“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.”
This famous description of Alexander the Great, attributed by many to poet John Milton, illustrates the emptiness that awaits any warrior at the end of their glorious campaign. A Gunslinger who reaches the clearing at the end of the path has walked their last steps. Should a Gunslinger reach the Tower, there is nothing left to do but begin their quest again from the beginning.
As gamers, we contemplate this question in terms of “replayability”. In essence, the more worlds a game enables us to conquer, the longer we are likely to play it. Amidst the warzones of Xbox Live, the Halo franchise has long been heralded as the best example of a replayable game. Even if a gamer is able to execute every potential achievement in a Legendary Campaign, it is impossible that they will ever claim a flag from every distinct gamertag.
That same Halo Franchise has long been the bedrock of our warring gaming community at Tied the Leader. Our very name is homage to the announcements heard in its online multiplayer applications. The TTL Gunslingers played Halo 2 tirelessly for over two years, with only minor distractions. A component of that replayability came from the notion that we were all waiting for Halo 3, and that holding our territory on Relic was keeping us prepared to finish the fight. Another component was the fact that the dominance Halo 2 was relatively unchallenged by other titles.
We live in exponential times. In the current marketplace, Halo is racing against many other dark horses. One needs only follow Major Nelson’s Activity Reports to track the entries in the running. Your Xbox is no longer a one-trick pony. The competition for your trigger time is fierce, and there are now many worlds to conquer.
So, how does a development house keep a gamer loyal? And, how does an Overlord like your friendly neighborhood gamerblogger keep a clan of gamers happy and engaged? There are times when the replayability of our favorite games lies in the culture that we create for ourselves. The concept of culture is used here to explain the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group… but more on that later.
To best understand how the questions of replayability and loyalty impact the Halo Nation, we need to step outside our own borders. We even need to journey back in time to visit a world at war. I am, of course, talking about Call of Duty. Please join me in my Way-Back Machine as I take you on a tour of how the rival puppetmasters at Activision are seducing away the expatriates on your Friends List.
Call of Duty features a numeric ranking and matchmaking system, similar to the one that brings us into violent communion in Halo. The major difference is that a gamer earns Experience Points in Call of Duty for every opponent that they down. The downside is that Personal Achievement is more a factor in “Leveling Up” than is the fate of the team. The upside is that clans can’t boost a gamer by carrying them to repeated wins.
A winning streak in COD is not worth much if a gamer is not reporting confirmed kills to the War Department. Trust me. I overcame this reality via much pain… Any idiot can march from Stalingrad to Berlin and still go home a Private.
The outcome of this ranking system is that any gamer can shoot their way through to the mountain top; including a gear-headed Warthog Pilot like me. Even a Tube-Catcher [that’s COD-speak for n00b] who scores only one kill per game can reach the end of the numeric scale, given enough time and effort. Along the way, milestones are celebrated with enough fanfare to send a chill of pride up even the most jaded spine. Challenges are completed. Weapons are acquired. Perks are assigned. Promotions are awarded.
There is the sense that every step in the adventure makes that adventure more complex, and more dangerous. And when a gamer reaches the Mountaintop? When they have fired everything from the M-1 to the Fallschirmjagergewehr-42? When they have played with perks that make them run faster or shoot more accurately? What then?
Commander’s are given the chance to “Prestige!” In so doing, they are required to throw all of their wonderful toys onto the rubbish heap and start anew as a Private First Class – issued nothing but a Tommy Gun, a Pistol, and draft papers still wet with ink. All they are given for their trouble is a tiny little icon next to their gamertag that says “I reached the top of the mountain and I descended to climb it again.”
You can “Prestige” ten times in Call of Duty. That amounts to ten worlds to conquer.
When a gamer reaches the mountaintop in Halo 3, they weep. Either that or they seek out new life and new civilizations to conquer. Among the Gunslingers, there is a cadre of vanguards that sweep through games like locusts. First to fight. First to reach 100% of all available gamer points. They play everything that hits the shelves of the game store – well almost everything. If they last more than a few weeks in a game, we set them up with a discussion board. If that board fills up with war stories that seem worth living, we all go out and buy the game. A game like Call of Duty is clever in its ability to hold their attention for longer than the average Skateboarding simulator, since it has ten big speedbumps between them and the “completion” for which they endeavor.
By stark contrast, there are Halo Loyalists in the Gunslinger Army. Their Mjolnir is fused to their very backs. The UNSC standard issue Battle Rifle is an extension of their hearts. They hail from the dried creek beds of Blood Gulch, and ever thrive in the rolling currents of Valhalla. For these faithful SPARTANS, their only hope for Prestige is a second gamertag.
Unwittingly, some of the most prestigious citizens of our fare Halo Nation end up being some of the most vilified figures in the pre-game lobby. Have we not heard the scorn hurled at the feet of Second Taggers? Have we not added to the vitriol that dogpiles on a forum when this subject is brought to trial?
“Go pick on someone at your own level!”
“Enjoy your time ranking up again, you
“I could win too, if I played on another tag!”
In essence, the desire of many to immigrate away from the Halo Nation may be a product as our own culture. What we have failed to realize in our limited exposure to the other warfronts on Xbox Live is that a Second-Tagger is a gamer who has engineered a way to remain in the game, by playing through it again and again under multiple identities. Their Prestige costs them an extra membership fee, making it more than just a sacrifice of time and effort.
Case Study: Los Jacklos is the first name in competitive gaming at Tied the Leader. He led expeditions through teenage wastelands like MLG and Gamebattles. When challengers come to MidWorld in search of our hides, Los is almost certainly behind the answer. Currently, he is on maneuvers against affiliated clans in the Good Game Network, via a private league. Here is his answer on the theory of Second-Tagging as a gesture of prestige…
TTL: How many distinct gamertags do you have, and what are their ranks?
LOS: I have three tags, TTL Los Jacklos, xxxLos, It’s the Jackle, all have 50’s.
TTL: What motivated you to pay for numerous identities?
LOS: Not everyone I play Halo with wants to get matched against 50’s in ranked games. So I created other tags to play with my lower ranked friends. You could say ‘why not just play social’, but let’s face it: social playlist players don’t often play with the same breakneck endeavor that ranked playlist challengers do. Often they quit, or just stop taking the game seriously. Lets not forget the guest factor or getting split! So I created other tags to play around with and sooner or later they get to 50.
TTL: What is your primary goal as a gamer?
LOS: My primary goal as a gamer is to play games. I think I have been doing that successfully since a young age. However, they have not entirely been electronic games. Joking aside, I assume you mean as a Halo player. My goal as a Halo player has been to recreate the magical moments of my first few games of Halo played with friends. I am thankfully able to do that almost every night!
TTL: Has the process of “leveling up” these tags stoked the replayability of Halo 3?
LOS: Yes, I suppose. If I was confined to one tag I wouldn’t play less Halo, but I would probably play with fewer players outside of my skill range.
TTL: Do you encounter scorn in Matchmaking from people who suspect that you are playing below your natural level?
LOS: I play on ‘Team and Party’ voice chat 100% of the time, so I don’t know for sure. I would assume I do, being that some XBL players are scornful people. I can tell you that people who are 50’s playing on second tags aren’t complaining about it (too busy complaining about LAG and BR spread to sweat the small stuff!!!).