A Guild Odyssey – Part 2 (NBI Talkback Challenge)

“It is good to have friends, is it not, Mr. Garibaldi? Even if, maybe, only for a little while?”

“Even if only for a little while.”

— Londo and Garibaldi, Babylon 5

In City of Heroes, guilds were known as supergroups.

I didn’t join any for a while.

Not because I didn’t want to, but mostly there was no pressing need to (everyone did pickup groups) and I think I was hoping to get lucky and stumble across a perfect match like in my MUD days.

Turns out that an MMO is a lot bigger than a MUD.

It’s hard to be a known name or recognizable, and you sure didn’t seem to see the same people twice in your pickup groups.

I did eventually end up meeting a rather nice chap on the Justice server, who sent me an invite to his Instant Heroes supergroup, and I joined to be nice about it.

Alas, I started running into the problem that would plague me for the rest of my MMO career. Timezone issues.

Back in the MUD, I was mostly on American soil, playing with hardcore folks who would stay online for 9-16 hours a day (and possibly bot the rest of the time too.)

In an MMO with a larger casual population, more people play more sedate periods of 1-4 hours a night.

My primetime was not their primetime. As a result, the guild tended to be very quiet when I logged on, and they probably never saw me log on either, until the weekends.

Then I ran out of character slots on Justice and moved onto sampling a new server, Freedom, which had developed a more powergamer-type of community.

Around the same time, in 2007, supergroup bases became a thing. The new update was going to allow guilds to earn a currency that could be used to design-your-own-guild-hall.

Supergroup recruitment messages plastered the forums, every group clamoring for new recruits for self-benefitting purposes.

It was also going to be an awful waste if I remained guildless and kept playing, while I could be earning that currency for a guild. Powergamers abhor inefficiency, after all.

And the inveterate explorer in me was intently curious on -seeing- this new content, even if I had no interest in designing or building rights. Just being able to walk in was fine.

So I randomly picked a nice guild recruitment message that appealed and was in the same server that I was currently playing in, and found myself part of the Top Ten supergroup.

Oh, it started out promising as all these things do.

2007-07-16 05:00:16

We had our guild meetings in a brand spanking new HUMONGOUS superbase. We had our guild colors.

We assembled everyone together to take guild photos with artfully arranged emotes.

Memory fails me, but from scattered screenshots, I think we even had guild events where we assembled enough to do a hamidon raid or visit the PvP zones for some random fun.

I’m sure you know the ending of the story by now.

Attrition happened.

People got distracted by other games, Found other things to do. Stopped logging in.

We lost officers. The events dried up.

Day by day, the guild population got smaller and smaller.

Again, I ran out of character slots and the l33tspeak powergamer tendencies of the Freedom server were beginning to get to me as I kept mellowing down further.

I kept the global channel the supergroup was using, as I enjoyed the chatter, but stopped logging the character that was in it since there was nothing much to do but farm for fun after hitting max level. (Loot was still not a thing beyond some supergroup crafting items or what-not.)

I had moved on to the roleplaying server, Virtue, with new characters to level and was enjoying the concomitant increase in community maturity level.

And NOW loot became a thing. Inventions happened. A guild supergroup base made a really good bank storage given that characters only had ten slots to store stuff.

Except that one has no storage rights being a member of a big guild in a server far away.

Enter the family and friends guild.

Well, -one- friend.

They fancied themselves quite the supergroup base designer.

Desk stacking to raise an item to unintended heights. (I had no such patience for it.)

Desk stacking to raise an item to unintended heights. (I had no such patience for it. He did.)

It worked out fine. I left most of the design to my friend, continued to play my way and earn supergroup currency for us, and made use of the amenities – including hogging a bunch of storage containers for my packrat tendencies. He got to put the prestige earned by two very dedicated players to good use, building elaborate architecture to his heart’s content.

Attrition still happened.

This time the guilty party was me. I lost interest as all the raids arrived.

I stopped playing City of Heroes around six months before the end. I think my friend held on till NCsoft booted him out. Though he also had bouts of dissatisfaction from time to time, he held a bit more loyalty to the franchise than I did.

I had other games, and other guilds.

