August 31st, 2012, was a Friday like any other. City of Heroes players were psyched for the upcoming Issue 24, which Paragon Studios had started teasing on the website. A little over a year of free-to-play, and the MMO was doing reasonably well with no indications otherwise.
A press release from publisher NCsoft raced across the internet: “Both NCsoft and Paragon Studios are incredibly proud of the success of City of Heroes, but unfortunately, the continued support of the franchise no longer fits within our long-term goals for the company. All employees at Paragon Studios are affected by this decision, including the management team. We will begin the City of Heroes sunsetting process immediately.”
Just like that, City of Heroes came under siege by an enemy greater and more dire than any among its villainous roster. This abrupt announcement sent shockwaves through the community, stunning fans into disbelief and tears.
That was Friday. By Saturday, the community had picked itself up and began fighting for the game that it loved.
Unbeknownst to players, Paragon Studios was well aware that NCsoft had wanted to get out of the City of Heroes business even as the studio was developing two additional IPs for the publisher. NCsoft claimed that it had tried to find a buyer for City of Heroes but didn’t locate a suitable prospect. Negotiations then went back and forth for Paragon to buy the game and go independent, but those talks — which went right up until the night before the sunset announcement — ultimately failed.
Lead Designer Matt Miller later said that all indications were that this deal was going to happen, especially considering that (according to him), the MMO was more profitable post-F2P than it was before. “We all were really working as if things were going to work out,” he mentioned in a 2013 interview. “It was business as usual right up until the last day.”
The announcement came at a horrible time for Paragon, as the studio was planning a massive anniversary event that would see player heroes pushing back against an alien invasion. This would have taken them to the moon and beyond, but sadly, this couldn’t happen once the team was laid off.
With Paragon Studios dissolved and its developers hitting the job hunting circuit, the fate of the game seemed to be sealed. It would have been with most other titles, to be honest. However, City of Heroes had cultivated a large and devoted following. The games media and various celebrities like Neil Gaiman and Mercedes Lackey even looked upon it favorably and shared fans’ dismay over the closure. That’s when players, feeling hurt and powerless, decided to push back against NCsoft any way they could.
“We are heroes. This is what we do.”
With months ticking down to City of Heroes’ shutdown at the end of 2012, players scrambled to get organized. Some lobbied to buy the game from, while others wrote in letters and participated in various grassroots mailing campaigns. There were, of course, petitions signed. The biggest effort took place in the form of massive in-game protests that brought servers to their knees as hundreds and even thousands of players gathered together to make their voice heard.
On September 8th, 2012, players began to flood onto the Virtue server to participate in what became known as the Unity Rally. Sites like the Titan Network and Cape Radio helped to promote and organize the effort, but the victory of the day went to the tide of player heroes who showed up to make a stand against the end of the game. An amazing 33 instances of Atlas Park were generated to hold the fans — and this didn’t even include those who went to the overflow server.
While NCsoft stood firm, the Unity Rally served to show the passion of the community. It was a passion that wanted to be channeled into action and devotion, and it sparked the beginning of a much greater movement to keep the spirit of City of Heroes alive in any way possible.
If you want to get a sense of both the spirit and the size of the community protest, these videos never fails to choke me up (and no, it’s not because my voice pops in a few times here and there during the first one):
Up until the very end of the game, on November 30th, 2012, torchlight vigils were constantly held in Atlas Park by a grieving and stalwart community.
In the months that followed, there was hope against hope that somehow the City of Heroes license would be resurrected and the game servers turned back on. Those wiser knew better and took the future into their own hands.
While some City of Heroes ex-pats found new homes in games like Champions Online or DCUO, many continued to hold out for an MMO that would satisfy them the way that their old home did. This led to the birth of multiple projects to either emulate CoH or create a true spiritual successor.
In October 2013, City of Titans raised over $678,000 from the community to build a new superhero MMO. This was followed by other promising projects such as Valiance Online and Ship of Heroes, all of which were staffed by City of Heroes fans looking to make a proper spiritual successor. Then there were the unauthorized emulators: Paragon Chat offers a combat-free City of Heroes experience while SEGS is attempting to rebuild the game as a whole.
However these projects shake out, one thing is for certain: The City of Heroes spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of Paragon City’s refugees. Each year the community assembles to mark the anniversary and talk about the game with its former developers, and each year, the hope continues to burn bright that a new home might be found.
Relive the whole City of Heroes saga!