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.
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!).