CoH was not the sole MMO I played. I had it on constant sub for years, while jumping to the next newest and greatest and shiniest at the time (and a few odd ducks besides):

  • Guild Wars – Ironically, I joined no guild in this, playing it as a single player game for the most part, enjoying myself thoroughly with my heroes and personal solo challenges.
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online – The required grouping and timezone issues killed this one for me at launch even before I could think about maybe being committed to the game long enough to perhaps join a guild.
  • Lord of the Rings Online – I think I did join a random fellowship at one point. You know the sort. Advertised over mapchat. Filled with people doing their own thing and occasional guild channel chatter looking for group while the game was still popular. At the time, I didn’t need much more than that. I attrition’ed with everyone else and must have got booted at some point. I wouldn’t know. I was having more serious issues, like not being able to get out of Moria. Ever.

(Run in circles, kill ten more goblins, pick up another quest, go back to the same place and kill 10 more different types of goblins. pick up yet another quest and visit the same area to click on some rocks near goblins, pick up still another quest to kill goblin leaders that may have needed a group or to be higher in level…. Yeah. I ended up taking pretty screenshots and logging off.)

  • Age of Conan – Alright. Let’s get serious, I thought. Timezone issues were a massive pain. Let’s take the time to pick and choose my guild more carefully, and if I couldn’t find a local guild – which never tends to last in not so popular games – maybe an Oceanic Australian guild would work. So I shopped around, read all the ubiquitous guild recruitment messages, tried to pick a good fit one that actually bothered to request applicants fill out a casual application survey. (My MUD did that. Good way to weed out the utterly nonserious and the unable to type to communicate to save their lives ones.)

I got in.

Oh my god, it’s full of PVPers.

Ok, I kid, but not by much. It was full of and led by competitive Killer types, with a side helping of Achievers.

In hindsight, I suppose I should have expected that, being that I was playing an MMO that -advertised- itself as FFA PvP, hardcore-realistic battles and what-not.

They weren’t bad people, by any means. Friendly, supportive, band-of-brothers-y. It just wasn’t going to be a guild culture that mapped onto my interests very well.

I stuck with them for quite a while, all the same. Attempted a PvE raid or two, to discover that GMT +10 primetime was still different enough for someone in GMT+8 to have a really bad time trying to make the schedule and be on time (quite a few hasty commutes from work and skipped dinners.)

  • Warhammer Online – This was the period where I think of the three MMOs in sequence. As AoC was drowning from exploits, bugs and laggard development fixes and patches, everyone switched their attention to WAR. I coasted with the same guild into the new MMO, where we had our fun-enough-for-a-time PvP trains and zergs while the crowds were still home.
  • Aion - Just as rapidly, the whole Oceanic population jumped ship from WAR to Aion. I was already beginning to get quite cynical at this point, recognizing that Oceania/Asia seemed to have formed their own community of PvP-interested guilds that were less attached to a game per se, and more attached to each other as voicechat individuals. I envied guilds like The Kelly Gang whose timezones and playstyles matched well enough to stick with each other, regardless of game. (Small world, ain’t it?)

The guild I was in wasn’t bad, but we were leaving a few people behind with every jump and getting a little smaller and smaller via attrition once more. And I was burning out from all dat PvP. Oh, the endless I-kill-you-kill-everybody-dies…

And you know, Aion -was- grindy. Like, really really grindy. Like, I’ve killed so many mobs in the same place and still can’t seem to level grindy.

Not to mention, being an undergeared melee class in a game where players can fucking fly (ok, glide) from floating island to floating island may not have been the wisest choice for successful PvP. (And PvE was turning out to be an unoriginal holy trinity game of spawn camping world bosses for lousy RNG drops, with presumably ugh, raids in the future.)

No hard feelings, guys. It’s not the guild. It’s the FUCKING GAME. I moved on.

  • RIFT – Having gone through all types of guild options at a rather accelerated pace, I though, well, what’s one more? Mega-guild time. There are only a couple of famous, super game-spanning guild communities out there, and mostly via random pick, I tested out The Older Gamers as opposed to say, Gaiscioch.

