Massively Overthinking: The City of Heroes Master X Master debacle

On Tuesday, NCsoft announced that it plans to introduce Statesman, from the long-sunsetted City of Heroes, as a playable character in its MOBA, Master x Master.

Complications ensued, as anyone familiar with the history of MMORPGs can probably imagine.

For this week’s Overthinking, I asked our team of writers — both those who loved CoH and those who never much played it — what they think about the whole ordeal. Are gamers right to be angry? What exactly is NCsoft thinking? Have we seen the end of any hope of the game being resurrected or sold, or should we infer just the opposite?

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I said my piece in yesterday’s explainer, I suppose. The truth is I’m not “outraged” or nearly as angry as a lot of other fans clearly are, but I understand why some people are livid and stand by them, torch in the air. I did still have some hopes that NCsoft would someday sell CoH for a reasonable price rather than let it collect mothballs doing nothing (and no, the $80M NCsoft allegedly demanded from Paragon was not reasonable). Those faint hopes are dashed now, certainly. But more than anything, I hoped that decisions like maintenance-moding rather than sunsetting Guild Wars 1 and keeping WildStar online long past financial sense proved that City of Heroes hadn’t died for nothing — that NCsoft had learned it needed to understand the western market before blundering in headlong.

Those hopes are also now dashed. No lessons were learned.

All I’m feeling now is disappointment and lingering sadness.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I think “tone-deaf” and “arrogant” are the first two phrases that come to mind at this decision.

We can only guess at the process that went into this decision from NCsoft’s side, but I know darn well how it’s being received from a former City of Heroes’ perspective. When I first read this news story, I was a little bit bemused and non-plussed, but the more I thought about it, the more I became genuinely mad. It’s not going to be seen as an affectionate tribute to one of NCsoft’s past titles done in honor and memory; instead, it’s a fresh reminder as to the betrayal and callousness that NCsoft showed back in 2012 when it took City of Heroes away from us.

Whenever you lose something dear to you that you’ve loved and had around for a while, that pain never goes away. It’s worse if it’s tragic and unexpected, and in the case of City of Heroes, it was all of the above. Nobody expected NCsoft to suddenly pull the plug, shove the devs out of the door, and close down a modestly successful and long-running MMORPG… but it did just that. And the reaction from the community was intensely emotional and moving, with players performing tributes, staging vigils, and scrambling to try to convince the parent company to reverse this decision before it was too late. NCsoft was not moved, did not respond, and sat in stony silence as a beloved game world was yanked away from a community that found itself homeless and despondent.

There was, and is, very real anger among former City of Heroes players about how all of this went down, and in this decision to feature a CoH character in Master X Master, NCsoft is demonstrating once again how ignorant or uncaring it is toward its community. If City of Heroes had run its course and been long dead, maybe this might have been welcome as a tribute. Instead, it’s a little like a murderer coming to the family of those he’s wronged and given them a photo album of the victim. A little like that, mind you, but that’s the best analogy I can think of to explain the disbelief, horror, and outrage that fans had this week at seeing this news.

I don’t feel the pain of City of Heroes’ loss every day, but once in a while something comes along to remind me that, oh yeah, this wonderful title is no longer among us and I can never log into it again. And as silly as it might sound to an outsider, this thought generates real sorrow in me. Seeing Statesman in MxM isn’t even a start to making that whole mess right, and if it was done to forever hog the IP or out of a belief that City of Heroes players will somehow come flocking back to support NCsoft if thrown a bone, well, that is arrogant and tone-deaf.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): Honestly, I’m conflicted. I see the situation from multiple different perspectives. Personally, I only played CoH for a few months while I was on a break from Star Wars Galaxies. I never became super attached to it. I played Champions Online and DC Universe Online for more months than I did CoH. That said, I always saw it as a solid game, and I have praised it over and over for some of its innovative features, like side-kicking and player-created content. But when it comes to NCsoft placing Statesman in MxM, I don’t know exactly what to think. Although I see it several different ways, I can see it as a middle-finger to the CoH superfans, but I can also see it as an opportunity for superfans, too.

I know many people didn’t like Statesman as a character for multiple reasons, from his creator to the unceremonious shutdown of the game itself. And to every fan that was holding out hope that NCsoft would release the license to someone else, you were just given a big “eff you!” I’m not lost on that. For me, it would be like Daybreak coming out with a dumb MOBA and placing Free Realms or unique Star Wars Galaxies characters in it. I can’t say that I wouldn’t be extraordinarily upset about that. I would probably write an eff-you-back, open letter to Daybreak if it did that

But then there is another perspective: NCsoft can’t be blind to the rabid fanbase for CoH. And clearly, NCsoft believes that Statesman will draw some people into the new MOBA, albeit ignorantly. However, this might be an opportunity to push for another CoH MMORPG. Be honest, CoH fans, if NCsoft made another CoH game, you would play it. I would play it. Maybe, in a small way, this is NCsoft’s way of testing the waters. Maybe it’s attempting to see if the CoH IP still has pull. Maybe fans of CoH should support the game and encourage NCsoft to put more CoH characters into MxM.

