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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

Challenges for City of Heroes / Villains in 2009

Posted by UnSub Tuesday January 13 2009 at 2:11AM
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City of Heroes / Villains (CoH/V) is the first MMO I thought was worth paying for. I still do, having spent at least 54 months subscribed to it. But 2009 marks a big change for CoH/V and a number of new challenges that are going to test the player base's commitment to the game. Although there have been challenges in the past, 2009 is the first year that a large number of non-fantasy MMO titles are planned for launch, including two superhero MMO titles. NCsoft hasn't had the best of times in terms of MMO profitability, while CoH/V approaches its fifth birthday and could be considered a bit "old" even by MMO standards. Let's look at these challenges in detail:

Increasing Competition (and Not Just DCUO and ChampO)

Although people here mainly talk about DCUO and ChampO as competitors, there are an absolute ton of other MMOs coming out. All Points Bulletin, from the makers of GTA, offers cops vs robbers in a city environment. Stargate Worlds (assuming CME doesn't fall over and die) is a draw for the sci-fi gamer. Fallen Earth might be the indie MMO that could. And so on. Player generated content (planned for release in CoH/V's issue 15 - no ETA indicated at this point) might help keep some players, but there are a lot more options coming on board that CoH/V will be competing with that aren't fantasy MMOs or restrict players to just being space ships.

NCsoft's Gradual Withdrawal from the NA MMO Space

Tabula Rasa burned NCsoft badly. If you look at their upcoming product line, the focus is strongly on Korean gamers with North American gamers a distant second. Aion, Blade and Soul, a ton of smaller themed MMOs are being developed in Korea for Koreans and might be translated for the NA / EU market later on if successful in Korea. The only other important (sorry Exteel and Dungeon Runners) NA-based NCsoft project I'm aware of is Guild Wars 2, which is currently under fairly information-limited development.

Although CoH/V has been successful in the past (to the tune of $100 million in lifetime revenues) it has to maintain this success to maintain a high level of investment. Unfortunately the player subscription trend in CoH/V is negative, meaning it is slowly losing players. The risk here is if CoH/V sees player numbers continue to drop, all of the sweet new investment required to do exciting things with this title will evaporate.

The Cryptic Engine, And Why It Needs Replacing

CoH/V currently runs under the Cryptic Engine v1.0 as far as I know. All the updates for it that Cryptic have been working on (i.e. the Cryptic Engine v2.0) stay at Cryptic and being used in ChampO - I don't think Cryptic would be migrating the latest updates down to CoH/V as a matter of course. Although it is possible for NCsoft NorthCal (CoH/V's developer)  to be updating the engine and toolset as they go, that would also seem to be a continual drain on resources for an engine that is no longer receiving full studio support.

Although not a trivial thing, CoH/V needs a newer engine than Cryptic Engine v1.0. Things like DirectX 10 support, increased expandability of toolset functionality and potentially some advantages in development (although no doubt any engine changes will also have some limitations, such being the way of the world) are required to let CoH/V move forward and keep up - or better - with the increasing number of competitors out there.

Some people believe that CoH/V 2 is a certainty. I don't. But a new boxed set, complete with new city and new game engine? That I can believe.

Powers Customisation

This is one of the key selling points for both DCUO and ChampO. If CoH/V doesn't have this when either of these products launch, it puts CoH/V at a big disadvantage. Although there have been cryptic (you can take the dev out of Cryptic, but you can't take cryptic out of the dev) hints about it, an official announcement on this and some details on the exact nature of customisation is really required before getting all enthusiastic about powers customisation coming to CoH/V.

This isn't a message of DOOOOM. CoH/V has a very loyal player base, so the combination of all of these factors (barring NCsoft shutting down the game) isn't going to kill this title inside of 2009. But these challenges are going to make it difficult to grow, or even to retain the player numbers it has. Without growth there won't be investment. Without investment CoH/V could potentially see the development team return to the days of a dramatically smaller team. And if that happened, it might see some of the existing devs consider moving on to something new, rather than have to scrabble with limited resources.

