafts per toon) but some of the more intensives crafts I limit to 1.

The game is b2p, perhaps the easiest and most convienant thing you can do to help manage your inventory is to buy a second account this adds all kinds of inventory management bonuses, a second bank, 8 inventories, 5 guild slots for additional trade guilds (if 5 trade guilds cannot jeep everything sold you need better trade guilds). Additionally you can mail all stuff back and forth so you don’t have to jet back to town immediately when inventory is full. If you get 5 people with 2 accounts each then you can make five guilds and each player has their own guild bank….thats a lot of additional bank space for a player.

The old return-a-rooskie routine….make a friend in the game mail your items to them and mark the title as return please….when they receive then hopefully they will press ‘r’ sending the items back for you to deal with in town at a later time.

Join auction guilds and sell everything (you can make a metric ton of money) then just buy mats or gear when you need it.  Gold is the common denominator, everything has a gold value and everything can be bought with gold. If you sell everything you will quickly gain enough money to buy the necessary thinks to level alchemy and provisioning (takes an hour or two to go from 1-50 if you buy mats). If you deconstruct all armors, weapons and enchants then your other four crafting skills should be maxed sometime between vr1 and vr14. Sell everything and buy what you will use….

This brings me to my biggest trick, weapon and armor crafting materials are worthless, don’t buy them and don’t store them, they are essentially for auctioning or vendor trash. All that jute iron leather, hide etc… You can guaranteed in about 5 min acquire level appropriate mats with plenty left over to make a full armor set. How? Simple goto town, goto the vendor area and ‘steal’ all the armors and weapons from the tables. It has to be stolen ones so if it doesn’t say steal then the item is worthless and will vendor for 0g and deconstruct into nothing…you have to take a risk to get a reward.

Essentially the only crafting mats I keep are the green, blue, purple, yellow upgrade items and style and trait materials…everything else is in the guild bank (small guild of friends) and when it isn’t in the guild bank it is easily acquired. Just make sure you research research research cause thats the real limiter.

Hopefully some of these tips and tricks will help you not feel overwhelmed in the next group dungeon you run or the next long outing into the wilderness.

Selling Character Slots Elder Scrolls Online

I ran two surveys on the TESO:TU (The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited) forums to attempt to get a feel for how much demand there is within the player base for the purchase of character slots and what sort of value those character slots may carry.

Hypothetical Sales based on 100k Active subscribers
Hypothetical Sales based on 100k Active subscribers added for a graphical representation for folks.


Essentially I ask people if character slots were sold how many would they likely purchase. The following categories were utilized: 0, 1 to 3, 4 to 6, 7 to 9, 10 to 12, 13 to 15, 16 to 18, 19 to 21, 22 to 24 and more than 24.

The second survey included various price points per additional character slot and prompted the voter to select the highest price they would be willing to pay. To determine the appropriate values to use I had to find some benchmarks. I used the purchase of a new copy of the game at $50 and the console transfer deal value (16 character slots on a different platform for people who already had the pc version at $20. Note: it seems the 16 slots for $20 may have been a bug and it may have actually been 8 slots for $20 in any case I used 16 slots for $20). I also was limited to 8 voting categories to cover that range (plus an over and an under category). The following price points were used: $0, $0.01 to $1.25, $1.26 to $2.00, $2.01 to $2.75, $2.76 to $3.50, $3.51 to $4.25, $4.26 to $5.00, $5.01 to $5.75, $5.76 to $6.25 and greater than $6.25

The actual surveys are at:


After a day of voting I took the totals from each category and took them to my excel spreadsheet for a little number crunching.

This image shows the weighted average calculation of the represented population as a whole.
Table 1. The weighted average calculation of the represented population as a whole. Average Slots in bracket is the median of the bracket so if the vote option was 1 to 3 then this number would be 2. The weighted average is calculated by taking the number of votes for a bracket divided by the total number of votes then multiplied by the Avg slots in bracket. The weighted average numbers were then summed to yield 3.41 which represents the average number of slots that would be purchased per person by a population represented by the sample 169 voters.

