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Role Playing (Games) Entertainment Games

The City of Heroes Expansion & the Issues of User-Created Content 150

eldavojohn writes "Wired has a piece on the new City of Heroes content that is created by players — or rather the severe abuse of it. Namely, creating missions for the characters. The problem is that gamers game this system, even though Paragon City has tried to maintain a good risk/reward ratio for experience in these missions. Making the situation even worse is that people who architect highly-rated missions get architect awards, which are redeemable for prizes — almost ensuring experience farming missions. Eric Heimburg (lead engineer and producer of Asheron's Call and the upcoming Star Trek MMO) comments on this: 'It may seem sad that giving the players what they want is detrimental to the player's overall length of enjoyment of the game, but that's the truth. Once you reached that top of the hill, if there's nothing left to do or see, players are likely to move on. Length of enjoyment (equals) amount of money earned, so developers have a strong incentive to keep players from gaining power and levels too quickly.' Matt Miller (lead designer of CoH), addressed the community on this very topic. This is resulting in an unexplained ban/loss of experience if you are determined to be abusing the mission architect, causing an uproar in the community. Is user-generated content a dead end for an MMORPG?" Update: 05/20 20:27 GMT by T : Rather than lead engineer of Asheron's Call or the Star Trek MMO, a correction at Wired says rather that "Heimburg worked as Star Trek Online's systems designer at Perpetual Entertainment, prior to the game's transfer to Cryptic Studio."
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The City of Heroes Expansion & the Issues of User-Created Content

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  • by cjfs ( 1253208 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @11:36PM (#28021473) Homepage Journal

    Is user-generated content a dead end for an MMORPG?

    Not quite. It's probably a dead end for missions than grant experience but can still be a great part of the content. Provide some sort of ranking/point system and even add in cosmetic or other minor rewards and it will still have value.

    MMOs are mostly about the sense of achievement but there's still room for a little fun in them :)

  • by WarJolt ( 990309 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @11:38PM (#28021487)

    Length of enjoyment (equals) amount of money earned, so developers have a strong incentive to keep players from gaining power and levels too quickly.

    I get board if I can't level fast enough. I guess that why I don't play mmorpgs anymore. I think gaining levels should be matched on the content of the game of course, but most grinds are just too boring. If you have to raid the same place too often it hurts rather than helps.

  • Gaming the system (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pandaman9000 ( 520981 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @11:45PM (#28021529) Homepage

    The issue is not loopholes that are able to be removed. The issue is that the only way to ensure that abuse cannot happen is to have nearly zero ability to create anything original. The tradeoff is an inability to have variety. This makes user created content even less desirable than the worst pre-made stuff.

    The Mission Architect is the best addition ever made to City of Heroes. The fact that farming is a widely used form for created missions actually stems from CoH/V deciding to include high levels of loot and crafting. Add in an intention extreme scarcity of the most desirable stat modifying drops, and people that are stat-obsessed react by finding ways to acquire those drops with the least time input. People that obsess over stats are drawn to loot, and it's bonuses. Those same people are the ones that will end up farming, or paying a farmer, instead of waiting a full year to acquire or save enough to purchase their "optimal loadout".

    Loot begets farming. The farmers have found a way to optimize every aspect of the game for power or profit. Mission Architect is just another area they are leveraging.

    At the end of the day, user created content opens a whole new area for player development and expression. The benefit outweighs the risk.

  • Re:Poor Design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spacefiddle ( 620205 ) <spacefiddle.gmail@com> on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @11:47PM (#28021545) Homepage Journal

    The loopholes here is "players can create content, and rate others' content, and gain rewards from the content itself and getting good ratings." The inevitable result is:

    • People make stupid powerlevelling farm stuff
    • The farmers and powerlevellers love it, and rate it highly
    • Actual stories with actual plots are, with rare exception, rated poorly or ignored - "this is too hard, i'm not getting XP fast enuff"
    • If you know 50 people in your guild, you're getting 50 top ratings, no matter what kinda crap you churn out
    • Rating trading for the rewards
    • Revenge-rating players you don't like
    • Extreme polarization of those opposed to powerlevelling and farming, in response
    • Much QQ
    • Boo Hoo.

    Honestly, it's not the system, and it's not even a lot of players. It's the tools who come in, pay real cash for IG money and levels, and will soon get bored and move on anyway. Screw them. You can't base your business model on that.

  • by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 @11:49PM (#28021557)

    ... It's not that user created content is bad, it's that user created content for an MMO has to be vetted by the developers themselves. Letting users create content with no filter for an MMO is stupid.

