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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

CoH/V: Can You Teach an Old MMOG New Tricks (or Even Fix Their Bad Ones)?

Posted by UnSub Sunday November 16 2008 at 11:17PM
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Issue 13 (named "Power and Responsibility") for City of Heroes / Villains is on its way and will probably go live in the next two weeks. It's an interesting issue for a number of reasons - some of the new content is interesting, like Day Jobs - but mostly because I13 tries to fix a number of systems within CoH/V that weren't working particularly well - the Epic Power Pools (for both sides) and PvP.

After a ton of data mining, a new dev revealed the plans behind fixing up the Epic Power Pools powers by removing those powers few people took and replacing them with new powers that were seen as being more useful. Overpowered EPPs were nerfed (and there were some must have EPPs because they were so good, so this move was hardly unreasonable). Of course, outrage ensued, people hated having powers taken away from them or having their powers nerfed, DOOOOOOOM abounded and the devs have gone back a little bit and left in the powers that already existed in the EPPs, so that there are more options in the EPPs at I13. I haven't kept track of the nerfs, but it is unlikely that there will be too many roll backs of them.

Given that the EPPs on both sides had their under- and over-performing stars, they did need attention. Complaints about them have existed pretty much since launch. However it was interesting to see that every niche, every under-used EPP had its defenders willing to crash the boards and demand that the changes not occur because they might impact on a very small proportion of the player base even though they could benefit a much larger group.

Which, conveniently, leads us to the PvP changes. PvP in CoH has been a long running joke - the standard reply to pretty much any comment about PvP outside of the PvP forums is "lol PvP". Some Archetypes are relentlessly better in CoH/V PvP than others and the most common experiences players have on entering PvP zones is getting two-shotted by a Stalker (stealth class with massive burst damage, especially at lower levels) or getting steamrolled by a team on the other side. One of the appeals of CoH/V's PvP is its speed - travel powers make it incredibly easy to zip in and fire an attack (from range, preferably) before the target even knows you are there, or even zip off if it looks like the fight is lost. Another issue was that status effects such as stun or immobilise were binary - they were either on or they had no effect - so it was possible for some characters to avoid any lock down despite having numerous effects applied, while other characters would be locked down in seconds and have no way to respond.

I13 contains a whole raft of changes to PvP down to changing the very basics of how CoH/V combat and powers work. Status effects (even healing) are now subject to diminishing returns. Protection against negative status effects have been increased across the board. Travel power suppression has been increased, although a number of things have been implemented to try to keep characters moving at speed. And so on - the short of it is that PvP in CoH/V is an entirely separate system to PvE.

I13 certainly has been successful in starting up discussions...

I13 certainly has been successful in starting up discussions...

As would be expected, PvP players exploded at the news of these changes. Long arguments going back into closed beta have taken up a lot of Castle's (the Powers Guy, aka Floyd Grubb) time. Community manager Lighthouse (Alex von Minden) made the fairly common sense statement that the dev team had expected that "the current PvP community wasn't likely to react well to the changes as they wern't [sic] who we were making changes for" and got raked over the internal and external coals for it. (Some believe that it was this comment that led to LH announcing his resignation a week later - if he was fired, it was unusual for him to be given a farewell post; if he was resigning, he wouldn't have been allowed to give just a week's notice without a lot of internal agreement; most likely he was already going and, in the panic of trying to tie up all the loose ends he posted something that he normally wouldn't have). However, it is disingenuous to believe that the devs didn't think they would probably lose the majority of their existing dedicated PvP players due to the changes. The changes are just too big to keep them if they currently like the state of CoH/V PvP.

So, why change these systems at all? Simply because they aren't working to attract enough players to keep them viable. CoH/V wants to build up its PvP side - I'm sure NCsoft is strongly encouraging that they go and develop that aspect of the title - but it can't because PvP existed in a ghetto within CoH/V. It wouldn't be worth spending the time developing specialist PvP content when the vast majority of players wouldn't touch it. As for EPPs, players have been wanting more balance between hero and villains in this area for a long time. Both systems weren't working correctly and were only catering to a niche.

