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May 28, 2004



Nice, long entry! I agree that PC games are going to have to go to subscription or at least online verification. Our publisher recently did some online polling and 1-in-5 players of their game were pirated copies. I think there was a built-in mechanism for player to punch in a credit-card number from within the game they could potentially DOUBLE sales.

As for firewalls, you can always use HTTP to do validation checks, which no-one blocks.


Whoops. "I think there..." should read "I think IF there..." :-/

Stuart Roch

Man, that's a bummer that you aren't feeling the love from COH. The guys at work are really enjoying it right now, though I'll agree with you, I can't see that I'll be subscribing six months from now.

Interesting thoughts on the retail+subscription model...

Brannon Boren

I've found City of Heroes to be a lot of fun, and worth continuing to play, though as a designer I have to agree with some of your comments. The limitation of power sets into the categories does feel pidgeonholed, and I would like to see some tweaks to the available pool powers to help people rectify this if it bugs them (such as a being able to get a minor ranged power for a scrapper - Batarang anyone?).

Even though I'm a designer, I'm still one of those people that will go for style over stats much of the time. I'll use Archers because I like them, even if they're not the best suited for the task. I'll use the knockdown attack even if it does the same damage and takes longer, because it's so cool when the opponent is knocked back.

As for the piracy issue, I've been pretty lucky in that my work has primarily been in Xbox games and now an MMO, so I've largely dodged the bullet.

Hope you find more fun in CoH as you continue to explore it. Try some new character types, combinations of power types, and make lots of costumes. You have such an enormous number of slots for characters, there's no penalty for test driving lots of different things.


Interesting article. Most people in our office have tried CoH and were talking about it, so I also took the plunge a week ago. I like a lot of what I see about the game, but like yourself and most people I know, I dont know how long I will be playing. One of the great parts of the game is that it is stupidly fun rerolling new characters. I still wish name validation was done BEFORE building your entire character tho. As much fun as it is, it's really frustrating trying to find a name that hasnt been used and still sounds sufficently cool enough for your hero.

Also, while there are only four major character types, the different amount of skill combinations greatly ups the character variance. I play my fire/fire blaster way differently than my ice/ice blaster.

I still think that internet distribution is going to be a major force in revitalizing the PC development scene, and MMO's are helping to introduce people to online distribution due to new content downloads and expansions that are available for download. Of course, it will take some very gutsy studios releasing some very good games for this method to expand outside of the niche it currently occupies. PC gamers are already used to downloading mods for first person shooters and RPGS (thank you Neverwinter Nights). If people know they are getting a quality product thats well supported (take a look at Stardock or Illwinter for good examples here) I think they will be ever more likely to purchase and download a game online instead of going retail.

Also, with cell phone games becoming more and more widespread, this could introduce people that would never think of buying a game online to try a little 5 dollar game on their phone. Give those people good experiences and eventually online purchasing will be more attractive to the general public.

If you still arent having fun with CoH try convincing a few people at the office to try it with you and have an office party in game. They make it incredibly easy to group with with anyone else in the game due to thei sidekick system, so even if someone outlevels others, they can still play together.

Robert 'Groby' Blum

I do believe that the subscription model will not become widespread unless we

a) have micropayments. I'm not paying $15 a month for a game that I only play for an hour or two, and neither will the public - that's too much. Pricing needs to come down, and we might need pay-per-play.

b) we find a way to distribute content online. That one's trivial - if I buy a box, why would I not expect to own the contents? And if you just provide a server and nothing else, why am I paying a huge subscription fee?

c) have bundles. This is a wild guess, and modeled on the cable industry. I don't pick and choose my cable channels - I get bundles of them, depending on which package I pick. Most casual gamers are not willing to investigate each game carefully, so they might be more likely to just pick a bundle of games where there's a known good one included. Option c) is on the other end of a), really - we might only see one of the two. At least that's my guess.

As for the fun of CoH - I can't find it, after the first 10 levels or so. Go out, slay monsters, level up. Lather, rinse, repeat. If they don't add events real soon, I'm out. I played nethack 20 years ago, and it was about as fun as this. (Actually, it was more - the dog made the game)


I think online validation of single-player games is ridiculous and self-defeating. Imagine these scenarios:

1. My net connection dies for some reason. Can't play online, may as well play a single-player game. Whoops - can't play one of those either, since they have to phone home to find out if I'm a pirate or not.

2. I buy a game, get it home, install it, and then discover the first time it phones home that a pirate with a key generator has already taken my key. Now I've got to go through a bunch of hassle to play my game that I've already shelled out money for.

3. I decide to reinstall and replay an older game again. Oops - the developer that made it got bought or went out of business and the validation system for it has shut down. No way to play it any more.

