Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been - Saying Goodbye to City of Heroes

After playing City of Heroes for eight years, I have decided that it is time to hang up my cape and leave Paragon City behind. I have had some really wonderful times as a player, and leaving fills me with an ache and longing that I can't quite describe. 

City of Heroes was an impulse purchase I made in August 2004 right after I was laid off from my job. I needed to console myself with a little retail therapy, and like any geek girl, I wanted a new video game. I had been following CoH in the gaming mags (cause I was old school then), and figured that being jobless was the perfect time to get into a game that can be a time sink. 

I quickly fell in love with CoH, and in the many years I have been playing, I have never once regretted my decision to play it. I have had a lot of fun, met a lot of great people, even fell in love through it. I attended both HeroCons, have some cool CoH swag, and will miss it a great deal. 

But there are things going on in City of Heroes that make it impossible for me to continue justifying being a paying customer. 

City of Heroes has a misogyny problem
This hasn't always been the case, however. Until about a year ago, CoH was a very woman-friendly game, not only in terms of game content, but in the community. I met a lot of wonderful women while playing CoH (women with whom I still maintain friendships). We would often have all-woman teams, and most of us were respected as players, raid leaders, etc. And because CoH doesn't seem to attract the same kind of players as games like WoW, there was never a lot of sexist bullshit to deal with in chat. And the stories and signature characters had a good mix of different kinds of women. Sometimes the woman was the "strong" type who could take care of herself. Sometimes she was kidnapped. Sometimes she was the hero, and sometimes she was the villain. In short, the women in the stories where given the same roles as men, and it was a refreshing change of pace from other games that play out that tired woman-as-victim trope.  

But this all changed as the game started to feature the art of David Nakayama, who I have criticized before for his very male-gaze heavy art. Then came the first SSA "Who Will Die?" in which Paragon Studios made a big spectacle out of killing Statesman. They even had a funeral for him, complete with a eulogy by Positron. Did you know that Sister Psyche also died in that arc? And Alexis Cole, the original Ms. Liberty, the daughter of Statesman? Alexis was gunned down in cold blood. She was completely unarmed, and said absolutely nothing in her defense. Sister Psyche died "for the greater good," a move that humps that old chestnut about women being self-sacrificing ALL THE FUCKING TIME. And of course, no one cared. No funeral, no big cut scene. Just dead, gone, forgotten. In the case of Sister Psyche, it's rather a welcome relief from the treatment she had been receiving. In the case of Alexis Cole, it was very hard to watch. And it's a video game! About super heroes! They're not supposed to make you cringe that bad or make you wish you hadn't seen it or make you not want to continue the story. 

Then Dark Astoria was revamped, full of all kinds if eye rolling bullshit. There is absolutely NO positive female influence in that story arc. None. Unless you run it with a female character, but I digress. Every woman in the stories is either a hapless victim, a sacrificial lamb, or responsible for the whole fucking mess. Even when you get sent to help Lady Grey, who is hinted at being incredibly powerful, she still needs your help and the help of about three male NPCs. To take down one guy! Who I defeated by myself because the NPCs were too slow and I left them behind. 

Most recently there has been the sexualization of Penelope Yin, and the picture so infuriates me I'm not even going to share it. She's all tits and ass and impossible pose and it just pisses me off. 

There is no benefit to being a VIP member
Since the advent of City of Heroes: Freedom and the Paragon Market, there is no reason to pay to play this game. Being a VIP member gives me 400 Paragon Points a month. I figured this would cover the content of what they would put out monthly, thus keeping my subscription in line with what it had always been - all access. But no. Four hundred points won't even buy a power set. Every week, players are bombarded with new things to buy ranging from the frivolous to the much-anticipated. Before Freedom launched, there had been two paid expansions and a handful of cosmetic booster packs. They didn't come out often, and were reasonably priced for what they are. But now a power set cost 800 points, which is two months' worth of VIP time, or $30.00. Thirty dollars! For a power set! 

I am fed up with the nickle and dime show. And I have searched high and low, and have not found a single benefit to paying for a subscription. None. It gets me Incarnate content. That's it. My status as an 8 year veteran unlocks the rest that's usually gated for Premium members. Why am I paying for membership when I'm still expected to buy everything from the Paragon Market? 

