GDC 2018: In the crow’s nest with Ship of Heroes’ CEO Casey McGeever


Let me be upfront: I’ve never gotten into a superhero MMO. I love comics; outside of work, it’s probably the only fiction I willingly read these days. It’s just the people I play with never got into hero MMOs, even when some of us finally tried DC Universe Online.

But I read all about them. And I know you superhero MMORPG players have been kicked around.

Heroic Games President and CEO Casey McGeever’s passionate about the need for the genre because of that, and that’s precisely why MMO Ship of Heroes was conceived. We’ve got superheroes everywhere these days, but as hot as the Avengers are, we’re largely given steaming piles of brown from their gaming-ignorant parent companies. So I sat down with McGeever to talk MMOs, tech, and a ship full of heroes during GDC 2018.

Talking to the captain

A look through McGeever’s professional history is, frankly, intimidating. It’s not that he’s a gaming legend or anything, but he’s been all over development industries. If you’re using Accuweather, for example, you know some of Casey’s work. So when I mention the rough times we see in the MMOverse, the fact that even the founding game IPs are being sold off or shut down, I ask why in the heck he’d want to get in.

Simple: Those are the reasons why to get in now. Something needs to shake up. For example, look at the market right now. Battle royale is hot, so what are people doing? Making games that genre. Modern-era games are hot, so they make a modern-day battle royale. If games that only used blue hues were popular too, that too would be cloned. And McGeever feels only in games do people see other, viable genres next to unexpected successes and have people still ignore those viable options.

As McGeever sees it, it’s not as if City of Heroes was unsuccessful when it went offline – it just “didn’t fit the corporate strategy of the owner.” As we both agreed, multiplayer games themselves aren’t in any danger; in fact, traditional single-player IPs like Final Fantasy and Mass Effect have either gone multiplayer and/or tacked it onto their single player game. We just don’t see a lot of it for superhero games outside of mobile titles.

So Ship of Heroes isn’t meant to replace CoH; it’s meant to complement it. McGeever is well aware that there’s most likely not going to be a new WoW and that developers need to be chasing and founding their own niche rather than trying to chase a largely cornered market. This is why McGeever says he isn’t worried about competition. In fact, he prefers it. It’d be more odd if he truly were the only one doing it. Besides, players need options, he says. You don’t want just one company making superhero games, and while some people may leave his game for a competitor, others may do the same and come to SoH.

For players by fellow players

All of this sounds nice, but I’ve talked to a lot of non-industry people with tech backgrounds who just don’t understand what they’re getting into. In this case, regardless of how well SoH performs, I can already see that McGeever is already more knowledgeable about the current game market than some industry vets I’ve spoken with in the past who claimed they knew what players want but had little to no experience with pillars of the modern MMO-verse.

For example, McGeever wanted flight in SoH from the start. For some people, that doesn’t sound big. For a developer, the first thing you realize is how much work that means. Think about World of Warcraft and why flight stayed in a restricted area for so long: The world wasn’t designed for it. Flight requires a Z-axis. It requires forethought about landing physics, how fall damage is calculated, how abilities interact with flight – heck, it means more art and building instead of hiding unfinished terrain behind raw height. McGeever’s learned that games need a lot more art than he’s used to, but since he’s got some good artists, it’s not a problem.

That being said, McGeever has also put community feedback at the forefront of design. Originally, he didn’t want any death penalty, but the community argued for it, so now death will have a sting. I personally worry about listening too much to fans, as I’ve seen countless times where people say they want one thing but pursue something totally different. Design-wise, I think the team made the right choice in listening to its community, and I hope it keeps making those kinds of decisions.

That’ll become especially important because McGeever wants player-made content. It’s a tricky project; players obsessed with, say, phallic imagery abuse creative tools, while others abuse the systems to min-max rewards. SoH will have a small team that’s supposed to eventually manually monitor chat – just imagine the amounts of content they’d also have to curate with this kind of system! McGeever mentions how lots of people have told him they’d pay to play a game with a nice community, but I’ve seen how a few bad apples can make the bunch feel rotten.

That being said, it’s hard not to want McGeever’s boundless optimism to pay off.

Maybe this is why SoH is sticking with silver-age-esque comic ideas. While the game will have magic too, McGeever reminded me how big sci-fi is with modern heroes in the mainstream. No one talks about how the original Green Lantern was powered by magic; they stick with the sci-fi story. While I’m disappointed in the fact that SoH won’t have anti-heroes or plotlines discussing whether or not heroes create the villains that they constantly battle, the lore does follow a well-loved era of storytelling.

Being the not-so-little guy

Heroic Games is still mostly made up of volunteers working remotely. McGeever notes that since people are doing what they love, and that working from home means getting up to do work you like is easier when you don’t leave the house, it works. He’s used to it anyway from other past work experiences.

The idea of having human moderated chat channels that don’t use any automation to find offenders seems difficult to me, but McGeever wants to use volunteers to help offset the costs, plus paid people. The idea is that the volunteers would receive training and never be left alone, plus there’d be a system in place where you could go over the volunteer’s head and report him or her to a higher-up if he or she made an error. It’s far from perfect, and I’m sure some volunteer would abuse the system as volunteer GMs have done in the past (and still do), but McGeever’s in the limelight. He’s got some good people on his team.