However, the reality is that every change costs players, especially at CoH/V's stage of life. It is being done at the right time - if you want another superhero MMO title to play, you'll have to wait at least a few months -  but I wonder that even if the changes made CoH/V's PvP the best of any MMO and made the EPPs both incredibly well balanced if it would attract enough new players to counter-act any player loss. People play CoH/V predominantly as PvE game, with PvP being a very optional sideline. On top of this, the PvP changes make the gameplay even further away from standard CoH/V gameplay, so you'll have to learn how to play PvP in a completely different fashion to how PvE operates. When you cross that line, your powers no longer work the same way, which means that one large barrier to engaging in PvP (i.e. fast travel powers, fights over before you know it) is replaced by another one.

In many ways I think the devs of CoH/V are trapped - they want to take the game in dramatic new directions (Castle saying that CoH/V has all the complexity of tic tac toe is a pretty dramatic kiss-off to the title he works on) but the player base wants more of what they already have, only better. The devs are more likely to grow the player base by delivering high quality more-of-the-same - what is the Architect system other than a build-your-own PvE construction kit? - rather than trying to fix mistakes that have been around for nearly 5 years. Adding new powers to EPPs rather than taking them away would have also seemed like the logical path to take (and the devs eventually got there), while doing much to PvP other than recognising it is a self-sustaining niche is probably a waste of resources that isn't going to make people happy (either PvPers or PvEers or those who straddle the points in between).

Can you teach an old MMOG new tricks, or even just fix their bad tricks with new ones? Not without upsetting all the players who like the bad tricks and opening the door to the competition who already exceed you in those areas. It doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, but there aren't too many success stories (in fact, I can think of none) especially where direct competition for the MMO exists.


As a side note - I think the PvP changes are how Castle would have pretty much all combat powers function if he could go back in time and start from scratch. Diminishing returns, rather than additive benefits, would probably reduce the gap between min/maxed characters and more casual builds. However, a change that dramatic would probably only be exceeded by Star Wars Galaxies New Game Experience in terms of player outrage and unsubscription behaviour so would be extremely unlikely to ever happen. (That said, diminishing returns might be appearing on debuffs in new content, so that door is slightly open...)

mrcalhou writes:

While you seemed biased in favor of these changes, I thought this was very thought out and well written.

Mon Nov 17 2008 6:39PM Report
teraflop122 writes:

I can think of one success story: Everquest 2. Between it's release and today the dev teams have implemented some pretty radical gameplay changes, albeit maybe not as radical is CoH's case. Death penalities were reworked- finding your shard or ghost or whatever it was, was removed entirely. Starting with a broad character class and specializing as you go was completely removed. That is to say, originally you can start as a Mage, then at lvl 10 or 20 you could branch off into summoner, sorcerer, and a third I can't remember, and then at an even higher level a summoner could choose either necromancer or conjurer. The progression defined the course of your characters development. I'm sure some people were quite upset when it was removed. Luckily most of the changes were ultimately for the betterment of the experience.

Mon Nov 17 2008 6:56PM Report
mrprogguy writes:

Personally, I think you misinterpreted his comment.  "A 100% completely balanced Fun game with a complexity greater than Tic Tac Toe," as I read it, says that if the CoH/V team was to spend the time to make a completely balanced game, it wouldn't have any more complexity than (or be more fun than) tic-tac-toe.  It's not a condemnation of the game at all.  It's more a critique of the wish-lists players post.

Tue Nov 18 2008 6:22PM Report
UnSub writes:

@mrcalhou - I only PvP very occasionally and am interested to see where things progress to. However, if it turns out that the changes make CoH/V no longer fun, I'll leave with no regrets. I do think the PvP changes are odd at this point in the game's life though.

@teraflop - For EQ2, I think the choice was evolve or die. EQ2 had flopped on launch, so the only way to go was up (or to the graveyard). I'm sure that some good features got dumped with the bad, but it seems to have worked in EQ2's case. But that was part of the core game - for CoH/V, PvP has always been a minor sideline. A lot of resources are being spent on improving a minor sideline that appears to have delayed the release of some other, more important parts (imo) - new power sets and day jobs.

@mrprogguy - perhaps, but I read it as a criticism, not as aspiration.

Tue Nov 18 2008 7:23PM Report
Curate writes:

If -- and that's a big steaming pile of "if" right there -- I'm reading this correctly, these changes will barely touch on the core PvE gameplay of CoH at all.  More aptly, these changes will barely touch CoH at all. Unless things have mutated radically since I last played the game, you could drop PvP completely and lose maybe, what, 2% of the playerbase? 3%?

