A View from Atlas Park: Double XP / Cryptic + Marvel = MMOG?


A View from Atlas Park: Spitballing on Double XP and the Cryptic / Marvel MMOG Rumour

For the first time ever, CoH/V had a Double XP Weekend, where for 60 hours (assuming my maths is right) all in-game experience, prestige and influence / infamy rewards were doubled. Additionally, all SG / VG members got 20 000 bonus prestige which would have gone straight into the group pot for base building and base upkeep. I’m sure a lot of people emerged fairly groggy from the event, having spent as much time as possible in either Paragon City or the Rogue Isles (or maybe both) getting increased rewards for their character(s).

Personally I played less this weekend than I usually would, due to personal reasons than choice. I did manage to get in and do the Manticore Task Force in about 3.5 hours, so got some benefit out of the special event.

Stepping a bit back from the personal side of things, I think it can be said that this double xp period was a big success amongst the player base. The servers were into yellow- and red-territory, indicating a lot of players were on and playing. Compared to the usual experience I have in begging for players to join up for a Task Force (and hello to the numerous people I /t spam to see if they’re interested!) it seemed pretty painless on the weekend, taking only about half the time to start and coming together pretty nicely (ie no waiting a long time for a final team member to join). From what I’ve read, other people had similar experiences in pick up groups (PUGs) or in setting up Task Forces / story arc teams. It was nice to see and hear about such ease in organising teams.

With the conclusion of the event, there has been (and will continue to be) a strong call for the double experience offer to be continued either at regular intervals (monthly, quarterly, etc) or even indefinitely. I’m not against such a move, but if double experience became the new normal experience, there would be repercussions.

First off, if double experience periods are offered regularly, I’d expect to see server populations dip during the regular experience periods. This is simply a matter of time spent versus reward gained – if the best way to level your character is to wait until double xp weekends, then that’s exactly what people will do. The longer the time periods between double xp weekends, the less the server populations will dip, simply because it’s not worth waiting for extra reward if you wish to play CoH/V… but at the same time, the playerbase is going to get less overall reward from fewer double xp events, so they will be less happy about it.

Secondly, double xp sees players leveling more quickly. Leveling more quickly means going through in-game content at an increased rate, which in turn means outleveling contacts (who may not have given you those precious badge and / or story arc missions) and hitting the maxlevel (lvl 50 at this point) all the quicker. Given that CoH/V is “all about the journey, not the destination” (to use the most common quote), burning through content more quickly may see players burn out more quickly in the game and cancel at a correspondingly higher rate. I asked on the official forums if people believed they could go from lvl 1 – lvl 50 in 60 hours of double xp – some players thought it would be very possible to do. It would be a horrifying thought to a MMOG designer that a dedicated player could play through their entire game in about a weekend, given that the entire MMOG genre seems designed to try and keep players hooked in for as long as possible.

It is here that CoH/V does have a bit of a secret weapon – alternate characters aka alts. CoH/V has levels of alt-ism in it that I’m 99% positive are a surprise to all involved. While other MMOGs certainly have seen players create alts (especially where said alts can provide in-game advantage ala healing bots) I don’t believe that those number of alts would approach anywhere near those seen per head of player population within CoH/V. Alt-ism within CoH/V is driven by the flexibility of the character costume generator and the ability of players to combine AT powersets in multiple ways – most other MMOGs don’t allow for such levels of customisation of characters.

While CoH/V doesn’t require as much time as some MMOGs to reach maxlevel, it also doesn’t have the so-called endgame (badge collection excluded) to keep players hooked in once they’ve got to the “end”. Instead, what has happened is players end up either quitting or creating numerous alts to test out how things work, to play concept characters or to just help their SG / VG in a different way. In many ways, alt-ism has become the end-game by proxy and the thing that keeps players in CoH/V. Would double xp end up destroying this situation by getting players to create fewer alts and / or quit sooner?

