Tuesday, May 05, 2009

CoH: It's not "Your" game.. it's "the developers" game.

One of the big controversies surrounding City of Heroes right now is the rapid abuse of the new Mission Architecture system to create maps and missions specifically designed to allow a low level player to gain massive experience rewards and quickly reach high levels. Some of the level farmers successfully created maps in which they could take a new character to the maximum level in just two days of play. The abuse of the system lead to a rash of extremely new players with no idea how to play the game.

Speaking for myself, I tried to start a Sister Psyche Task Force, which is designed for players level 20-25. I found a level 27 player in the search system with an LFT tag indicated they would do any task force. The player was in Atlas Park, so I sent the player asking if the player wanted to do a Sis Psyche. I received an affirmative, invited, and waited. After about 5 minutes of the player's location tag still reading Atlas Park, I asked if the player was coming. The player responded by saying they were ready and waiting for me and the other players to come to Atlas Park (2) to start the Task Force. I kid you not, this new player, at level 27, had never left Atlas Park. They thought it was the only zone in the game. They thought that when names on the team list where colored in Black, that meant the player was in a different Atlas Park. They thought the Sister Psyche Task Force was an AE task force.

During the 5th Anniversary Event on the Test Server, my account and a friends account were in two separate Pocket D instances during the Developers Meet-and-Greet. In both of the Pocket D's the chatter was flooded with players complaining about the rampant farming and demanding to know what the developers were going to do to fix the situation. Many players were complaining about how Atlas Park had degenerated into a spamming zone, as explified by a post I made here on the Developers feedback:
I say this because it used to be fun and sit around Atlas Park. Host a costume contest, talk with other players, recruit for supergroups, show new players the ropes, etc. etc. For the past week, for every 30 minutes I've spent in an Atlas Park on 3 different servers, roughly 3/4 of the broadcast chat is promotions of AE farms. I don't mean AE Mish. I mean people who explicitly broadcast : Looking For AE farm, or AE farm looking for players

Okay, I know that Freedom's been bad about the farming for years. I've gotten somewhat used to loading into Freedom's PI and seeing a level 5 asking for a farming team. Now that kind of behavior is spreading to other servers, and it's honestly pathetic.

So, finally, Mr. Miller spoke up and laid down the law. The Mission Architecture System was going to get changed, and people who had power-leveled were facing everything from suspension of access to account bans. The result was a firestorm of posts, as Mr. Miller's 05/05/09 11:09 AM post received 1726 responses by 05/05/09 07:14 PM.

One of the points raised in Mr. Miller's throw-down was this:
Some of you have taken the stance of “how does powerlevelling hurt the game?” and “shouldn’t I be able to play the game the way that I want?

This isn't the first time I've heard that particular line. I joined City of Heroes shortly before Jack Emmert's Enhancement Diversification hit. Now, as a professional games journalist, I found the original design of CoH's enhancement system to be flawed, way back when Intel introduced me to CoH at their private Lan party, and long before I actually shelled out for the game. While I'm unable to find the postings now (possibly because I remember placing them on Gamenikki's long disabled forum system), I wrote how the lack of emphasis on different enhancement sets and benefits meant that a large portion of the game was unbalanced. In traditional RPG style games, a variation of character stats is needed to have a successful grouping. From Phantasy Star, to Grandia, to Final Fantasy, to insert your game here, the player generally needs to maintain a balance of their powers to play the game. For early City of Heroes then, it made no sense to me that the game would only emphasize the attributes of damage and defense / resistance. I agreed with the implementation of Enhancement Diversification as it pushed the need to focus on more than just taking damage or delivering damage. Status effects would once again matter, so importance was returned to the support classes. What I did not agree with was the timing of ED. The enhancement system was changed long after the game had been established. Nor did I agree with the followup's to ED. Some power sets, like Fire Aura for tanks, have never been rebalanced to account for the ED changes, an issue that raised it's head when Fire Aura was given to the scrapper archtype.

Many players of the game at that time were known to retort that ED didn't help them get immaginative with their builds, and slot how they wanted to slot. Many players said that if they wanted to slot 6 damage SO's for 3X damage, they should be allowed to play like that.