First I wanted to determine how many characters the average player would purchase so I devised a weighting metric to isolate that value which was 3.41 as can be seen in Table 1. Then just for curiosity sake I removed the votes who would purchase no slots and that yielded 6.87 as seen in Table 2.

Table 1. The weighted average calculation of the represented population as a whole. Average Slots in bracket is the median of the bracket so if the vote option was 1 to 3 then this number would be 2. The weighted average is calculated by taking the number of votes for a bracket divided by the total number of votes then multiplied by the Avg slots in bracket. The weighted average numbers were then summed to yield 3.41 which represents the average number of slots that would be purchased per person by a population represented by the sample 169 voters.
Table 2. The weighted average calculation of the represented population as a whole. Average Slots in bracket is the median of the bracket so if the vote option was 1 to 3 then this number would be 2. The weighted average is calculated by taking the number of votes for a bracket divided by the total number of votes then multiplied by the Avg slots in bracket. The weighted average numbers were then summed to yield 6.87 which represents the average number of slots that would be purchased per person by a population represented by the sample 84 voters that would purchase character slots.

Next I wanted to take the price data and determine what the ideal price would be to price a character slot in order to maximize the sale revenue. In order to do this I summed the number of players who voted in a particular price bracket and all more expensive brackets (the assumption is that someone who said their maximum price was $6.25 would be willing to pay a lower price as well, the same for other maximum pay values). These values are marked in the “vote at or below” column which is the number of voters expected to be willing to purchase at that price point. The “vote at or below” value was then converted to a percent by dividing the bracket value by the total number of votes to create a value which represents the percent of the population willing to spend money in that bracket to purchase character slots. The data were then multiplied (Avg Price in bracket * % that would buy * avg slots per player (3.41 and 6.87)). This creates a dollar value estimating the sales revenue per player for each price bracket (Note: Average price bracket is the median between the high and low values within a price range).

The 3.41 slots per player sales price indicates the average price each player (including the players who buy 0 slots) would spend. The 6.87 slots per player indicates the average prices that players who would spend money would spend. The end calculations for each step can be examined in Table 3.

Table 3.
Table 3. The calculation of the price a player would pay for character slots compared to how many slots a player would purchase. The highlighted row indicates the optimal price point for a character slot as indicated from the two surveys in this study. The optimal price is determined by identifying the bracket which maximizes the money spent per player and thus maximizes the profits (click to enlarge). It should be noted that $3.88 and $4.63 result in almost identical sales as such the cheaper value might be recommended so that psychologically more players feel included in the ability to purchase character slots.

Finally, these profits per player were multiplied by hypothetical active player counts to create a table (Table 4.) which allows an easy ballpark reference to estimate sales in the represented population at 50,000 account intervals.

Table 4.
Table 4. Estimated total sales at different numbers of active players in 50,000 account intervals.

Utilizing Table 4 should make it easy to ballpark potential sales on the developer side they would need to determine an accurate estimate of the cost to implement a character purchase option and then compare the value to the estimated sales value for their subscriber level. Simply subtract costs from sales and voila an estimate of the potential profits.

A last thought, these estimates should be used conservatively. They are accurate with regards to the sample population however without more information I cannot say how well the sample population represents the entire active accounts population.


How to make the next successful MMO

You might look back nostalgically at previous mmorpgs: World of Warcraft, Ultima Online, EverQuest, Lineage 2 and you might think…wow those guys were at the right place at the right time.

Wrong, Ultima wasn’t new, WoW wasn’t new, these games were well marketed and had follow through with their products. There was Lineage 1 also popular and prior to that there were literally thousands of muds mush muck etc…. Yeah they weren’t quite as big or as graphically pleasing but it was there…ever since the early 90s at least. Some of them were in fact massively popular and had subscripton fees….here is a list of still active variants….

