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Horizontal Progression Options to maximize your in-game assets

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

In this post, I would like to talk about 3 different ways you can force horizontal progression in your game.

What is Horizontal Progression

Horizontal Progression is the concept of pushing players to use 1 of many different types of progression systems that require a different meta to engage in:

Lets take for example the 3 items below,

  • Heroes

  • Armor

  • Weapons

Designer will have the choice to introduce all new unique currencies for players to farm to upgrade the unique upgradable pieces in the game or choose to make the progression path singular. But this topic is not about single meta based progression system but multiple, therefore for the purpose of this post, lets assume that the players are required to farm different resources in different meta systems in the game.

Now, Why would we want to do this?

Implementing a strong horizontal progression based meta system will largely impact your conversion rate in a positive way. This is why

Let’s discuss why

In every mobile game, your content treadmill will be the lifeline of your game. Get the most out of all the content you add to the game will create the best ROI per asset. But for any content based product the priority for your game to succeed is to understand the concept of supply and demand and making sure that your most sought out content has the lowest supply or else you will limit the demand , which in turn won’t generate much revenue.

But this post is not about managing the supply and demand of your content but the concept of creating value for your entire in-game content.

We’re talking about Horizontal Progression, specifically what are you going to do with your fodder equipment or trash equipment. How do you create value for low rarity or level items for users that are far progressed in the game. Having users re-engage in these in garbage items will help the content treadmill.

What are Fodder items?

Fodder items are generally throw away items that designers setup specifically for the onboarding process and also create a higher sense of value in the higher rarity tier items

Most trading card games would have an abundance of these items in the range of 80/20 split between, fodder / High value items.

The 80% are usually considered throw away which inline creates the massive overhead in the content pipeline since the throw away items will be relative to the strength of the card and in a power scaling game, it can be pretty easy to break balance when constantly adding new cards into the economy, and as a product manager you never want to put yourself in this situation, since 1 missed step in balancing will severely tank your revenue.

Quite dangerous stuff, and too risky to be left solely responsible for a balance designer.

Enter Horizontal progression.

Horizontal Progression is the concept of forcing players to branch off into different builds in hopes they choose to apply their resources outside of their main setup.

I will be discussing 3 effective and different ways you can approach this design:

a) Hard Level Restrictions:

Not necessarily the most effective approach but Hard Restriction literally forces players to equip or bring in a specific set for them to complete the mission / level / stage. One of the bigger problems with this approach is that most of the time if the players doesn’t have the required position they would have 2 choices,

  • Buy the item in the store to participate in the stage

  • Or not Participate in the feature completely

Most of the time the ladder happens leading to churn and some unpleasant P2W reviews in your game, so don’t say i didn’t tell you so.

The most effective way to use this feature is to place these hardcore restriction in extremely hard core levels, where you can expect the whales to only participate, and is usually has some bottom line effect as these whales don’t care too much of the P2W aspect but the actual concept of winning at all cost.

b) Item Multiplier

Adding item multipliers in specific stages / levels / missions have been a tried and tested feature that many developers in this space has utilized to make billions of dollars in revenue.

The concept here is to apply a 2x, 3x damage or point multiplier on a specific equipment piece that players need to seek out for a specific event to compete and win prizes.

This multiplier will have to be designed to be the key game changer for ‘this’ period. The beauty of this feature is that players will be forced into using cards equipment outside of their norm creating a new experience to the users for a limited time. This in turns allows them to understand the different play styles of your product and almost the potential to have them move off their main setup to try new things, potentially re-engaging them to try new gameplay.

c) Insert Upgrades as the core loop of the game

This by far “I” would consider as the most compelling system that will fully require players to upgrade horizontally to progress vertically.

Let that sink in.

Adding upgrade into your core loop will create behavior to force players to upgrade equipment that they don’t even use for the purpose to upgrade their main equipment.

Let’s talk about how you can accomplish this.

In many RPG games you will notice that some games have a player level and than a equipment or card level. That they would have to both level up at the same time. With separate experience resources. What some companies are doing now is to streamline the system and merge these 2 features together to make for a more intuitive system.

The power of a Level Cap.

Let’s dig a little deeper into this feature.

To emphasize how this works extremely well with horizontal progression is the genius behind rewarding Player level experience every time you upgrade an equipment or Card or whatever meta collection system you have in your game. What this means is that every time you upgrade an item you are adding to your Player level, therefore creating value to all low level fodder equipment to display value as they can be used to add to your player level account.

Here’s the kicker.

If the value of the Player level caps the growth of the item level, you automatically have a system that is part of the core loop.

What this means is that you will be effectively locking players from leveling up their main items because they are required to increase their other items to move the global (player level) cap higher, effectively creating a indirect way of forcing players to level up their fodder items in order to increase their main items.


If you have any questions about how to add horizontal progression systems into your game, don't hesitate to email and and I'll be more than happy to discuss your product.

Good luck

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