I think it's scenario three that bugs me the most. Game developers seem bound and determined to find ways to keep their games from perpetuating. Art and literature endure, but apparently games should not - it's okay that many games, even some just a few years old, are lost to us because they don't run on modern platforms. And now that we've finally got that sorted, you want to start a server-side validation system that guarantees that even if the platform never changes, the game will eventually become unplayable!

Besides, what you're suggesting simply will not stop piracy. The reason MMORPGS are currently pirate-proof isn't because the software has to connect to the server to play - there will always be ways to defeat such a system. They are pirate-proof because the actual game content is on the server, not on the player's hard drive. Shall we move to that system? How about a version of Warcraft III where in order to play, you first have to wait ten minutes for the mission, models and art to download from the server? Even that won't stop piracy - instead of ISOs, pirates will distribute hacked executables and media packs.

All you'd do is inconvenience the legitimate player even more than he currently is now, and I DIDN'T THINK THAT WAS POSSIBLE. The reason consoles are much hard to pirate on (not impossible, just harder) is because of the hardware control. But putting the same hardware restrictions on PCs makes them much less usable, and consumers won't go for it.

If you want to make games for the PC, you are simply going to have to accept that your game will get pirated. End of story. Everything you do to try to stop it will fail, and will simply piss off your legitimate customers. Does this mean that PC games are doomed? Well piracy has existed as long as software has existed, and somehow software has become a humongous multi-billion dollar industry, so I can't help but think that as long as your game is good, enough people will buy it to make its development worth your time.

Jamie Fristrom

Yes, #3 is a very good point. I hadn't thought of that.
I'm not ready to admit defeat and say "End of story", though - just making piracy harder will sell you a lot more product. I'm still convinced that's why console is more lucrative than PC. Absolutely not true that "All you'd do is inconvenience the legitimate player." Yes, it would inconvenience him. But it would make more money. I swear to you. And, if you sell a lot more product, those niche games that people can't afford to make right now might become doable again. We might get to see LucasArts style adventure games again, for example. Or the *Dominions 2* guys might make enough money to actually spend some on usability, for another example. Right now, PC games, as a rule, do not make enough money to be worth making! I pity the poor fool who tries to sell a PC game! Unless you're Warcraft or Harry Patter or The Sims or Roller Coaster Tycoon.
"As long as you game is good, enough people will buy it." That is sadly NOT true. Not even in the console market - witness the critically acclaimed *Ico* and *Beyond Good & Evil* crashing and burning. And in the PC market it's much worse.
And there are ways around #3 - nothing stops the company from releasing their game for free once they've stopped making money on it.

And I haven't given up on CoH, btw, I know my rant sounded negative. I'm sure I'll get at least 10-20 hours of fun out of it, and in my book that's $50 well spent. I'll spend $50 on a 12-hour console title without blinking.

Nat Loh

Will Wright talked about how for the SIMS Online, an established online community established 2 months before launch significantly reduced piracy. Maxis enlisted already existing SIMS webmasters to actively participate in giving feedback towards the product. They were rewarded with exclusive news on the project while Maxis received positive hype and publicity. Those who would eventually make tools (and hacks) for the SIMS such as editing tools, face/body patches, skins, etc were brought into this community and given resources to produce tools content artists would be using for their own SIMS art. Online tools were available at launch and by involving the online community in the final stages of development, Maxis created a sense of ownership amongst them. Not only did they receive free feedback and publicity, the online community's sense of ownership resulted in it policing itself and reporting cases of piracy. Scarce hack files made it difficult for casual gamers to track them down although hardcore users will still be able to get their hands on them. However, given that casual gamers vastly outnumber the the hardcore, the SIMS was able to experience greater success than had hacks been easily available. Piracy WILL always happen but it's keeping it out of the hands of the masses of casualy gamers that really makes the difference.

as far as subscriptions go, i'm thinking of a hybrid model that includes capped micro-payments along with monthly plans. casual gamers can pay-by-play while hardcore gamers can pay a monthly fee. an example of this model would have the monthly rate at $10 month, while the micro-payment charge incrimentally, like $1 for x hours of play. The catch would be that casual gamers can end up paying MORE than $10 a month but to shield unethical billing and making micro-payments seem like a sham, you'd cap the amount a micro-payment user could be billed monthly, to say, $15/month or something reasonable. Just knowing that you might end paying more in itself makes some people opt for paying the monthly fee. they seem to be willing to pay more if they know that they are getting a better value. call it the Costco reflex. switching between plans should be easy to do.

ico & bge didn't quite get the best PR & exposure among the casual gamers and they're the ones who make a crashing game go AAA.


It's worth pointing out that NCSoft, publishers of CoH, are backing ArenaNet, a bunch of ex-Blizzard guys who are making GuildWars, which advertises no monthly fees, just constant expansion packs to pay for the continued service.

