Persistent Growth

Persistence. I’m going to call it a feature. Three really excellent titles feature persistence this year:

  1. The World Ends With You, by Square Enix for the Nintendo DS
  2. City of Heroes, by NCSoft, for the PC (and MAC!)
  3. Fable 2, by Lionhead studios for the xbox 360

The World Ends With You had a great system of character growth. Your skills are attached to wearable pins. The more you use them, the more they level up. What was also interesting was the fact that they would earn experience when you weren’t playing, but only to a certain level cap.

In addition to being a great game, it was always a major draw to come back to it after a couple of days to check on the pins and swap them out so that other attacks could become more powerful. Even when I wasn’t playing, my characters were getting stronger. It felt like the game was going on, even when it was switched off.

In MMOs the world goes on without you regardless of whether or not you’re in it. But nothing directly happens to your character. There’s no growth–at least in most cases. (World of WarCraft toys with this idea, but it’s merely a case of accruing a period of time where you earn double “rested” XP. This is done, presumably so you can log back in and level up twice as quickly to make up for the time you’ve spent falling behind your friends who raid full time, in addition to their 40 hour a week day job.)

The conventional “grind” method of character growth is a prime example of what’s wrong with most MMOs. When you grind, you have a character repeat a skill based task until they have enough skill to repeat a more difficult task. For combat, you attack monsters that you defeat until you can defeat more difficult monsters.

In many ways, it is a reward system based on whether or not you can read a bottle of shampoo.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Counter to this model is EVE Online skill development. Skill development in EVE Online is related to the number of hours spent training, and this happens if your character is logged in or not. They’ve been doing this for years now and at the time it was revolutionary. Now it just seems five years ahead of the curve.

I have often been tempted to play EVE Online, if it wasn’t for the extremely punishing learning curve and the surreal mirroring of real world cons and political intrigue. (It is interesting to note that EVE Online has only one server, and there is no “role playing” distinction. If you’re playing EVE Online, you’re playing EVE Online and you’d better take it seriously.)

Similarly, but adjusting the play mechanics to fit the super hero concept, City of Heroes is adding “Day Jobs” where, depending on where you log out, your character earns experience (separate from leveling xp) towards promotions in a job, which then confers bonuses to your character.

I think these have great appeal for the casual player.

Fable 2 has integrated this into the gameplay–if you so choose to do it. In Fable 2, you can earn enough gold through various other jobs, such as blacksmithing, chopping wood, or serving drinks in a bar. With this gold, you can then purchase property, such as vendor stalls, shops, taverns, and even people’s homes. You then can set prices or rent out the property.

Then every five minutes or so, you earn money based on a town’s economy.

Even when you are not playing.

I have spent most of my gold on vendor stalls and a couple of affordable properties in Bowerstone. I spent a day away from Fable 2 and ended up with about three thousand gold when I started up the game again. It was a great “bonus” for returning to the game and allowed me to purchase a house in rural Oakfield, a small town outside of Bowerstone. Now I’m renting that out and looking forward to some revenue when I get back in to Fable 2.

I’ve read that there’s a “cap” to the amount of money you can earn, but that’s fine. I think it’s just more incentive to put the game in every couple of days, and that’s a great mechanic to get people to play the game.

Of course, the next time I play, I’m planning on purchasing everything and then orchestrating my own virtual economic downturn.

To make this even more clear, I am earning gold in Fable 2 and leveling up stats for my City of Heroes characters, right now.

And that is awesome.

Article written by playing City of Heroes consistently for four years, with one hero to the level cap, beating The World Ends With You, and playing Fable 2 up to the point where I started feeling uncomfortable because they haven’t patched it yet and I can’t back up my save file.  (Just about to recruit the third Hero of Legend.)

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