I'll agree these are changes that are liable to be fruitless -- the game launched as strictly PvE, limped into PvP with Arenas, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing, then spat out the PvP zones where actually engaging in PvP is often detrimental to the goals of the zone. People who really like MMO PvP are not in the City Of franchise, and you're not going to bring them back (see also: NGE and bringing non-sandbox-fetishist players to SWG).

On the other hand, I'm getting a sense that people think these changes are detrimental to the game as a sin of commision (they make the game less friendly to the playerbase en masse) rather than a sin of omission (time spent dinking with PvP would be better spent doing something else). Unless there's some sweeping changes to the game as a whole, I don't quite get that.

So, yes: NCSoft might be courting a hardcore MMO PvP audience they'll never get because they've all become entrenched in Warhammer or EVE or whatever. I don't see it making a significant difference to the bottom line, though, unless you count the people who leave because the effort would've been better spent on making new PvE content.

Wed Nov 19 2008 11:54PM Report
OSF8759 writes:

 I've PvPed under the old system and new, and while the new system has its wrinkles, it is 100% better than the old PvP.  Of course, I approached it with an open mind and acknowledging the old PvP system is broken, very badly broken.

At the heart of the PvP conservatives complaints is the fact that they do very well for themselves under the old PvP system, and now the playing field is being leveled so their competition actually stands a chance against them.  Their old tried and true tricks and exploits are gone, and they might actually face the occaisonal defeat.  Oh, the horror.

Funny thing: on the forums you see a lot of PvP 2.0 hate, but if you actually go into RV on Test, you see many, many positive comments on the changes and very few negative.  The forums can distort your view of the player base.

Thu Nov 20 2008 5:25PM Report
EmpForgotten writes:

I just want to comment from a Hardcore-i12PvP perspective.

I've tried the new i13 PvP. Im actually good at it. People that knew me from the test ladder knew that I wasn't the best. My team was good (atleast I think we were), but I was far from the best. With this new system, I made out like a bandit. Almost all of my toons are now the new FOTMs and are very tough to kill. In beta, I would go into RV on my storm and roll like never before....

But it wasn't fun. The drive or thrill I used to get when I would succeed in PvP wasn't there. I can almost equate it to taking Vicodin for Pain only to have it replaced with Advil. Yeah, it will still take a way your pain, but the high is not there.

I made a post a while back that got trimmed by other posts  and then deleted. In this post I listed all the i11 and i12 PvP rosters. The amount of globals came out to 350, which was honestly more than I expected. My particular team had 34 Globals - I now have 6 (and three of those globals are the same person). Most of those 350 people have started playing other games - as have I. But I still enjoy the PvE content of CoH, so Ill still stick around for a little while. I will not participate in the new abomination that is PvP though.

Some people have posted here that they think PvPers are upset because 'the competion' now has a chance. Some others have posted that the i12 PvPers want their FOTMs to remain overpowered because they cant adapt or learn new strats. While some (and a very small portion of the arena crowd is actually like this) might quit because they don't want to adapt, most have adapted quite well.

We had the acro nerf in i12, Test PvPers spread doom on the forums, but we adapted and it opened up a lot of new strats to the arena. I felt that was a good nerf. Cage also got shortened, Confuse got changed...A lot of changes have happened to the PvP side of things that the community I am apart of has adapted to. These changes are not beyond the scope of adapting - on the contrary, I could adapt very well to these changes. The point is the game is no longer fun for me. It is no longer fun for the people who were involved in PvP before.

I hope this didn't seem like a rant - although that might not be avoidable considering how I passionately dislike these changes. I only want to give perspective. Im very happy that people like the new changes and I REALLY do hope that it gets more people involved in PvP. But I am just tired of all the post that basically bash my niche of the community - the pre-i12 PvPers.

In conclusion: Yes Pre-i13 is broken. Yes there are flaws. But the i13 pvp changes completely shift all the problems from a couple focus areas to others...and you are still left with a system that is broken: Only this time, a different group of people find it fun. 

I really hope that another hardcore group emerges from the i13 PvP changes - but I don't think its going to happen.

Thu Nov 20 2008 10:59PM Report writes:
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