    For single player games it's fine since each person chooses what the download and what they want to play.

    Also making user created content that does not let users change rules of the game or build their own missions would have done a lot to preven this.

    User created content is FINE as long as you limit it to things like character customization, aesthetics, art, etc. Things that really don't effect the core game.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:00AM (#28021611)

    Back in the early 90s you could use the add-on Mission Builder for Red Baron [wikipedia.org] to create your own missions and share them via CompuServe, BBSes and the like. Players made sure-thing puff missions, nearly impossible ones, really weird ones, and everything in-between. Other players downloaded and played whichever of these they wanted. Players could also download various unofficial patches (to, among other things, tweak difficulty up or down) if desired. This didn't matter a bit since Red Baron was one-player only (though it had a large, interacting community of players) and it was up to the player how to play the game he'd purchased.

    While I have some respect for game designers who want to protect the artistry and gameplay of their creations from "cheating," I have none for companies like Paragon who are fundamentally driven by greed. If you can only stay in business by artificially stringing players along, you deserve to fail right out of the gate (better yet, don't even release such an inherently horrible game). Money-grubbing MMO games like this are bad for gaming.

  • Dead End, mostly. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:11AM (#28021669) Journal
    The apparent game vs. the actual game:

    In most multiplayer gaming contexts, players are competing against one another either singly, or in teams. This goes way back into our heritage as damn dirty apes, and is unlikely to change, barring some sort of radical transhumanist break with human nature.

    In some games, with FPSes and RTSes being the clearest example, this social competitive game is more or less identical with the apparent game(that is, the computer game actually being played). You achieve dominance by killing the other guy in the game, you bond with your teammates by working to do so, and so forth. In this context, "user-created content" has a strong track record. Just look at the mod scene for FPSes, or the endless subtle tweaking and rebalancing that goes on in TA:Spring. This works because people are quite good at building satisfactory rules and mechanisms for competition with one another(such as every sport ever invented). Since the computer game is a direct proxy for the social game, this works pretty well.

    In many MMORPGs, the situation is different. The computer game is, in many respects, closer to parallel single player than to competitive multiplayer(some degree of cooperation is generally required at high levels, and there may be some more or less cosmetic PvP; but the game mechanics mostly involve grinding NPCs). However, the social competitive game is still there, it just doesn't align with the computer game all that well. The social competitive game is the acquisition contest between players, for XP, levels, loot, prime raids, and all that. For that reason, the drive to win the real game is a drive to subvert the computer game, rather than to refine it, since the obstacles of the computer game is an impediment to success in the real game.

    Another matter to consider is barriers to entry/costs of switching tactics in a given game. Most FPSes and RTSes, for instance, have relatively low investments in a character, class, faction, or strategy. If the zerg get nerfed, I can play the terrans without too much trouble. If snipers get overpowered, I can switch from medic to sniper. MMORPGs, on the other hand, often have fairly high investments. If I have a level 60, and my class gets nerfed, I have just lost a lot. For that reason, it is reasonable to expect that RTS/FPS players would prefer "fair" rule formulations(since, with low character investment, everyone will just move from the unfair side to the fair side, causing the game to contract a bit; and conveying no lasting advantage to anyone) while MMORPG players would be more likely to be strongly invested in a superior outcome for themselves(since, with high character investment, not only do they win, the losers are somewhat constrained and so may stick around to continue to be losers).
  • Re:Poor Design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spacefiddle ( 620205 ) <spacefiddle.gmail@com> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:20AM (#28021729) Homepage Journal

    geez, you don't sound bitter at all...

    You do realize you are quite obviously describing your own bad experience and deciding that it must be "the whole game" for everyone?

    More seriously, name a game that does "serious work to curtail the gold farmers." I've played bunches of MMOs and they're pretty rampant in all of them.

  • Re:Poor Design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by windwalkr ( 883202 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:21AM (#28021731)
    A fair analogy would be our legal system. While it serves us reasonably well for the most part, nobody would claim that is completely fair or that there are no loop-holes. Additionally, we have to keep adjusting in on a regular basis.

    What makes you think that a handful of game devs will "get it right" where thousands of lawyers and politicians over the years have tried and are still trying?

    There is no such thing as absolute balance. There are always loopholes. I have no experience with CoH so I can't say whether their implementation stinks or whether it's amazing, but I think it's fair to say that expecting anything approaching perfection is unreasonable.
  • Re:Poor Design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hojima ( 1228978 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:26AM (#28021763)

    I can't believe they screwed this up. This game utterly revolves around heroes and antagonists, yet they don't have the foresight to have each side compete for the available experience points? Then they can set up an equation that makes it very unfavorable to let someone win, as well as an equation to have the most skillful players pair up for a challenging and longer lasting experience. Took me 2 minutes to come up with that.

