Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 27, 2012
 
Not quite super-heroic

I consider myself to be a moderate and realist. But by being that, if one is faced with a huge load of unjustified optimism, idealism, and illusions of grandeur, one always ends up looking like a terrible cynic. I don't dislike City of Heroes. But if I read that the huge "Save City of Heroes" campaign managed to get a whopping 19,000 online signature on their petition, I can't help but snortle. In a market where a game with 200,000 actual *subscribers* is regarded as a failure, how is any company going to be impressed by 20,000 non-committal online signatures? If each of these 20,000 people would have sent $100 to NCSoft, that wouldn't have been enough to save City of Heroes.

Comments:
I understand those 20k people who want to keep their game alive. On the other hand I think they are a little late.

I wonder what will happen on the day - probably still a few years down the line - wheny the close down WoW ... but then I just checked: Ultima Online is still up and running after 15 years.

So I ask myself how rare is it that an MMO shuts down? I am not following the genre that closely?
 
Yep, UO is 15 years old but it hasn't been updated in ages. Oh, there have been some token expansions like ship battles or pirates but there's hardly even a skeleton crew manning the UO ship anymore.

So there's MMOs that shut down (Asian MMOs seem to be a lot more decisive) and there's some that linger forever in the twilight.
 
If the game can generate enough revenue to keep its infrastructure up and some staff to keep it running, there's no business reason to shut it down. Even if there was a little cost , the benefit of having a game online is a good one from a marketing perspective.

As Tobold implied, City of Heroes simply cost too much to keep online.
 
What the company should do is release a stripped down version of their back-end software, and their content creation tools. Enough so that people can play on their own private servers, or single player on their PC, and add content to the world as a community.

Bundle it with a copy of CoH/CoV, dump any protection mechanisms, and sell it for $50-100.

CoH would live on forever. The company would get a last hit of income. Everyone wins.

 
I'm sure no one would complain about being charged new, AAA-game prices for a defunct MMO...
 
It's 20000 who are willing to sign an online petition.

If you had to donate $1 to sign the petition you could cut that number by 90% probably.

The solution that would keep the game alive--- volunteering to pay more for it--- is the one option that no one seems willing to take.

The whole thing is very silly.
 
I remember a time when the the NCSoft CoX team consisted of a secretary and two programmers threatened by the mother ship with closure. But with the help of the community the "costume packs" managed to first finance a temp and later quite a few real positions turning the ship around. So there is hope that it can be managed a second time.
 
I remember a time when the the NCSoft CoX team consisted of a secretary and two programmers threatened by the mother ship with closure. But with the help of the community the "costume packs" managed to first finance a temp and later quite a few real positions turning the ship around. So there is hope that it can be managed a second time.
 
I'm a fellow NCSoft 'victim' myself, with the shut-down of Tabula Rasa.

We're talking about a game which displayed uniquely 'fun' game mechanics, such that playing - even without quests and direction - was a sheer joy. TR's capture points happened with an epic scale I have yet to see repeated anywhere in any game.

If NCSoft can bin a game like that and make very clear that they have no intention of selling the IP or assets because they don't want anyone using them to compete with their existing stable, how the hell does anyone expect anything but final death for the older, inferior CoH/V?
 
I'm not really sure you get what's happening with CoH Tobold.

Everyone accepts that NCSoft is entirely within its rights to close City of Heroes. And everyone accepts that CoH has been declining in revenue over recent years.

But that doesn't diminish the impact of having a perfectly good game taken away from people who enjoy playing it.

The closure of an MMO reminds us in the starkest possible way that we don't *buy* MMOs, we rent them. And unlike Doom, which I can reload and play whenever I choose, once CoH is closed, it's denied us forever.

That fact alone makes it worth signing a petition to support the game, even if it's vanishingly unlikely it'll survive. It sends a message of support and solidarity to others who love the game. It also raises awareness amongst all MMO players that your favourite MMO could be next.

I'm actually surprised that all MMO bloggers haven't gotten behind this movement more, rather than snortling at its imminent demise.

Fostering an industry where MMOs can retire without closure as soon as they're no longer blockbusters is in all of or interests.

(Also, for the record, it's "delusions of grandeur".)
 
Perhaps this is a lesson to the core fans of certain games who dislike the presence of the wider casual audience and the features that are designed to draw them in.

I wonder how many CoH fans would welcome with open arms an influx of say a few million casual customers prepared to pay a monthly sub right about now...
 
Perhaps people should choose to play games that can pay for themselves on 20k of people? Call it 'sustainable gaming'
 
This is a game that was making a profit but not enough for NCSoft. Now people want to buy the game, so sell it, make money, and fix some of the PR mess you have from shutting down 5 games, one of which you were successfully sued over.

The petition might not work but it is one of things helping our voice be heard. We have gotten coverage from CNN and support from celebrities like Neil Gaiman, Mercedes Lackey, and Sean Astin, among others.

It is worth fighting for.
 