Which worked fine during the early launch days, providing sufficient chatter and crowds for my not-very-demanding needs, but I was beginning to suspect that the success of each individual game chapter of a mega-guild depended a lot on the shoulders of the leaders and officers that had volunteered to run it. If a community center didn’t develop, that was pretty much going to be it. (And it’s also tiring as hell for the people who are serving as the centers of community. I did it as a guild leader on my MUD once. Never again.)

As suspected, attrition yet again whittled down the RIFT chapter over time. I was losing interest in the game myself.

I never did participate much in the bigger game-spanning community forums. An unfortunate and untimely injected script into an advertisement incident scared me off frequenting their boards too often – valuable game hours are taken up by scanning for viruses, trojans and rootkits, y’know!

You get out what you put into a community. TOG was simply a little too big for me to connect with anyone. I found I preferred guilds that were game-specific, so that at least everyone had some kind of common interest.

To my surprise, it was in the niche games that I found more of a throwback to what I was used to from my MUD days.

Next up, Puzzle Pirates briefly and A Tale (of guilds) in the Desert…

 

Digital Impermanence and Regret Is Not Contingent on F2P

Digital wings cost money.

Quote Post of the Day:

“But what I find most interesting is that everybody who bought virtual property in these games basically lost everything…  there were no refunds, nor was the compensation is any way measuring up to the large amounts of money some of the “whales” spent.

People who hate Free2Play games anyway and consider anybody spending money on them to be stupid will just laugh, or point out that virtual property doesn’t legally exist in most Western jurisdictions. But just as people believe they own the games they bought on a disc (which they don’t), they also believe they own the golden cow or palace or whatever they bought in a virtual world.

The obvious risk for the game companies is that the whales are going to wisen up. If the company you gave a lot of money to for your virtual property can expropriate you at any time with no legal recourse, a lot of those purchases suddenly look a lot less attractive. Especially if they don’t give an immediate benefit but were purchased more as a long-term status symbol. When the game shuts down, those status symbol at best survive only as a personal screenshot nobody cares about. If that happens to you once, you’re not going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on the next game.”

Tobold
-

cohrandomserver3

cohfreedom

cohvirtue2

cohvirtue1

cohpinnacle

cohrandomserver1

cohrandomserver2

cohrandomserver5

cohrandomserver4

cohrandomserver6

cohjustice

94 characters.

6 max level 50s.

Personal play time: Dec 2004 – July 2012, minus a year or two from protests, boredom or burnout, plus some extra dollars dropped in the cash shop.

Let’s say 6 years of fun times.

6 x 12 months x $15 = $1080

Now all gone.

Nothing but screenshots and blog posts remain.

/no regrets

Two days ago, I bought a $10 virtual horn.

I’ve already painstakingly and slowly worked my way through:

  • Silent Night
  • Clementine
  • Happy Birthday
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Old Folks at Home
  • I’d Like to Teach The World To Sing
  • Jingle Bells
  • Home on the Range

for my own amusement – though not inflicted it on anyone yet.

Did you spend money on an MMO (sub or F2P, who cares) for status symbols, or for experiences and memories?

P.S. How many of your non-digital tangible items last six years without breaking or getting moldy or being lost or thrown away or becoming obsolete or replaced?

CoH: To Save Or Not to Save?

Is a dinosaur worth saving?

That is the question, indeed.

I thought I’d said my piece about City of Heroes already and that would be that.

I’ve mourned it, quite a while ago in truth, and in a really roundabout way, tried to explain my personal opinion on why CoH’s core gameplay fundamentals are too dated to enthuse an audience of today.

Still, we’ve had various activist efforts springing up here and there, doing their best to save Paragon City, and lots of blogs keeping the CoH flame of hope alive – Levelcapped, Dragonchasers, Stylish Corpse, Of Course I’ll Play It, and some moderates throwing in their support, like Aardwulf and Syp.

To paraphrase a Massively commenter, grandmoffdaryl for myself, this is my stance:

“I’ve made a personal decision to accept the closure of this game with grace and equanimity, but at the same time, sincerely hope the activist players’ efforts to save the game are successful and wish them all the best.”

My personal contribution to their efforts had mostly been to keep a respectful silence on my blog, in order not to darken their efforts with any more cynicism or negativity, and hope for the best alongside them.

