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Champions Online's Cake + Eat

Posted by Ozzallos Wednesday January 12 2011 at 7:21PM
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Champions Online. Depending on who you talk to about this game, it's either passably fun or quite possibly one of the most reviled MMO franchises currently walking the street. The latter is mainly due to its association with City of Heroes. When Jack Emmert walked away from CoH with the publishing rights in hand, he alienated a large chunk of his established user base; essentially telling everybody involved in City of Heroes to suck it as he took the intellectual property and set up Champions.

The decision was undoubtedly a calculated one, since there could only be one goal in directly competing with his old associates by launching a newer, fresher looking product in the exact same style and genre. It was also goal that ironically never came to fruition. Fan resentment and betrayal over his defection kept the City of Heroes user base loyal and intact, denying Emmert of not only new users jumping ship from CoH, but the critical mass necessary to starve out his competition. Even worse, City of Heroes has thrived against all odds; at least enough to warrant an expansion and continued operation under a subscription model.

If that wasn't salt in the proverbial wound, Champion's problems are about to get a lot worse.

DC Universe Online is about to roll, and even at its worst (See the Hater's Guide) it still does enough right to turn the hero genre on its ear. The audio is a ten. The visuals, ten. Story? Ten. Sure, its game play is little more than arcade button mashing, but even that has an audience; an audience that is going to cut directly into Champion's user base in a big way. If a gamer has to decide which hero MMO their subscription dollar is going to go to, my bet is that Champions is going to have to bend over and pass the KY, please.

I’ll go out on a limb at this point and say that the only reason a lot of us have been playing these current games is in waiting for somebody else to do it right. DCUO is the next step in that evolution, and everybody knows it. You know it. I know it. Apparently, Cryptic knows it, too.

Most of us just received an email the other day confirming the rumblings:
Champions Online is gearing up for free to play, though that’s literally only half the story. The other half is that they’re also retaining the subscription model as well, effectively creating a hybrid payment model. Both sides function exactly as you would expect them to: Champions Complete and Champions Crippled, enticing you to either buy into the micro transactional payment model or pony up for the subscription. On the surface, it would appear to be a smart move-- let the player decide what they want and let demand take it from there. If you happen to pick up a few extra dollars along the way, score.

Peel back the surface and you may smell desperation.

There is one universal constant in MMO gaming everybody needs to realize: You only go F2P unless you have no other choice. As a corollary, people will pay monthly subscriptions if you have a product worth paying for.

To point, if a company has a choice between subscriptions and micro transactions, which do you think they would choose? Guaranteed income, or ‘maybe you’ll stop in this month and buy something’ income? The answer should be obvious, which should also prompt the question: Why is Cryptic even bothering? Sure, they could be looking to rake in the money stream, but I’m thinking Champions is working the marketing angles overtime.

As noted above, they still have active, thriving competition in the City of Heroes franchise that hasn’t been reduced to F2P (hint). Now there’s a new threat and it isn’t just a two ton gorilla, it’s a goddamn Boeing 747 with its engines on fire looking for a place to land, and that place is going to be squarely in the lap of any hero MMO that gets in its way.

Traditionally, I’ve always seen the move to F2P as a last, desperate gambit to stay alive, even if in a diminished capacity. This particular tactic is a new one. It still reeks of disease, but it’s also supremely devious from a marketing standpoint. Not only can they claim user choice as a reason, but when things do go south in the subscription department (and mark my words, they will), you’ll never know it. They don’t have to report their numbers. They don’t have to tell you how many subs died off over the last six months because DCUO just took huge ass bite out of their market share. Subscriptions will quietly fade off into the night and if they acknowledge it at all, they can claim it was all according to plan or that it was gamer demand. Champions now has complete deniability that they're suffering finacially and automatically bypasses any stigma attatched to dropping subscriptions cold turkey.

Fucking brilliant.

Cryptic, you’ve officially earned my Evil Genius in Marketing Award for 2011, and it’s only January.

**Correction: Bill Roper incorrectedly cited, as noted by LordDraekon. Jack Emmert was intended.

SteamRanger writes:

You might want to check your facts a bit. Bill Roper was never involved with City of Heroes. The man you're thinking of is Jack Emmert, who never "walked away with the publishing rights". Jack sold CoH to NCSoft and led Cryptic to new endeavors, leaving most of the original developers behind.

The burn came when it was announced the Cryptic's first independent project would be Marvel Universe Online, a direct competitor to the title he helped launch and helped ruin. His backer in the new project was Microsoft, who, in typical Microsoft fashion, pulled the plug when they realized how long it was actually going to take before realizing a return on their investment.

Champions was born out of some fancy footwork by Jack, who bought the pen-and paper IP and folded it into Cryptic, salvaging what game assets they could to hammer into the new game. A big part of the problem with CO is the fact that the game was originally designed to be XBox compatible, a version that will now never happen.