But this is also why there’s no possibility for a Kickstarter. It takes too many human resources the team doesn’t have. It’s not “impossible,” just improbable at the moment. I ask if the team has looked into using the Spatial OS system to help take pressure off the team and make a bigger game, but McGeever says they’re doing fine as they are. He gets the tech enough to talk to others in the industry, and when they question how their server tech is, he’s able to impress them well enough.

State of the ship

As you may have seen in MJ’s streams, the game’s coming along well enough. The character creator’s robust, and heroic movement is allowing for some nice freedom, to the point that a certain dev wasted two days just flying around and playing with how and what flight means to the game and player, so maybe it wasn’t a total waste.

Combat’s coming along well too, but McGeever won’t comment on crafting yet as the team’s not coding it yet, so stay tuned for more on that. That means it’s time for mission construction: repeatable missions, special missions, day-job missions, training missions, etc. The idea is that if they build enough content, people will come to do it, which is probably true. My concern with dev created content is always how fast people will consume it, but we’ll see how the team prepares for that.

However, we’ve finally seen the in-game map, and it’s quite large. According to McGeever, the zones are probably larger than some worlds in Star Wars: The Old Republic. The Hazard Zone below the lake probably won’t be done before beta, but as the devs just tested Science Park, they’re probably going to let people test a raid soon in the Arch. That probably gives you an idea of how much work still needs to be done, but considering the team’s size, small budget, and volunteer passion, I’d say it’s coming along solidly.

Even if you’re watching another hero MMO project, keep your eyes on Ship of Heroes. The team is made up of people who love MMOs and is clearly listening to their players, and all without asking you to pay for early access.

Massively Overpowered is on the ground in San Francisco for GDC 2018, bringing you expert MMO coverage on everything (and everyone!) on display at the latest Game Developers Conference!
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Bryan Turner

Since when are Comics Non-Fiction?

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Richard de Leon III

I still cant get over the whole concept of a ship flying through space carrying people that can probably destroy it if they wanted to, having superpowers and all. I havent researched the game that much, but if the lore involved us going to other planets and colonizing it (housing anyone?) I think I can dig it and rationalize having walking howitzers as crew.


This looks pretty good. Funny enough I just found out about this a couple of weeks ago.

Sally Bowls

human moderated chat channels that don’t use any automation to find offenders

IDK. This strikes me as financially impractical. Is it just marketing spin? naivety? Or maybe I am wrong and free volunteers can keep it effectively staffed 24×7? Yet another warning flag. (No games are perfect and that is especially true at launch; it is just that the TESO and FFXIV 1.0 find it easier than volunteer efforts to find an extra $20M for fixes.)

Patreon Donor

swtor is the one mmo i’ve played with near perfect anti spam moderation. and i would wager good money they spent a decent sum on HR to do it.

i’m… curirous to see where deeplearning AI GMs take us. it could be hilarious. it could be a nightmare. tune in next time!

Dug From The Earth

Stating “something needs to get shaken up” as the reason to get into the business of making mmorpgs, but then making essentially a remake of a much older game… is sorta contradicting.

And he doesnt come across to me as having “Boundless optimism”… he comes across to me more as a car salesman. You ask, “Um, why is the fender dented?” and he would reply “Thats intentional, it helps the aerodynamics of the car, cutting down on fuel consumption. Its the only smart way to drive.”

Patreon Donor

my friend that usually goes to gdc is telling me all this cool stuff about how gaming tech is being used in non gaming applications even more than last year’s gdc and how deeplearing is being using in gaming and how he’s hearign the word blockchain every time he turns around…

and we get reporting like it’sa typical gaming comic nerd con and not a developer conference.


i mean yes i guess stuff like this is more relevant to the topic but man, there’s so much neater stuff at GDC than these things imo.

i wanna read about how UE4 is being adopted by industries from automobile design to hollywood special effects and set design.

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François Verret

As you say yourself, while a coop topic, it would not make sense on Massively OP. You want a tech blog like Gizmodo.

Patreon Donor

idk if they have new people or not since the sale but just because of the brand i can’t take giz seriously. too much history.

Sally Bowls

Yeah. (although in no way criticizing MOP who is constrained by limited resources and limited reader interest. One good SC drama article can get more comments than 20 about the future of gaming tech and game companies.)

And WTF is Magic Leap and will they launch before Star Citizen.

A big recent surprise for me is that AR/VR/xR cosmetics is a multibillion-dollar business.

And things like “EA has taught an AI how to play Battlefield 1 multiplayer” – when will AI really start to impact games? When do knowledgeable devs predict AI will pass a MMO Turing test – say upon encountering an entity in ED/EVE/Wow BG it is not immediately apparent if it is NPC or human?

And how many years in the future until cloud computing will start to actually deliver on some of the marketing of five years ago. When will it be expected that games launch with cloud not dedicated servers?