Technical issues get ignored
Four years ago, people started complaining about the running problem in CoH. Enemies began to run, and run, and run, and put Forest Gump to shame. For no reason. A lot of times, all you had to do was aggro a spawn and it would run, not attack. Just run all the way out of rendering range with FULL HEALTH. I reported, numerous times, that this problem can be duplicated every single time with toggle debuffs. I was told it was working as intended. In the four years previous to this, enemies never ran. But we get told it's "working as intended." Since when? Is that an acknowledgement that a stealth change was put in that they will not address, but instead want us to believe was always there? 

Patches and issues are getting pushed to the live server with bugs. And not just any bugs, but bugs that beta testers will point out for weeks, and weeks, and weeks. Pages and pages of posts on the beta forums with no official response or acknowledgement. 

Paragon Studios used to pride itself on the quality of its product. Things were released when they were ready. Things weren't pushed out half-assed, and they actually used to listen and respond to players. Now they seem to want to just get things out, playability be damned. 

City of Heroes has terrible customer service
I have had a problem with my account FOR FOUR YEARS that I can't get resolved. At all. I don't want to discuss it here, because it's sensitive in nature, but suffice it to say, it should not still be an on-going problem. 

Getting in-game help is almost impossible these days, and most petitions are responded to with a form letter that only has nominal relevance to your problem. It's mind-boggling. 

And you know what really sucks? I still really like playing this game. I don't really want to stop (and I don't have to; my account is still active, it's just not VIP), but I can't support what I see as a really bad trend this game is taking. It is going in a direction, a bad direction, from which there is no return. The Freedom hybrid pay/free model was flawed from the start, and it just gets worse and worse. The story telling is getting really bad, and it just doesn't feel like the same, friendly, welcoming game that I used to love. 

And it's sad. City of Heroes was once a really great thing. It's a shame it had to end like this. 


  1. Great post.

    The move to "Free to Play" altered so many of the dynamics of the game, but I also agree that VIP status do not give the "subscriber" any benefit over those players on free accounts.
    If you save the 400 points month on month you can purchase a single power set, forgoing numerous other sets, plus it would have previously been covered in the monthly subscription.

    And yes Companies are all about the money at the end of the day, but screwing over loyal customers with an "improved" business model doesn't feel like a good way to go about things, especially when you can see more of us hanging up our Capes as we become frustrated and disillusioned with the whole deal.

    While it remains one of my favourite MMOs the F2P model isn't appealing enough to keep me subscribed. My wife is still paying & playing and I fire up the client once a week to run some missions but I not sure how long she or I shall hold out given the state of things.


    1. Thank you! I may log on from time to time to say hello to friends, but I won't be playing like I did before. And I'm certainly not going to pay.

  2. I'm not going to deny or rebut any of your points - they're your reasons, and you'll stand by them or not at your own comfort. I am, however, going to correct one bit of math.

    400 points costs $5 to purchase, so 800 points for a set is $10, not $30. The 400 points you get as a subscriber is stipend given as an additional part of your subscription - if it helps, think of it as paying $5 for the points and reducing your monthly payment for the game down to $10 (or, for the yearly subscribers, paying $5 for the points and the monthly game goes down to $5).

    It doesn't ultimately make a difference to you, of course, but it does make a difference in cost analysis.

    1. My statement was based on only using the points that come with your VIP account. Your correction only makes my point for me - VIP players will still have to buy points on top of their sub to get the things that used to be included in a subscription. And I just don't want to support that anymore.

  3. I have debated myself of going to F2P, but when i get ready too, COH comes out with something else to keep my interest, though i do agree with your above statement.

    1. I'm having fun with Water Blast, but not enough to keep playing.

  4. Thank you so much for your first point. I just recently came back to CoH, and one of the first things I did was run through that SSA, on a hero and a villain. And I've actually really been upset about Sister Psyche and Alexis Cole ever since. Honestly, the whole hero-side version kinda makes you feel like a big fuckup in some ways; oh look, couldn't save Miss Liberty! How much do you and Manticore suck?! WHOOPS, couldn't save Statesman either! What, you thought you could save Sister Psyche? LOLNOPE! And maybe I just don't have the stomach for grimdarkevil but being given the option to straight-up murder a helpless woman was pretty startling. I've thought about running through the arc again on other characters who could use the Incarnate rewards, but I really have no desire to go through that craptastic, depressing storyline possibly ever again.

