Given the current state of CoH/V, what does the future hold for Paragon Studios? A few things, but some haven’t been as discussed as others.
Not The Sarah Palin Book Or Gay Slang
The obvious ones to mention are Issue 17: Dark Mirror and Going Rogue. The Dual Pistols powerset is going through an open beta test currently and is scheduled to be out for pre-orderers of Going Rogue in March. (Interesting question is if the two new power sets are going to be available to those players who don’t buy Going Rogue.)
Ultra Mode, CoH/V’s graphical update, is also going to be the centre piece of I17 and is probably out for beta testing in March and launch in April or so. Going Rogue launches in July. I recognise the importance of getting these things out there – CoH/V has lost players and needs to be doing something to bring them back – but I17 (in the announcements to date, anyway) doesn’t contain much I can see that is going to get players resubscribing. To date, it’s another small issue content-wise.
This is because the majority of new content is going to appear in Going Rogue, of course. I17 is a set-up issue for that launch. If Ultra Mode is going to cause player difficulties, better they occur before the big box launch than after, right?
Right now, not a lot is known about Going Rogue. Perhaps it’s been overshadowed by another Going Rogue, but it has been announced as going live in about 5 months – that’s not too far away, especially in such a crowded market. Perhaps marketing has a plan all set to go hard at it once I17 is bedded down, but it seems a bit cheeky to want players to pre-order in March for a title that so little is known about. Number of new zones? Converting existing characters to the new world? Actual rewards for siding with the Praetorians or the Resistance? File not found. (Of course, I’ll be pre-ordering and getting the more expensive one because I want the extra items, but that’s my problem and I’ll deal with it.)
Don’t Look At The Man Behind The Curtin
Something less commented on is that almost on the eve of CoH/V’s biggest addition in recent memory is that Positron (aka Matt Miller) stepped aside as lead designer on CoH/V, handing the mantle to War Witch (aka Melissa Bianco). People congratulated War Witch – she’s a fan favourite and has been CoH/V’s lead zone designer for a while now – but it seems odd to me that just as CoH/V is going into such a major push that Positron steps back.
Also shifting around are people from production and programming. Again, Going Rogue is a make-or-break point for CoH/V. If it doesn’t arrest CoH/V’s declining player numbers, all that discussion of NCsoft’s increased investment in Paragon Studios is for naught because the return on investment just wouldn’t be there. So why isn’t Paragon Studios bringing their A-team to Going Rogue’s final days of development?
Because they are working on a new MMO. They even say so in an advertised vacancy – “next MMO” and you don’t start hiring on next MMOs unless there is a next MMO coming. That’s the ‘new initatives’ that the statement talks about. There may be others, of course – for instance, if Paragon Studios has to build entirely new tech for Going Rogue’s end game features then that takes time – but you don’t need to announce staffing changes to achieve that. Key people are being brought together to get this new MMO moving and for that it means they reduce their time on CoH/V, or stop altogether.
Reading that announcement I couldn’t help but flash back to when Positron was announced as lead designer by Statesman (aka Jack Emmert). (I’d link the original announcement, but it has been stripped from the face of reality. So thank you, Wayback Machine, for finding it again.) The past doesn’t necessarily dictate the future, but considering Emmert handed CoH/V to Miller and then moved their focus to Marvel Universe Online (which later became Champions Online) it’s interesting that Miller has handed CoH/V to Bianco and moved on to developing another MMO. Probably the way of the game design world, and I don’t expect Paragon Studios to follow exactly in Cryptic’s footsteps, but it is a little case of history repeating.
I’ve got no idea what status Paragon Studios’ new MMOs is at, but it is probably early days. Looking for a Lead Concept Artist is likely to indicate that a lot of work is still needed, but it the project could certainly be underway in earnest on the technical side. If Paragon Studios is working on their next MMO, things like obtaining game tools and development engines need to be done – I don’t think NCsoft would want to see the Cryptic Engine used on Paragon Studios’ next title.
Eggs and Baskets
Ultimately Paragon Studios needs a new MMO to increase its chances of survival. The studio’s fate is solely tied to CoH/V at this point in time and that is dangerous. Diversifying into a new MMO is going to keep people hired should things go south for CoH/V and open up a new possibilities for revenue. City of Heroes 2 is a possibility, but there are a number of open spaces for MMOs to try for outside of high fantasy titles.
Miller’s journey to Korea at the end of last year along with other people from NCsoft West can be taken in a number of ways, but the most obvious is an end-of-year strategic meeting to talk about what is going on for the next twelve months and beyond. That Paragon Studios is still hiring people despite not meeting their 2009 budget (25 000 million Won) AND having a lower revenue target in 2010 for CoH/V (19 000 million Won) than they earned in 2009 (22 909 million Won) is important – it means the studio is looking to grow despite someone official not having confidence that CoH/V is going to grow in 2010 (either that or they managed to slip some easy numbers past NCsoft’s accounts team). Miller would have had to have something good to talk about at that Korean meeting (and before, given that budgets usually have to be nailed down and approved long before they are published in my experience) and in MMO terms little is more exciting than a new MMO in development.
There is a chance that Paragon Studios is going to become a localisation studio – Blade and Soul isn’t going to localise itself – but I hope not. A new MMO, perhaps CoH 2, launching post-DC Universe Online? That I can see.
UPDATE (18 Feb 10): To fix up a picture and a few comments.