It may have been novel to the masses just like a lot of modern mmorpg content is novel to the masses, but wow, ultima, eq, etc…were just the next stepping stone with good marketing they weren’t ground breaking people already played games with thousands of users online and they already played graphical games offline…once DSL, cable, satellite …etc connections caught up naturally stuff moved there…we were playing Warcraft 1 on LANs with 8 people connected to larger online servers in the mid 90s you could reset these RTS and play online against opponents ….yeah wow, uo, eq etc… Did it bigger (and your character progressed longer, much like pen and paper rpgs) but it wasn’t new. Good design, good product, follow through, and good marketing is where it is certainly within the realm of doable but if you try to be like someone else you will never be better than them. That’s where everyone gets it wrong… You don’t try to beat WOW by doing what they do better….they have more money, more staff, more time and more experience at doing what they are doing….how are you gonna surpass them? Hint: you won’t…how much money do you think ole blizz has spent perfecting their product? What AAA is gonna invest that upfront? You can’t out WOW Blizz, but the sky is the limit.

What will be successful? Something new and origional, say Eve…Eve did space, it was new and original whatever they did, that’s why it creeped up the way it did….I never played it so I dunno what that was…..what does an AAA gotta do today? Step out of the box (ESO has the potential to do this IMHO but they got a lot of work to do if they are going to pull it off), go with it, don’t be afraid to be different…and when you do that…do it flawlessly in a way that leaves no bad thought in the users mind…its gotta be fun, fast paced, active (people are tired of just mashing buttons on an endless gear grind)….content is king…but content is time consuming to create. New added content should be flawless.

I goto the bank teller machine it works it has money I slide in my card I slide it out I punch in my code and my money comes out….it just works, that’s how mmo developers need to look at their products (before launch) if you can assign a swarm of beta testers to the product for a week and you’re still finding more than one or two bugs….better send out a notice and say “sorry the product is not quite ready” …are there going to be more bugs found at launch? Sure but you’ve eliminated everything possible prior to that.

What do I see as the next big thing? Player created content. A developer will release a game and reward player created content (so many players can produce so much more content)…but wait that’s been tried….well kinda….this player made content will be highly moderated, require lore friendly and be tested by the developers prior to public release. These player made content will consist of many dungeons to explore (devs will constantly increase the number of quality tools player driven content creators can use). The game developers will be responsible for the world map and integrating the player created zones into the larger world. A developer who creates a dungeon that gets integrated into the game gets a free year of playing (on a sub game) or $150 cash in a b2p/f2p game. Why? Cause he has provided an hour of content for the entire playerbase….thats value. You get 12,000 player creators working on that task each one releasing one dungeon a year then you have suddenly 12,000 new dungeons worth of content…each year…and figuring an hour a dungeon thats 12,000 hours of unique content for players. That is also high quality (cause it was fine tuned by the company before actual release and properly vetted). How many of you played 12,000 hours last year?…total cost to the company for the bulk of the content work 1.8 million (a drop in the bucket compared to the alleged cost of making this game). The internal beta review of the content before public release and payment would take a decent staff of testers (full time work is 2000 hours a year…so just to play through the content once on each submission would require 6 fulltime testers…plus all the content that didn’t make it…plus actually doing proper testing…you might need 20-100 actual internal testers. At 30k a year per tester a hundred testers is 3,000,000 per year…and you have the polishers who take the submitted products and improve them to perfection ….maybe another 1.5 million a year. The total annual expense of 12,000 hours of unique playable content about 6.5 million a year in development costs only.

Now how many of you would sub ($15 a month) to a game that released 12,000 hours of flawless unique content each year? If that number is over 40,000 people then the development costs are paid for…the only expense left is management, financial, maintenance, server etc… I bet a paltry 100k sub’s could completely support this and with all that content …I bet sub numbers would grow!!!