It’s easy to name the best feature in City of Heroes: the character creator. With seemingly countless combinations of costumes, the creator provides for unending enjoyment. Combine that with the fact that players can change their existing costumes at any time (for a hefty fee) and can purchase new costume slots at levels 20, 30, and 40, and you’re looking at a game that is extremely customizable when it comes to a character’s physical look.
NCsoft, the current owner of the franchise, has obviously realized the superiority of their game’s character creator and the love players have for it. The NCsoft store offers a variety of booster packs that, for $10, give the player access to a handful of new costume items and, occasionally, a special power (usually something neat but not the sort of thing that would give a player an edge in combat). The booster packs are a pretty recent addition to the game, the first being released in September 2008. Players had the option of choosing a cyborg pack (provides various robotic costume pieces and special emotes like “power down” and “robot dance”), a wedding pack (self-explanatory? includes wedding costume pieces and “throw confetti” and similar emotes), and a pack that includes the Valkryie costume pieces that shipped with the Mac version of the game.
This week, a new booster pack was introduced with a magic theme. Detailed cloaks, witch outfits, and fancy coats provide visually interesting costume pieces and a new special power — read fortune — lets players give allies random temporary buffs or, if the tarot cards portend misfortune, debuffs. Another great part of the new booster pack is that players can use special emotes to animate their characters when changing costumes. Previously, players who switched costumes just suddenly looked different. Now players can spin around in a whirlwind and appear with their new costumes, change behind a puff of smoke, or use two other animated emotes to make costume changes that much more exciting.
What’s really great about these booster packs is that they show that CoX designers listen to their customers and provide them with the extended customization options that the CoX player base really enjoys. Some players might grumble about the $10 price tag, but it is a pretty negligible sum, in my opinion. Instead of eating out for lunch one day, I eat a sandwich from ingredients I already have on hand and – poof – $10 magically saved. Suffering through peanut butter and jelly is worth it, for me, when the result is that I am provided even more customization for my creative whims.
Apparently I am not the only CoX player who enjoys purchasing booster packs, either. Last night my server was on the fritz as huge numbers of players attempted to sign on to test the mission architect system while simultaneously editing their costumes to include the new costume options. The NCsoft website was flooded with players wanting to purchase the new booster pack; connection time-outs happened frequently and many players found their credit cards charged multiple times because of volume-induced site errors.
I really believe that more games should embrace the booster pack philosophy that CoX and other games foster. Imagine World of Warcraft with more non-combat pets or vanity clothing. Warhammer Online could offer rare dyes, special trophies or — gasp! — more customization options at character creation, such as new hairstyles, faces, and accessories. I also wouldn’t mind seeing WAR add some vanity clothing like many other games have, the kind of stuff you can wear around town but that doesn’t add to your stats in any way. If WAR or WoW offered cheaply purchased booster packs, I think it would be a big hit with players who enjoy the fluffier side of MMOs or the collector types who enjoy gathering all the unique items introduced.
There’s probably a lot to be said about the future of MMOs — subscriptions vs. microtransactions, the blending of the two, etc. — but that’s not really my shtick. It’ll suffice to say that I really love the idea of microtransactions (though I think $10 isn’t really considered “micro”) being combined with a subscription game, as it seems like they provide for a periodic revitalization of the game community. Aside from that grand sentiment, I love them because they are fun, offer players new customization options that supplement the lack of customization in most MMOs, and give players who purchase them something special that is unique but not game-breaking. CoX has regained my attention because of its player-friendly customization, and its booster packs are only serving to strengthen my allegiance to the game. WAR, WoW, and upcoming MMOs take note — Girl Unplugged thinks booster packs are something you should consider in your business model.