I had some hands on time with DCUO recently and it made me think two things: The first was, "Holy crap, this game is so good that I want it inside me." My second thought wasn't as graphic, it was more along the lines of: "If Marvel is going to put out an MMO that even has any hope competing with this, they are going to have to do way, way better than Superhero Squad Online." That thought was followed by a mouth-fart sound because for whatever reason, every time I think or speak "Superhero Squad Online" I have to make a mouth-fart sound.
In all seriousness, DCUO seems to be setting the bar very high for a superhero MMO. It has set the bar high for my kind of MMO period. City of Heroes and Champions Online really aren't any match for it. That is why Marvel's own game needs to, as the kids say, "come correct".
First things first, I would like to put it out there that I'm not going to be completely blowing smoke for this article. I do have some knowledge of comic books. I'm currently supporting a sixty dollars-a-month comic book habit. When I say habit, it should probably be read as addiction, because when I don't get my comics crankiness and temper tantrums follow. I've felt so guilty before about not going to get my pulls from the comic shop that I have actually called my pusher... I mean dealer... I mean "comic shop proprietor" to let him know when I would actually come pick them up. At least I'm a considerate junkie, right? Anyway, my pull list has both Marvel and DC titles in it so I don't have any bias towards either publisher. The fact of the matter is that DC already has an MMO out there. OK, it's in beta. That's still more that Marvel has though, so they will be the basis for comparison.
In my opinion a Marvel MMO is going to be a challenge for any developer to make while being both innovative and still staying true to the Marvel Universe. One hurdle that would have to be overcome is that in the Marvel world, the line between Hero and Villain isn't black and white. Most recently, the events of the Civil War are a good example of this. I'll summarize for those who are clueless: hero versus hero, fighting each other over government enforced superhuman registration. You can pick up the trade from any comic book store, online, or wherever really. I highly recommend it. Also, Marvel has a lot of anti-heroes, which makes it hard to get that whole choosing between good guys and bad guys thing right. A Marvel MMO would definitely need to have a mechanic where you could just be neutral. CoH just put out the Going Rogue expansion so it's not like the idea is that new. Good, Bad, and Mercenary choices in an MMO would be awesome for sure, but do you know what would be even better? The ability to switch sides, a la Going Rogue.
Give players a choice at, let's say every fifteen levels, as to what side they want to be on. To make it more appealing to stay with your chosen side, have bonuses for remaining loyal (Skills, cheaper items, etc.) and if you switch sides you get penalized in some small way. You would definitely be opening the flood gates to a whole sea of people who want to make Deadpools however. Someone will probably even make The Deadpool Corps as a Super Group! SHOTGUN! Let me also add on to said "shotgunning" the pre-emptive dibs on making Fatpool. He'll be like Deadpool but... fat. Yes I know it's not an original idea, but neither is making a regular Deadpool in the first place.
As some of you may know, Champions Online was supposed to be "Marvel Universe Online", developed for the xbox360 and PC, but Marvel and Microsoft backed out. In my opinion you can still see the influence that having the Marvel license during development has had on Champions, especially in the travel abilities. I don't know about you, but one of my favorite parts in superhero MMO are the travel abilities. They are generally just way more fun than riding around on a normal mount. Admit it.
DCUO has flight, super speed, and acrobatics as travel abilities and your character gets their travel ability immediately. Another thing that is awesome about DCUO's travel abilities is that they don't cost you anything to use them, like energy or what have you. In my opinion that's the best way to do it, no energy cost and getting your travel ability ASAP. Most of the heroes and villains in the Marvel universe can't fly or anything like that. They just move at normal speed because their super powers don't have anything to do with moving fast. So I'm going to say this right now: if in the Marvel MMO you have to call cabs, hop a jet, or catch a ride with a buddy who can fly it will suck, hard. So in the whole travel ability department I would have to advise that Marvel skip over being true to their universe and copy of off Champions or CoH and give players as many abilities as they can stand.
As far as game play goes I think combat should be handled similarly to DCUO, in the sense that it needs to play more like an action game than a traditional MMO. Being able to use a PS3 or Xbox controller with the game would be nice too. It just seems that controlling your hero in DCUO is so much simpler and feels more organic with a controller in my hands than with a keyboard and mouse. That's personal opinion though (as if this whole article isn't).
Lastly, the story behind any Marvel MMO will need to be top-notch. DCUO has again set the bar to a new height. The DC universe is in my opinion, less "real" and gritty than the Marvel universe. I'm not a comic book writer or a game designer and I'm sure the developers could come up with something more impressive than anything I could ever think of, but I'm going to toss something out there off the top of my head.
Since comic book writers can make up alternate realities on a whim why not do that? Let's say the Skrulls have made a huge push and are everywhere. Superheroes want to stop them because they are trying to take over the world and killing innocent people. Super-villains also want to stop them because they don't want those dirty green ball-bag-chin-having alien jerks taking all the fun or something like that. The government has just localized the gene for mutants and has commissioned Professor X to train new recruits against the Skrull. Magneto will of course have discovered the process and starts amassing a mutant army of his own. It could definitely be expanded from there with different backgrounds and starting areas for different classes. BOOM! Instant story-line! I know that it's kind of sloppy and unimaginative, but hey, I was just spit balling and I would like to remind everyone once again, that I'm certainly no comic book writer.
Seeing what DCUO has to offer has definitely gotten my hopes up for what a Marvel MMO could be. If Marvel can meet the new benchmark that DCUO has set or even surpass it I will be a very happy gamer (with a very unhappy wife).
Do you have an idea of what Marvel would have to do in order to stay competitive in the MMO market? Hit up the comments!