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CoX: The right to farm?

Adrian Bott

City of Heroes Issue 9, Breakthrough, might also have been titled the Agricultural Revolution.

Sure, we'd had power leveling before, and plenty of it. But until the Invention System came along we didn't really have full-on farming as such. Some players reared healthy stocks of Hatched Krakens down in the sewers or tilled the soil for Freaks on the Dreck map, but back then we knew little of the ways of the farmer.

Then came Issue 9 with its Rare Drops and later Issue 11 with its Even Rarer ZomgPurple Drops. The more level 50 enemies you defeat, the more likely you are to grab one of the purples; and that's on top of the guaranteed XP, Prestige or Inf that rolls in. Now, of course, farming is ubiquitous.

The logic behind mission farming in CoX is simple: why bother going from mission to mission when you can find one that suits you and reset it endlessly? It used to be 'PL plz', but now the monosyllabic grunt of 'farm?' is sent via /tell in Peregrine Island around the clock. Behemoths, once feared as flaming heralds of Hell, are not so much an endangered species as a cash crop. Recluse's Victory was more like Recluse's Sweatshop for a while as bizarrely named farm-build characters raked in the Inf, presumably for later sale to the willing and unfussy.

Farming is no longer associated solely with the likes of UBuyGold. It's become a player activity; a popular, accepted player activity at that, so innocuous that players not only admit to it but passionately defend their self-asserted right to it.

But is there really such a thing as the right to farm?

There's certainly an implicit right to vote with your feet. Every so often, rumors fly around that the Devs are going to put a stop to farming somehow. The response from the dedicated farmers is predictable: they claim they will quit if they don't get to farm. (Yes, claiming you will quit is not the same as actually quitting, we know.) They insist that farming hurts nobody, that it keeps them in the game, that it keeps the market stocked, and that the Devs themselves have incentivized it by setting up the drop system in the way they have.

Are their fears grounded? While it's not easy to see how any developmental measure could finish farming off, there's precedent for anti-farming measures in the past. For example, the missions most commonly used to power level - the Dreck and Shadowhunter missions - were given timers, making them impossible to keep for farming purposes. Ironically, the older versions of the missions were not replaced, meaning that anyone who still had the pre-timer version in his mission list got to keep it that way.

The most significant change, however, was the alteration of Circle of Thorns portals so that summoned behemoths no longer gave XP. Jack Emmert spelled out the reasoning: it wasn't heroic to keep a portal open so that you could gain XP from defeating the demons it summoned. Game lore and game play met in a head-on clash. It was clear that the Devs of the time didn't want you to spoil your own immersion, let alone anyone else's. The issue back then was not the right to farm, but the right to play how you liked.

It's a tricky issue for any Dev team to tackle. Devs want players to experience the varied content they create; farming is anything but varied. No matter how brilliantly written the storyarc or how stunning the map, farm-friendly players will bash the same Freaks in the same ways ten thousand times over if it gives a bigger or more predictable reward. Simply forbidding farming, even if it could be done, wouldn't solve that. Players have their own ideas of what is fun. If they even think they are being told how to play, they get riled.

We can, however, assert one thing clearly in this tangle of concerns. In a PvP zone, there is no right to farm. If you enter a PvP zone, you do not get to complain if someone kills you, because you were 'only there to farm' or 'didn't want to PvP'. In a PvP zone, you have an inalienable right to get your butt kicked and to kick butt, and that's where your rights end. This raises other concerns, like why it is that villain accolades should require badges from PvP zones while hero ones don't, but that's a discussion for another day.

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