Poaching superheroes

I think it’s going to be a good year for MMOs. There are a fair number of different games in development. Studios are experimenting more with different charging systems (subscription vs RMT), niche markets (eg. sandbox PvP), and different genres. This could add up to a lot more choice for gamers so I’m hoping that all the games enjoy a measure of success.

But notably in the AAA field this year are two superhero offerings. Champions Online, and DC Universe Online.

Syp is taking a (possibly hopeful) guess that superheroes could be the next big thing in online gaming. After all, you’ve seen the film, now play the game. I’m as bored of fantasy as the next person but I’m not so sure about this one. For one thing, the game is going to be nothing like the films or comics. Yes you too can be a man in tights, leap tall buildings, throw cars and people, and fight people in equally daft costumes but  for me the core of superhero comicswas the character-centric stories. And that’s hard to do in an MMO.

For another thing … it may also be that the timing is wrong. Maybe people are bored of superhero films and don’t want to play superheroes at all.

DC Universe Online has several unique selling points. It features DC characters such as Wonderwoman. It looks to be more action based with a more exciting combat style than your typical MMO. It’s also intended to run on consoles (presumably PS3 since it’s Sony), and they’re employing name DC writers to write the story arcs.

Note: It’s unlikely that Rorschach and co will turn up, although they are technically DC heroes since Watchmen was published by DC. You probably aren’t allowed to play a psycho vigilante either.

Champions Online sounds to be more in the vein of City of Heroes with a few extra tweaks. Not really surprising because it’s being developed by many of the same team. Champions, while a much loved RPG for superhero gaming really doesn’t have the name recognition of DC so they have more of an uphill struggle to market.

My husband, who will still happily talk about the legendary Champions campaign that he and his mates ran while they were at university reckons that the distinguishing feature of the RPG was how well you could customise your abilities. He doesn’t rate the setting itself because like most gamers of the time, they ignored it and rolled their own.  I doubt that fans of the RPG are CO’s main target audience but if they are, then highly customisable abilities (and I don’t mean just the colour of your eyebeam) need to be on the cards.

There are plans for CO to run on the XBox360. There have also been some comments about supporting user created content, letting players create their own nemesis recurring NPCs etc.

This is all very well, but there is already a successful superhero MMO on the market. City of Heroes may be looking a bit long in the tooth these days but they’ve been pushing out new content enthusiastically. Most recently the mission architect that will allow — yes — player created content, which is now up on the CoH test server.

So the big question is: How many superhero MMO fans will abandon CoH for one of the news games? Will people want to subscribe to more than one superhero game?  And how many people want to play superhero MMOs anyway?

I’m not actually of the belief that there’s a vast untapped number of MMO players who desperately want to play superheroes. But I’d be happy to be wrong. Now give me a good steampunk setting on the other hand, film noir, a modern urban fantasy, or a space opera …

A step too far?

One thing that is very clear is that an obvious target market for CO in particular is current and ex CoH players. So imagine my lack of surprise to hear that CO developers had been actively courting this audience and trying to interest them in the Champions Online beta.

But wait. What they actually did was to PM people on NCSoft’s official CoH forums. This is naughty slap on the wrist rudeness. I wouldn’t get overly excited by the whole deal, but it does all seem vastly unnecessary.

New MMOs often try to attract entire guilds to their games via mass guild beta invites and the like. They know very well that people are more likely to stick with a game if they come in with a group and that having some well organised guilds in game does wonders for solidifying a community. Usually this is done by just announcing a guild beta and letting people apply. More targeted applications can be done by contacting the guilds via their guild sites.

Going into a competitor’s game to invite players or using their official sites is definitely one step beyond this.

Back in the good old days of MUDs/MUSHes, people often logged into one game to advertise another, or encouraged people to bring their friends over. Netiquette at the time demanding that you ask the staff at the MUSH you were advertising on if this was OK. Some were fine with it and even had special bboards devoted to adverts for other games. Others created drama the likes of which had to be seen to be believed.

And those were free games. Introducing profit making ventures into the mix is always going to make things more volatile.

In any case, after being pressed, Cryptic has apologised. Presumably they apologised to NCSoft too because I doubt any players care much either way except to find it amusing.

Sanya Weathers even wonders in her MMORPG Examiner’s column whether it’s a publicity stunt.

However, this really doesn’t change the fact that Cryptic probably do need to attract CoH players to at least try their new game. Is there really any good reason not to advertise in the places most likely to reach them; inside the games they currently play?

And as a last note

The other thing I wonder is why it’s necessary to have private messages enabled on an official game forum. If I was in charge, I’d disable those straight away. Sure it’s a convenience for players but I think that if you run official forums you do need to be able to control what goes on in them. And if you can’t moderate PMs then it’s better not to have them at all.

One thought on “Poaching superheroes

  1. Pingback: Anticipation Revisitation « Bio Break

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