There's more, but I'm not inclined to rewrite your article for you. If you have aspirations of writing like this, please make sure your have your facts straight before you begin.

Fri Jan 14 2011 8:35AM Report
Ozzallos writes: Name aside, you can quote 'what really happened' all day long. What I wrote is the consensus of the user base by and large. You're going to need to convince them of that, not me. Have fun with that. Fri Jan 14 2011 10:55AM Report
Xantheous writes:

Name aside?! You just put someones name out there on the chopping block and did not even fix the typo? You sir, are a retard. Case in point, ALWAYS get your facts right before putting it out there in print. Fuckin noob writters...

Fri Jan 14 2011 11:33AM Report
Lansid writes:

Bobby Kotick is still the final boss.

Sat Jan 15 2011 7:18PM Report
Ozzallos writes:

@ Xantheous

Missed the part where I corrected the mistake, noted it at the bottom AND credited my detractor for bringing it to my attention DAYS before you decided to comment?

Epic fail.

Sat Jan 15 2011 11:49PM Report
Leethe writes:

You write very well but your content is almost identical to some forum post on the same topic, which is a bit stale. Fair enough, it's news. The thing is I'm playing DCUO now and the longer I play, the more I realize the gear elevator that I just stepped on. CO is starting to look better and better to me as a result. 

DCUO bugs me in that I pass the time the same way I would in UT: login, fight, logout. I want more from an MMO than that. DCUO would make an EPIC martial arts themed MMO with open world PvP. It's just not pressing my MMO buttons very well. 

Sun Jan 16 2011 1:09PM Report
t0nyd writes:

@ Leethe

  In all honesty isnt that what you do in every MMO, that being, log in, fight, log out. Personally, i believe this is the problem with most MMORPG's to date. You could argue that questing or crafting can change things up. I could argue that most quests will have you simply walk over to some loocation, fight, return quest, log out. I am not a crafter but crafting is a viable alternative for those that enjoy it.

  MMO's are just not very deep anymore. There is very little options in the way of strategy. The main draw for me as an MMOer is that I want strategic choices to make. The problem is almost all MMO's are more about twitch combat, not unlike a FPS and the MMO simply takes out the difficulty of aiming.

Warcraft is a perfect example of what we are discussing. With WoW, log in and kill stiff then log out, log in and grind faction ( which means fighting) then log out. Log in and PvP (more fighting )then log out. The problem is that WoW masks its lack of depth by giving you a variety of abilities that are either rarely used or are simply used only under specific circumstances.

 Personally I prefer how Guild Wars gives you a limited amount of active skill choices and allows you to customize which skills will be more effective. I wish some MMO would take it a step farther and add more player controlled statistics and less statistics gained from gear. The more gear controls the math of a game, the less control a player has, and the less depth a game has.

 To sum of my rant in one sentence. DCUO is no more shallow than World of Warcraft.

Sun Jan 16 2011 7:29PM Report
UnSub writes:

"Name aside, you can quote 'what really happened' all day long. What I wrote is the consensus of the user base by and large."

So: screw the facts, what I'm basing my article on is rumour? Cryptic didn't take the IP - that's what they sold to NCsoft - they took the Cryptic Engine and licenced it back so that CoH/V could continue development.

The article would also have been a bit stronger if you'd included the fact that both LOTRO and EQ2 have walked a similar path.

If you want to track the success (or failure) of this move, watch Atari's financial reports moving forward. It won't break out ChampO vs STO, but they do show Cryptic's overall revenue (online game revenue, or something like that).

Sun Jan 16 2011 11:59PM Report
moosecatlol writes:

So far every super hero mmo has a serious lack of balance, that's generally what keeps me away from them monetarily speaking.

Also I agree with t0nyd, DCUO just doesn't look like anything new, nor does it look like anything I would want to pay for.

On the other hand, I've been playing the CO free trial @lvl 15 for 35 hours, doing Hero Game queues, and I find it rather enjoyable. Although I really wish they'd take travel powers out of PvP.

Tue Jan 18 2011 12:01PM Report
Attu writes:

What would be lovely for Cryptic now that they've been bought out by that Japanese company is to make the REAL Hero Games MMO and do this right.  There is no better RPG system out there today that screams that it should be an MMO better than the Hero Games system.  They own the friggin system now for peat sake, they have the rights to the content, there is a mountain of content to draw from.  Just call it Champions Elite, or the Hero System.  Cripes, if they do it right like the RPG was designed for, they could make any genre of the game and it's content.  Fantasy, Super Science, Modern Day Spy's, Post  Apocalyptic War, you name it.  But of course that just won't happen.  It makes too much sense.  Just keep dumping more money, time and effort into the Arcade Game known and Champions Online...


  I think I saw Defender flying through the desert picking off alien invaders too.  But he failed because he didn't use his Hyperspace.  (Old Arcade Game Reference.)

Tue Sep 06 2011 12:02AM Report writes:
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