A Mild-Mannered Reporter: The life of the alter-ego

In response to my original column about City of Heroes Freedom, I got an email. This in and of itself isn't particularly unusual; I get a lot of email, even if I don't respond to all of it. (I do read all of it, but there are only so many hours in the day.) The mail itself was pretty angry, however, claiming that I had sold out to NCsoft and was being just another corporate shill. Exact terminology has not been preserved, but you get the general idea. It's the sort of letter that pretty much everyone at Massively gets from time to time, insisting that we've sold out at some point.

Of course, after I had my usual laugh, I realized that there are some genuine misconceptions about what it's like being on the other side of the screen. They've been touched on from time to time with reader questions, but rather than scattering information hither and yon, I figured I'd just take a column to clear the air and dispel some misunderstandings about what goes on behind the scenes at Massively.

Players first

I've gotten asked a few times how I got assigned to writing a column about City of Heroes (or Final Fantasy XIV, for that matter). The answer is simple -- I was already playing the game, and so when we started running game-specific columns I was asked if I'd be willing to write them.

That's one of those parts that I think a lot of people get but some people miss out -- myself and every writer here at Massively write about certain games because we play and enjoy those games. When I first started here back in October of '09, I was on a break from City of Heroes, but I resubscribed soon after and I had been getting back into the swing for a few months before I started the column. There was no sterile assignment to the game, I was just already a player and got tapped to write about a game I was playing and enjoying.

When I write about the game, it's from the perspective of someone who likes certain parts of the game and doesn't care as much for other parts. I like melee damage and get annoyed when it gets shafted by encounter design. I prefer leveling and creating new alts to focusing on big endgame grinds -- and there are good reasons why I've occasionally been nervous about CoH going in that direction. Heck, at times I'm still bitter about the fact that Instant Healing is a click power instead of a toggle now, making it far less powerful. This is a game I play, not just a game I write about.

Nothing special

At NYCC 2010, I was unfortunately not able to get to the CoH party on Friday night, opting instead to spend all day in the city hard at work. The result was that when I got into the panel, I hadn't been able to grab the Rikti costume code that had been handed out the night before. Luckily, one of NCsoft's PR representatives knew I would be there, and he had snagged me one of the cards from the night before so that I could still get the souvenir.

I use that story for two purposes -- first, to illustrate that the people within Paragon Studios and NCsoft are pretty much wonderful people. But it also illustrates the sort of consideration that I do get as a writer about CoH on a regular basis. I'm recognized, my name is known, and occasionally one of my articles goes up on the front page of the official site. I'm not getting tossed wads of money to say nice things about Paragon Studios, and I'm more than willing to call the company on poor decisions or bad ideas.

The reason that I'm excited about Freedom is, quite honestly, that it gives an opportunity to buy things I want from Paragon in ways that I would actually want to do so. There are a lot of Super Boosters and the like which I don't own because I can't justify the full price tag, there's the promise of new costumes which I like, and I honestly do not mind the hybrid model. Heck, I don't mind having a store while you charge a subscription price; I think it's a justifiable and useful business model. My perspective about all of this is a result of my own opinions about game models, pricing, viable charges, and the like.

Besides, if Paragon really wanted to bribe me, there would be much simpler ways to do so than giving me money which I'll then sink back into more video games. For example, they could make a Rikti epic archetype. I'm just saying.

Time of your life

All of this, of course, brings me around to my last point. There are times when we'll report on something -- such as Freedom -- and we'll have a post up before there's any official information on the main site. It leads to some people wondering if we're jumping the gun, if we're bluffing, if there are shenanigans to be called or the like. I'd like to think that our credibility is significantly helped by the fact that we're just ahead of the curve, but I wanted to explain at least a bit of why this happens.

Some things we don't find out about until they happen, but a lot of times, we'll be contacted ahead of time with news stories. This isn't unusual -- it gives us (and other MMO news sites) time to get all our ducklings in a row before the news goes up, so we can be right on the forefront of new announcements. The news in question is accompanied by an embargo time, which is when we're allowed to disseminate that information to our readers. Again, all standard stuff, and important in making sure that the information which goes out to the public is under some sort of control by the company.

There are two things that can introduce wrinkles, however. The first is that Massively operates on Eastern time, while Paragon Studios is on Pacific time. The second is that embargo times are not always set to when information will go live, but when that information is allowed to be made public knowledge. This means that sometimes, we're just a little bit ahead of the curve, since we're posting something new when most of Paragon is still on the day's first cup of coffee.

I hope you enjoyed this small look behind the scenes for your weekly dose of mild-mannered reporting. If not, well, tune in next week for a very different column. As always, you can let me know just what you thought of this week's installment via mail to eliot@massively.com or through the comments below.

By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.

This article was originally published on Massively.