Is Champions Online on the ropes?

Eric@Elder Game reckons that CO has about a month to determine whether or not it will be able to survive for a couple of years or not. (It’s worth reading his post partly because he’s an insightful writer with some industry inside perspective but also because this one has a funny story about a profanity filter.)

I’m not a great fan of superheroes but even so, I had noticed that I’ve heard very little about CO in the blogosphere recently. There was an upsurge of interest when the game launched, with quite a few people picking up lifetime subscriptions and explaining what they enjoyed about the game. But I haven’t heard much recently. I’d assumed that the people who played were settling down quietly to do just that, but Eric has a different view.

We know that CO was not a huge hit. We also knew that Cryptic were planning to launch a second AAA MMO within a few months – Star Trek Online, which is a much much bigger IP. Eric wonders if this will put more pressure on the CO team within the company.

This is very bad news for Champions players. Champions has been relegated to the role of red-headed stepchild… it’s that crappy failure of a game that keeps stealing resources from Star Trek Online, which is the game that’s going to save the company.

But here’s the thing. There are certainly publishers who run several successful MMOs at once — mostly free to play type games like Aeria Games, or social games like Zynga (creators of Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc). But these are much less demanding games (in terms of artwork, music, coding support) than the lush top of the line subscription MMOs that Cryptic is producing.

Will they be able to sustain both CO and STO without one game losing out in the long run? Because if one does lose, it won’t be Star Trek. How many people who took out lifetime subs for CO are still happy with their purchase, I wonder.

18 thoughts on “Is Champions Online on the ropes?

  1. I had the same issue with the swearing filter (the same word too) exactly one month ago, three days prior there was a thread on it (that I hadn’t noticed) but not a single dev post regarding it.
    And yes, some of the signs point towards a last gasp chance at breaking even, especially with the new Cryptic store additions (the pay-for retcons in particular) but it’s not all doom and gloom. I’d give it another 4 weeks. If after Blood Moon is over there is no sign of any more end-game content on the horizon then we can surely conclude they’re sitting twiddling their thumbs while their unpowered glider gently plumets into the sea.

  2. I was actually just talking to someone on Vent last night about Champions. I mentioned to him that, while I didn’t care ALOT about Champions, it did have some nice qualities to it. But I thought 15 bucks a month was a rediculous price for that game. If it was, say, 5 bucks a month, I could see picking it up as a secondary MMO.

  3. I bought a lifetime subscription, and I’m still very happy with the game. The profanity filter bug was a surprise to me, but I turn those filters off first thing when I get into a game.

    I’m a little confused about at why everyone has moved the game to suicide watch status so quickly, especially given that they “sold-out” of lifetime and six month memberships. Especially with both Fallen Earth and Aion launching nearly simultaneously, I think it’s going to be a couple of months before we see how each game is going to shake out.

    Either way a lifetime sub is always a gamble. With LoTRO it turned out to be a good buy, with Champions only time will tell.

  4. It depends a lot on how big the CO team ends up being, too, and how many resources need to be used to keep it going. If it’s a relatively cheap game to maintain, its longevity will be that much higher.

    So far I reckon it has enough momentum to keep going for a few years, but I’m utterly guessing on that one since I don’t actually play it. Just going by what I’ve been reading in the last couple of months.

  5. Well they can’t let it collapse because no one would buy Star Trek from them if they did. Funcom is still suffering from its negative image with regard to this Secret World.

    The lifetime subs and six monthlys gave them a lot of up-front money. I suspect in many cases they got money from people who otherwise would only have played a month – remember how excited people were about WAR and how few stayed?

    So in a business sense they’re probably ok.

    In terms of player numbers they’re in crisis and they need to listen to Eric’s last two posts and get things together.

    I think the announcement of paid retcons is a big error. It’s basically saying to people who can easily get shafted by clicking the wrong option here’s a Mistake Tax to help us keep our failiing game up. You don’t need to charge players for basic fundamental utilities in a sub-based game. Charge them for fluff sure. Charge them for minor competitive advantages like exp potions, well ok. Charge them for basic utility that anyone needs to play and you’ll have an empty game.

    I shudder to think how much I’d have paid in 4 years of WOW had each respec cost $12. I probably did close to a five hundred respecs across all my characters, when I was raiding and arena-fighting I respecced my paladin about 6 times a week.

  6. Good points, Stabs. I think you’re completely right about the Star Trek and up-front money parts, but I wouldn’t compare the paid retcons to either a mistake tax or WoW’s respec system. There’s an existing undo/partial retcon already in-game if you get buyer’s remorse regarding a recent power purchase. Paid retcons are only for a complete reset of the powers. So far I’ve only needed those in place of when I would re-roll in other games. WoW’s respec is needed by classes like priests and warriors because the focus shifts so much from leveling to end-game. Champions really doesn’t have a similar shift, or at least it doesn’t yet. I used one free retcon on my main hero after the initial rebalance patch, but I don’t expect to need another one unless they make another major design change.

