City of Heroes and the camping trip

cohRecently I was asking EverQuest players to share some of their memories of the early game and was regaled with several tales of how most of their gameplay involved camping. As EQ vets will be quick to tell you, this wasn’t the mosquito-and-hot dog type of camping, but rather the “plant your butt in one spot while a puller ran out to grab a pack (or a single mob) and bring it back so that you could all collectively beat it up” type of camping.

As I was reading these, I was thinking how much that sounded like the early days of my time in City of Heroes. Rushing through an instance as a group was a sure way to quickly wipe and incur the dreaded XP debt, so instead we’d hang back in a safe room while a trusted tank would zip ahead, round up a bunch of mobs by insulting their mothers, and then lead them back.

So a lot of my time was spent twiddling my thumbs in an otherwise-empty room, breaking out the boombox emote, and anxiously awaiting the time where I could unleash my powers. Sometimes the waiting would be too much, I’d get too impatient, and then I’d commit that cardinal sin of going all alpha strike on the bad guys, getting aggro, and dying. I think everyone couldn’t wait to bust out their powers when the mobs finally arrived.

Maybe that’s not the same kind of camping, but it had that feel to it for me.

It could be cool at times, but often it was visually chaotic. The tank would stack the mobs in a corner, and their and our attacks would all be concentrated in the same place. It would be a bazillion spell effects going off at the time time, creating a visual and audio assault that was pretty much impossible to follow. Most of my attention was focused on the HUD overlay, playing energy management and tabbing between bad guys. I could do it for a while, but after an hour or so I would log out, exhausted from all of the shiny lights and shrieking noises.

There’s stuff I miss about City of Heroes, but also stuff I really do not, and I think that’s to be said about a lot of canceled MMOs.

I do miss the sheer anticipation of even levels, when I’d be treated to a single power point that I could spend on anything I wanted (as long as the power slot was unlocked and I was level-appropriate). Man, was there ever an MMO where a single new skill was such a big treat as it was in City of Heroes? It pained me when I had to “waste” six levels on the two throwaway skills and that one stamina power, because even though it was necessary and pretty much standard, that was a long stretch of no fun new toys.

I think that when I close my eyes at night, sometimes I can still clearly see Generic Confusing Office Layout #1207, Generic Ugly Cave System #811, and Generic Warehouse That Does Not Meet OSHA STandards #45. It’ll never truly be gone as long as we can be partially traumatized by the past.

Save City of Heroes campaign labors on

It’s been about a month since the announcement of City of Heroes’ closure, and the movement to save the game has reached a critical juncture.  It’s hard to maintain momentum for big movements like this over a long period of time, because we’re oh-so-easily distracted and there are all of these games and expansions coming out.  Plus, it’s critical because after a month of protests and other general activist activities, we haven’t heard peep one from NCsoft that the company is wavering in its decision.  Finally, we know at least some of the Paragon devs have left to join Cryptic and Star Trek Online, so even if NCsoft relented today, the studio and game wouldn’t be in the same shape it was a month ago.

One of the leaders of the movement has admitted partial defeat, saying that he can’t see a future where NCsoft agrees to restore the game/studio or at least keep it alive on maintenance mode.  Instead of hoping for some sort of decision reversal, he’s hoping that the company will be open to selling CoH off.  SOE?  GamersFirst?  Perfect World Entertainment?  gPotato?  Nexon?  All of those leap to mind when it comes to multiple MMOs and companies willing to take on orphaned titles.  I won’t pretend to have any deep insight into this, however.  Nexon is in bed with NCsoft, so whether that’s an impossibility or a slight in-house reshuffling is unknown to me.

There’s always the even slighter possibility that City of Heroes gets shuttered in November and then picked up at a later date to be restarted, a la APB.

I’m wondering how much any of this movement to save City of Heroes has surprised or impacted NCsoft.  It’s hard to put a human face to a corporation, especially an overseas one that coldly and dispassionately pressed the cancel button on this title.  It’s certainly not been a PR boon to them, and perhaps they thought that any disgruntlement would just blow over quickly instead of sparking into a full-fledged rally the way it has.  Maybe NCsoft anticipated all this and more, but made the decision and steeled itself against the backlash.  Really, there’s little pressure other than giving the company bad publicity that players can do.  NCsoft already wasn’t mourning the financial loss or loyalty loss of these customers, so the leverage is all on their side.

Eliot from Massively thinks that the movement needs to go further and pull out the harsh language. “There’s a certain revolutionary spirit necessary for an effective protest,” he writes.  “I’m not entirely certain that we’ve got that.”

But perhaps don’t count City of Heroes’ capes out just yet.  The rally was a huge success and there are two more months left.  The players posted this really well-done (and I’m not just saying that because I’m in it) video recently about the movement, and I’m impressed all over the place with it:

Can City of Heroes be saved?

