A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Party hardly

Eliot Lefebvre
E. Lefebvre|09.29.10

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Party hardly
I think by this point I have a well-established reputation as being a fairly positive guy on the subject of City of Heroes. It wasn't a conscious decision or anything -- it's just that I've been pretty happy with the game's development and content, and I do tend to be a bit of a developer supporter. I don't expect the game to be something other than what it is, and I enjoy what it is. Not to mention the obvious fact that the game has given me a lot of enjoyment over the years. So I usually come down as being part of the sunshine and light crowd.

But that's not by design -- it's just how things have shaken down. I hand out praise and criticism as the situation warrants. And this week I'm going to talk about something that most definitely deserves criticism. I'm talking, of course, about the Party Pack, the newest mini-addition to the game and one that's already produced more than a little fan rage. But it's deserved, and even if I can see why Paragon Studios went the route that it did, I find it a little hard to just dismiss it with the usual "if you don't like it, don't buy it" routine.
It's a matter of public record that I don't mind microtransactions, even in games that have a subscription fees. I wrote an entire column defending and actively praising how City of Heroes works with its super boosters, and I don't have any intention of recanting that. But the Party Pack isn't quite in the same boat. For two dollars less than any of the extant boosters, you get a set of eight emotes -- as opposed to the usual assortment of several costume pieces that produce a whole set, along with one minor additional power or another.

The Going Rogue bonus pack, by contrast, is a dollar less, contains two full costume sets, and also contains four emotes and a pretty useless power. (Really, if anyone's found a single use for Shadowy Presence, let me know. So far it just seems to be there.) The fact that it includes some emotes as part of the purchase price is just icing on the cake, as far as I'm concerned.

Really, the pack isn't so bad. It gives a nice set of new tools for players to use while roleplaying, after all, and I'd be willing to bet that it's a lot harder to set up emotes for all of the varied skeletons in City of Heroes than it is to just make a new group of costume parts. And costume parts don't really offer any long-term benefit anyway -- they just look nice. Is it really that different to pay eight dollars for either?

The answer is yes. And I think this gets back to a fundamental disconnect between Paragon Studios and the fans, one that I've touched on before: How much work something takes is not tied to how much impact it has on the game. When I discussed it before, it was in reference to power customization, which was at once a huge undertaking and a completely empty gesture.

I'm not a programmer, but as near as I can understand, power customization required nothing less than rewriting about half of the code that told the client how a given power worked. Due to the way that powers were tied to effects, it was a monumental undertaking to go back and rewrite all that code. The problem -- and the reason it hadn't even been attempted before -- is that very little changes in terms of practicality. Players see colors come out when they use an ability, and being able to change those colors is a tiny effect, albeit one that was dearly wanted.

Emotes are no different. In order to implement a costume piece or an emote, you have a lot of different issues that require fine-tuning, ranging from different body types to different leg types to different body scales. But a set of eight costume pieces can wind up being used by several different characters for a variety of effects. A set of eight emotes can be useful only in limited circumstances, and sometimes not even then.

Super boosters can also be purchased based on circumstance. If you don't have any good ideas for making a character of a mechanical nature, great, no need to buy the Cyborg booster. But if you come up with a great concept, well, you can buy it then. It's far more difficult to wait until a situation comes up where you could use an emote and then purchase it. ("Hold on, guys, I just need to log out, get out my credit card, buy an emote pack, and then I'll wave back.")

For the amount of effort that's gone into the pack, of course, eight dollars is a perfectly fair asking price. But on a scale of practicality, the party pack falls pretty low. It doesn't even have the benefit of emote packs as seen in Champions Online or Star Trek Online. You don't have an in-game store for CoH, nor are there Paragon Points or whatever that you load up and spend as you wish. You have to leave the game and restart to obtain new things, making the purchases much less of an impulse grab.

I don't like being down on something that was clearly produced with an eye toward player entertainment. But when players are asked to spend money on something that feels this thin on content, it stings a little. That, more than anything else, is the most negative part of this little add-on -- even though it's optional, it feels like we're being nickel-and-dimed more than in any previous addition.

The Going Rogue costume parts are totally worth the purchase price, though. So that's awesome.

Next week is our question-and-answer session, so be sure to get any questions you want answered in to eliot@massively.com, or just leave them in the comments field. And, as always, comments and suggestions are welcome as well. I'm not always great about responding in email, but I do read every single comment and mail that I receive. (Even the ones that aren't so nice.)
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.
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