NCSoft – Killing Them Softly

I decided to take some time off from the new WWE 13 game to relax and read a bit. I hadn’t caught up on the news in a couple of days and for someone like me that is rare. Last I checked Megastorm Sandy was wreaking havoc on the East coast, Democrats and Republicans were still going at each others throats “for the good of the nation,” and the Kardashians hadn’t been burnt at a stake for Halloween.

Good for them.

Randomly surfing the web I came across an article that, as an MMO fanatic, made my stomach turn a bit. I was reminded that City of Heroes, the very first super hero persistent world and one of the longest running big time MMO’s, was very much near its final days. I believe we’re around one month away from City of X closing its doors and leaving many superheroes with nowhere else to go, save for two other similar yet radically different titles.

How depressing.

Not pictured - Ultima Online 2 and Stargate

City of Heroes is one of those games that you just get nostalgic for. I remember reading all about the game back before its release, when I was still very much attached to Star Wars Galaxies. At this point in time I was taking one of many breaks from Ultima Online and just kind of looking for the next big thing to play. I had been in Sosaria for so long I was beginning to tire of it, but I had a hard time finding a new world to belong to. Nothing will ever take the place of the first game that brought you into this fraternity of ours, but I was determined to fill that MMO void in my soul. That is a problem I still have today, and I know a lot of you share that same empty feeling.

I can’t remember if we had given up on ICQ by this point and moved on to MSN Messenger, but either way my best friend and I stayed up into the wee morning discussing the merit of a superhero online game. I was a die hard sword and sorcery MMO fan, and I was afraid a superhero game would be more confined and lack the imagination of an Ultima Online, Everquest, or Final Fantasy XI. At the same time, I was and still am a huge comic nerd, so the thought of having my own superhero brought the kid out of me. It was an exciting prospect, albeit a slightly worrisome one. I told him I had decided to give it a try when it came out, and being just as skeptical as I was he told me to let him know how it went.

And boy howdy did it go. I still get goose bumps thinking about logging in for the first time and being introduced to the character creation, a system which ruined customization for me in all other online games for life. The options felt limitless, the powers felt mighty, and the city was so big and open that I would sometimes just hover in awe at the majestic sight of it all. It also had one of my favorite things to do in a game – get an enemy on a rooftop, hit them with an energy push, and watch them go sailing alllllllll the way down to Kaputsville. Good times.

The game wasn’t without its issues, as few games ever are. The graphics felt dated even at the time of release, especially the faces for the characters. The game was fun, but the combat was kind of boring, especially when you first started off with your epic power of a single punch. I don’t remember Batman ever punching a henchman and then waiting a few seconds before he could do it again. The missions felt interesting at first, but once you’ve run through that same warehouse or sewer a few dozen times you just kind of want to hang up your tights and get a nice job down at the local Best Buy.

Even with those problems, even with its age, I can’t understand for the life of me how a game like City of Heroes closes. It was an original, it has its player base, and more importantly it has all the potential in the world. It may not be in the prime of its existence, but it damn sure isn’t ready to be put down like a sick old dog.

So let me put this plainly – NCSoft, what the hell is your problem?

I let it go when they killed off Auto Assault. I never played the game except for maybe a few moments because I got a free trial code somewhere. It didn’t appeal to me, so I told the guys who did like it how sorry I was for their loss and moved on without losing a wink of sleep. To me it seemed shallow and limited, but that is the nice thing about taste – everyone has their own. Just because I didn’t care for it didn’t mean it was a useless game, and the people who did play it were probably plenty pissed off when those doors closed for the final time. This was before the F2P model became a viable option thanks to examples like D&D and LotR, so it was disheartening but it was vaguely understandable.

Richard Garriott - MIA since the warThen came Tabula Rasa. Here you had a sci fi game in a genre that severely needed diversity, designed by legendary game maker Richard Garriott, featuring a dynamic war and interesting combat system. It felt like a recipe for success, but within two years would you believe that NCSoft closed down this one too? Again, there was no game saving patches, reenlistment campaigns, or that fabled F2P model that can save an IP from permadeath. NCSoft ended the war with the push of a button, and the nukes rained from the sky and destroyed everything in that universe. They even dishonorably discharged General British, but he got a measure of revenge by suing them and making off with a small fortune. He won that battle, but the war to save Arieki and Foreas was lost forever.

And now we have the once mighty City of Heroes strapped down to a steel table while the villainous NCSoft prepares the death laser to cut it in half. And my question remains – why? What is the point of killing off such an important part of this genres history?

Despite the claims of a few, I’m not a fool, and I’m not blind to the way business works. Maybe City of Heroes isn’t pulling in the bacon like it once was, but are you seriously trying to convince me that it’s less profitable than the majority of F2P games that are at best boring and unimaginative and at worst complete and utter garbage? I refuse to believe that there isn’t a plan that can work for City of Heroes, and I frankly believe that NCSoft is either too lazy, too scared, or too incompetent to find that plan. This isn’t a two year flash in the pan game like AA or TR, not to mention other corpses in NCSoft’s backyard like Exteel and Dungeon Runners. This is City-of-Freaking-Heroes we’re talking about, the very first game that let me design my character however the hell I wanted and fight for truth, liberty, and justice along with my best friends.

You’re telling me there is no room in this world for that game?

I play DC Universe Online and I think the combat is way better than in City’s. I played Champions Online for a very long time and I thought their customization edged out City’s. But you know what? Either of those games could close right now and I wouldn’t shed a tear. They’re both good in their own right, but neither of them can compare to the history and progress that City of Heroes made within this industry. And NCSoft, this killer of online worlds, is telling us there is nothing else to do for one of their premier titles. They tried a form of free to play and apparently that just didn’t work out the way they wanted it to.

Rest in peace, Statesman. (Artwork by Steve Goad)Well if the game is going to die anyway I say try something new. Make the combat more exciting. Renovate the graphics. Figure out a new payment model. There are so many options and they chose to just toss this one aside and take a hit on one of the most beloved and influential MMORPG’s that has ever seen the light of day. And whether they want to admit it or not, I know that it can still be fun, relevant, and profitable if given the chance.

But they’re not giving it that chance. COH dies a painful death, while games like Mortal Online is somehow still utilizing a P2P model and Eastern MMORPG #563 releases next month with an adorable pet system and Gangnam dance offs. We’ll be bombarded with dozens of new titles every couple of months that in no way, shape, or form have the spirit or significance of the one we’re watching count down the days until it’s ultimate demise.

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