My Greatest Old Flame, Going Down In Flames

Once again, I've written something on a Rock Paper Shotgun comment thread that I decided should probably be a blog entry. The topic is this:  City of Heroes closes soon. It's pretty big news to me because I don't think I blogged about any game more than this one.

I guess I played out CoX, in that my recent attempts to get back into the game met with so much inner apathy that this is something I’ve done to death already, but I don’t think there exists another game in which I’ve documented over 1600 hours playing and (probably at least half again that, off the meter). Yet, only two level-50 characters. So much alt-a-holicism under the bridge… the combination of archtype/primary power/secondary power somehow created a game that was more fun to roll up an alt than keep playing.

I barely even remember this guy - Dual Sword/Super Reflexes, I think.  But I was apparently was so proud of him at the time that I had to take a screenshot of him fighting Council mech men.
I suppose if the game were to be said to deserve this ignoble fate, it’d be because the community (at least on the forums) has festered into a lot of stat-slinging elitist assholes. Their tears shall be delicious: reap now what you have sown by being so unfriendly, spawn of comic book stores. Not to mention my roleplay server of choice, Virtue, grew to be a bastion of TinySex, with “mature” guilds openly advertising for members. I don’t think that’s how the words “roleplay” or “mature” were intended to be used. Online games need new blood, driving them off by being rude or openly perverted is a bad idea.

Going F2P probably would have given the game an unlimited lifespan, but they kinda screwed up the implementation. F2P players were denied freedom of speech (not allowed to get mail or post on the forums or use open broadcast channels) and were allowed a total of two characters without a full choice of archetypes. Returning players discovered they suddenly couldn’t access most of their heroes unless they shelled out for more character slots. It was a F2P system designed to perpetually pressure the players into a monthly subscription: that’s not how F2P is supposed to work. Part of the reason why they went this route was, again, they allowed their community to bully them, maintaining a “long-term subscriber elite tier” that the new blood felt very keenly.

How NOT to do a Free To Play model: continually pressuring the players into a monthly subscription (VIP) in order to play the real game.
But, the chip on my shoulder having been aired, ’twas probably not any one particular aspect that brought down the beast other than the aspect that will bring us all down in time: age. City of Heroes is over 8 years old; in technological terms, that’s well over a lifetime. Here was an engine initially developed to run on 56k baud modems and under 1Ghz processors. It succeeded gloriously, a magnificent piece of software engineering, and the effort was spent scaling it up over time to modern systems and bandwidths. However, artifacts seemed to remain no matter how much they revamped it. Take a walk in Perez Park if you don’t believe me: the zone has been largely untouched since 2004, and it shows.

Would that Champions Online were a worthy successor, but unfortunately the casual-friendly balance of the game ultimately killed its depth and thus long term appeal. City of Heroes had something far deeper than that, and it’s ever a cruel twist of fate that Bill Roper – fresh off his last brainchild (Hellgate London) bombing, and probably wholly out of big name association with prominent Blizzard titles – ended up masterminding Champions Online’s game design instead of Geko, who did such a marvelous job on CoH.

Dynamic events, such as this Rikti invasion, were one of the greatest ideas of City of Heroes.  Unfortunately, the were not quite as frequent as those in Guild Wars 2, but they did have a massive zone-wide impact.
I think I’ll need a stiff drink. Even played out, with a community I grew to hate, and rationalizing CoH’s closure with the knowledge all things must pass, I haven’t felt a demise of a game so keenly since EA canceled Ultima Online 2.  Even knowing the game was not entirely undeserving of this, NCSoft will not escape this decision unscathed in many players’ opinion of them.

Then again, maybe this is all a Nemesis plot.


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