A few years back "the" new big thing out there for MMOGs was City of Heroes. Now, I love the game – love the concept – and I still enjoy the heck out of playing it. But it’s become a poster child for what NOT to do with a successful MMOG, and the most recent numbers on gaming show this rather plainly.
I’ve never played WoW – but one has to wonder when you see the numbers what it is they’re doing right that no one else out there seems to be doing. Now, CoH hasn’t exactly fallen into the toilet, but they certainly haven’t gained new members while keeping the old ones. In fact, instead of growth, you can see that CoH/CoV hold about 1.3% of the total market out there and for an established game holding your own with minimal loss would be bad enough. But instead of holding your own – CoH has lost about 1/2 of it’s established membership.
Why? Well – for one thing there’s been a consistent need on the part of the devs to "balance" the game, often with disastrous results. A lot of this comes from a lack of direction on the part of the devs – there’s content that has no substance, and substance without content. It’s a really radical disconnect that all the fans have complained about for some time.
One can pretty much track the death roll of Statesman and company – from the point that the need to get PvP content into the game became an almost consuming priority. In fact, with the last 3 issues – in fact, possibly 4 issues… PvP has been the primary focus of the games dev group, even though the fans and the majority of the players still – are non-PvP players. When the fans have adamantly complained of things, the response from the devs has been varied from null responses, to promises of looking into it, to essentially telling people if you don’t like it – tough. That’s not a way to win customers.
But the real problem of CoH has been a critical design flaw – one which is finally rising to the surface. The heroes aren’t heroes, and the Supergroups (Guilds) aren’t SuperGroups. One is a glorified errand boy, and the other is a combination of social club and a means to an end for most people – – and neither truthfully fulfills the role which they’re meant to be – which is – that of being Heroic. Supergroups needed something larger than life to battle. Heroes needed to be something more than suped up monkey runners – go here, kill X, go there kill y… wash rinse repeat. In other words, "Go Kill Skulls" isn’t as funny as it used to be. It’s a redundancy that’s killing the game from the inside out. Basically, once you hit a certain level, that’s it – there’s nothing more left for you.
The devs have REPEATEDLY had the opportunity to come up with new content and like many – the assumption is that "content" is cool graphics, and a new zone space. When in fact, content is just that – CONTENT. Story, plot, direction, in other words – it’s a GOAL for your hero. And it needs to be a NEW goal – not the same goal you had last time … with pretty wrapping paper on it.
And in the crux of this – yeah I do blame Statesman – Jack for the core of this. It’s a bit of character Ego, and by this I don’t mean him personally – but the need to develop the character of Statesman and the mythos behind him and the other "Freedom Phalanx" members and all that. When people pay $15 a month and close to $40 for a game … they don’t want to hear over and over how cool someone elses hero is. They want their hero – to be the hero people talk about. Instead – all of our options are dedicated to furthering Jack’s mythos – not our own.
There’s little or no opportunity for us to attain our stature as heroes. In part this is game mechanics preventing this, although, even that’s dicey to hide behind that – if you’ve ever edited any of the movies – it would be simple enough to have certain billboards, statues, etc., appear as your toon. Perhaps if only briefly – as a reward. It’s an idea. Who knows.
But the point is – none of these roads were taken. The road taken by the devs was – "The fans want more action – more content… hmm… let’s come up with a system that makes them create their own. How can we do this??? OH HEY!! PVP!!!". Although the majority of the player base doesn’t play PVP. They did it anyway – thinking we’d love it once they were done. Some do. Some appreciate the efforts. But the fact is… it’s not what we asked for. Like the Arenas … yeah, it’s neat – but it’s NOT what WE asked FOR.
So now we have a total of what … 1,2,3 – depending on who you ask 4, PVP zones … several " hazard zones" that really aren’t since A) there’s no point goin to them if you don’t have to … and B) there’s real reward or missions in ’em either… and essentially 5 actual zones of content. So … here’s a few clues – to Jack and the Devs…
1) Knock off the PVP – it’s there now. Let it be, and quit making it a focus of your efforts.
2) Start developing the existing zones with content that REWARDS the players. Stop taking things away – start giving them back.
3) Quit making things centric to "your universe"… the whole Statesman mythos? Um… cool an all – but there’s no room there for the rest of us to attain Statesman’s stature… why should we care? He’s a cheap plot device… get over him. Allow your players to be the FOCUS of your game and the mythos within it. When you start centering your content creation on the players views and needs instead of following a formulaic vision you have of your hero … you’ll start pleasing more people. The game is not – about your hero … it should be about OUR heroes.
Just my 10 cents.