January 13, 2013

Blind devotion is not healthy to your favorite MMO

I don’t think it is a small thing to say that fanboism or fangirlism has become more rampant lately in the social media market. I can understand why it happens and in fact I don’t deny that I've had a lot of my own moments in the past, but it has become even greater in the MMO market. Now, one might argue what defines a fanboy or fangirl? Well, to put it simply a fanboy or fangirl is a person so devoted to a product or idea, that no matter how much you try to prove that problems, and no matter how blatant the issues, people will make excuses and defend it. If you feel a direct ire that moment someone says something negative about something you like you want to correct them, or worse, punch them you might be fanboying/fangirling. And make no mistake, everywhere for almost anything you can find a fanboy or a fangirl for something. The MMO market is rife with them.

Before I get started, I will just put this out. If you are the type of person that gets easily offended because you don't like it when people might have a different opinion from you or might even point out the negative flaws of something you loved, then you might want to stop reading right now. I am not going to make apologies for my point of view. If you disagree, that's fine. If you plan to write an 8 page frothing hate list of why I suck because you didn't like any of my points, then well, go some place else.

Now, for me, again, I admit I had my moments where I would fangirl over things and defend it staunchly. But lately, I've been trying to distance myself from things so I can take a more objective look at the stuff I use to sit there and defend saunchly. The reason this article is coming up is because of a recent debate I found myself in over on the The Secret World forums, as well as a recent controversy that cropped up with the closing of City of Heroes and the outright fervor that those fans have towards their personal gem.