Thank you for taking the time to write about City of Heroes. I'm sorry you dont feel you can support the people trying to convince the publisher that it is better to work with their paying customers than against them. I'm sorry that you can't appreciate the support the players are showing the 80 people who spent 8 years creating a universe only to turn up for work one day, while their product was in profit and was due to publish the next expansion pack, and were told they were no longer needed.

I'm saddened that you think its OK for publishers to wipe out 8 years of creativity, thousands of hours and dollars invested in their product and tell their customers its because of a 'refocus'.

I'm sorry that you feel that because something is 8 years old, and not to your tastes, that you think it isn't worth standing up for.

I'm sorry you think its OK for NC Soft to treat their staff and customers like this, and you think we should just let it happen, without saying we think they're making a mistake.

I hope you will be as placid when whatever game you are playing is ripped away from you.



 
It is worth fighting for.

Then why did only so few people show up for that fight? Just because you and a handful of people liked that game, that doesn't make it worth preserving. Most people long ago voted with their feet and their wallets against the game.
 
I'd like to clear up a few misconceptions, both in regards to Tobold's post, as well as some in the responses.

First, in regards to subscription numbers, and how they relate to the bottom line. A quick at Wikipedia {yes, forgive me, but let's assume it's at least mostly right} puts 200,000 subscribers as the average subscriber base of Final Fantasy 11, published by what is by and large a household name for most gamers, with publicity and developer base to match.

The running cost of a MMO is not a fixed one, not only between separate MMOs, but during their own lifetime as well. For example, at the time Paragon Studios were disbanded, they employed eighty people. However, at one point, in 2006, to be specific, it consisted of no more than fifteen. It ultimately depends on your definition of failure - and if is defined as inability to subsist by itself, to operate in the proverbial black, then by NCsoft's own revenue numbers, it was not one. This is, by and large, treated as the biggest mystery in this entire affair - why did NCsoft sever an ongoing, quantifiably positive revenue stream?

There is also an understatement of player involvement. Since the game transitioned into the hybrid free-to-play model, actual subscription numbers have been difficult to pin down, but estimates put it around 50,000 subscribed players. The Unity Rally that took place on September 8th drew five thousand people. How many games can you name that would be likely to draw one-tenth of their total population to a single server {which spilled into three as they filled} for a single, simultaneous event that had nothing at all to do with gameplay itself, but a show of solidarity for the game and its developers? Our overall population may be a drop in the bucket compared to behemoths like WoW, but the fraction of those willing to involve themselves in its survival is, I believe, far in excess.
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@moonmonster: You're assuming CoH is defunct due to its age, but its age could be compared to one of the person - one would hardly argue that an eight-year-old is inferior to a newborn. Let me illustrate - at http://paragonwiki.com/wiki/Issues you will find the list of issues - free mini-expansions - that were incorporated into the game over its lifetime. During its entire existence, CoH was built on, improved and expanded with regularity. Story arcs, additional archetypes and powersets, entire zones and countless other minor additions, adjustments and improvements were implemented on top of the original foundation to the point where age equated to content and quality instead of obsolescence.

@Woody: I'm not entirely sure what you mean by that. CoH's transition to a F2P model was met with near-universal approval. With absolutely no limited resources to fight over, sidekick system that enabled vastly disparate levels to team together and almost exclusively instanced missions, CoH was the motherlode of casual play by whatever yardstick you might choose to measure it by.


 
I really hate to be one of many debunking this post, but most of your numbers just aren't right. I also hate to bring you the news that we as a community aren't giving up. This game is worth fighting for.

A few years into CoH, some of the developers decided to move on and make a newer Superhero MMO. A better one. Do you know what happened?

CO was born, and it nearly failed. There are barely enough people there to make a profit.

This is more than a game. This was a community. This was a group of amazing people bound together with an amazing game. If you don't feel that we are important enough, I am sorry we couldn't reach you. We are all fighting for this, please help us... because we aren't giving up.

We are heroes, sir. This is what we do.
 
We would love it. The more players, the better. We don't compete for resources, and there isn't gear to be hoarded. All it would mean is more friendly faces in the skies, helping us be the best we can be.
 
Sorry, but Paragon Studios confirmed that CoH was completely in the black. The game was making a profit.
 
Paragon Studios confirmed the game was in the black. Not only was it not losing money, it was also generating a profit.
 
most of your numbers just aren't right

Huh? What number isn't right? I didn't give any numbers on CoH profitability. The only numbers I gave is the number of petition signatures and the number of subscribers of The Secret World for comparison, as example for a game that was pronounced a failure.

And there is a huge difference between "profitable" and "profitable enough". If you had a shop which made $1 per year in profit, it would technically be profitable. And you would shut down that shop, because it wasn't profitable enough to live from.
 
So I ask myself how rare is it that an MMO shuts down? I am not following the genre that closely?