  7. While the developer team takes some of any blame for any perceived underachievement, I’m one of those people that thinks the MMO playerbase in general needs to stop being so tourist-y and start being more realistic about their expectations. Every MMO since the release of WoW has gone through a period of high excitement, crashing reality, and demoralization leading to decreased subscriptions.

    If people actually managed their expectations properly and understood that to be a first adopter on an MMO is not a sprint but a marathon, you’d have more viable titles without doomsaying posts like the one linked from Elder Game, insider perspective be damned. As it is, there is a significant portion of the MMO community that treats a title like the best thing since sliced bread but is equally as quick to throw it in the trash, half-finished, just because the recipe isn’t quite as good as they envisioned it to be.

    I’ll take developers to task all day for failed expectations, but I also don’t think, if CO is in really bad shape, that it’s entirely their fault, either. The paradigm of players and developers need to change to fit what MMO development is really like.

    • Is it the players’ faults that these games are hyped to the heavens before they release?

      If you look at the one game this year that wasn’t hyped at all, Darkfall Online, they haven’t suffered an unmanageable tourist problem at all.

      Games companies are reaping what they sow.

    • Agree with Stabs, disagree with Frank. Sorry, Frank, but since when do customer expectations have anything to do with poor planning and underdevelopment? The great sin of our age is that software companies have convinced the buying public that it’s “okay” to release buggy, improperly tested products. If MMO devs would stop treating open betas like a buzz-generating marketing tool and actually use it to get fresh perspectives on possible problems with their product, we would get better product. The fact that Cryptic nerfed huge areas of CO THE DAY IT WENT LIVE indicates a real problem, and it’s not hard to believe that it’s partly because they’ve already diverted resources to STO. Peruse the CO forums, and you’ll see a lot of end user dissatisfaction. CO is in trouble. It won’t last anywhere near two years. Even the CoX expatriates that they managed to convince to defect are returning to the motherland for their cape-and-tights fix.

  8. I absolutely loved Champions for how fast and engaging the combat was, and how customizable my character was in terms of looks and powers. I would love to keep my subscription up and play it continuously, at least until Cataclysm comes out (and even then, perhaps keep it as a secondary MMO).

    However, the constant random knockback (which the forums assure me is caused by lag, even though I’ve played a lot of games and never seen lag do anything like that before) makes my character so annoying to control that I canceled my subscription — and said as much in the comments field when I put in my cancellation.

    I can put up with the game being too easy (just avoid the overpowered abilities), I can put up with the complete lack of group content pre-endgame (at least, I assume there’s going to be some group content eventually, I hadn’t seen anything I couldn’t solo by the time I quit at 26) but I’m not resubscribing until they fix that stupid knockback.

  9. The problem I found with Champions Online is that, while it has tremendous potential, right now I don’t think it’s achieving that potential and I worry that it’s not going to do so unless there are some serious changes/improvements in the next month or so. I certainly don’t think it’s going to wither and die completely in the next few months without those improvement (my own personal plea to the developers would be more content in the form of actual storylines, for the love of Eris!), but I’d worry that it won’t last more than two years, maximum, without them.

    Also, if they really want to be making money, they need to fix the bug where cancelled players can still play the game for free.

  10. It’s hard to say and depends a lot on what the expectations of the developer are and threshold subscription rate is. I hope CO does well as it seems like a perfectly fine game. Maybe not my cup of tea but I’m sure it will be someones.

  11. The game is still fresh, which is why we have to give it the benefit of the doubt. Hell even I have bitched about all things Champions Online that annoy me on my blog. (

    But the game has set some innovative standards that can’t be denied. I just hope the game doesn’t stagnate because of the current lack of end-game activities or its implied insistence that Champions can complete most of the journey solo. It is supposed to be an MMO FFS!

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  14. People need to realize this is actually a feature, and not price gouging. The MMOs I’m familiar with require you to re-roll and re-level to get a new character with completely different abilities up to the level cap. (I guess guild wars has a fairly liberal character-rebuild option, but I’ve never played it, so I can’t comment.)

    Champions lets me level once, then spend less than a month’s subscription fee to utterly rebuild my character from scratch. They get something out of the transaction – which helps them keep the game running – and I get a whole new playstyle.

    Since I value my time more than my money, I prefer this to games that require me to repeat content just to squeeze more subscription fees out of me.

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