The Decline of Farmerman

It’s old news to anyone who follows the video game industry, but last week Positron, lead designer for City of Heroes, informed players that Mission Architect abuse (i.e. farming missions) will no longer be tolerated.  He followed up two days later with a second post on the official forums, this time to clarify his previous post with a Q&A about the topic.  I predicted — in a previous post in which I discussed farming missions — that City of Heroes developers would eventually do something to prevent players from participating in farm missions.  Some bloggers wondered if the CoX devs, when designing mission architect, already predicted players would create massive farming missions and didn’t care.  Evidently that wasn’t the case.

In my post, I concluded that farming missions were a tolerable addition to the game.  I reasoned that I didn’t have to participate in them if I didn’t want to, but that I had the option to do so if I wanted to quickly level an archetype I had never tried before.  Another thing I didn’t mention in my post but that works as evidence to support the implementation of farming missions is that farming already existed in game prior to mission architect.  Players were already abusing the system, as Boyfriend experienced firsthand when an elite level 50 character power-leveled him and four others through a mission.

My first claim about farming was wrong, though.  I felt like I didn’t have to participate in farming missions if I didn’t want to, but ultimately that feeling turned out to be false.  For the past two weeks, very little has gone on in the CoX world other than farming missions.  Characters around my own level were more interested in being auto-sidekicked to level 42 (a feature that isn’t unique to the farming missions: anyone can join because you all magically become level 42 or 46 or 50 or whatever) and powering through farm content than they were in doing level-appropriate content.  There was no interest in doing radio missions, a mainstay of CoX leveling prior to mission architect’s launch, and there was a similar lack of interest in doing non-farming mission architect content.  It’s possible I could have scrounged a group together to do something other than farming missions, but it would have taken ten times longer than the time it takes to form an MA farm group.

I’m not whining about farming missions.  Far from it.  I had a fun time participating in them, and loved getting several characters into the 20-30 level range.  I felt comfortable playing a blaster for the first time, because I no longer had to worry about being squishy.  Healing is superfluous in MA farms, for the most part.  Plus, if I happened to die, I only had to wait a few moments before I leveled again and was automatically resurrected.

Now that participation in MA farming missions is a bannable offense (or at least something strongly advised against), I’m at a loss.  Just as I had feared, farming missions partially ruined the game for me.  I worried that the insane progression speed would take me through content too quickly, and deprive me of the enjoyment of leveling.  For the most part, those fears have come true.  My highest character is still my defender, who only gained four levels through farm missions, but I have a number of level 20-30 characters who have never left Atlas Park (or Mercy Island).  I have three villain characters who are around level 20, and I have no idea what to do with them now that farming missions aren’t available.  What zone do I go to?  What content is available for villains?  Boyfriend says he’s heard villain bank missions are incredibly fun, but I haven’t the slightest clue where to obtain one.

We logged in about three days ago wanting to play one of our villain duos, but it was impossible to find other players interested in doing non-farming content.  We chalked it up to it being a weeknight and the fact that we were on villain side, which I assume is somewhat less populated than hero side.  It was annoying nonetheless.  The ease of farming missions has spoiled us, as I’m sure it has spoiled many players.  It wasn’t just that these missions provided a quick leveling experience and an insane amount of tickets; they also were easy to recruit for, had the awesome auto-sidekick feature that doesn’t seem as popular in other user-created missions, and could be completed without a rigidly balanced group.  Since architect missions can be accessed from any zone, Atlas Park became a huge meeting place for players again, which meant that getting a group together was ridiculously simple.

There was certainly a dark side to farming missions.  The obvious one that I’ve mentioned before is that it takes players away from the traditional game content and from more interesting user-created content.  Another problem I saw was that farming missions made players lazy and greedy.  CoX has a mission difficulty system — any user can change his difficulty setting (on a 1-5 scale) to make the missions he takes more difficult and rewarding.  If the leader of a farming mission neglected to set his difficulty to level 5, players whined endlessly about it.  As the farming missions were rapidly being banned, they became more difficult to find.  Strange variations popped up, some that contained less enemy monsters than the original version.  Again, I encountered many players who ceaselessly complained about the “lack” of enemy monsters (15 monsters to a pull isn’t enough?).  Farming missions were also completely devoid of roleplaying.  I play on Virtue, the unofficial RP server for CoX, and absolutely no one stayed in character during the farm missions.  Mostly people debated about whether World of Warcraft sucks and if they’d be playing Champions Online.

