MMO Life Expectancy (or, City of Heroes: a Eulogy)

I have castigated NCSoft for cancelling City of Heroes, just as in the past I ripped them for the demise of Tabula Rasa, AutoAssault and Dungeon Runners. This is the post where I am more forgiving. A little.

Maybe City of Heroes was losing money. I might point to Paragon’s 80 or so employees as evidence that there was plenty of room to cut CoX short of cancellation, but we on the outside don’t know with 100% certainty that CoH wasn’t in the red. With another company, one might be inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.

NCSoft’s vaunted “Truly Free” thing doesn’t appear to be working very well. Aion and Lineage 2 both started bringing in substabtially less revenue under this plan, and now City of Heroes is getting cancelled, so it’s not a stretch to think it wasn’t a success there, either. Paragon’s 80 people must have represented a significant amount of capital tied down, in a market (North America) where NCSoft has historically had a very limp foothold. So from a business standpoint CoX’s cancellation, while disappointing, is not shocking and perhaps even understandable. If the numbers say that the company is better off closing the property down, the company is within its rights to do so.

On the other hand, for the players, an MMO is more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. Sometimes we invest a great deal of time and energy and love into them, over thousands of hours and many years. While I personally feel no emotional attachment to City of Heroes, I can empathize with those who do, whose beloved characters and memorable adventures and hard-fought victories will just vanish into the ether come the end of November.

I encourage those looking for a superhero MMO fix in the wake of City of Heroes’ demise to join me in Champions Online, which, if not quite as full-featured as CoX is, is comparable in many respects and is a decent game in its own right.

On the other hand, I repeat my warning to all MMO players: don’t get too attached. Because MMO closure is inevitable. Some day the game that I am attached to will shut down forever, and yours will too. Even if it’s World of Warcraft; some day, those servers will close down and the last remaining players will sadly sign off for the last time. It makes me think that maybe the corporate model isn’t the best or healthiest arrangement for MMOs to operate under, but that’s what we have right now. MMOs have an expiration date

But there are also reasons to think that date might be far ahead in the future, yet. SOE was keeping Vanguard afloat with a player base that literally numbered in the hundreds, and now it’s got something of a new lease on life. EverQuest Online Adventures hung around for nine years on a dead console. EQMac was saved by the benevolent hand of John Smedley after outcry from what could not possibly have been many people. Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot and Anarchy Online probably don’t have large numbers of people playing them, and EVE eked along for years with a very modest subscriber base. MMOs do have a lifespan, but they can also stick around for a long time, if the publisher believes in them.

To NCSoft, MMOs are just a business. Just numbers on a spreadsheet. That’s their prerogative. But we, the players who invest hundreds or thousands of hours and the developers with their arms elbow deep in code and design, know them to be something more than that. I will miss City of Heroes, not because I loved it to pieces as a game, but because I know people who did, and I know what it meant to the hobby as a whole, to the people who played it and the people who made it the great game that it was, on both sides of the screen.

4 responses to “MMO Life Expectancy (or, City of Heroes: a Eulogy)

  1. I think the message here is: NCSoft doesn’t believe in anyone or anything. They are aggressive to the point of enthusiasm about canceling the MMOGs under their umbrella. At this point, I firmly believe that the only reason that Guild Wars is still around is that GW2 has been under development and looking like a potential big hit. Frankly, in two years or so, after GW2 has settled into whatever market presence it’s going to have, I expect that NCSoft will, in fact, get around to trying to kill GW1.

  2. Look at Ryzom and Istaria. Both should have been dead long ago but the will was found somehow to keep them going. Ryzom actually died twice and came back, I believe.

    Then there’s the shady after-life of emulation. SoE may itself close one day, but if so Everquest will probably outlive it on private servers.

    Not getting too emotionally involved is great advice if hard to to follow, but being prepared is a good plan too. Screenshots, chat-logs and video can become as treasured as an old photograph album. Now I just need to get mine backed up…

  3. Yup, Champions Online is a great alternative to City Of Heroes. The combat is more active and fast-paced and the character creator or hero creator is better.

    I purchased COX many years ago and played a little bit when it went Free-To-Play. I would had played it longer but new computer had issues with it.

    I’m sad it’s shutting down though. 😦

  4. Having played CoH since Issue 2 I have to say the decision truly saddened me. Unlike games like Champions Online or DC Universe, CoH truly was about making ones own hero and choosing a path of play not needing to be dictated by leveling, obtaining gear, etc. The engineers behind the game did far more listening and implementing changes to the game because they got just as hooked on being heroes or villains.

    Other games may have finally derived more options for character creation, but CoH pioneered the way and with an interface better still than many of those found in much newer games.

    NCSoft chose the road of modern capitalism, kill what doesn’t spirally increase in profits. But then they never really pushed the advertising budget for the game in several years to try to get new players. The last major push was when HEROES was on TV in the first season in 2006!

    With a mostly western player base which understands being a hero far more than asian fps/pvp fanboys, CoH could have been upgraded or superseded if NCSOFT had any vision to tromp DC Universe and Champions O. But no, what was their choice? Revive and restructure what amounts to a 2nd cousin to WoW.

    I looked at the new NCSOFT game(it shall remain nameless to me), but you know it isn’t about being a super hero, it’s about being a warrior. The window dressing is neat, but the underlying theme isn’t something you can carry into the real world. Through City of Heroes people were able to live a dream they had as a kid, to actually do heroic things for their community. People have done that as an extension of the game. They created online personas of their real-life jobs, and then taken that the next step to being a super hero!

    There was much more good done by CoH for the psyches of people than being a Dwarf, Orc, Warlock, Subhuman, or any number of entities in so many other games out there in the MMO world. And even though during it’s inception it stepped on the toes of DC and Marvel players created far more varieties of heroes and back stories and by lines, and plot twists, than those companies could ever imagine.

    So many people wanted to get married in game the developers created a wedding package complete with wedding dresses, tuxes, and all types of effects. Lets see WOW, DC U, or Champions O do that!

    CoH will go down in the gaming world as the first truly inspired and inspiring game to it’s player base. More people may play WoW or Everquest or some other MMO, but none has ever come close to inspiring a player base like City of Heroes. The first and best MMORPG for Heroes who live in our world!