It’s a phenomenon as predictable as Old Faithful: Whenever a significant MMO (or, heck, TV series) has its ending announced, the fans come out in force to try to save it.  Sometimes these efforts bear fruit: Jericho got a second season and Star Trek a third because of fan efforts, while EQMac and… um… hm.  Some other MMO that I can’t think of got a stay of execution.  Actually, in terms of MMOs, these protests don’t seem to work as well, usually because there’s a lot of licensing, staffing, and financial issues at play behind the scenes.

But let’s turn our attention to City of Heroes anyway, which is the target of a major fan effort to save the title before its November closure.  From the fan’s perspective, it makes sense: The game was making money, it still had a healthy population, and it deserves to keep operating (at least until one of those first two factors changes).  We all love seeing this sort of thing, because it’s inspiring and brings out the best of the community.  Plus, sometimes it’s great to see that the power of organized fans can indeed change a company’s mind and remind them that there are people at the end of those dollar signs.

Inspiring, yes.  I’m totally on board with the idea — I’d love to see City of Heroes be saved.  It’s premature to cancel it, and I think that the reasoning behind NCsoft’s decision doesn’t have anything to do with the title specifically so much as losses elsewhere in the company.  But the question on the table is can it be saved?  Are we all just spinning our wheels and making noise in a futile attempt to speak to corporate suits that don’t care to listen to us anyway?

Paragon Studios is on the fans’ side, of course, but that doesn’t count for that much since the devs and team are looking, if not already accepting, jobs elsewhere.  We got word that there are “discussions” taking place regarding the title, which is just a smidge more than no hope at all, but it sort of feels like grasping at straws to think that NCsoft will suddenly have a change of heart.  Sometimes the decisions are made despite what the fans want — see Star Wars Galaxies.  I know that SOE would’ve loved to have kept that running, because it did make money, had a good amount of players, and was a nice feather in the cap of the studio.  But sometimes the big shots make the call and there’s little that a studio can do to change that.  I’m not saying that CoH is in the same exact situation, but it does feel similar.

But even if the odds seem long, what harm is there in trying?  One of the things that make our hobby so special is how attached we get to our game worlds and how much they end up meaning to us.  Seeing the City of Heroes’ fan base rise up in an attempt to do everything in their power to save this title is something we can all identify with, even if CoH isn’t our game.  As one of the leaders of the effort to save the game wrote, “We are heroes.  This is what we do.”  The game treated the players so well over the years, now it’s the players’ turn to rally around the game.

Maybe it won’t work, and November will be a sad time for many.  But, what the heck, fight on.  Give NCsoft a pause, at least, and a reason to question its corporate ruthlessness.  And if City of Heroes does get a reprieve, even if it’s just to remain on maintenance mode for the remainder of its life, I’ll be right there cheering along with the rest.

City of Lost Heroes

As you’ve probably heard, NCsoft is shuttering both Paragon Studios (and all of the staff there) as well as City of Heroes.  The last chance you’ll get to be in the first superhero MMO will be this November, and then another chapter of great gameplay will pass into history.

First things first: As always when it comes to closings, downsizings, and the like, my sympathies go out to the employees whose very real livelihood depended on these jobs.  However we feel, it’s just a game for us — it’s money and security for them.

That said, I’m sitting in a huge funk right now.  We’ve seen the closure of many MMOs in our time, but this is the very first that I actually cared about to any significant degree.  While Anarchy Online was my first MMO and WoW my first love, City of Heroes was sandwiched in the middle there and taught me the ropes.  It gave me a great ride.  I was there at launch and made my first character, a storm controller named Weather Girl.  I bought City of Villains and was there on day one as well.  While post-WoW I never played City of Heroes for great lengths of time, it was always, always the game I’d return to for sheer fun and character creation bliss.  This was the game that had a game before the game, after all — I don’t know anyone who played it who wasn’t constantly making alts and coming up with creative new superhero concepts.

City of Heroes was more than a character creator, however.  It took familiar tropes into an unfamiliar universe, and sold us on the idea that superhero MMOs didn’t need Marvel or DC to be accessible and fun.  It was one of the best games to group in, and even back when it had that harsh death penalty, I still didn’t really mind dying if it was from an epic confrontation.

Am I surprised at this announcement?  Totally.  From where I’m sitting, I’ve seen no huge warning signs that CoH was on the verge of unprofitability.  Then again, what do I know.  NCsoft doesn’t invite me over on the weekends to look through its books.  I guess I just assume that if a title goes F2P and makes it past a year or so — and has an expansion and several regular updates — then it’s doing okay.

Then again, this is NCsoft, the Fox Network of the MMO industry, forever killing titles whose names don’t start with “Lineage” at the first sign of any weakness.  I haven’t trusted them since seeing how little faith and promotion they put into Auto Assault and Tabula Rassa, and I’m less likely to now.

Well, what’s done is done, I suppose.  I hope all of Paragon’s staff find better homes, and for those players who suddenly find themselves on the verge of losing their superhero home, I hope that they can make the transition to one of the other MMOs in the genre without losing faith.

See you, City of Heroes.  We made great memories, you and I.