I am that queer representative in the corner that is the opposite of what Tobold jeers at – I did spend money on City of Heroes in 2012 and was bothered to play it (alas, not liking a great deal of the later additions, but I did like some) but I won’t be joining in any letter writing campaigns or petitions as I don’t want to raise false hope for myself.

(Nor am I personally sure that keeping a gradually ailing CoH on life support is a better fate than laying it to rest while there are still enough people to think well of it and mourn. More on this, later.)

But now I can’t shut up when I read a piece like this, The Reason NOT to Save City of Heroes, which grates on me so much that I have to say something. Congratulations, you won, you just trolled me into responding. :)

I suppose it’s all for the best, keeping the discussion alive, when it could be forgotten.

Here’s where I agree with Jomu from Just One More Unlock:

I wouldn’t say that accepting the closure of CoH is being one step above a vegetative state, but more about being realistic, being mature and understanding how the real world works.

It’s a response to Chris Smith from Levelcapped, where he indulges in a little hyperbole:

I prefer to think of it this way: “Those who stand for nothing, fall for anything.” Simply throwing up your hands and saying “that’s life” is to acquiesce to living only one step above a vegetative state. You’ll accept whatever people tell you, take whatever life gives you, and won’t utter a whimper of dissent no matter what.

Actually, acceptance is just another kind of equally valid response. Different folks react in different ways, and while I get that this is written in the spirit of a call to arms and action, sitting around insulting folks that respond differently from you may not be the best way to endear them to what you’re trying to convince them to do.

As any of you who have read this blog for a while should know, I like observing sociological phenomenon. Activism is one of those things I find distinctly American (though that is not to say that other cultures have not appropriated it for use.) It veers towards taking an active role and doing stuff, and can go down the slippery slope into extremism. It also takes a strong, charismatic leader doing a lot of work and focusing the masses towards a direction (and I think we see that in TonyV in this case) and a cause around which passionate people can believe in and congregate.

And here’s where I start disagreeing intently with Jomu. City of Heroes is not just a product like a can of beans on a supermarket shelf. (And even that can of beans has a following – just think about what can happen if someone tries to fool around with the taste that people are used to.) MMOs have the emergent property of becoming a virtual world, and a place where a community forms around.

It so happens that one of the most passionate MMO communities ever formed is the City of Heroes community. I don’t know how or why, but it did. Was it because of the superhero setting that make people feel like they can also be heroes in real life? Was it simply because it was the very first to dare to be different and not aim at generic fantasy or sci-fi MMO, but modern day comics? Was it due to the insanely innovative character creator that allowed people to visualize their daydreams, their unpublished characters in their imagination and yes, even their Mary Sues? And in so doing, made them fall in love with the game and the community that formed around it.

It was one of the first MMOs that let the developers of the game post on forum boards, giving, receiving and responding to feedback, and despite a few spectacular controversies and blowups and meltdowns, overall, it built fans and brand loyalty, and likely provided an example to other MMOs that made them realize there was something valuable to be gained by doing this, even if it’s safer to hire a community manager or two or some PR to vet potential thoughtless posts from devs first.

It even attracted celebrities – actors, comic book artists and writers -  that played the game, enjoyed it, and found the community safe enough to share or hint at who they were.

If there is one MMO community that might fight closure successfully, it is definitely the CoH one.

And it is extremely disrespectful of their efforts to tell them all-knowingly that it doesn’t matter. Because to them, it does.

It doesn’t matter to you. That’s fine. Say that.

Can We Save City of Heroes?

Probably not. There are a lot of strikes against it. NCsoft’s track record for slaughtering games is one of them. (Not killing this one would be such an immediate PR boost, they should indeed consider it.)

The argument that closing down the servers of this game in order to reallocate resources to a newer, better game is just bunk, though. The servers of CoH aren’t going to be given to GW2 or whatever. NCsoft is a publisher of games, they sponsor separate companies that are developers of games. They certainly are not going to reallocate the staff of Paragon Studios to other games in their development stable (unless it so happens that the staff in question applies for a job with one of those game studios and is accepted,) they are closing the studio down. Kaput, no more jobs.

The only resource they are reallocating is cash.

