Part of the problem is the fact that CO currently has a skeleton crew working on it and a minimal budget. I suspect (without having hard numbers) that it's at the same sort of uneasy place as Vanguard was for a long while -- making just enough money to justify its continued operation while not making enough money for additional development staff. So with all of that in place, what can the game do to prop itself up a bit more without requiring a huge infusion of additional money? How can Champions Online get its act back together?
This year, the team on CO has fallen in love with events in a big way. We're in the middle of an event right now, we're likely to start in on another event once that's over, and all of the content we've gotten has been centered around events. That's not a terrible thing in theory, but in practice it seems to mean that small updates get stretched out over a longer period of time with a thin overarching theme. From a development standpoint, they have a major advantage insofar as they give players some special content for a limited time, encouraging everyone to log in for some special awards.
What might help even more is if any of these events had long-term ramifications or if they had failure conditions based on player actions. If these events are running, the development team could at least make a point of letting player actions dictate the overall course of the game.
Imagine if the Lemurian invasion hadn't gone south everywhere and some zones had wound up with a more permanent Lemurian presence. Or imagine if that had led into some major or even minor revamps for Lemuria itself, something to make this invasion feel as if it had been taking place everywhere. Imagine if that invasion had actually led into the next event, with overall success or failure directly influencing how the game as a whole looked and played.
This might require a bit more developer fiat, and I'm aware that there's some stuff that isn't in the cards, like major zone revamps. But little bits here and there make the world feel more alive, and it would turn a year-long focus on events into a sense that the game is moving forward and changing. You know, like a comic book.
You knew this was coming.
To the best of my knowledge, Cryptic's games are all built on the same basic engine. (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.) That means that what works in one should really work in the others. And if you aren't already well aware that Star Trek Online and Neverwinter feature robust tools for player-created content, well, now you know.
Porting over this system for CO would be an undertaking, without a doubt. It would mean a whole lot of work specific to the game, as well as the usual work necessary to ensure that the tool doesn't become a haven for exploitation and the only viable method of gaining experience. Let's not assume that this would be a miracle cure that takes half an hour of work to get functional; if it were that easy, it would already have been done.
But if it were done, even with the most bare-bones functionality at first, it would be a massive boost to the game. Superheroes are a genre that almost demands extra player agency. The whole point of playing a game like CO is realizing your longtime dream of making your own superhero, so developing your own stories is the next logical step. This worked out very well for some other game that tried a similar approach; the name escapes me at the moment.
Best of all? Once such a tool was up and running, even with the skeleton crew, there would be a groundswell of new content coming out. Adding player-generated content to a game is a way to get players to pay you to make more stuff. I can only assume there's a lot more work involved in porting over the Foundry system than seems apparent because otherwise this is such a no-brainer it's almost insulting.
Back when I first started playing CO, I noticed that the game uses about six systems for what any sane game would do with three at most. We do not need so many different fiddly things to choose from at random level intervals; some of these can be rolled together or even done away with entirely. Picking out attribute boosts on top of super attributes, for instance, feels like way too much effort for far too little reward.
I'm not sure how much of the game would need to be redone in order to cut down the almost absurd number of different progression systems in place, but streamlining them has two nice benefits. The first is that it gives new players an easier time understanding what's going on. The second might be even more important because it forces veterans to come back and figure out how their powers work now. While you're doing that, you know, you might as well play the game a little...
Feedback is welcome down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. It's kind of predictable. Next week, I want to take a look at the up-and-comers... assuming they're still coming.
By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre spent years in City of Heroes before the world-shattering event that destroyed his home world. But he remains as intrepid as ever, traveling to other superheroic games and dispensing his unique brand of justice... or lack thereof.