There is a list of MMOs on wikipedia from which one can get all those that have closed. If I remember it's about 22 (not counting CoH yet). Many of them were not AAA titles, and some I had never heard of.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_MMORPGs
 
Ultima Online will have a hard time dying because aside from needing really low (comparatively) costs to run, there are a tremendous amount of free shards out there, some of which are pretty awesome.

CoH should at least distribute it's source so that freelancers can start hosting their own worlds and at least keep their creation alive. (Not sure how feasible that is, given I've never played CoH). :P

Free-to-play keeps running costs down (less staff) and is perhaps the way of the future. I mean Hellgate London is still alive and kicking in Korea. O_o
 
20k signatures is something to snigger at , huh? I wonder how many people read your blog? 20k? 10k A couple of hundred? So why bother writing a blog at all? And if you think your blog is worth writing, then don't criticize a community who are acting because they believe what they're doing is worth it.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
I wonder how many people read your blog? 20k? 10k A couple of hundred?

Five million four hundred ninety eight thousand seven hundred and twenty nine people read my blog over the last nine years. Not counting those that did read it over a feedreader.

But then my cost of running this blog is zero, and it is a not-for-profit venture without advertising (donations accepted). If I had to pay 80 people to run this blog, it would have shut down long ago.

If you believe so strongly that City of Heroes should be kept running, why don't you give NCSoft the money needed to make this happen? You are a product of the culture of entitlement, where you think that your signature should be enough to force a company to do what you want, regardless of what the return on equity of that venture is. Sorry pal, the real world doesn't work like that.
 
I'd quite like to give them the money, if I had it.

Sadly, the day of the announcement, NC Soft stopped billing us and also stopped new accounts from being signed up. I couldn't pay them now, if I wanted to. Which, you know. I do.

And yes, before you ask, I was one of the VIP subscribes who kept my subscription up after it went F2P.

I can understand that people don't like a particular game, but I am becoming baffled by people sneering at people trying to keep something that means a lot to them alive.

NC Soft didn't try to cut down the number of servers they had running, they didn't reduce the people working on the game, they didn't advertise it, they didn't make any attempt to keep it running, or to sell it to another publisher.

Their /first/ reaction was to pull the plug on a game that was still bringing in a profit and was still bringing in new players.

I don't know that anyone here is here out of a sense of entitlement.

I'm here because we think that how NC Soft treated the staff of Paragon Studios (who were advertising for new staff in the run up to the announcement) terribly, effectively told customers who had been with them for almost eight years, that they were disposable.

I'm supporting the 'save' movement, because I think that closure of /any/ MMO should be the last resort, not the first, and that publishers should think of us as paying customers, rather than a revenue stream. And because I think that after they do everything they can to get you to invest your money and your time into their product, they shouldn't really give you the finger and tell you to eff off.
 
Have you ever heard of Schumpeter and the principle of creative destruction? Basically if NCSoft is not making enough money from City of Heroes, it is better for them to pull the plug and invest into a better game than just let it run on at some horrible return on equity rate, if it actually even was profitable any more.

And that is not just better for NCSoft, but for everybody. Instead of getting an outdated game only 20,000 people still care about, the same developers can make something newer and better that interests a lot more people. AND makes more money for the company. Everybody wins. There is a good reason why Pong isn't around any more either.
 
Tobold, you have been laboring under a misconception. Since the announcement came out, we have been practically screaming "shut up and take my money". For that matter, the Titan Network has been trying to open negotiations with NCsoft to purchase the City of Heroes IP from NCsoft. Not gift. Not loan. Purchase. With money.

If there is a sense of entitlement pervading the movement to save City of Heroes, it is this - if NCsoft has decided it wants nothing to do with the game anymore, that if it wants to take its ball and go home, it is well within its right to do so. And we believe that we, having played with both NCsoft and that ball for eight years, are entitled to buy that ball. Because just as NCsoft, that ball is also the investment of our own time, effort and yes, money, and while we do not own it {and not for lack of trying - yet}, we do deserve a say whether or not it gets forgotten next to Auto Assault, Exteel, Dungeon Runners and Tabula Rasa.

This is what drives this sense of urgency. Of the four games NCsoft has closed down in its past, it has actively refused all attempts at revival by either outside publishers or their own developers. From the moment the announcement came - from Paragon Studios, no less, not NCsoft itself - NCsoft has made it clear that it has no intention of reversing its decision. The petitions aren't an attempt to convince NCsoft to pick the game back up, rehire developers and pretend nothing has happened - they are publicity. If you look around, you'll notice that all the information surrounding the issue comes from the players themselves. NCsoft's own announcement was a one-paragraph blurb about "realignment" lacking any sort of explanation, indicating either open contempt for their customers or genuine underestimation. Either way, the reaction pivots solely on how NCsoft decides to treat them - whether by something mutually beneficial {NCsoft gets a cash influx or cuts all ties entirely}, and the consequences of that decision will paint the ones of their other games, with their own players, something that we, as fellow players, are not only allowed, but obligated to warn them about. Or as one player put it, "NCsoft is the one burning the ground, we're just willing to salt it afterwards."
 
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