Now, on the controversy that cropped up with The Secret World is actually something I quite agree with; namely that the combat is not very engaging and that many aspects of the game, a game that was supposed to be built on mystery and secrets, tends to do a lot to actually rip you right out of that immersion. There are several elements that do this to me in that game, one being the combat system which as ingenious the idea might be, are not as deep as some people might make it out to be. On top of that the “stealth” missions don’t feel very stealthy, as you tend to casually stroll past the enemies instead of actually trying to be stealthy about it, and even then there are only a few of these missions where not agroing baddies is even required (I say agro because by all accounts they can see you).
I was not the one who brought this point up, of course, someone else started the thread but I put my points in about why I thought the combat system was shallow and a lot of the games mechanics did a lot to damage my immersion factor into the lore and story (which is what I actually like about The Secret World) but once I stated that came in the fanboys and fangirls and the apologists (which one is worse you take your pick) trying to come up with all manner of excuses. My favorite excuse is that I just didn't understand the ability wheels, which regardless of what people believe, is not that complicated once you get into it. The other argument always boiled down to it was just like WoW, SWTOR, or pick any other MMO on the market, and thus the argument was invalid, to which my reply was straight forward no, it wasn't  While elements were similar in respects, the strategic use of abilities, while maybe limited in those mediums was still there and in many instances I would at least be required to put some thought and effort into my attacks instead of just watching a counter go up while using a builder then using a consumer after every 5th hit. The response were hilarious in that respect with how many people just kept trying to repeat the same answer as before that I just countered, by saying I either didn't understand the ability wheel or that it was just like any other MMO.
I used several instances of evidence to back this up in fact, including tanking (which I think most people know I do) and such. Pointing out as a tank the only strategy you really have is spin to win (basically all you do is use an AE builder with an occasional consumer or two), with very little deviation from that. Avoiding attacks is one thing but there isn't even a reason to do that after a point and the few instances before nightmares that interrupts are needed really aren't  and even in nightmares interrupting isn't exactly required except for a few screw you powers that the bosses might use. They are useful but that’s about it. It boils down that I am generally adding in particular abilities and attacks just to break up my tedium, not because I need them, but because it’s not as engrossing as people might have you believe.
Then of course there is a lot of immersion breaking moments about the game. Again, this is a game built on the idea that the world is secretive and such and everything you do is hidden from the public eye, as it were. But you spend a lot of time going from point to point with assault weapons on your back, some of them well past military grade hardware, and no one bats an eye lash. Then of course, the aforementioned stealth missions which aren't really stealth, only a handful of which require you to avoid things. You actually just walk to the point that you stay out of the agro range of critters, nothing else. They might actually be staring right at you, but as long as you are out of that predefined radius that says they attack you, you are fine. Then of course there is the constant combat from one point to the next that just really takes me out of the game and ruins my immersion factor for the story as a whole. In short, it’s not a very engaging system, as many of the fans might have you believe.
And there in lies the problem. While people were pointing out this flaw with the system itself, and well-constructed posts about it, the fanboys and fangirls kept parading the deniability card and just kept trumpeting those same two tag lines I mentioned above. Well, here is a basic fact, you can like something but that doesn't mean you have to blindly accept the faults of the game, especially if they are the faults that are causing more actual harm than good for the game. If something doesn't feel fun people are not going to stick around for it, and trying to tell people they are wrong because you think they are dumb is not something smart to say, especially since your game has evidently, by the companies own admission, not hit the magic numbers they were hoping for.
This of course brings me round about to City of Heroes, and leaving me feeling an unhealthy need to find cover. Now, as far as communities go, City of Heroes players are generally helpful and do a lot of things for the community, as a whole, but they do have their dark side and to a point they can be the most rabid fanboys and fangirls on the planet. At any moment you might mention a game that could potentially rival or even beat the game, these fans would do anything to talk smack and belittle the product no matter the differences or at worse, how much of an improvement it might actually be. In fact, if you point out the negatives about the game, City of Heroes players would be the first to jump on the bandwagon of apologizing or outright denying the evidence at hand. I would know I use to actually be a part of that particular bandwagon, sadly.
But the most telling sign, to me at least, is how surprisingly many people actually believe that City of Heroes was wildly popular. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, these people believed that hundreds of thousands of people were flocking to their game on a regular basis, especially towards the end. Not all of them thought this, but many of the more vocal groups did. Some even tried to claim that City of Heroes had revolutionary game designs that no one has ever done before or since, to which I really get confused at because the only thing that CoH brought to the table that was actually new was User Generated Content to MMOs (known as Mission Architect in game) and was such a colossal disaster that even the games producer threw a massive hissy fit when people began misusing it. It was bewildering on so many levels that I am left reeling at times just trying to understand this frothing fanaticism that was being demonstrated on a level that I don’t even think God has witnessed. Hell this level of fanaticism even sparked ChaosD1 of MMOGrinder.net to repeatedly say in several of his reviews for CoH fans to "stay well the fuck away from any site his review appears on" because of how frothing they could be.
Now, I am not here to condemn or condone the shut down, and I do agree, partly, it was poorly handled. But the lengths people go to try and claim that their product was somehow pulling out magic numbers demonstrates either how much blind faith they actually had, or more likely the reality they don’t understand the difference between revenue and profit. They even believed that there was some grand conspiracy to shut down the product because it was still profitable, but every time I do the math, it just doesn't add up (and looking at other people's math that have actually sat down and done the math to).
Others have actually dissected this before, but let me put it this way; running an MMO is not cheap. Now while CoH was pulling something like $10 to $12 million a year according to the last report, it was also evident that the game was steeply declining and in fact Freedom did little to avoid this decline. It also points to evidence that with those numbers CoH had less than 55,000 subscriptions, probably even fewer thanks to the cash shop, and that is the money used to keep the game running. Of course if you just take those numbers as they are, you think, then the game must be doing great. Well here’s the catch-22, revenue, again, does not equal profit, and all those developers (Paragon Studios reportedly held 80 at least) the cost of running the servers with technicians, the cost of internet, the cost of basic building utilities, employee training, employee benefits and all other overhead, my figure which others have even done in greater detail, have shown either two outcomes; City of Heroes was either just barely treading water (ie breaking even) or worst case scenario, was operating in the red.
Again, I don’t condone or condemn the actions and several of the points raised are valid by players, but some of the reactions are just baffling. One of the arguments presented about this was how the developers would be out of work and such, but those same people turned around and said just cancel the other project. So in the resolution of that the solution to keeping the CoH devs from being fired was probably firing the other developers on their other project? That would have been around 40 or more developers out of work by that, possibly even as high as 60, because that entire company would not be devoted to working on City of Heroes as admitted to by several of Paragon staff.
Other points that come up are things like how games like AION or such aren't doing well in America. Well, they are doing fine in Asia. Here’s the problem with that line of logic. CoH bombed hard in Asia, and at the end there wasn't doing well in America either. Yea, it’s easy to see conspiracies whenever you narrow your vision and just focus on one or two things about something that goes on, but you have to actually look at the whole picture on the grand scale.
Yea, I know for a lot of people that CoH was their love, the game they enjoyed and in that instance, their first MMO. Like Scotty said in the episode Relics, “You never love a woman like that again.” And the same can be said for your first MMO. Through all its faults and imperfections, you will love it because it was your first. It is what introduced you to the genre. I do miss CoH and what it was, but what it became is not the game I originally loved.
Now, my intent is not to make people mad with my points of view or even to try and dissuade them from loving their favorite product, but loving something doesn't mean blind devotion to it. You have to understand and admit that even if you love something doesn't mean it was perfect. The numbers speak for themselves in that regard, because a perfect system that everyone loves would have people jumping over each other to be a part of it. You have to admit to the flaws of the product and understand them and at least constructively point out why they are flawed. Yes Men do not help get the weak points of your beloved title fixed, and if you really want that level of exposure, you need to be sure that you help get those weak points fixed or improved, otherwise they could be game shatteringly detrimental to the longevity of your loved product. Change is a necessary thing in the life of an MMO, and sometimes things need to be changed, re-balanced and improved just to make sure the game survives, especially if they are part of the key features.

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