There are other middle-of-the-road perspectives, like this could be a naive attempt from NCsoft producers to keep the IP for themselves. It could be a fan of CoH within NCsoft wanting to use some of his or her favorite characters. And since I don’t exactly have a pony in this race, I’m largely unaffected. But I do hope that NCsoft does right by its fans, in the end.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I admit that I am not really interested in wading into the controversy that seems to be surrounding the use of this character. When I first read the announcement, I thought, hey cool! To me, adding a City of Heroes character into MxM makes perfect sense since the whole idea of MxM is to highlight beloved or integral characters of NCsoft games in a different platform. Not just any old character is thrown in. My reaction was one being glad that the game is receiving an official nod; that tells me that City of Heroes wasn’t just swept under the rug, with NCsoft pretending it never existed. However, I can totally understand that plenty of folks would love to have the game itself back way more!

Does this move mean anything more? I’m so not the one to ask that question to. But I’m totally in the boat with all the fans wishing you could have your favorite world again. (I still want my SWG back after all!).

Your turn!

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51 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: The City of Heroes Master X Master debacle"

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CF Teague II

Nc soft… Wo coh i cant forgive. If this was intended to get my attn it worked. But now i hate you more. Good job

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Crowe

No Eliot opinion?

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Craig Williams

I also had sme slim hope that this was there way of testing the waters to see if it was a viable option to bring it back, given the continued devotion of the fans and the fact that superheroes are still quite the cash cow, but I don’t really believe it. If anything, they will try to bring it back 5 years after nobody cares about superheroes anymore.

Even if they did bring it back, though, I have to disagree that people would play it. Certainly some would, even those who proclaimed “never again!” the loudest, but there would be many, many people who wouldn’t want to risk the heartbreak all over again. Let’s face it, if you play an MMO, you will never really own it and at some point it will be taken away from you. If you truly love it, then no matter how long it runs, it will be taken too soon. That’s why I am not sure that I will ever play another MMO. I think CoH was lightning in a bottle and I will never have a similar experience again.

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Randell Hunt

Rabble Rabble Rabble Rabble Rabble!!!

(I’m honestly upset, but this fits too well.)

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Roger Christie

Be honest, CoH fans, if NCsoft made another CoH game, you would play it. I would play it.

Actually, no. NCSoft didn’t make CoH. It was made by Cryptic, and even more by Paragon. NCSoft merely published it. Judging by what NCSoft HAS made, I want no part of anything they do.

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Steve Gustafson

In City of Heroes, Statesman was a character. He had in game story arcs. He even died and got a funeral.

In Master x Master, as in any other MOBA, Statesman will be reduced to the status of a chess piece. He will be a characterless game token with a defined set of abilities. He will be used or ignored depending on the PvP theorycraft rather than his appeal as a character. That’s all he can be.

I will, of course, never purchase a game developed by NCsoft. Still, this reduction in status is itself insulting.

capt_north
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capt_north

The site is serving ads for the MxM beta featuring Statesman. This isn’t an accident, nor a fanboy sneaking a tribute into a big cast. NCSoft marketing thinks Statesman is going to move units for them. It’s either a targeted appeal aimed at CoH fans, or Statesman is just so visually cool he’s going to pull in people who don’t know who he is.

The trouble is, if you pull people in with a superhero, and he’s the ONLY superhero in a MOBA populated with fantasy and science fiction characters, they’re not going to be happy, even if they have no idea who he or City of Heroes is. The genres overlap, but they are not the same.

I can’t see them relaunching a franchise they shut down (that would require admitting an error), and they’re not going part with the IP for any reasonable amount of money (because they know the thing they shut down is incredibly precious, even if they don’t know what to do with it). Unless things change rather drastically, guest appearances in other games is the most I would expect, at least until enough time has passed that they can “revive a CLASSIC” with less flak for being the ones who murdered it.

It doesn’t enrage me — I was more invested in my own CoH characters than the NPCs. It’s a dull ache in an old wound. And while it’s probably not a realistic expectation, I hope one of the fan projects just blows the roof off. I’d feel some vindication in that.

Theryl
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Theryl

I never played CoX, so I don’t have an emotional stake in this. Looking at from a purely business perspective, I’m puzzled because I don’t see the upside here. People who didn’t play CoH will look at the character and say “Who?” while the game’s fans are … displeased.

The most likely answer, from my perspective, is that NCsoft still doesn’t understand their western customer base. Just because something is a business decision doesn’t mean it’s a good decision. I’ve been in the business world long enough to know that executive ego, internal politics, and arrogance all play big roles in business decisions.

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Roger Melly

I just hope one of the spiritual successor in development now City of Titans , Valiance , Heroes and Villains or Ship of Heroes ends up being great .

In that absence of City of Heroes 2 there are plenty of other companies that will be quite happy to take my money if NCSoft doesn’t want it .

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Nick Smith

Are there any coh emulators?