    The near-total lack of acknowledgement of Sister Psyche's death outside the game (like the funeral, the eulogy, the rumblings I keep hearing about an in-game memorial) is something that's been bothering me too. I admit it, I actually liked her a lot (unlike a lot of people, apparently). She was always one of my favorite signature characters, and I'm one of those people who gets invested in the lore and story, so I was hoping she'd make it out of this. Okay...it's disappointing, and I agree that the way it was done was pretty awful, but I can live with characters dying. But afterwards I'd at least expect her to be given some of the same memorializing as Statesman! I wish they would do this for Miss Liberty too, but admittedly, most of the playerbase probably didn't even know she existed before SSA 1, so it's more of a long shot to expect that. But Sister Psyche was always one of the signature heroes featured on most of the marketing for this game, alongside Statesman, and she played a pretty big role in its story and history. The way they handled her death in comparison to his is really, really disappointing, and I hope it doesn't continue like that (if they're planning an in-game memorial for Statesman- a statue or something, for example).

    Wow, sorry for the rant there! This has been bugging me for awhile now and it was good to get it out. And ugh, don't even get me started on Penny Yin.

    1. Bah, I just realized I dropped a few words here;

      The near-total lack of acknowledgement of Sister Psyche's death outside the game (like the funeral, the eulogy, the rumblings I keep hearing about an in-game memorial for Statesman)

      I blame a very long day. Also, I wanted to say, thanks for this whole post, and I hope CoH does make some changes that would allow you to love it again.

    2. Thank you for mentioning the helpless feeling in that first SSA arc. I was complaining about that to my boyfriend just after the Alexis Cole murder mission, and he said "Well darlin', heroes don't always win." But by the end of the story, we were both frustrated because there wasn't really any winning to be done at all. I, too, will never run it again. I will also never run the Lt. Harris arc in Mercy Island, as it's essentially a rape apology arc. You murder a woman for him simply because she wouldn't date him. And you have NO option not to!

  5. I do agree with a few points you have made and disagree with a few things. I will not however rebut your views for they are your opinion and as such you are entitled to it as I am mine.

    I will however say that i find the market to be quite reasonable. I have played many free to play games and so many are far more outrageous, take for example Runes of Magic and even WoW, WoW you are forced to purchase about every update type expansion that comes out. I been playing CoH 5 years now and have enjoyed it immensely. I for one find much of the new material rather entertaining.

    My wife plays this game as well as I, mater of fact she got me started, she was the one that sent me this link to be honest. She and I are of the same mind set that if a game becomes no longer fun, do not play it. However, what sense does it make to engage in a tirade that to her and I sounds quite feminist in nature? You make it sound like no female persona in the game is strong or even substantial. One of teh strongest in the game in my mind as well as many is Ghost Widow. She does not seem like some victim or some poor woman kidnapped. Yes, the Penelope Kin character is done a bit tasteless but so is so many of the female characters that players make in the game.

    I for one enjoy the game and plan to remain awhile as is my right as it is your right to leave it and not like it. May your future endeavors in whatever games you may find be enjoyable for that is the main goal we all strive to find when partaking in video game play.

    1. I'm not sure why you're surprised to find feminism on a feminist blog, but I can assure you that what I posted above is not a tirade. I can show you what one of my tirades looks like, if you'd want, but they're not nearly this articulate and have a lot more colorful metaphors in them.

      Ghost Widow is most certainly a victim. Have you ever run her Patron Arc? She is forced to do what she does because her spirit is connected to Arachnos. She is not there by choice, and she very much wants to either rest in peace, or have her body back so she can have her own agency. Her Praetorian self is a feminist character, and someone that can be looked up to, but the Primal Earth Ghost Widow is essentially Recluse's slave.

  6. I stopped playing as well. Most of the reason I stopped wasn't because of the female stuff...Just the whole...The whole thing just...nickle and dimes..that's about it. They say you don't pay for power, that's a lie, you pay to be a VIP, which gives you access to the Incarnate System. That's paying for power.