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?

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MesaSage

I don’t have an opinion on it, I’m just sitting in the corner with a cup of tea – reading and eavesdropping.

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bobfish

Is there actually an example of NCSoft selling an IP? Or billion dollar game company selling an IP? Just look at EA’s catalog which they’ve been hoarding for decades.

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Jiminy Smegit

Its kinda like a serial killer digging up one of his former victims and doing a whole “Weekend at Bernies” thing with them.

hurbster
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hurbster

Really don’t see what the fuss is about.

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Martinez

Don’t care ..it seems that only CoH fans even know who that character even is or its significance..I’m betting the MasterX players could give 3 flying F’s about it.

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Utakata

This is an interesting position, because some of CoH fan base have come to a similar conclusion. That’s is, players of MxM will go “Who?”, while pissing many of said fan base off. In the end, it would seem entirely pointless, if not clueless, for NCSoft introducing the Statesman to this game.

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Nicholas Roberts

I’m mostly ambivalent to this. I’ve never even gotten into the MOBA genre of online games, and I’ve been long enough over the “death” of CoH that Statesman’s inclusion is an amusing curio to be sure, not something to throw a tantrum over.

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Schmidt.Capela

I’m not angry at NCSoft because I believe it’s a matter of stupidity, not malice.
I’m aghast at the sheer stupidity of this move, though. It’s like NCSoft doesn’t even try to understand the communities that their games attract (or attracted).

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Utakata

As I said before, good intentions can sometimes be the cruelest thing. /sigh

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Robert Mann

My opinion is that they really don’t listen to the feedback of their western division. I know they do get some sent in (I know a few people who work in the western *U.S.* division) but it never seems to get the follow up from their HQ.

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Witches

The point of this type of game, is to bring fandoms of different games by the same publisher together, if this inclusion doesn’t draw CoH fans then there’s no point to it.

This is in line with adding raids to GW2, the only reason NCSoft isn’t struggling is because their eastern games are still doing very well, i don’t know much about the leadership of NCSoft, but i don’t think the head of their western division has any reason to feel safe in his position.

Yangers
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Yangers

I don’t think it’s debacle. They have shut down the old game, and are within thier rights to re-use assests in a new game.

What’s the controvery? That people are upset and annoyed? That’s completely valid, but they can do whatever they want with what they own. They clearly don’t seem to care. I’m not sure what more can be done.

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BDJ

Of course its not a debacle. All of a few dozen hardcore fans think its a debacle. Most of the MMO world doesn’t even know wtf Statesmen is.

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Roger Christie

Still being a dick I see.

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Scott Schultz

Look – I don’t care about trying to change the opinions of someone who clearly has some kind of chip on their shoulder. All I’ll say is this: If you imagine yourself to be a “reasonable” person and not someone who just knee-jerks reactions based on his uninformed assumptions about the world, then ACT like you imagine yourself to be.

Go to Facebook. Join two or three CoH fan groups. Count the number of people who are expressing their opinions. Find out whether it’s really “a few dozen hardcore fans”.

Then the next time you feel like making a sweeping generalization about people you know little to nothing about and whose opinions “disturb” you (your words, not mine) then maybe you’ll stop and question your own assumptions BEFORE you post.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

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TheDonDude

I agree with the thought (hope?) that this may just be a test to see if CoH is still a viable IP. Not sure how this reaction will be taken. Larry touched on this and I’m curious–would people play a CoH 2 built by NCsoft?

Cyclone Jack
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Cyclone Jack

I don’t think NC Soft has the ability to make a CoH2. They bought CoH from Cryptic and then hired the team that was working on it to form Paragon Studios. Seeing that NC still doesn’t “get” their Western audience, I honestly don’t think they would even know where to begin with a CoH2.

Now, if they built a team of western developers, and some of those people worked at Paragon Studios, then I’d be inclined to give it a try.

Pralix
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Pralix

Would I play a CoH2? Most likely, but only if it was f2p.
Would I give them a dime for any of it? Unlikely.

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Gail Booth

I would give them a chance. I don’t think I could get as invested in it as I was with the original, but I would at least give NCSoft the opportunity to prove that they are no longer the company that earned my flames-of-a-thousand-suns rage.

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Denice J. Cook

I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one, sorry. I’m certainly not.

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Gail Booth

Oh, I’m not. I was just answering the hypothetical question.

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life_isnt_just_dank_memes

they are really late to the moba party and they are also cribbing a lot of different things from a lot of different companies. i think it’s tone deaf. i think its crass. it’s their ball though. no one can tell them when they can take it and go home. it’s in bad taste, but its their ip.

i havent played it but does anyone think this is gonna last very long? mobas were like 2-4 meta trends ago.

Andrew Ross
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Andrew Ross

I never played CoH, but let me make a Nintendo comparison: When Nintendo uses characters from a franchise that seems dead, such as Earthbound, I see it as a test. They want to see how the fans react, especially in terms of dollars. If they see they can make a profit, that franchise gets priority again, and that’s exactly what’s happened. Earthbound is still a bit of a cult classic, but Nintendo started to make sure Earthbound characters kept staying in the Smash Bros franchise while ensuring that the game the character was famous for (and, eventually, its prequel) were accessible to the public. I’d hope that NCSoft added Statesman, not to piss off anyone or burn them, but to see if it got players excited for MXM. Anger probably isn’t what they expected, and I’m not sure if it’ll help or hinder fans without dollar signs to help back up their attempt.