I’m not really broken up about CoX developers discouraging the farming missions.  Sure, I’ll miss some of the benefits I highlighted, but ultimately I think the game is better off without them.  I powerleveled my characters easily, but the experience was tedious for the most part.  There was little fun involved in killing the same kind of monster over and over again, on the exact same map.  The only fun I could really derive from the experience came from the number of levels I gained in each run, or how pretty my powers looked (X-ray beam looks awesome, as you might imagine).  Playing a farming mission was a lot like playing a game in god mode.  It’s thrilling for the first hour, but eventually you get bored and neither the vanilla version of the game nor the god mode version is much fun anymore.  We’re taking a week or so off from CoX in the hope that the lingering effects of the farming mission craze will have worn off by then.  I’m hoping that we will enjoy the game as much as we used to when we return, but I’m afraid it may be disappointing.  If that’s the case, well, the Champions Online previews that have been cropping up are starting to intrigue us, and there’s always Free Realms.

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7 Responses to The Decline of Farmerman

  1. […] of Girl, Unplugged, writes at length about the completely predictable over-reaction by Paragon Studios to their Architect missions being used for farming purposes. Jennifer notes that […]

  2. skarbd says:

    For the CoH devs to moan/throw a strop about farming missions, yet not anticipate that they would be created by users, is a little, to put politely silly.

    Player sees new content, works how how quickly they can exploit it. It’s a slightly sweeping generalisation, but it’s not far from the truth.

    They should have coded for it, from the start, instead of looking foolish now. I do worry about developers who seem to have a lot of experience, yet seem to be appalling judges of character. I include Mythic in there as well.

  3. sente says:

    So are the developers at fault for not thinking the worst of their playerbase? I am quite certain they expected some level of abuse and they did perform a few modifications in beta before release.

    Perhaps a bit naive of them that they did not set anyone with a mindset to abuse the system, but I guess they did not expect the extreme outcome that they got.

    Farming per se is nothing new in CoX or other MMOs, there are always certain people that will try to optmise the xp or reward gain – before Mission Architect is was just other ways which were the optimum.

    The main problem here was not farming as such, but that the risk/time/reward ratio was extremely different from normal play.

    It may be different on different servers, but I did not find it particularly difficult to find teams to play non-farming missions during this time.

    I am glad they did something about it, but it would have been good if it had been done a little bit sooner. It would have had a substial risk of destroying the game if they had let it go on for much longer.

  4. Ysharros says:

    I’m sure the “bending” of the MA system was anticipated, though apparently not its extent. It makes me wonder, yet again, if part of the reason we see these things creep through into live environments (and then have the corresponding “how did they not see this coming?!” reactions) because testing populations just aren’t big and varied enough to provide sufficient feedback.

    I’ve spent a lot of time on Test servers, partly because I enjoy the cooperative, small-scale atmosphere those servers generally have. The downside of small-scale is that a lot of stuff just won’t get tested because there aren’t enough players to do so. Devs generally try to give Test populations some sort of idea of what they’d like tested, but if you don’t think something is going to be a problem it’s easy to forget to mention it. If someone had said “hey, guys, see if you can create stupidly easy and overly rewarding missions that can be done over and over again,” there wouldn’t be a problem. Hindsight and 20/20, I guess. 😐

  5. […] in the meantime, we’ve been searching for another game to play.  I mentioned in a previous post that my farming experience in City of Heroes left me soured on the game, likening it to the boredom […]

  6. Keep on topic folks!

  7. Alysa says:

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    of the best websites on the web. I’m going to recommend this website!

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