Sunday, May 06, 2007

City of Heroes gains Loot and its baggage

This is old hat news but last week City of Heroes pushed a patch or issue as they like to call them which introduced loot into the game. Now a salvage system for base creation was already in place but it did very little to increase a player's power or standing. This new system allows the looting parts and patterns from enemies which can be used to create temporary powers, power enhancements, and costume accessories. It's a very big change for a game that use to pride itself on keeping the MMO experience as simple as possible.

Its been a long standing position of the City of Heroes developers that loot was unnecessary for their game and could in fact detract from the game experience. Mostly this line of thought comes from the idea that item acquisition introduces more dividing factors into a MMO. We've all heard stories about ninjas and scammers who use devious methods to acquire items or money. City of Heroes has enjoyed a dearth of such stories due in part to the limited emphasis on currency and item acquisition.

Another problem that City of Heroes had managed to avoid with their "no loot" policy was major differences in power between players of the same level. The amount of free time players have is often quite different and this often causes steep increases in power to those who could track down every item at a certain level. Early attempts to avoid this in games such as Ultima Online basically made it so that improvements through loot barely effected combat. As a result most people fought naked and equipment wasn't sought or used very much.

On the other end of the spectrum is when items have a huge effect on combat and start causing problems with the creation of new content. Once there exists a difference in power between players of the same level then developers start having problems balancing new content. Should they prepare a new zone based on a player having only a few items or should they expect every available slot to be filled with the best? Most games in the past have balanced new content based on the upper end of the curve and alienated a large portion of their playerbase.

With City of Heroes adopting a more normal loot/item policy they are opening their doors to the same problems Everquest and World of Warcraft experience. However, both of those games have been much more popular then the superhero MMO and one has to wonder if the "no loot" policy had something to do with it. Maybe gamers inherently want more methods to improve themselves over their peers despite the problems it introduces into a game? I often plan ahead about what high end epics I would like to get for my characters even though I know by the time I get them they will be obsolete. Still, its the fact that such carrots exist that most people find themselves continuing to play the game.


Keystone said...

Interesting post...

I liked how Ultima Online had their loot system in the early days. It was diverse enough to allow crafters a market for their goods, but allowed for looted magic items to still have a place.

Neither the crafted items, or the looted items would give someone such an advantage that they could beat another player with their eyes closed, such as WoW epics.

I did get burnt out on CoH because of that very reason, no loot. I wouldn't care if it were [villain sneakers] or something of the sort, but something would be nice.

I would love to see a medium brought about where loot still gave an advantage, but not to the point where the drummer for Def Leopard could beat me while eating a sandwich.

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Hellfire said...

I think the very important thing about WoW is that people are used to class and gear imbalance, and have come to the understanding that at one point in time, they will be overpowered too. Blizzard's problem is that it is trying to balance 12 different facets of the game, which means things constantly change during patches. And although this is frustrating, it definetly is an interesting method that keeps this game so addicting.

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