Yesterday, NCsoft took the lid off a secret it’s clearly been working on for a while: The company means to introduce a notorious and well-known City of Heroes NPC as one of the characters in its upcoming MOBA, Master x Master.
Here’s the thing. Master x Master is actually pretty well-liked around here. The writers we’ve sent to test it out the past few years came away thinking it was an excellent hybrid PvE MOBA with a lot of MMO elements, a genuinely good entry to the market and something we’re happy to cover. So I don’t think anyone wishes it, specifically, harm.
But NCsoft? I don’t know who told you this was a good idea. It’s really not a good idea.
Down in the comments of yesterday’s news article on the topic, our readers more or less fell into two camps: The “fuck you NCsoft” camp and the “wait, really, NCsoft?” camp. There were very few people sitting on the sidelines. There were, however, some folks confused about why everyone else is either pissed off or horrified or bewildered. Why isn’t this a good thing, they asked. Aren’t they honoring a game we loved?
I’m going to go ahead and give them the benefit of the doubt that honor is what they intended. MxM is akin to Heroes of the Storm in that iconic characters from all its other games find their way into the game as playable heroes. They’ve got the City of Heroes IP lying around doing nothing — may as well use it. I can even believe that out-of-touch execs on another continent somehow thought we’d be excited, thrilled, grateful to see a City of Heroes character brought back to life in some way.
Understand that the City of Heroes community is really not over it, nor should we be. The belief that the game was cut down when it was doing well, by suits on the other side of the ocean, is widely held. It’s well-trod ground at this point that the game by itself was modestly profitable on its own, but there’s no doubt the studio’s overhead was excessive as CoH was effectively paying for R&D on Paragon’s second game, still in-dev. Moreover, the way the sunset was carried out was disrespectful and cheap even compared to NCsoft’s history with sunsets, with devs turned out before they could arrange a final patch or event. The community presented a heroic effort to save and buy the game in a way I’d not seen before (and have not since, in almost 20 years). I took part in the daily protests myself. So did several other members of our staff at the time. It was all for nothing.
Well, not for nothing: A small but dedicated group of gamers has been actively boycotting NCsoft ever since. And following the sunset, multiple spiritual successors sprang up. The first and probably biggest was City of Titans, which pulled in almost $700,000 in Kickstarter funding all by itself, just a sliver of how much goodwill money NCsoft threw away when it nuked Paragon.
The people shoving money at City of Titans and the other successors don’t want a MOBA; they want City of Heroes, a robust superhero MMORPG. They don’t want a Statesman action figure in a game they wouldn’t play even if they weren’t boycotting the company behind it.
The fact that the character NCsoft picked to lead off this fiasco is Statesman is just an extra “slap in the face” (commenter quote!) since the developer behind the iconic character actually left City of Heroes years before to build Champions Online and has since vacated Champs too to head up the studio working on DC Universe Online. Consider this: When Statesman was killed off in-game, some CoH players celebrated. Another avatar, as our former City of Heroes columnist Eliot noted, might have been a wiser choice; BABs, War Witch, or Penny Yin would have given the whole introduction an entirely different flavor.
Ultimately I think your level of outrage over this probably hinges on whether you still believed there was a chance players could negotiate for a license to use the City of Heroes IP — or more. That’s exactly what Titan Network folks were doing back in 2014, so it’s not some wild theory. It seemed plausible. It hasn’t gone anywhere publicly, but it’s always been there as a possibility. Anyone who was hanging on to that dream saw it shattered yesterday. It’s highly unlikely NCsoft will sell or license the IP or servers if it’s using chunks of that IP in a brand-new MOBA.
I realize there are also gamers who genuinely believe NCsoft is purposely “rubbing salt in the wound.” I don’t personally believe this is a decision of malice, however; this is a decision of cluelessness. They misjudged the situation and us once again. MOBA players won’t care about freaking Statesman, and we won’t play their MOBA, so what do they get out of this? I suppose now they’ll have the fun of explaining why their new character has sparked mainstream controversy in the western world. Enjoy reiterating your “it’s just business” sunset history to a whole new generation of gamers who prior to this didn’t even know what City of Heroes was!
Surprisingly, there are also people who’ve chosen to see NCsoft’s move as a calculated attempt at reconciliation with the American MMO playerbase, such that posters on several mainstream gaming sites have floated the idea that NCsoft is resurrecting City of Heroes characters as part of a marketing push for a future City of Heroes 2 attempt. I’m not so great a fool as to buy that, but it’s intoxicating nonetheless.
All these years later, NCsoft still doesn’t understand how beloved City of Heroes was — or why. The people who boycott NCsoft games aren’t going to be be mollified by this in any way. All it’s done is reignite a smoldering flame of rancor.