  • by Marful ( 861873 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:26AM (#28021765)
    I stopped playing CoH / CoV because it got boring / repetitive. Wasn't CoH/CoV losing playerbase before the expac release? If so, the current actions seem... counter productive...
  • Re:Poor Design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Allen Varney ( 449382 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:47AM (#28021859) Homepage

    Took me 2 minutes to come up with that.

    Uh-huh. And in the two years the professional CoH designers and coders were thinking daily about this problem, in their two years of doubtless intensive meetings, not one of them ever once considered your idea. Right? The only possible alternative is that perhaps your two-minute inspiration isn't a perfect solution -- that it may even have unsuspected shortcomings. Nah, that couldn't be. Yeah, they're just dumb.

  • Re:Honestly (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MaskedSlacker ( 911878 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:49AM (#28021865)

    Drug user really, which given the last three presidents explains a lot.

  • Re:Poor Design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gerzel ( 240421 ) * <brollyferret.gmail@com> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:55AM (#28021915) Journal

    The "loophole" was allowed to get people to use the system.

    As a player of CoH/CoV over the past couple months I can say that while the Wired article is correct that the AE system was abused and broken at first the rewards have been pushed in the opposite direction once everyone was using AE.

    I think the overly heavy reward ration was merely a ploy to get people talking about the system, and one that may have backfired.

  • Re:Poor Design (Score:4, Insightful)

    by obarthelemy ( 160321 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @12:58AM (#28021929)

    The lawyers (and politicians, mainly, are ex- and future- lawyers, in the US) have no incentive whatosever to fix the system. On the contrary: they need it as complicated and open to abuse as possible to maximize the present (and , in the case of politicians, future) livelihoods.

    The same bould be said about devs: buggy systems to fix are one source of work (and I've seen devs VERY aware that bugs = work = $$)... but still, they can also probably find other projects.

  • Re:Poor Design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BikeHelmet ( 1437881 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @01:58AM (#28022195) Journal

    Nah, that couldn't be. Yeah, they're just dumb.

    Wouldn't surprise me. I'm amazed how many developers spend months deciding whether to implement something, when it's clear to almost anyone that it's a bad idea.

    Big developers and big teams seem to lose sight of what's easily doable, and easily exploitable. Some features just aren't worth the time or hassle, especially when what you currently have actually works.

    It's depressing watching developers shoot their games in the foot, but many MMOs go that way. I guess the design teams feel the MMO has "stagnated", so they want to spice it up a bit? Usually they just ruin it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @06:01AM (#28023185)
    please, this is not the "COH" forum, so use proper English. What should "mez" stand for? Even if your points may be valid, the dissertation is full of made up words that means nothing in the world outside the context from which you're talking.
  • Re:Poor Design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spacefiddle ( 620205 ) <spacefiddle.gmail@com> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:28AM (#28023937) Homepage Journal
    Ah, so you rate flag-waving over effect? My WHO toons got a billion goldspam mails every day. Each toon, every day. Banning 20k gold selling accounts and bragging about it is like bragging about killing 20k cockroaches in New York City.
  • by Talderas ( 1212466 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:35AM (#28023993)

    I'll be honest, I've play CoH/V and I don't know what mez means, I can guess it means mesmerized, but I have no idea. I personally hate the huge number of acronyms and shortenings that are used for games. There's rarely, if ever any documentation on what all of them are and they inevitably get to a point where you have a lot in a single sentence. It's okay when you use one, usually someone can figure out what it means based on context, but as you start stacking more and more it becomes impossible for an outside to come in any understand the language. This is likely another part why CoH/V doesn't see many new players. I can look at the chat channels and barely understand what's being said because I have a habit of playing for a month or two, quitting for 5 and going back. I can't imagine what it would be like to start as a new player with everyone and their mother talking in all these acronyms that you can't decipher. A lot of people are self-conscious about sounding dumb, myself included. If I were to be on my level 50 character and ask what half these acronyms were that I didn't know, I would probably get a lot of replies like "loludum" and the such. After all, how could a max level NOT know all the acronyms?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:16AM (#28024329)

    "The Future" was retitled "Second Life". I didn't enjoy it, but some people do.

The first Rotarian was the first man to call John the Baptist "Jack." -- H.L. Mencken