Into the Super-Verse: What kind of legs does City of Heroes have in the longer term?

When the lights go down in the city.

So it’s time to start talking about the future of City of Heroes. To be fair, I’m not talking about it from a financial standpoint. It seems patently obvious to me based on Homecoming’s donation drives and player stats that the audience is there to keep this running for a long damn while – years, at least – and while I’m sure there are struggles in terms of making new content because everyone involved is an unpaid volunteer, I cannot imagine it’s that impossible to develop new story arcs to keep people entertained.

I assume, anyhow; they haven’t asked me to write one yet. Just saying.

No, in this edition of Into the Super-Verse, I want to talk more about the longer term when it comes to attracting players, new and old, and getting people invested in the game. And yes, in terms of content too, albeit a touch more peripherally. After all, while I just said you can make new content, you also have to incentivize people to run it beyond badges… and that can start up a whole new stream of levers.

Here’s the big problem that CoH is going to have in attracting new players: The game has been shut down for more than a decade, and it’s about to be two decades old.

To be clear, I don’t mean any of this as a pejorative. If it isn’t already clear by the fact that I have not stopped writing about this game since the license deal went through, I do not mind even slightly that the game is older, and I still think it is both eminently playable and intensely cool. It has some dated graphical assets, sure, but it’s hardly alone in that, and with the right settings, it can look really great.

But I am also the converted. Heck, I am the converted who knew the day it happened that the license was granted for Homecoming. That was all I needed to jump back into the game. And while I can point to improvements and expansions that have rolled out since then, it is also hard to cite the experience that will be waiting for people who don’t just have to shine the rust off – for new players who must now build an entirely new set of skills for playing this video game about superheroes doing the superhero thing.

You might think “well, why does the shutdown length matter there,” and the answer is that, y’know, a lot of the people who were raw about this a decade ago have moved on. I don’t mean they’ve necessarily forgiven or forgotten, but there has been time to heal and grieve and move on. And a lot of those people aren’t even going to know it came back because it’s not exactly front-page news for other sites. There were even MMO gamers who read MassivelyOP but nevertheless were shocked that City of Heroes was previously online as rogue servers when the license was announced, in spite of the fact that we’d been covering it for the four years it was online already.

You made it sing, all right.

This is one of the reasons that when Homecoming and related projects cropped up, I talked about how this was pretty terrible news for the “Plan Z” projects in general. It’s already hard to keep up the energy for “I’m sad CoH is gone” seven years on because most people are just going to move on with their lives. And most of the people who were standing in Atlas Park protesting when the game shut down the first time have… probably moved on with their lives, yeah. (I have not moved on with my life, but I am not a normative example, and we can all thank whatever deity you care to name for that fact.)

It’s definitely true that Homecoming has seen a population surge, between the curious newbies and old fans who have heard the news. But that surge is going to decrease with time and development. Heck, let’s not pretend it’s not going to have such a meaningful impact that would interfere with new games coming out. I love this game, and I already have at least one release on my radar that’s going to decrease my time in Paragon City.

This is also buoyed by the fact that I do not genuinely expect the Homecoming crew to start putting out AAA expansions. We will get new content, but it is probably not going to break the molds at this point. And that’s not a terrible thing by any means; it’s not as if the game is feature-poor. But the game is not going to suddenly rise like a phoenix to be something other than what it is or undergo a major feature expansion. This is fine, but it also means that it does become a bit easier to take breaks and feel like “yep, I’m done with the game now” at certain points.

So is it all doom and gloom? Eh… not really, no. I also think there’s reason to be hopeful, and part of it is that being legitimate means that the server has more options for advertising and pulling people in to begin with. Yes, it’s all volunteer stuff, but it’s not as if it’s challenging to put together a decent YouTube ad in 2024. And players don’t have to play and wonder if the whole enterprise is going to get shut down all of a sudden.

Plus, there’s also the fact that I think CoH is a really good game and easily the best superhero MMO we’ve had to date.

We got it back, after all.

I know full well that the trendy thing these days is to talk about “superhero fatigue” like that’s a real thing and a problem or whatever. Superheroes have been a dominant thing in pop culture for the past 16 years now, and before that they were already kind of a big deal. But it’s clear that even if the audience is retreating a bit, it’s not gone; it seems pretty clear that as with everything else in pop culture, people get a little more bored of it being everywhere, and then they get a taste for it again in predictable cycles.

There are parts of CoH that have not aged particularly well, but I also don’t see its population undergoing a huge slide. Instead, I think we’re probably going to find some rises, some lower points, and a pretty consistent increased cap. So long as the Homecoming crew keeps up its update pace with new powersets and new content of some kind, a lot of people are going to keep chiming in and joining the game.

And considering that Homecoming is also putting out feelers for other rogue servers, I don’t think it’s out of the question that we will see even more development than we had previously expected. After all, volunteer development also describes a whole lot of mod development, and some of those get continually updated for years. It’s another story entirely when you have Paragon City as a playground.

The game was always a bit of a niche title for a variety of reasons. It’s definitely not going to become one of the big five, and that was never something I expected or really wanted. But it does have places it can go, things it can do, and potential for growth even now in this second wind at life. That’s more than you can say for a lot of games that get resurrected, never mind the ones that never do.

The surprise rush may be over. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the honeymoon has to be, and there’s room to go up. And I think “staying where we’re at post-rush” is more likely than backsliding.

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.
Previous articleDune Awakening: Religion yes, player messiahs no
Next articleThrowback MMORPG Scars of Honor’s $200K Kickstarter bid ends unsuccessfully

No posts to display

Subscribe to:
oldest most liked
Inline Feedback
View all comments