City of Heroes has fallen.
On August 31st game publisher NCSoft announced that they were immediately suspending all development on City of Heroes and that the game servers would be shut down on November 31st.
While no reason has been given for this decision there are several clues. The first is that NCSoft posted a second quarter loss of $6 million. The loss was due to several factors, including rising labor and marketing costs, an acquisition and disappointing performance of their game Aion. There are also reports that there is not enough server space for their big new release Guild Wars 2. Again there is no direct connection to any of these that has been publicly stated, but I think it shows where this might have come from.
For those not aware City of Heroes was the first ever superhero MMO game. It’s a game I have a long history with. So let’s stroll down memory lane for a bit and look at what this game was and what it meant.
City of Heroes had a long development. It was announced over 10 years ago by a small company called Cryptic Studios. Originally the developers wanted to create a flexible power creation system along the lines of the table top superhero roleplaying game Champions. Unfortunately internal play testing showed that this method lead to people either creating min/maxed characters that were unstoppable, or characters build on a theme that were too underpowered to survive. Due to this fault the developers scrapped the character design system, went back to the drawing board and pushed back the release date two years.
This was pretty daring considering a lot of companies will rush a game to meet a launch date. Cryptic stated that it was better to delay launch then release a severely unbalanced game.
The result was a game that went from having an open ended creation system to one that had what was pretty standard. You selected a class just like you would in most fantasy games, Tanker, Scrapper, Healer, Blaster, and Controller. You also selected an origin but that just affected what types or upgrades you could use. Even with this restriction you could still basically build almost any character you could dream up.
What made City of Heroes stand out in character creation was the costume creation. It still stands as one of the most customizable systems for visually creating your character. People could spend hours just playing around with the different looks they could give their avatar. There would be in game player run costume contests because people loved showing off their designs. The down side is that really uncreative people would do their best to just recreate characters from comics, movies, or any other media. Since this could lead to legal issues it was against the rules. And even with that City of Heroes was sued by Marvel, but was able to win.
Game play was really standard MMO fair. Get missions which were either defeat X number of Y foes, run an errand, or go into and instanced mission zone and complete its specific win scenario. This led to an issue that affect many MMOs and still does. If you run more than one character you will repeat missions. This of course requires the MMO developers to create new content to keep its players engaged. City of Heroes actually did pretty well on this front, releasing regular updates that added new missions, zones, character classes and powers.
Another strong point was the graphics. Unless I have missed something it was the first MMO to be set in a modern urban setting. And on that front it succeeded, you had the feel of being in a real city.
Eventually they released a companion game City of Villains, which is you had both you could cross-play. Eventually they were both just effectively folded into one game.
Another big achievement for City of Heroes was when they released the Mission Architect system. It was a tool kit for players to make custom missions complete with the ability to make custom built villains. Then they could open it up for people to play their missions. It was an amazing introduction of player created content into an MMO.
I started playing the game as a beta tester and stayed with it until about 3 years ago. I had in that time leveled 4 characters to max level and I was never interested in the end game material. I found myself moving on to other games. But I let my subscription stay in place for a while. This was because even though I was not playing the game much anymore, I was still active on its discussion board.
The discussion board is probably one of the game’s biggest successes and the reason why the end of the game is being rallied against so hard. MMOs are supposed to be social by their very nature. In most of the ones I play I tend to be a solo player. City of Heroes was different. I would join pick up groups and get together with friends. And the discussion boards were and still are very active. The geek culture forum, called Comic and Hero/Villain Culture was my home base. From here I was first convinced to give the Dresden File novels a chance. It was reposts of video reviews that led me to discovering That Guy with the Glasses. It was where I would go to share geek news I had come across. I keep my subscription for almost a year after I had actively stopped playing just to keep visiting. But eventually I realized this was not realistic and dropped it, although I still periodically check the forum for news.
And that is the real tragedy of the end of City of Heroes, the end of a passionate geek community that has bonded over the years. There are of course efforts to in some way save the game, but looking at the corporate realties involved I will not be holding my breath.
So instead I will hold on to my memories of the game. I am one of those geeks who creates back story for his characters after all.
So I will remember the plight of my vampire Caliban as he fought to hold off the evil of his curse through heroic acts.
I will remember Swashbuckler and his quest to prove worthy of upholding his family legacy.
I will remember Technomancer and his struggle to overcome the miss use of his technology by the Freakshow gang.
And I will remember the friends I spent time with in the game.