I am going to go out on a limb and ask a very simple question that I will assume not a lot of people have put thought in yet. How can the City of Heroes experience be quantified in fun? If one can admit that after all the fluff an MMO’s worth is inevitably the “social factor” then we can approach the question with that in mind. Even if one holds more preference for solo play within a MMORPG he or she can’t deny that it gets old rather fast without any contact with one’s fellow players. Given these statements, we can trace every previous MMORPG along a thin line of social dynamic. Namely, where the focus of that dynamic lies for each game. Where does it lie for our fair City?
Ultima Online took a much more humanistic approach to the social dynamic of Britannia. The individual took center stage and still very much does. Each person is empowered for optimal land ownership, fighting power, and wealth. Guilds were always optional. Nothing was detracted from the game play if an individual did not belong to a guild; no game play feature was barred from his perusal. EverQuest smashed this ideal with its heavy reliance on huge groups and clans in order to access content. The “raid” was born and since then we really have not seen focus torn away from the “zerg”. Anarchy Online did EverQuest one better and focused on PvP as well as PvM. A large “organization” (AO guild/clan/pledge) was required to obtain any significant power in the social landscape. If one could not find a larger appendage to latch onto one missed out on that area of the game. One can certainly say that the power of the individual has been slowly eroding in these games over the years. Pro or con? A personal preference, but as I have illustrated I think it is a con. In these games that focus so heavily on the larger group dynamic an individual’s efforts are inevitably futile if they are not brought to bear to serve a “mega clan.” It leaves someone like me extremely unmotivated to even try a new product with that knowledge in hand. The semi-casual player who has a solid network of play buddies, but lacks the resources to really compete on the higher level this social focus requires. If I had a choice I would rather play with six or seven very close friends then to be forced to corral fifty to one hundred strangers so that we may all have the option to participate in important features that would increase the longevity of “fun” we would reap from any single MMO. I will tolerate it for only so long until I drop the product. I have the experience to know what it takes to back a successful consortium of ambitious players and I really don’t want to have to do that for every single game which releases just so I can obtain a complete experience of it.
Enter City of Heroes. Sorry, but I just had to say it. Plus, I am something of a Bruce Lee fan anyway. How does City of Heroes handle the social dynamic? The inherent “fun” that we have outlined? Due to the fact that the game is ever so deliciously lathered in superhero mythos we can surmise that the mentality of the player base will likely embrace those standards. It is a high probability. So let’s take a small glance at the comic book social structure. How big do those groups get? How do they socialize with each other? Since I am above pandering to the lowest common denominator I do not need to paint a picture for anyone. Superheroes tend to stick to themselves if at all possible and only venture outside their small cone of influence if absolutely necessary. That is the norm, that is the standard. And since players will enter City of Heroes with at least a minimal understanding of modern superhero genres we can guess that the proverbial “Justice Leagues” of City of Heroes won’t fall far from the roots. Remember to keep in mind that super organizations in comic books are not the norm. I know they’re there, but I still don’t think that the CoH super group member caps will be hard-pressed to satisfy such a number of members.
Given known facts, I predict the social environment in City of Heroes to be very introverted in scope. Small groups, small friends, deeply focused on their own activities. On the whole, a slight return of power to the individual. We’re supposed to be enriching our own heroic stories here right? It doesn’t quite work with larger groups. Celebrate it or hate it, I strongly feel the daily play focus in City of Heroes will go no further than the same eight to ten people you greet and meet everyday for some crime thwarting. Of course, there are exceptions built in the system. It is only ironic that they will take the same forms as in regular comic books.