Into the Super-verse: How Ship of Heroes is winning the superhero race

We all live on a ship of heroes

When it came to the explosion of spiritual successors to City of Heroes, there’s definitely something to be said about being first on the scene. City of Titans got out there with a Kickstarter in 2013 and raised an astounding $678,189 from fans desperate for a superhero MMO fix. Valiance Online tried its own hand at a crowdfunding campaign a mere year later but had to cancel it as it struggled to clear $35,000. And by the time that Ship of Heroes came onto the scene in 2017, players were no longer turning out in droves to fund these projects. Its own Kickstarter also was shut down before completion.

Yet a strange thing started to happen. This SuperJohnny-come-lately started to close the gap with the other two projects. While Titans and Valiance’s development has lumbered on with – let’s be honest – only brief bursts of meaningful progression, Ship of Heroes set ambitious goals and kept on meeting them. Dev diaries came out on a frequent basis. Plenty of videos and screenshots were posted to help fans envision playing in this world. Limited tests started happening. And now, by the end of this month, a playable character creation system should open up to at least backers, if not more.

While the future dominance and success of Ship of Heroes is by no means assured, I think it’s definitely become the strongest candidate of the three CoH spiritual successors in development. How did this happen? How did this MMO project come into an overcrowded and very niche field with far less crowdfunding – and start lapping its competition?

A game run by quartermasters

I’ve heard it said that armies that win wars do so not because of excellent generals but because of excellent quartermasters. I take that to mean that while strategy is important, logistics and supply can be even more crucial, and this is where Ship of Heroes excels.

Let’s put this up front: None of the superhero MMOs in development appear to have game designers with high-level MMORPG development experience at the helm. They tend to be groups of volunteers, MMO fans, and pro designers who very often worked in other genres. That can certainly explain the slow pace of development for these types of titles. But even though Ship of Heroes has this same handicap, the team appears to be tightly organized and well-supplied from the start to approach this project as smart as possible. That suggests a clear vision, a clear understanding of the resources at hand, and a clear schedule that was doable.

Never underestimate the power of organization! Let’s take a look at Heroic Games. CEO Casey McGeever is claiming not game design but experience in business management, marketing, and helping new companies get off the ground. According to the site’s dev team page, McGeever “brings his combination of business discipline, intensity and creative problem solving to the development of Ship of Heroes.”┬áNone of that sounds remotely as sexy as “was the lead designer on the most amazing MMORPGs on the planet,” but it might well be far more important. I can think of more than a few MMOs that could’ve used a heavy dose of business discipline (ahem, WildStar) to keep a project focused and cohesive.

Pics or it didn’t happen

After organization, I think that what is helping Ship of Heroes succeed is simply getting stuff done — and then showing it. The team has been transparent about what milestones it has crossed and free to show and talk about the developing game as much as possible. This means that fans are being primed with spotlights on things like the auction house, travel powers, combat animations, signature heroes, the user interface, its cityscape, the mission difficulty slider, the leveling process, an engine upgrade, and group combat.

Did I mention that all of that is just from 2019 alone? And that’s not even everything the devs have done or talked about?

You see my point here. While we might get a post once in a blue moon from the other game, it’s too often nothing of consequence, while Ship of Heroes is bombarding fans with a nonstop stream of updates on the game’s demonstrable progress. And that type of meaningful communication that adds visuals as well as descriptions builds confidence in an upcoming title — not only that it’s going to happen, but that it’s going to be worth playing. Dev blogs and videos of upcoming games are always making a play for your time and interest because the team knows that if it can win you over, then you’ll start evangelizing it to your friends as well.

Love, true love

One final thing that I’d like to identify as something that’s very apparent from Heroic Games is that this dev team is madly and passionately in love with the superhero MMO genre (and City of Heroes in specific). This team is very vocal and effusive about its affection for the genre and community specifically, and that ends up being infectious.

I think what fans want most of all from a City of Heroes spiritual successor is a dev team that really gets what made that title special. And while I don’t want to disparage the dedication that I’ve seen from the other projects, they’ve gotten much more quiet overall through the years as they work on development instead of outreach, while the Ship of Heroes team is definitely not shy in being proud of its fandom roots. That truly helps to give this game an edge in its credibility as it seeks to establish a new IP with an indie studio.

Listen, I had a lot of serious doubts about Ship of Heroes when it first came on the scene. I felt it was unnecessary and had a wonky premise (a city… on a ship… in space? With superheroes?). But instead of talking big and failing to deliver, the team has set reachable goals and has been plugging away at those to fashion what seems to be an actually fun, full-featured superhero MMORPG that we could be playing sometime in the next few years.

Go, Ship of Heroes, go! I’m cheering you on, and I hope to see you cross that finish line of release proud and strong.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Eliot Lefebvre and Justin Olivetti covering superhero MMORPGs, past, present, and future! Come along on patrol as Into the Super-verse avenges the night and saves the world… one column at a time.
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