And don't talk about The Sims Online. That should have just never happened. Take everything about The Sims that was popular, and turn it on its ear (instead of running a little world of virtual people, you ARE one of those virtual people, and you have to depend on other people to have fun, AND you have to pay a monthly fee to experience it,) then spend a fraction of a billion dollars to market the bejeezus out of it.

Hourly payments went out with AOL, dude. Ask around for the people who were around for the original Neverwinter Nights. People still get nostalgic for that one, but you'd be hard pressed to find someone who would pay that much cash now when there's so much to choose from and not nearly as much to enjoy.

And, um, Jamie, there are lots of other reasons why console gaming has the upper hand at the moment -- consoles are easier to acquire, and lots cheaper than a top-of-the-line PC. Beyond Good and Evil was also the poor lost puppy of the Ubisoft rollout -- it's the only one that got virtually zero marketing in a lineup that included Prince of Persia and XIII.

Saul Bottcher

Unfortunately, it's not always about the player's respect for the game or the developer. Some kids worship Warcraft and Blizzard, but would still pirate War3 in an instant.

This is one of the hazards of the age group (teens) we usually sell to... psychologically speaking, their sense of external or social conscience isn't fully developed yet. The desire to save money is more tangible to them than the concept of fair reward for a person they've never met. For some kids, this means they'll pirate anything, because it's cheaper, and that's what they understand.

As they age (and start working to support themselves), they're likely to adjust their perspective.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that Sims Online may have benefitted from an older audience just as much as a strong community.

Nina Smith

I'm one of those rare chicks that actually IS a chick, playing a chick. :)

Every game I ever bought, I played first as a hack. For the most part, if I enjoy it, I go buy it just to say "thanks, keep'em coming" to the industry for my favorites. I also like to have a "pure" copy of something I'm enjoying.

I would NEVER buy a game without trying it first, they cost to much. Hackers are the only thing generating revenue out of me for companies. :)

I played City of Heroes on a friend's account first for a week before I actually bought it. I don't think I would have bought it if I had realized I couldn't play it with some solo plot/story arc offline though.

And man, number one lamentation, not being able to play some of my old games!! I miss them. If it went to online validation, where the servers could shut down any day and that was the end, I'd probably never buy those either. It's fun to dig out old PCs, and old games, for a silly LAN party stint.

Scott Piissed

I bought CoH hastily, from what I heard here and there. Not even realizing it was ONLY an MMO. I assumed it was like Diablo, Half-life, Unreal any of the play single or play online. Well needless to say, I install the game, and then get prompted for a credit card. After spending $50.00, I then realized it's ONLY MMO and I have to subscribe, so fine I'll go return it. OH WAIT. Software, once opened in unreturnable. So now I either accept totally wasting $50.00, or pay about $150 per year if I want to play it long term. Hmmmm, if it smells like sh*t, looks like sh*t, it's probably sh*t. But hey, Caviet Emptor.


That's what you get for buying shit without researching it first. Try reading the box! BTW, there are some good ways to make money if you watch TV at like 3 AM.


Hi to all,

being just a gamer and little bit of a freelance journalist (mostly on art, movies and music though - it's still difficult you know...) I like to point out some stuff from my perspective. I totally agree with Nina and my behaviour in the past has been a lot like hers. Testing various games and then buying the ones I really liked. And speaking of consoles, I owned a Megadrive and a PS1 and in both cases had no pirated software at all and believe me it was frustrating as hell especially in my Sega days when I still relied on pocket money. I had a total of 20 games and over half of them were crap I only played once. Not nice but leading directly to my next point. Teens do not only copy so much because they don't have the social conscience - they also lack another important thing: money. Only when you start working you can start affording. But this problem will, and i strongly do believe this, go away with the ongoing growth of a gaming public. We have all grown up with games and are still into them, now that we can afford. This will continue during the next years. Let's just raise the standart. Get more people into this beautiful activity and we will witness it's full blossom. And when the main market is as big as it can get, there will hopefully be enough room for niches as well. I may be too optimistic here, but that's propably just my nature, at least when it comes to gaming. And be sure that i know that it's difficult if you are personally working in the industry. I just opened up a video-store/moviearchive with two friends and though it's tempting, i try to avoid ranting on film piracy and instead do an even better job. I guess customers realize and appreciate that and are willing to pay for it too. Same might be true for games.

Excuse the language I'm not a native speaker.
And btw it's damn interesting to follow your discussions, I should propably come by more often. Keep up the good work.

Jaime L.

