The Game Archaeologist: The tale of Infinite Crisis, Turbine’s extremely short-lived DC Comics MOBA

    
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Infinite Crisis

Sharp minds will recall that back in 2012, EA Mythic attempted to turn its declining MMO fortunes by repackaging Warhammer Online into a MOBA called Wrath of Heroes. This grand experiment was hoping to squeeze extra funds out of all of the hard work done on WAR by capitalizing on the then-red hot MOBA craze.

Of course, if you remember that, then you’ll remember how the game fizzled out in its beta state in 2013 alongside the demise of WAR. But it wouldn’t be the last time that an MMO studio would attempt to capitalize on the popularity of MOBAs and the DC comic brand to try to strike gold — only to meet a similar tragic fate in the end. This is the story of Infinite Crisis.

A crisis in infinite games

In 2005, DC Comics launched another significant crossover series initiative with the release of Infinite Crisis. This, in turn, was a follow-up to 1985’s landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths. The core seven-issue series played out over the next year and tied in with dozens of other DC series, taking the action deep into 2006 until it wrapped up.

The “Infinite Crisis” label continued to be significant for DC fans, which is why Turbine and Warner Bros. seized upon that IP for a brand-new MOBA a decade later.

Prior to the MOBA, Turbine had been an exclusively MMORPG studio, creating four titles over the span of a decade, including Asheron’s Call, its sequel, Lord of the Rings Online, and Dungeons and Dragons Online. When 2010 came around, Turbine ceased to be an independent studio when it was purchased by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

With a new parent company at its back and expanded options for licensing IPs, the decision was made to take Turbine’s online expertise and marry it to a different gameplay format. Infinite Crisis, as it was called, would be oh-so-loosely based on the comic series event. But would DC fans come flocking based on name recognition alone?

All these multiverses are yours

In March 2013, Warner Bros. and Turbine Entertainment formally announced Infinite Crisis to the world and encouraged fans to sign up for the beta. The concept was to make a League of Legends-style game with recognizable DC superheroes.

To set the game apart from the rest of the MOBA pack, Turbine had a couple of twists in store for Infinite Crisis. The first was the use of hero variations from across the DC multiverse, such as “nightmare” or “gaslight” interpretations. And then there was the use of “map-altering events” that would take place during matches and force players to adapt on the fly.

The stated goal by Infinite Crisis’ designers was to make a “significantly more approachable game” than its MOBA competitors.

“We are utilizing years of experience in the online game space to deliver innovations to the MOBA genre with a game that features fast-paced action, a major story arc, destructible environments, catastrophic events and a deep roster of iconic DC Comics characters,” said then-Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel.

Closed beta kicked off just two months later, with open beta arriving in March 2014. It officially opened its Steam doors on March 26th, 2015 (shortly after the time that Massively was reborn as MassivelyOP, in fact) with character and cosmetic bundles that players could purchase.

This failed for lots of reasons, let's be real.

A super-duper failure

Upon launch, it was immediately apparent that the formula of “MOBA + DC + Turbine” wasn’t going to guarantee any sort of immediate success. Steam’s launch day population was just north of 4,700 players — and it only went downhill from there. A month later, it was just half that on a daily basis. Two months in and only 1,300 players were duking it out every day.

It was, pardon the pun, a crisis indeed.

These low numbers were further exacerbated by extremely tepid reviews that did nothing to encourage entrenched MOBA players to hop over to this fresh upstart. Turbine did what it could to deliver on its promise of new characters and an ongoing storyline, hauling out Lex Luthor, ranked play, and a pretty kickin’ soundtrack. However, it simply wasn’t enough to turn the tide.

So the writing was on the wall before the launch day was over: Infinite Crisis was D.O.A., and there was nothing that could be done to change that. On June 2nd, 2015, Turbine announced that Infinite Crisis would be shutting down that August, less than five months from its release.

“No one is more disappointed than the dev team,” said Art Director Floon. “The project faced a lot of development challenges, both technical and design, and the team learned a lot and grew strong tackling all of them. Unfortunately, as the MOBA market matured around us as we were building the game, we simply couldn’t find enough of an audience.”

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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