Why City of Heroes / Villains Needs to Worry More About Itself Than Champions Online

Cecil Adkins wrote a point / counter-point article about why City of Heroes / Villains (CoH/V) should both not worry and worry very much about the launch of Champions Online (ChampO). Although I agree with his points on both sides, I think that too much focus has been put on CoH/V vs ChampO.

City of Heroes / Villains versus Champions Online

City of Heroes / Villains versus Champions Online – not the full story.

Yes, it is obvious that Paragon Studios is worried about the launch of ChampO. The most recent major update of CoH/V – Issue 16: Power Spectrum – is full of features designed to neutralise ChampO’s advantages around character customisation. Super-sidekicking (an evolution of CoH/V’s sidekicking system) popped up in ChampO first. There probably was an uncertainty about how CoH/V players would react to a direct competitor i.e. another comic book MMO. But in looking soley at ChampO as a competitor, a lot of people are missing other issues related to the future of CoH/V.

First off, pretty much any hope for the future meaningful survival of CoH/V is being put in the hands of its paid expansion, called Going Rogue. The core complaint made from people who quit CoH/V is that the main gameplay is overly repetitive – you end up fighting in the same maps over and over and over again. Nothing I16 implemented is going to change that, so it will be up to Going Rogue to deal with that issue… if it does. I’ve highlighted ‘meaningful’ because MMOs can easily go into maintenance mode and run for quite a while if the player base who holds on is large enough to cover costs – I’m looking at you, Matrix Online.

At the time Going Rogue launches, CoH/V will be looking at its sixth birthday. This is a great achievement for such a unique title, but also it comes with the burdens of being a six year old title – older graphics, an audience that is more attracted to new, shiny things, etc. Going Rogue is going to offer side switching, more powersets, perhaps a graphics upgrade, but is it going to have enough to bring in new or former players? Someone who left CoH/V because they were sick of running warehouse maps isn’t going to come back just to run warehouse maps while summoning demons.

Secondly, NCsoft West is increasingly coming under the thumb of NCsoft Korea. Following the numerous and glorious failures NCsoft West has endured in recent years – Tabula Rasa, Auto Assault, Dungeon Runners – NCsoft West has seen numerous senior management changes and recently has seen a new CEO from NCsoft HQ in Korea appointed. I don’t think this bodes well for CoH/V’s long term future in that all the deals they would have made with previous management are now off. Although profitable, the reality is that it has had a shrinking player base (up to the point they stopped releasing figures) and was less financially important to NCsoft than Guild Wars. NCsoft HQ has no issue in benching games that aren’t pulling their weight, which could see Paragon Studios lose a lot of the resources it has been given if Going Rogue isn’t successful.

That is if Going Rogue actually makes it to launch – Positron announced a previous boxed expansion that was canned after NCsoft cut back on development resources when City of Villians didn’t meet player number expectations. I’m not saying it won’t – certainly looks like it will – but NCsoft doesn’t have an issue with inviting everyone out into the carpark and locking the doors behind them either.

Finally, the major issue for me is what imagination, what creativity is going to be shown in further developing the CoH/V experience. Although Issue 10 to Issue 16 all contain content, I found it hard to get too excited about a lot of it. The Rikti invasions in I10 were fun – and still are, when they go off – and the Mission Architect system was an interesting (if badly mishandled) addition.

Other issues, however, just didn’t grab me. New powersets grab me, not powerset proliferation. I15 was a waste of an issue number. And I look at the many, many dangling lore threads that have been left unhandled: Issue 11 introduced the threat of the Coming Storm. It’s Issue 16 and that storm is still coming. Some zones have been tweaked, but there hasn’t been any major changes despite several Hazard Zones being prime candidates for a work-over. (And yeah, I know that reworking a zone takes as much time as creating a new one, but that’s not an excuse to avoid doing it.)

It is nice that Paragon Studios is giving their existing players what they want (generally), but  I haven’t seen anything truly imaginative or creative for a while. Technically proficient and on-target, sure, but not creative. Perhaps Going Rogue will change that. Perhaps.

But I get concerned when players hang all their expectations on a single vaguely defined expansion, believing it will cure all in-game ills and revitalise everything. They are bound to end up disappointed.

For all his ills, former CoH/V lead developer Jack Emmert (aka Statesman) at least appeared to have a creative vision of new content development; with current CoH/V lead developer Matt Miller (aka Positron) I’ve never got that impression.

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