In my opinion, it’s a close call. Those players who are just in CoH/V to get to lvl 50 will hit it in half the time under double xp and leave the game. However, I don’t believe that players who are looking to create alts will leave the game more quickly under double xp – in fact, they will probably stay longer. Why? Because they can test out characters more quickly than under the current system. I don’t think that they would spend as much time per alt as they do now (since they wouldn’t have to spend as much time leveling up to a point where they’ve have most of their powers available) but would probably create more characters overall, which would lead to an increased total time spent subscribed to CoH/V. There may also be an increase in the number of players who create alts because the barrier to clearing the lower levels would be reduced.

But in reality, I’m just guessing. If you were to look at this previous weekend as a guide, you would say that players would create more alts and spend more time in-game under a double experience system. However, it’s a biased form of evidence, kind of like going to a children’s birthday and using it as proof that kids should eat cake all the time because they enjoyed it so much at the party. Like birthday cake, the double xp event was enjoyed because it was something novel and a treat over a limited time period. If double xp is offered all the time, players will soon become blase towards it and accept it as standard. Enjoyment becomes entitlement and there would be no way that double xp could ever be taken away without lots of players quitting CoH/V because leveling became too slow.

Thirdly, double xp was offered as a reward / consolation to players for enduring the bugs of I7. As such, I believe it’s done a bit towards helping players get over the ill will generated by bugs breaking the global chat system, the stability of some zones and all the rest of the player peeves that were created by “Destiny Manifest” landing on the live servers. However, it is a reward that could become permanent depending on what the devs planned to do moving forward. If the devs were to see that alt-ism is a way of life in CoH/V, I could see double xp becoming standard. In a similar vein, if the devs wanted more characters at the lvl 50 mark, then double xp could become standard. I also believe that after two years being released CoH needs something to help draw fickle MMOG player eyes back to it for a while, and permanent double xp might just be the ticket.

In reality, I doubt we are going to see permanent double xp for a while yet, with plenty of characters already at lvl 50 and those players who create and maintain alts unlikely to stop in the near future if double xp isn’t made standard. Instead, it’s much more likely that the double xp event will repeat in conjunction with other special events during the year, such as Halloween or Christmas events. Provided xp distribution is well managed during such events (ie no uber-xp giving Winter Lords) then this will probably be the least unbalanced way of giving out double xp.

Which is a pity, cause it means I have to go back to begging half the Virtue server to join me on a TF.

I saw something on the we-are-not-a-fansite f13.net that is an interesting and completely unsubstantiated rumour: that one of the new Cryptic projects is the Marvel MMOG, or something close to it. Also, it might be a console game. The news item itself manages to be both brief and rambling, but the kernal at its heart is something I can believe. Hell, I called it myself as a possibility in March 2005.

Statesman has previously expressed an idle interest in taking CoH onto consoles, with consoles arguably have a greater reach than PCs, especially with the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii all set to fight it out in a new edition of the console wars (coming soon). Cryptic have gone on a bit of a hiring spree and consoles are mentioned there as desirable for some employment positions. What is also interesting is the comment that Cryptic is “expanding its business to incorporate customer service and network operations”, which traditionally have been areas that NCsoft have looked after.

So, Cryptic to launch another superhero MMOG – this one set in the Marvel Universe with the gaming license owned by Microsoft – on a console while taking over some operations from NCsoft? Maybe, or maybe 2 + 2 = 5. If it is true, I think that Cryptic getting involved in the Marvel MMOG is exceptionally good business sense – what better way to avoid being crushed by the launch of two direct superhero MMOG competitors than by taking over the development of one competitor yourself and getting all the benefits of having another big project in-house? This series of events only leaves the Sony / DC MMOG to consider – a MMOG that has only just licensed its engine and has Jim Lee, a respectable artist with no MMOG experience as it’s lead creative designer and is probably still 2 – 3 years from launch.

Of course, it’s all just a rumour until someone goes on record. It also leaves the other Cryptic project a bit of a mystery – you know, the project Statesman has talked about as requiring his history and mythology background. Could it be that, if the Marvel MMOG is super secret project number 1, that super secret project number 2 is… Imperator?

I’m only joking on that one, by the way. Unless it turns out to be true, in which case I should be getting paid for doing this.

– UnSub [email protected] 31 July 2006

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