I was really impressed by how highly player input was valued at Paragon Studios' City of Heroes Player Summit last month. I've been to player summits for every major MMO out there and all of them have been primarily focused on the developers telling the players what's coming next--except for this one.
In Palo Alto, California, 100 players sat in a room with developers and were given the opportunity to pitch their ideas for new armor styles, a new power set, and a complete zone revamp. The developers and players then spent hours working together to pick their favorite options and flesh them out to be built into the game.
For each category, everyone in attendance was encouraged to write down their idea with a brief description. The developers then went through the whole stack and picked their 10-15 favorites and asked the player who wrote it down to come up to the mic and explain it and answer questions from the devs about it. From there, the list would be wittled down to a single choice that the group when then design together, with an open mic for players to come up and give input.
The players decided that they wanted a post-apocalyptic armor set in the game, and took turns walking up to the microphone to suggest specific costume pieces or overall looks that they thought should be incorporated. During the entire process, one of the dev team's artists was on stage with a tablet, drawing everything suggested and asking the player that suggested it for input or advice on tweaking it.
Of course, the dev team didn't take every idea exactly as it was suggested, but they were able to work with almost every idea tossed their way.
Some of the big words tossed out during this process were: Assymetrical, metal stitched into leather, bike chains, dead tires, mesh shirts, piercings, broadsword, chainsaw, baseball bats, and tattoos.
Below is the final drawing whipped up by the artist on the fly during the panel. This is currently guiding the developer's design of the in-game armor set, but, of course, the final version will likely incorporate a lot of these ideas in new ways and add some of the dev's other ideas as well.
The City of Heroes players in attendance must've been pining for Fallout's destroyed-world setting during the summit: they're follow-up selection was Radiation Armor as the next power set to be added to their game. There were a lot of really cool ideas suggested, though, including my two personal favorites: air and cyborg power arms.
Players pitched a lot of really gross ideas for the radiation-themed set (how many times can one character vomit green goo, people?), and almost all of them got fleshed out as if they'd be built into the power set, with designers up front guiding the discussion to make sure it had all the usual tools in its arsenal.
We met up with Powers Designer Phil “Synapse” Zeleski to see how the designs for the Radiation Power Set are coming along. Here's the list of powers as they stand now:
Design Notes: It makes sense that a character wrapped in irradiated metal should have a high amount of resistance to lethal, smashing and toxic damage.
Design Notes: The goal with this power is to give you what type of regeneration or recovery you need most at any given time. The scale of the bonuses change depending on your current health level: while health is high your regeneration bonus is very low, but your recovery bonus is very high. Conversely, the lower your health gets the greater the regeneration bonus, but the lower your recovery bonus.
Design Notes: Energy damage resistance should be high, while the other resistances are moderate.
Design Notes: This is the set's status shield. It will also grant a small amount of resistance against Psionic and Toxic damage.
Design Notes: Very useful when tanking large groups, this power grants you a small amount of HP for each nearby foe you hit. Affected foes have their regeneration rate significantly reduced for a short time.
Design Notes: This power reduces the damage of nearby foes and grants you a recharge bonus per nearby foe up to a maximum of 10 foes. Beta Decay will also taunt nearby foes.
Design Notes: This power will constantly apply a small amount of damage absorption every few seconds for its duration. Additionally, for the duration of the power you also gain a high amount of regeneration.
Design Notes: This power will deal a high amount of damage to nearby foes. You can also use this power to revive yourself if you have been defeated. Ground Zero has a very long recharge time.
Designer's Notes: The big one: when activated, nearby foes will have their chance to hit significantly reduced for a short time and you will gain a good amount of resistance to all damage types, a large recovery bonus and a sizeable damage bonus for a short time. When this power wears off you'll lose a minor amount of HP and Endurance.
The zone revamp panel was the most interesting to me because the developers responded to every suggestion, explaining why or why not they would want to incorporate that into an MMO's zone. It gave a lot of good insight into the process, and gave players plenty of opportunity to vent about areas of the game they really didn't like--while encouraging them to also think about reasonable solutions that might fix their issues with it.
We met up with Lead Developer Matt “Positron” Miller to find out what he took away from the panel, and what the team plans to do with the player feedback they recieved there. His response:
"We are actually in the process of doing revamps to a couple zones, using the same guidelines we gave the players, and we got some great insights into what our players' expectations are. I think it's fair to say that we have, at one time or another, considered revamps for many of the zones in the game. The limiting factors come down to prioritization of resources. What does improving Zone A get us over Zone B? When we came up with the idea for a panel on revamping zones we knew that the players would likely have many of the same ideas and inspirations that we did.
"One thing I think threw players for a loop was the question 'Would you change the level range?' Almost eveyone said no, but as we dug deeper during the panel we found that the players were pretty flexible with this answer, which is a relief to us. Being handcuffed to a specific level range (especially one where there is an abundance of content already) isn't always ideal. It does ramp up the 'who moved my cheese' factor to a zone revamp, which we are always aware of, but in the end we can adjust the levels of zones to create a better flow and more interesting things to do across all levels.
As for which zone is getting looked at because of that panel, there are several, but that list definitely includes King's Row. As I mentioned, at least one that was talked about [at the convention] was already on the schedule (and being worked on as we speak), but there are some great ideas that we want to delve into further for Issues 26 and beyond."