February 17, 2015

If I Could Fix Champions...

I know it's been over a year since I've lasted posted here. Believe me, trying to get my head on straight in the light of other issues causes one to stop thinking much about anything. Needless to say, I hope I am back, and boy I am back with a vengeance as I post up this little rant, but without further ado, here we go.

Ah, Champions Online; a continued shit stain on the existence of Cryptic’s record where they continue to pretend they still care about the game, meanwhile wishing they could bury it and forget it existed. A game that is a remarkable failure, sabotaged both by the development team and its player base. A game that continues to exist despite obvious facts that nothing is really being done outside of token updates that might add a new string of easily completed missions in a year’s worth of time, while the sister games continue to pump out much larger content. And a game that, despite the obvious signs on what it really needs to intrigue outside players, the imbecilic player base continues to keep denying as if Champions is some special niche game, and not just another unpolished turd like its predecessor, City of Heroes. And event though someone will be hurt by that remark I liked CoH to, it still was highly unpolished and it showed, heavily.

I could harp on this subject all day, but facts are facts. Champions Online is going nowhere in its current state, and the remaining player base, over at the forums, are oblivious to that fact. They keep demanding $100,000 dollar updates when it’s obvious, if not confirmed, that the game has a budget of $100 bucks at most. Many of them are so damned deluded they think the fact they buy something from the store that all the sudden the game has an influx of money and there for the developers now have the resources to make whatever they want. Never mind that Champions store the items made are made with the intent that they sell enough just to cover making said items, and never mind the fact that many of them obviously failed economics; the same people that kept claiming City of Heroes was healthy, yet anyone who actually looked at the books would have seen the real story without so much as batting an eye.

So, what is the point of me writing this blog update? None really, I just feel like I should finally put out what I would have actually done differently than what cryptic did to Champions Online to better monetize the game and continue inspiring people to further play, as well as get new content updates in. The current game is not even worthy of being called a shadow of the Champions PnP game, and I think that’s actually pretty sad. It’s sadder to me it takes Cryptic North a full year to make five new missions, and one event for the game, and yet nothing else is really done.

I fully understand that what I am writing is too little too late, but this I think should be a cautionary tale for the future for other developers who are looking at ways to avoid similar fates.

Free to Play was an Absolute Mistake
Let’s ignore for a minute that the majority of vocal people on the Champions forums are greedy, selfish and pretty much view anything that has a price tag on it as a slap in the face and too expensive. Let’s pretend that costume prices in the cash shop Cryptic are not making at a net loss either, as was stated some time ago. Instead, let’s look at what the real core of the problem actually was; The Free to Play model. Cryptic made the worst mistake in history by making a lot of their in game stuff unlock for an entire account, at too cheap a price. I know that will ruffle some feathers but just stop trying to pretend, these games need money to survive.

First and foremost they tried to remove freeform builds and make them some mediocre archetype system. That was a mistake. What Cryptic should have done is picked one power set from each of the individual trees, then locked the rest behind pay walls. From there players could unlock the powers sets individually per character, or for a larger sum of money, unlock a power set for their entire account. Lifers would have still received their free cash shop coins, and players could pick and choose their power sets with freeform. Some would have bitched, but it’s high time people grew up.

The same could have been done with costumes, buy for individual characters, or a much large fee to unlock a costume set for the entire account. They could have even gone the individual route. Not only would Cryptic be making more money for champions, but the economy would actually be thriving in game as well as items would not be unlocked for entire accounts making them completely worthless in a couple of months.

Secondly, I would have made Champions buy to play, and kept the refer a friend program. A small wall, but one that still earns the game money for the game, and anyone who is smart should know money is what keeps MMOs going. Free to play is a devastating practice both financially and on your player base. So many draconian rules have to be made to account for the bad practices out their such as god sellers and spam bots that it ends up hurting new players more than anything.

Third, I would completely change and revalue the Questionite system as a whole. I would lock it per account, and the quests would be on a per account basis, no more of the players over inflating the economy and ruining the trade and thus ruining how much money you take in. The way questionite has been handled has pretty much been bad. I would have also completely changed the lockbox system, reducing the chance of the boxes dropping at for those players that have subscriptions, maybe given them a number of free keys on top of their monthly bonus, to opening them. And stop making the loot of lockboxes so pivotal.

Finally, and this one actually matters more, offering up special packages that offer up power sets and costume sets together for discounted prices on steam or the in game store, or hell, better yet, your own web site. They could have bundled the rock costume pieces with the earth set, or the wind powers with the Arabian Nights set, as an example, or things like VIPER costume pieces with the Serpents Lantern AP, and so on and so forth. So many missed opportunities because of basic mistakes like these.