What many of these players fail to understand is that the game isn't theirs to do with as they please. There are some games, such as Unreal Tournament or Quake, that do provide the game player with the tools to do what they want to with the game. However, most games are built to provide you somebody else's vision of a game.

Remember Tabula Rasa, the MMO I didn't shut up about? What happened to it? Okay, it died, but why did it die? I say it died because Mr. Garriot gave control of the game to somebody who did not share the epic vision of what Tabula Rasa was, and what Tabula Rasa was supposed to be. With Mr. Garriot out of the way Tabula Rasa chased after the player-versus-player market, a market that didn't actually exist as NCSoft's painful financial losses demonstrated. Instead of focusing on the strengths of Tabula Rasa, which consisted of the team-based play, the massive fights against hordes of NPC's, the epic delivery of the story lines, and the instanced missions, the developers abandoned everything that made Tabula Rasa special during it's beta.

One of the problems with Tabula Rasa is that the developers at Destination Games did not have a handle on what they were making, why they were making what they were making, and how they were going to make what they were making. So, when somebody tossed them bad ideas, the developers went after the bad ideas. Unfortunantly, many of those bad ideas came from players who wanted something other than what had been created under Mr. Garriot.

Take a minute and look over console games, like Zelda, Jak & Daxter, Mario, Ratchet & Clank, or even Windows games like Half-Life. How many of these games give the player complete freedom to do whatever they want to do with the game? Well, none. When you play a normal video game, you play the game that the developers created, as the developers created them.

Now, in some cases, like with Half-Life, you do have the option of enabling cheat modes that let you do things like walk through walls, get infinite ammo, and so on. However, these modes are obviously cheat modes and by enabling them you know you are not playing the game as the developers intended.

For some reason, many MMO players seem to be of the opinion that playing the game as the developers intended does not apply to MMO's. Some people seem to think they should be allowed to abuse, or break, a MMO game in any way they want, to get any reward they want, at any time they want. Some people feel they should be able to take any character type in the game and make it play exactly like another character type.

Well, no. Just. No. Mr. Miller, and the entire staff at Paragon Studios for that matter, are responsible for designing their game, how they see fit, as they see fit, in any way they want. Paragon Studios does not have to accept any feedback for what they do, or change anything according to what players want. It is Paragon Studio's game.

Now, Paragon Studio's goal is make money. Paragon Studio makes money by creating a game that is enjoyable and fun to play for as many people as possible. To that end, it is beneficial for the game studio to act upon player feedback. If something is obviously broken in the game, the broken portion needs to be fixed. If something is out of balance, it needs to be rebalanced.

Sometimes though, in keeping to the vision of how their game is supposed to work, the developers are going to have to put their foot down and give a big fat NO to some of the desires the player base has. Sometimes the developers will have to take away earned rewards, ban accounts, limit access, or implement such punishments to maintain the integrity of the game. Sometimes such punishments might even extend to changing the way an entire character archtype works to enforce the playable behavior the devs want. Tabula Rasa might still be alive if Mr. Garriot's replacement had just responded to every PvP'ers request with NO followed by a new spam filter entry.

Now, there are some people, like me, who will argue that because we pay for the game, the developers should listen to what we have to say. Okay, that is true. I think developers should listen to their paying base... and since CoH has no free accounts, I think all requests should be taken seriously by the developers, no matter how ludicrous those requests are. That does mean that every now and then the developers are going to get requests that are going to get 1 second of serious consideration followed by 5 minutes of rolling on the floor laughing.

That being said, I do have other methods of getting my views across to the developers. I can vote with my wallet. If I really don't like what the developers are doing, or have done, I'll cancel my account. No nasty forum post, well, unless it's Planetside, then I am going to pull out the flame thrower, but regardless. No nasty forum post saying goodbye. No threats. Just open up PlayNC Account management, followed by a cancel of payment, followed by a delete from system.

Voting with your wallet will catch a developers or publishers attention a heck of a lot faster than a forum post or email.

And this latest move by Mr. Miller? Has me budgeting another $150 to continue playing his game for another year.
Post a Comment