It'll be interesting to see where CoH/V sits on December 31 2009 - whether it is still the best superhero MMO available on the PC and attracting a growing following, a title that is rapidly losing steam against its younger, flashier opponents, or something else entirely.

Death1942 writes:

while i accept that DCUO and Champions will be stiff competition each game will find its own niche market.

CoV is the only game that lets you play as the Villains

DC has (of course) the power of the DC IP behind it (and the PS3)

Champions has a decent IP and has the backing of the Xbox 360.


each of these games has its own share of the market (consoles, IP's ect) but the most successful game will be the one that draws in other crowds.

Tue Jan 13 2009 4:10AM Report
roll1up writes:

"CoV is the only game that lets you play as the Villains"


DCUO will also allow players to create villain characters...

Tue Jan 13 2009 6:30AM Report
jimbo833 writes:

APB isnt made by rockstar(gta creaters) its made by realtime worlds (they done crackdown on the 360)

on topic: i only played coh on the trail but i thought it was a good game with a lot of depth but i just think its getting old, but it will still have a good number base

Tue Jan 13 2009 7:47AM Report
NotArkard writes:

They're niche games. There's no reason for things like DX10 or engine upgrades. It's far too much of a bother for NCSoft when they can instead work on release games to their Asian market. Koreans, and other people in Asia gladly welcome things like Lineage, Lineage 2, AIon, Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, etc.

I got bored with CoX after about 37 seconds, but in that time, I realized it was a niche game.

If it has the same active number of subscribers as EVE, I would be surprised. Even then, at 250,000 active subs, it's still much more profitable for NCSoft to focus on their asian market. How many people purchased Aion in Korea when it was released? Lineage II? CoX is not in the same boat as EVE, where they can do major graphic overhauls. Unlike CCP, NCSoft has many, many projects.

It's more profitable for NCSoft to let their niche games run their course, then close them and pool the resources into games that will be a lot more popular. CoX, Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, all had a ton of work and dedication put into it, but as far as NCSoft is concerned, they're just side attractions for their "main" titles.

Tue Jan 13 2009 9:13AM Report
zelldevil writes:

Imo 5 years is a good run.  It ran quite strong, but with these 2 unless theyre both complete flops, theyll take away alot of the people playing CoX.  It's not as if theyve been release an expo every year otherwise i'd say maybe it still stood a chance.

Tue Jan 13 2009 12:55PM Report
Mordrid writes:

With both DCU and Champions not having solid release dates yet, the chances either truly being released this year are not high. We all know how MMOs are about being released on time. Also, both of these IPs will bring in their own dedicated fan base. I truly think CoX will be able to maintain their dedicated fan base for a while. Yes the game is old compared to more recent games, but one thing that can be said about MMOers, we are dedicated when we find a game we enjoy. Look at those who are still playing UO, DAoC, and EQ for examples

Tue Jan 13 2009 2:04PM Report
ronpack writes:

It's amazing how many people never gave CoX a chance. I played it for 4 years off and on. It definitely blows away WoW on all levels. Has better graphics. Better character costumes. Better PVP action. The fact that you can do missions with 8 people in a team and some of those missions are incredibly hard. Beating them gives such a great feeling of accomplishment for the whole team because you really have to work together. And all the enemies are SOLID. You can't walk through them like you can in WoW. The monsters in WoW might as well be ghosts...

Wed Jan 14 2009 5:53PM Report
zelldevil writes:

to be fair, DCU is gonna have SOEs hands on it, so while it may look good now, i can almost assure you itll be crap in the end.

Fri Jan 16 2009 5:16AM Report
dcarden writes:

Any update to this thread now that CO is out?  Was wondering if there was any change in the CoX subscriber base

Sat Sep 26 2009 7:04PM Report
UnSub writes:

Good question. I'll need to to a follow-up on this column on my new blog ( One large barrier is that CoH/V no longer report active sub fees, just concurrent user numbers, making player base comparisons harder. However, those concurrent user numbers have been showing a downward trend.

Mon Oct 05 2009 12:25AM Report
UnSub writes:

I did my follow-up on this topic here:

Mon Nov 02 2009 4:44AM Report writes:
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