Reboot the Game Completely
Another fantastic blunder is just the simple fact that despite they've not only launched two other titles, but one of them they resurrected from the depths of oblivion, and have turned it around, and the other it’s obvious they at least paid respect to the source material. They made a big hullabaloo about revamping Champions Stat system but all they really did was make it worse. They could have, instead, gone to the source material and basically fixed it from the ground up. I know that would have cost money but investing in Champions would have shown something not only to the current player base, but to those people outside of the game to, and might have sparked interest.

This is where the armchair developers come in and demand that I qualify that statement, or tell me how much time it takes to do development, etc, etc, etc. Yes, I know, I am well aware of how long development takes and such. But this does not excuse the fact that what should have been done when they had the chance and what was delivered was two different things. Hell, as much as the whiny, pissy player base might have complained, I don’t think many of them would have bitched as much if the entire system was gutted, redone and built better taking everything they learned from their other games to make a better experience in Champions.

First problem up; the game’s engine. Champions Online’s engine is now seven years old, at the youngest potentially. It’s actually quite a bit older if you consider the engine was originally designed for Marvel Online (ironic bit of history there). The problem of character data, etc, would have cropped up in a nano second thanks to this but honestly, one of Champions worst problems and a problem to this day is the engine needs to be upgraded badly. Transferring all that data to a new engine structure would have been time consuming but it would have shown faith from Cryptic if they did so. That means they could have updated all the architecture, added in new effects and abilities and given new properties to the engine as a whole.

Second problem; the stat system is a complete shambles. In Champions Online, you have eight main stats and a bunch of sub stats. Yet in the PnP, you have 6 main stats and of course a bunch of sub stats. For whatever reason, Cryptic decided to take and make two of the sub stats main stats (endurance and recovery) when they should have stuck with the core 6. Furthermore, they gave the core stats unlimited ranges instead of just capping them off at 100. Endurance is what the Energy bar should have been (maybe Cryptic didn't want to deal with NCSoft trying to bullshit their way into a lawsuit because the stat name would have been the same as CoH or something I don’t know) and Recovery should have been a stat you gained to increase your endurance recovery and recovery time on powers, IE what is described on the tin.

As far as the stats themselves, they tried to come up with some convoluted system where everyone gets a fair amount of damage to particular types of abilities from their super stats. Problem with this is that it just isn't working right and it shows as you got super smart characters doing similar damage punching things with their fists instead of using psi blasts or something else. So, instead I would have had each stat boost the damage based on type. For instance Strength would have boosted physical damage, while Dexterity would have boosted finesse type damage. Presence would be summon damage, Ego would have boosted mental, and Intelligence would have boosted energy damage. Constitution would have continued to give more health and also given some defense on top of it as well, but I would have made stat points finite, of course, and players assign them as they see fit as they level. Thus building the character they want and opening up hybrid options much better. Further bonuses would also be opened up as each role would grant special bonuses from their respective trees.

The sub stats I would have worked out to be much closer than what was given, and I certainly would have done something about the dodge thing, instead changing that to deflect a chance to reduce incoming damage. And instead I would have implemented the ability for players to choose to block or avoid damage with dodge mechanics similar to Neverwinter. Thus players could build tankier characters and so forth.

And speaking of roles, yea, that dreaded roles that every idiot afraid of responsibility will claim is the worst thing for MMOs, yet it seems the successful ones actually have them, but I digress, I would have made the roles stronger thus the players could build with a purpose. The hybrid role would have been nixed, there wouldn't be two damage roles and there would also be the controller role to help out controllers. All these stupid toggles for damage would be removed and instead either temp or permanent buffs that actually go for the entire team, not just the one player.

Of course you can’t change most of the above without changing the gearing. Unlike the old system, gear in this new Champions would be focused on secondary stats. Things like Offense (physical, mental, energy), critical hit chance, Defense (physical, mental, energy), Deflection, Recovery, so much could be done with this it isn't funny. Where the stats on a character represents the things the player sees, the secondary stats would fill in the rest to augment the abilities that the players want, and thus power sets could be more universal, while separate.

This gear revamp of course would add more than the standard 6 slots. Maybe a relic slot or something legendary things of that nature and artifacts. And the crafting system could be revamped to make crafting more important, but not necessarily choose the stats you want except maybe through special mod slots.

