D0209 T0005 Y2009First Person Plural

“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!!!).

Posted by XerxdeeJ

Comment 7

  1. #LINK D0209 T1000
    L0coM0tive wrote...

    This is a very interesting take on the Second-Tagger issue. You hit it dead on, Prestiging is the COD equivalent of a second tag in Halo.

    It is interesting to me that despite this parallel, I still feel like second tagging is less sportsman-like than prestiging, because in the latter, the game developers programmed an avenue to start new. In Halo, you have to go outside its programming to start over.

    Either way, I’ve never really had an issue with second taggers, because 1) I play with second taggers and 2) I play with Gunslingers.

  2. #LINK D0209 T1019
    BerserkerBarage wrote...

    The problem with comparing COD and Halo is that Halo has a Ranking system and an Experience system, and COD only has an Experience system. COD makes no effort to match good matches. When I was playing WaW my very first match was against a Prestige 2.

    The Second Accounters in Halo 3 that are the problem are the people who are looking to exploit the Trueskill system (much like Second Accounters did with the ELO system). They are looking to beat up on lower ranked players. They are looking to pad their stats like that makes a difference. They knowingly fight a weaker enemy and then mock them when they win; like it was ever a fair fight.

    What Los is doing isn’t the same thing. Or at least not how I see it. I should know because I have 6 XBL tags that I’ve used at various stages in Halo 3. I have tags that range from a Master Sargent up to a General Grade 1. Of those separate GTs the one I liked the least was my Gen G. 1 tag. Because I used it to exploit the Trueskill system by playing with a new Sigma value. When I hit my 50, I didn’t feel accomplished or happy. I felt saddened by the fact that I wasted so much time and effort to become a rank in a video game I didn’t feel I deserved. Since then, the rest of my GTs have served as a way to play with my lower ranked friends. I cannot play Social matches on my regular GT because Social has an invisible Trueskill that matches them on my level still, just like Ranked would have done.

    I personally believe that Bungie should have made their Experience system a longer road to travel. A Playlist General shouldn’t be 500 EXP. They had the ability to make it a much longer process but didn’t. I feel that was a mistake. A longer road to travel in the H3 EXP system would mirror the appeal of the COD system.

    COD has the benefit of having no real ranking system. It’s a ‘casual’ game in that respect because you cannot lose rank. I could have made it to a Prestige 10 with only using a pistol and duct tape. It just would have taken awhile. Bungie doesn’t like that system, and quite honestly neither do I.

    What keeps me coming back to a game? The people I play with. We could be playing Uno for all I care but if I’m having fun and everyone else is as well, I’ll be back on maybe the next night.


  3. #LINK D0209 T1115
    Cozmo23 wrote...

    Good article Deej. I have never really though of it as being “cheap” to have a second tag. I can play against a player and usually tell if they are playing on an alt, but there are a lot reasons to do so, so im not going to get mad or anything. I kind of wish I could afford a second tag because

    I know where LOS is coming from. When my friends who are 30s want to play ranked slayer im bringing in 46 -49s and then they arent having fun because they are overwhelmed, and im not having any fun because Im pressured to live up to my rank.

    In COD if you have a pulse you can eventually go through all the prest. Just try to get it done before the world ends in 2012. I personlly see no advantage in it. They added the perk of extra custom slots in WAW but I can change the 5 I have for what I need. I guess thats directed towards a different gamer.

  4. #LINK D0209 T1122
    TTL OboeCrazy wrote...

    You speak of WaW and Halo as if they are two sides of a war. As if Halo loyalists can see nothing but the BR being good, and WaW see their game as the next logical step. Second tags and Prestige are different for many reasons, neither good nor better than the other. Halo asks us to play to our skill, and to gain the next mountaintop we must better ourselves and our play. Call of Duty asks us to be faithful and persistant, to gain the next mountaintop we must keep climbing.

    But the overall theme of your article is really not about second tags or ranking systems or climbing mountains. It’s about replayability. The draw of a game comes from the fun a gamer derive from it. If it is simply a drive to win, to climb the mountain and plant the flag at the top to say “I did this!” then no game, fanciful or historical, will hold the attention long.

    But for most there is something about the game itself that draws us. There is a quality of play, a fun factor, an intangible reason we say “This game is fun and I like playing it!” that is different for everyone. For most there is no wrong answer when asked what their favorite game is to play. If I find a game fun and enjoy my time with it I will return to it over and over again until I no longer find it fun.

    Some enjoy Halo more than Call of Duty. Some enjoy Call of Duty more than Halo. There are even a few of us who like other games…Gears of War, Rock Band, Fallout 3. In the end we play these games to have fun. My only regret when Gunslingers are playing a game I do not find fun is that I do not get the chance to play with them as much. But I hope they are having fun.

    And I’ll just keep replaying games I find fun too.

  5. #LINK D0209 T1126
    FaithKeeper wrote...

    Awesome read!

    I’ve never felt like reaching level 50 in Halo would be like reaching Mt. Everest and then leave me desperate for another challenge. Once I hit my 50 in slayer, I’ll start playing more Objective or Squad Battle. On the same token however, I look forward to when I can Prestige in COD. There’s something exciting about starting off from scratch again, but you also get to start off having unlocked a new class and getting a fancy emblem for your new Prestiged ranks.

    I can understand that for the gamer that has a goal to hit level 50, it would leave them empty once they hit it and there’s nothing left. I wonder if Bungie will do something in the future to create a Prestige-like system.

    Great interview Los! I agree that it’d be frustrating to not game with friends that aren’t in the same levels as you. Lord knows there’s already too long of a wait with just a 10 level discrepency in gametypes like Squad Battle and Team Snipers.

    COD and Halo have been back and forth in the top online games ever since COD 4 and Halo 3 hit the gaming nation. I enjoyed how this blog opened up and addressed this can o’ worms. They both have their faithful followers and their pros and cons, it’s just up to the gamer which road they’ll travel. The good news is, the traveller can change their path at any time and swap their Bouncing Betties for a Plasma Grenade on a whim.

    sidenote- Awesome Dark Tower screenshot Jayman!

    And thanks for your special reference to me in this blog! I know who crossed your mind as you etched “Tube-Catcher” on here :-D

  6. #LINK D0209 T1834
    Narfridden wrote...

    I completely agree with FaithKeeper. I always tell my friends online as soon as I reach max prestige and max level I will return to Halo because at that point the thrill of leveling in COD is gone, but until then I’ll be tubin’!!

  7. #LINK D0214 T0955
    Husker wrote...

    There is no scorn in the game lobby like that which is directed at those of us with the dreaded gold bars. I care not a jot. I play social, or ranked, big team for fun. And it is fun.
    I’ve been seduced away by Battlefield:Bad Company but I’ll be back. Oboe’s excellent montages remind me of what I’m missing.

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Gunslinger Highlights, VOL 6The Sands of Myth