First about game piracy I would like to say that while it's true that most gamers (including myself) will gladly spend money on a good game even if we already have a pirated copy (I will also not pay $50 on a game just because it says on the box the game is good) you have to have a certain control about the ammount of piracy and copies available. If it takes everyone 5 minutes to download a readily available high quality pirated copy of a game, i won't really feel like making the 10 minute drive to the store to dish out the money for the game (however i will recomend everyone i know to buy the game :-)). Now on to COH, I didn't start playing the game until early spring 05 when the game had been out for just short of a year (and it became availa ble for $20 instead of 50). I had always wanted to try it and figured that with the price drop it was a great opportunity. As i do with most things that i invest some time on I researched about it and found out that most players are very satisfied with the game. Also while I do believe that 15 bucks a month is a bit pricy the developers are doing a good job at keeping the game interesting with expansion packs and such (and the upcoming COV). While playing I've met ppl that have been playing for quite a few months and are still enjoying the game and discovering new things about it. For me get with a few friends i've made (the SG i'm part which i think is another innovative idea) and trying out different characters is fun. Also every time the game starts getting boring something new happens or i discover something else i can do. I don't believe i woulda had this fun if i had bought the game when it first came out but i do believe that COH is definetly getting better and is a game worth picking up and trying out.

Veteran gameman

I am also a fan of try before you buy. (if i were to believe the box every game is amazing and i must buy them all!) That said i do buy them if they hold more than just passing interest. I tried CoH some two years ago and i still have an active account (aside from when they released Issue 5 and i walked away for a month from being so pissed) I must say that while the game has provided some truly great moments (i was head of a truly great Super Group that played regularly and we all just clicked and had a blast evertime we played.. probably why i stayed so long was the great people I was lucky enough to meet) there are several things i hate about it. First in two years of playing plus the $35 (used) i paid initially, it has cost almost $400 to play this long! WAY TO MUCH!
Second i have no control over it. Even after paying for it for years i have no say whatsoever in it direction, changes, rules or policy. I cant begin to express how infuriating this is. Most games in the past i pay for it I OWN it. If i want to download a mod of trainer or expansion i can and if i dont like what changed i can go back. City of Heroes on the other hand the devs can make any changes they want anytime they want and i have NO say. Pure insanity! Issue 5 came out and ruined (death by nerf!!) all my favorite heroes and i could do nothing. countless posts PM's and emails changed nothing. So here i am paying too much for a game that some dumbass can ruin and i cant say F*** That put my game back the way it was. (yes i'm still pissed) but yet there is enough fun remaining to still make me want to play. So as someone who has the most experience with this game i can honestly say it is a love hate thing with this whole online thing. Love the regular updates and some truly fun people you can meet. HATE that i have to pay month after month and have no say in how MY (i paid for it so it should be mine) GAME is changed or modified. At one point i found a way to get around having "updates" (read nerfs) forced down my throat but they eventually patched it. Bastards. (sorry for the venting its somewhat cathartic though) This is the big problem i see today... nobody owns anything anymore. You rent the temporary right to use it is all. Then it changes and you are forced (by the agreement or Eula) to go along or throw your money away and leave pissed. Almost wish I could go back in time and shoot the bastard who ever thought this was a good idea in the first place... I know Earl, instead of letting them pay just once and own the product lets let them pay every month and we can keep the ownership and screw with them whenever we want hahaha... Blam blam. I think not dumbass! Mwhahaha cough cough... so i can dream cant i?


i know some peopel were complaining bout teenagers and pirating with just the concept of it being cheaper but not the concept of it illegal. Yes i am a teen but i do not pirate any games i just go out, work my ass off and then i just go to my local video store and hire stuff and the good 1s i like to play over (which is rare) i go to eb and buy it, yet all my friends just go pirate games and its so annoying coz 1 of my friends pays $6 a game and i say "thats illegal shouldnt do it, just go buy a game you cheap bum" he just laughs and says its cheaper yet its wrong and if you like the developer might as well support them but he doesnt care for them, also i reckon city of villians would be better than CoH but these posts were before it was made so no harm but yearly payment thats bs only 2 montly fees i would play is everquest2 and WoW but i was a bit of a fun of w3 so i got wow and its pretty fun but some hardcore guys go off at you if you stuff up in a raid but its hard coz if its your first raid and they are askin all this stuff from you, how are you meant to help? then they kick you from party so your first raid takes time to get to and to understand them


Thanks for the deep insights into COH saga.
But I have something different to say here that City Of Heroes is not just any other MMORPG but it's one of the best selling MMORPG of year 2007. So I think it should be the favorite of most of the MMORPG fans online.
I am one of them & I am making an Squidoo lens on City Of heroes MMORPG which is completely dedicated to COH fans & I try to make my point valid there that why it is one of the best & I tried to provide every available resource on the internet related to COH & COV. I appreciate if you give some feedback about it.

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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game