Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cancelled Before Prime Time: City of Heroes

Y'know how sometimes you come up with plans to write about certain topics?  Like, how there's not one but two Summer Glau series which I could explore in this column?  Oh yeah.  There's an NBC series that relates to the subject that's now pre-empting the aforementioned Summer Glauness, however.

Because this weekend, much to my surprise, NCSoft announced it was ending the long-running MMORPG "City of Heroes."

City of Heroes Memories

I have to admit, I didn't play CoH for that long.  Why?  Well, I was between MMO's at the time (My first love was Asheron's Call).  Some friends recommended it and we loved it, but we ultimately never stuck it out.  What was the #1 feature in such a game?  This:

--Gameplay Image Courtesy of Gamespy.

As you might notice from the above credit link, this character design system is so expansive that actual comic book characters have been "knocked off," and lawsuits have resulted from how incredibly detailed it is.  Aside from the character's design, a player chooses the powers their avatar wields.

My character, "Luitennant Dan," (I was unable to come up with good names, nor spell them right) was what the game called a Scrapper.  In World of Warcraft terms, he'd be a melee DPS character, dealing close-quarters damage.  He used a katana.  I decked him out in army gear but made him about four feet high.  I loosely based him on the character Lieutenant Dan from the movie "Forrest Gump."  For a travel power (acquired when travelling long distance becomes a factor in the gameplay), Dan had the power of super jumping - leaping across continents.

I was pretty young and stupid, and I didn't expect to play the game as much as I did.  I enjoyed, but failed to complete, some of the Task Forces that marked end-game play.  I thought about, but ultimately couldn't find the dedication to play the expansion, City of Villains.

The Fall of City of Heroes

Less than a year ago, City of Heroes went to a Free to Play model, following games like Tribes:  Ascend and League of Legends, hoping that expanding it's player base would lead to more income.  By many accounts, City of Heroes has still a fair number of players dedicated to the game.  Unfortunately, the company which owns City of Heroes, NCSoft, has made the decision to sunset (end) the game.

"Private" servers, usually used to allow people to play subscription-based games for free, seem poised to rise up and allow true City of Heroes fans to play well after the game's death.  There's also Champions Online, a similar game.  But why did the game get so anemic in the first place?

For starters, World of Warcraft.  WoW sucked up all of the MMORPG market for years, and while it's hold might arguably be weakening in the face of games like Guild Wars Two (An NCSoft project, ironically), WoW'll be around for a decade to come, in all liklihood.  With WoW in the way of the generic MMORPG fan, and with Champions Online (and DC Universe, but they're a franchise) cropping up to siphon off the hardcore comic crew, City of Heroes was limited in it's potential player base.

When subscription-based gaming lost it's stranglehold over the market, well, the end of steady income and the rise of server load being dedicated to non-paying players limited profitability.

Still, it makes me wonder why the owners of NCSoft didn't even attempt to do a server trimming, and to cut their number of servers to reduce expenses and repopulate player worlds.  That would have brought the game more life, probably - and more reasons for players to spend money, to add even more life to the much beloved game.

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