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Schmidt.Capela

The difference is that none of the games of the Mother/Earthbound franchise is online-only; when Nintendo decided to not create any more games in that franchise, it didn’t make the old copies stop working.

(Not saying that companies can’t sunset MMOs, mind; just that sunsetting MMOs need to be handled far more carefully than discontinuing an offline franchise.)

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Steven Scott

I don’t quite see this as a viable comparison. Earthbound is a cult classic for sure but it’s not, as far as I know, one that has a contentious relationship between the fans and the publisher. Ness’ inclusion in Smash does come across to me as a tribute to a well-loved game, while I really don’t know what to make of Statesman in MXM. And it’s not like Nintendo was rushing to keep Earthbound available and those fans happy – Smash Bros Brawl came out in 2008 and it would be five more years before EB hit the WiiU virtual console in 2013.

Anyway, the Nintendo comparison that I think would be closer is Metroid – a fanbase, burned by the company (Other M was terrible) and looking for a good new game in the series was instead given Federation Force, which was really not what they wanted in a Metroid game. Or with a bit more hyperbole, Konami’s cancellation of PT and the reveal of Silent Hill pachinko…

Andrew Ross
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Andrew Ross

I mean no offense but I strongly disagree about Earthbound fans not having a rocky history with Nintendo. Ness’ inclusion in Smash was because Sakurai, the game creator, was a huge fan of EB and knew it was loved by many others. Nintendo cancelled and delayed Mother 3 several times. It left a bad taste in fans’ mouths, and is probably why Nintendo ended up releasing Mother 1+2 later (but only in Japan). Unlike Western fans who still can’t officially play it in English, Japanese fans were positively burned by M3. A lot of them don’t understand why Western fans wanted to play it.

Western fans in particular would disagree that things between Nintendo and EB fans has been anything but rocky. I say this as a starmen.net community member who joined very early on, while it was a newsletter, and participated in a lot of the petitions. I studied Japanese in part because Nintendo really ignored Western fans and I wanted to read about the series as soon as I found information, rather than waiting for translations. Reggie and other Nintendo employees constantly had to tell western fans that they didn’t hate the series and that there were other factors often preventing the series from coming/returning to the states. We were known for being loud and obnoxious about our fandom for years before Smash. I’m sure NoA probably wished Ness hadn’t been in Smash because that only got more people to ask them questions about a game that presented them with a lot of legal issues.

That being said, your comparisons to Metroid is accurate, and probably Konami (but man, comparing any company to them these days seems really harsh!).

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Steven Scott

I’ll happily concede to you on Earthbound. I was just going on about my impressions on the fanbase as an outsider, which were clearly wrong.

Now that I think about it though, the Konami comparison may be appropriate. Both Konami and NCSoft took spiteful-seeming measures to bury the game and ensure nobody could play PT or CoH ever again, even though for CoH there were IMO reasonable alternatives like merging servers and maintenance mode, or selling the IP. And because of that both have gained a hatedom that is angered by what feels like exploitation of something they loved by uncaring corporate overlords.

Also, in defence of your original point, maybe Kid Icarus is a good example? I’m pretty sure that series wouldn’t have got a game on the 3DS if Pit hadn’t had a solid reintroduction in Smash.

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McGuffn

maybe nova from heroes of the storm would be a closer comparison?

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bobfish

Probably not, because Ghost was an awful game and needed to be cancelled.

There isn’t a good comparison, because the only other MMO that was struck down and/or ruined by it’s owners was SWG, which is Star Wars and already been abused sufficiently with other games.

A better example of the player outrage to this would be Dungeon Keeper’s revival as a free to play mobile game that was not representative of the original game. Or of the Warhammer MOBA Mythic were working on instead of genuinely trying to save the MMO.

tethyss
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tethyss

Isn’t there already a discussion about this?

Here’s why everyone’s pissed off about City of Heroes NPCs in NCsoft’s MOBA

Which is already in the banner with top billing and everything. You folks do this a lot, btw.

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Pedge Jameson

Look at it this way, suppose you ran a model airplane website, and a well known supplier whipped his junk out in front of the mayor’s office. Wouldn’t you run more than one article? Haha bad analogy but it’s kinda funny. :D

ceder
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ceder

Different article focus. The focus of this was a roundtable for the other MOP writers to give their opinions which are technically lacking in the previous article. Its more of an OP Ed (although with some tenenboke thoughts) and its usually a weekly feature that they do.

Justin Olivetti
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Justin Olivetti

When there is news or events that are timely, interesting, or controversial, we often like to cover it from multiple angles and offer up opinions from the full staff while also polling the community. Is that bad?

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Legend Of Vinny T

To be honest, I don’t think the specific use of Statesman as MxM’s CoH NPC of choice is all that much of a factor. I’m sure the anger and frustration would have been just as intense if they had chosen Positron or Ms. Liberty. Maybe using Jack’s main is the cherry on top for a few vets who hated his reign, but I have a feeling that it’s the principle of the thing for almost all of us.

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TheDonDude

Agreed. States was the face of the game. It’s no more insulting than him appearing on the game’s title screen or handing out task forces.

pepperzine
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pepperzine

I think MJs response is the one most aligned with how I feel about this. I really think this whole thing is blown out of proportion. Why not be happy that NCsoft is using the ip in some form rather than not at all? If wildstar eventually gets shut down will fans of that game be upset Mondo Zax is a playable character or happy the character they enjoyed is being remembered?

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