Greetings, true believers! This particular column is actually not the result of reader requests but specifically from our editor, who has long noted that we have never done a column about what we’d want from Daybreak’s unannounced but confirmed Marvel MMORPG. And you know, in the abstract, that is a good thing to write about. It’s relevant! It’s led by Jack Emmert, whose name is synonymous with superhero MMORPGs at this point. It’s a big IP with obvious attachment, and it’s a topic for me as perhaps the one person on the planet who thought Marvel Heroes was boring. (I don’t understand how that last one happened, but hey, whatever.)
So why in the heck haven’t I done this column months ago, perhaps back in November when we first had this confirmed? Because I didn’t want to do it for the simple reason that is kind of given away in the header above and will no doubt be borne out by all of the subsequent words here. To wit: This is already something that I don’t want. I do not have anything to say about what I want to see from this game because I already have written off this game as something I do not want.
What do I want from this game? For it to not exist, at all, in any form. This is a collision of a license, a studio, and a creative head that immediately deprives me of any and all interest right to start with.
I do not want a game involved with Jack Emmert, for one thing. Now, I want to cut a fine line here: I don’t know Emmert personally, and I have no reason at all to believe he’s not a decent human being. But as he’s someone who has been involved with every single superhero MMORPG in some capacity, his professional association with the project does not fill me with confidence.
Seriously, find me someone who thinks that the early Emmert era of City of Heroes was the banner time for the game, and I will find you a unicorn or two along with one or two porcine aviators. It’s impossible to disentangle the two in any serious capacity, but most fans will point to changes that post-date Emmert’s involvement as the point when the game really started getting good; Matt Miller (Positron) and Melissa Bianco (War Witch) tend to get the lion’s share of praise here. You can’t discount that Emmert is why the game exists, but you also can’t discount that Emmert’s inheritors are the people who led the game to its later heights.
Champions Online, meanwhile, had a messy launch and a poor initial reception; while it never really recovered and got functionally abandoned, it’s safe to say that Emmert’s design principles didn’t really help anything. From there he moved on to DC Universe Online, which is easily my least-favorite of all three major superhero MMORPGs that has been released. I don’t like DCUO in the slightest. I find it a buggy, unenjoyable mess, and while none of this is due to his involvement as he took over the Daybreak substudio long after the game launched, my feelings about the game have not softened or changed under his stewardship.
Again, I don’t want this to imply that Emmert himself is a bad person or even that he’s bad at getting a working project assembled and launched. That in and of itself is a commendable trait in an industry where a lot of projects can wind up languishing for years with no real progress being made (Cloud Imperium, looking at you). He does launch superhero MMORPGs. His association just does not excite me as “wow, the guy behind CoH is working on this!” I’ve watched his track record too closely to automatically assume that’s a positive without more concrete evidence.
I also do not want any game associated with Daybreak. I have never liked Daybreak. I didn’t like it when it was still Sony Online Entertainment, and I long went on the record stating that I felt like SOE’s reputation far outstripped its actual performance and track record. Subsequent events have not changed that opinion, and I don’t see the current state of Daybreak as being all that different from what it’s always been. It’s just lost the goodwill and positive reputation it held on to at one point.
Let’s be honest here, it’s a minor miracle that Daybreak still exists after it went through a restructuring period that seemed custom-made to sell off parts of itself along the way. (I may have made this joke before, by which I mean I absolutely have.) Heck, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the worst monetization fiascos over at Standing Stone Games came about after it wound up in the Daybreak portfolio. This is an outfit that fleeces people and relies on ancient and (in my eyes) unearned goodwill.
Nothing about this history makes me think “gosh, I can’t wait to see what this talented, storied studio unleashes.” I don’t agree with the premise of that statement. Even if Emmert weren’t involved, I would not be excited about Daybreak being involved. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing has only slightly more longevity than PlanetSide Arena.
Oh, did you forget about that one? Pepperidge Farm remembers.
And while it might be surprising given my avowed love for the property, I am not actually excited about a game simply because it’s licensing the official Marvel IP in some capacity. Because, uh… I was here the last time some kind of persistent Marvel game was promised, and I have a solid enough memory to remember Marvel’s Avengers.
Not that I have to remember it; that game is sitting in my Steam library looking increasingly like a once-live service game that has been summarily abandoned. I can’t blame anyone for abandoning it, of course, but that should alone make it clear that adding “Marvel” to something does not actually produce a high-quality product by definition. Marvel has lent its name and IP to all sorts of cut-rate exercises over the years, as a quick tour through the history of games based on Marvel characters will show.
And all of that is eliding the fact that at the end of the day, what I want from a superhero game is basically disconnected from having an IP attached to it in the first place. A good superhero MMO lets you create your own hero to do heroic things and lets you take on all of the fun comic book weirdness in a dynamic situation with other players. That isn’t really made better or worse because your character is taking orders from Spider-Man or Superman or Capitan Rivet or Atom Eve… or Positron, for that matter.
I played CoH for ages, and it never once bothered me that the game lacked an official IP beyond itself, partly because over time the game developed its own setting and character that worked just fine, and partly because the patina of legitimacy did not actually alter my enjoyment of the core elements of having a superhero character running around and beating up criminals and the like.
What I want from any superhero game is, fundamentally, a good game set in the genre first and foremost. That matters more to me than the aforementioned license, and that’s not something that I have any real expectation of from this studio, this well of talent, and so forth.
So what do I want from this Daybreak Marvel MMO? For it not to exist in the first place.
There, I answered the question.
Stop asking me.