And of course this would mean better mobs, bosses and retooled everything. Maybe even streamlined zones making Millennium City more of a city with more area to explore and making other zones more of adventure zones, separating them instead of trying to mash them together. After all, Snake Gulch should not be mixed in with the Atomic Wasteland or Stronghold prison. This also means the dungeons could get revamped, redesigned from the ground up, and stop catering to solo players and instead start catering towards groups. While the forums will make believe it’s not true, group content is a necessity for the health of a theme park MMO.

Change the Power System Completely
You keep making the mistake and trying to homogenize powers and forgetting a ton of others. The one thing people play super hero games for you haven’t bothered to actually make anything in the system other than small additions to existing power sets. I know there are more power sets out there, because I’ve physically seen the design notes for them. Hell, you got a goddamn book from Champions that lists hundreds of power sets for you, and you own that IP.

The first mistake you made with the power sets was allowing people near unlimited freedom in picking and choosing powers from every power set. This should have been limited with limited choice outside of their core power sets. I don’t care what someone says, most heroes are not made up of fire, ice, air, gadgets and so forth. They are usually confined to a core set of powers, and Champions fails to deliver that. They don’t feel like super heroes anymore. Restrict the power choices then flesh out the power sets more giving them the core things they need such as defensives, offensives, controls and healing abilities that allows players to fulfill roles they want to. Give them some ability to choose outside of their core power set, but maybe only into tier 1, 2 at the max, of another power set.

For instance with healing I would not have made targetted healing, instead make healing a bonus effect from offensively or defensively playing. While some players don't mind watching healthbars, many players hate that facet and prefer to actually heal as they play. Again this is something you've learned in Neverwinter and have yet to apply to Champions for some odd reason. The same could be done for tanking and such as well. Let the passives and role choice determine if the player is a healer, DPS controller, or so on.

Change the point buy system for powers completely as well. Currently you have dozens of these power points that people use to increase powers. Instead, players should have to make the choice to buy a new power or buff a current power. Look at your Neverwinter system for examples as this could have been used greatly in Champions to amazing effect. Passive effects could have also been peppered throughout the trees to help so that the players could build their trays as they like.

And let’s not forget the talent system in Champions was a complete disaster. It just added more power and freeforms just picked what they liked the most. Instead should have done this; Instead of the talent point system, the talents players pick in game, could have given the player a choice to pick talents say one every five levels and these talents give a small bonus to certain aspects. For instance, if a player wants to build a tanky character they pick things that help their defense and deflection while making their threat better.

Finally, cut the number of slottable powers at a time down significantly. The Batman arguments and such can go away, as the build slots could be put to great use this way. Characters could set up their tank, damage, healing or control builds and swap to them as needed. This every power is usable at once was one of the worst decisions forced into during beta of Champions and it saddens me that Cryptic caved to that demand.

Some method of taunting and removing threat also needs to be introduced as well. Finally, travel powers are getting bloated from just the skins of skins. Players should get the TP at level 1, and be able to re-skin it with the alternate skins, as long as they bought the skin.

So much could have been done and yea, people will say hindsight is 20/20, but we are talking about something that should have been done in a reboot of the system from the get go. Champions needs a huge reinvestment now, and cryptic needs to show that they actually care about the franchise.

In closing this is the short and sweet of it;

  • Properly monetize the store

The game store is a disaster. Items that should have been on a per character basis are account wide. It’s obvious this store costs Cryptic more money than it makes even to a casual observer. I know most people would be against this because they think things are either too expensive already, or whatever excuse but then again most people think MMOs are charities and don't need money to survive. Takes money to make money, as the saying goes, and Champions made the mistake catering to the self-entitled crowd.

  • Reboot the game

The game needs a complete reboot, revamping systems and items as well as entire maps and reformatting them to make logical sense. Attempting to remove the silliness wouldn't be a bad idea either. Follow more closely to the source material.

  • Change the Powers System

The powers system in Champions is a travesty. It’s not a freedom of choice system as it doesn't even present the ability to make a super hero. Instead you have to follow exact powers and there is little reason to experiment. The fact new power sets have not been introduced in a very long time is also a travesty as well.

Now, the only problem, of course, is it’s very much too little too late. But, these are things I would have done ages ago. It’s just a shame that Cryptic doesn't want to invest and try to get champions to go somewhere, instead of letting it dwindle away and die. At the very least they could just reboot the franchise and start over from scratch, but I think they are gun shy about that and all things considered, what the player base is like from Champs and their former franchise, with the plethora of misinformation, I am not completely shocked it won’t happen. I just wish it would.

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