To other projects, which are all but certainly not going to be a superhero MMO, not a CoH2, so from where is this mystical new superhero game going to emerge? Let the sidekicks step up to the plate, you say? CO and DCUO? Don’t make me laugh. There’s a reason CoH clung on to its market share despite being the oldest game on the block. It’s unabashedly still the best of the three.

The real problem, imo, is the overall market and mindshare of a superhero-themed MMO. It’s not… great. From an outside perspective, dressing up in brightly colored spandex and fighting crime has certain… connotations. I used to think that way until I actually tried the game and realized, hey, this character creator is so powerful, it goes beyond that, and also realized that I did appreciate a more grimdark style of comics and enjoyed making antiheroes and villains. But it’s a hard sell. Just check out various troll comments about CoH closing down to see a mean outsider’s perspective and that should give one an idea of the uphill fight.

The other problem, in my opinion anyway, is the age of the game. Which shows in both its design and its engine, though the graphical update does make it look much better. When the fundamental gameplay involves reading walls of text without any voice-overs and entering instances with a limited number of maps and tilesets to cycle from and fighting equally spaced, equally sized clumps of mobs until you get to the end and rinse and repeat, with an exponentially large xp curve till max level, players run very quickly into boredom from repetition.

Especially in the wake of all the action combat MMOs lately, which makes CoH combat feel slow and laggardly, especially at low levels without good slotting or sufficient skills. The “wait till level X” argument is not cutting it any more when there are too many MMOs to choose from.

If you cannot get new blood into the game, the game is doomed. It’s going to die a slow painful death from entropy, and Unsub’s graphs of CoH revenues pretty much indicate that’s how CoH has been going lately. Still profitable, but not by much, and steadily dropping.

Not for lack of effort, certainly. They’ve tried an expansion, Going Rogue, they’ve introduced raids to keep the “I want an endgame” folks happy, they’ve made it F2P and added a cash shop.

Here’s another reason why I’m leery about keeping the game alive. At what point is this struggle for cash and sufficient revenue going to turn the game we loved into something unrecognizable?

What if the monthly sub becomes $25 a month, or $50, or $100? What if every new costume and powerset and zone and story arc had to be paid for? What if we had those real world ads on all the city’s banner space again? What if lots of lockboxes start dropping that you need to buy keys with real money just so that you can be on par with everybody else? What if the cash shop starts selling power for dollar signs? What if the game turns into a hamster wheel grind to repeat the same things to get better rewards that make you go up a tier so that you qualify for a hamster wheel on a more rarefied level? (Oops. Too late.)

How many would stay and play, and how many would decide the game is no longer for them and leave? And just how tragically deserted would Paragon City’s streets get, before the end?

Should We Try to Save It?

Why not?

It couldn’t hurt.

The ideal would be if some investor or company feeds money into it, keeps Paragon Studios around, and does huge revival efforts on it to fix the fundamental gameplay issues. Making combat faster and more fluid and varying the spawn sizes in the missions would probably be enough. Doing nice things for the superhero base system and mission architect would allow player content to also help dev content along. And as long as the devs kept working on episodic lore-based content releases, the game would probably keep on chugging.

Far smaller games keep on chugging.

Perhaps it would also be fine to stop all development work, just leave the lights on and one server around as a museum piece to posterity and let it accrue that small group of ol’ faithful, “fossil” players that all games (even MUDs) will acquire, and leave it free for those interested in a piece of MMO history to wander in and out as the spirit takes them. It’s certainly got content enough to last quite a while. (The question is, just how costly would that be, in terms of servers, bandwidth and IP rights? And would anyone or enough pay for it?)

Convincing NCsoft to let go of it though, might be considerably more difficult. Talks are in progress, they say, so let us keep our fingers crossed. Bombard them with polite letters, if you like, sign all the petitions, if that’s your thing, make all the noise possible (just do nothing rude or counter-productive) to let the world know that the game’s community will certainly not go gently into the good night, at least, not without a heroic fight.

This community, as I said before, is certainly passionate enough.

Who knows, a miracle could happen.

(You’ll forgive me if I don’t want to hope too much. I have this crusty pessimistic outer core of a cynic that protects my soft, eternal optimist insides. I’ve come to terms with my own relationship with CoH. But I’ll be cheering you on from where I sit, and growling some at the naysayers who have nothing invested in this. Just remember: they could come for your game one day.)