The Game Archaeologist: The Death of City of Heroes

    
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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.

And then the Black Friday news hit.

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.

Black Friday

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.

Rebirth

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.

One day.

Relive the whole City of Heroes saga!

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.

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IronSalamander8 .

I’m still bitter over this. DCUO and CO are just nowhere near as good as CoH/CoV. I was digging through my archive external HDD this weekend for some Oblivion pictures and found some CoX pics too and that brought the game’s absence to the front of my mind again.

The game was never a runaway success but neither was it a failure. I understand that the main reason NCSoft weren’t really happy with it was that it wasn’t that popular in South Korea? This is very depressing indeed.

I’ve played a ton of MMOs, not all of them, but a huge chunk and the only game for me that rivals CoX for positive vibes is EQ1, and even EQ1 lacks that spark that CoX gave me. I still long to travel through those great zones and find the Freakshow breaking into a tree stump or the warriors having a dance party on Striga Isle. It wasn’t perfect of course but it was great. No game’s death has affected me as much as this one.

MagmaFist
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MagmaFist

Ok, this is the end of game archaeologist for City of Heroes. Next article should be the announcement of City of Titans character generator alpha release. Would be appropriate timing. Please make it so, MoP and MWM!!!

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Castagere Shaikura

With all the hardcore fans of COH why was there never an emulator. There are all kinds of emulators out there. Even for less popular games like my favorite Earth & Beyond. Really surprised after all this time still no emulator.

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Cyanpill

There is one, its called SEGS and was linked near the end of this article. Still early in development but getting there.

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Castagere Shaikura

OK hasn’t that one been around for years with no movement?

MagmaFist
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MagmaFist

Only just recently have they been making greater strides and expect to have an Issue 0 available in about a year and a half. The problem is no one had the server code so they are working in reverse and even if they did have the server code, they could get shut down in an instant if they just copied it verbatim. That leaves creating their own code from scratch which is hopefully understandable in its difficulty and length of time.

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Castagere Shaikura

Man Justin will never let this game go.

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Denice J. Cook

Much like the rest of us. :P

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Jiminy Smegit

Aww man, we were about to go to the moon? I never knew that and it makes me hate NCSoft just that little bit more.

I know a lot of people loved this game for the character design or the general theme but for me it was all about the writing. There were simple fetch and kill quests for sure but there were so many fantastic, well written stories that put me in a fairly non-heroic fervor to murder everything between me and the next story point.

semugh
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semugh

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

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Friend

WHO WILL DIE???!!!
Apparently this awesome questline is referred to the game

Celestia
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Celestia

/em holdtorch

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Dread Quixadhal

Many people blame NCSoft for this, but in reality the blame goes to the business culture as a whole. To every large corporation that owns every MMO out there, the game is nothing more than a product, and all the people involved are just numbers. The development team itself can do their very best to make the players happy, and pour crazy amounts of love, sweat, and tears into their game… but unless they can self-publish with no board of directors and cadre of investors, it doesn’t matter.

If you want games to evolve and become franchises that will grow, prosper, and eventually fade away, they need to stop selling themselves to giant corporations. That’s all there is to it.

The goals of the developers at Paragon Studios were not compatible with the goals of the investors at NCSoft. Paragon wanted to make a great game and turn a profit so they could expand their game and make it even better. NCSoft wanted to maximize profit and put just enough into the game to keep people paying.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

.

DEATH OF STATESMAN COH COVER.gif
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Crowe

BTW, I’m Zeus.

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Tony Vazquez

To be honest, the closure of City of Heroes has poisoned the well of MMORPGs for me. I had always known that technically, a company could shut down a game at any time for any reason, thus basically nullifying all time, energy, and money you have poured into it. But I always figured that it would be an organic process, that only games that slowly ground down to a halt, steadily losing its user base were susceptible to such things.

To this day, I honestly believe with all of my heart that this game was shut down for purely political reasons, not economic ones, and certainly not reasons that had anything to do with the player base of the game, which was loyal and strong to the end.

It’s a shame, because I’ve always been an RPG junkie, and CRPGs carried me through years of my life. As I type this, I’m pretty stoked because I just finished the revamped version of the original Bard’s Tale game. MMORPGs always just seemed like the next logical step to my gaming endeavors, but since the closure of City of Heroes, I just can’t get into any of them. I always get to a brick wall of thinking, “What happens if this game shuts down tomorrow for no good reason?”

What gets me is that there are solutions to this problem, solutions that would benefit the gaming community as a whole. For example, if companies were willing to work with a a Steam-like service, an MMORPG clearinghouse of sorts, to which you could pay a monthly to access a catalog of dozens (hundreds?) of shut down MMORPGs, with a cut of the profits being split between the service providers and the companies that contribute their games, that would work pretty well.

Or if companies would develop MMORPGs with an eventual shutdown plan that involves distributing a single-computer server version of the game so that people could still continue playing even after the company shuts down, that would work really well. Or even just making the server-side code available for sale when a company is ready to shut down a game, so that people could run their own legal private servers. Or hell, even writing the games so that when a company is ready to shut down a game, the server- and client-side code bases could be released as open source so that the dedicated community could continue development on it, that would be fantastic and generate a LOT of goodwill.

But this “throw hundreds [thousands?] of dollars at our game until we decide to kick you to the curb” business model has too many people caught onto it.

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Duane_Does_not_check_email

Thank you for the Titan Network and home away from home until a spiritual successor comes along.