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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

Win-Win-Win: The 'Why' of NCsoft buying the CoH/V IP

Posted by UnSub Tuesday November 6 2007 at 8:01PM
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It's been announced that NCsoft has just bought the IP rights to CoH/V and is moving the CoH/V dev team (who willingly signed on according to all information available at this point in time) into a new studio called NCsoft Northcal.

The below are all my own thoughts on this issue - I have no inside source or special knowledge.

Having thought about the news that NCsoft has bought the CoH/V IP and basically set up a new dev studio straight out of Cryptic's nest, the one question that I don't think anyone has really considered is "Why?".

This wasn't a case of Cryptic wanting to sell CoH/V - it's their game and one they have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into. It's also a good revenue source that has seen player numbers increase over the past year. NCsoft must have wanted to buy CoH/V. The only way I can see this happening is that NCsoft put the offer on the table - to buy the IP and to offer anyone interested in joining a new studio a position - and let Cryptic think about it. The offer must have been very attractive, because Cryptic agreed to sell the CoH/V IP and all of the CoH/V devs signed on to join NCsoft Norcal. (If the devs hadn't signed on, would they still have had employment at Cryptic? I don't know - Cryptic is still advertising some positions on its site - but it's very interested to me that all agreed to stay with CoH/V.)

Marvel Universe Online (aka MUO, Cryptic's big other MMO-in-development) is not the full 'why', either. It might be part of it and it may have been a strong reason for NCsoft to make the pitch, but it actually isn't a conflict of interest for Cryptic to develop CoH/V and MUO in the same building. I haven't read anyone going "OMG Turbine is developing and D&D Online and LOTRO - there's a conflict!". Game studios can work on games in the same genre but targetted to different markets without any conflict of interest arising.

The real 'why' (IMO) is that NCsoft, Cryptic and CoH/V were heading in different directions. Cryptic wants to take on more roles that move them closer to being a publisher - they want their own CMs, their own servers, their own billing systems (likely still 3rd party applications, but under their control). If you've been following the kind of jobs they've been hiring for, you'll have seen this. They also have more than just MUO under development. CoH/V has become one project of many and, if it requires the Jack Emmert, Creative Director of Cryptic aka Statesman to sign off on any major decisions (which it probably does) then delays in CoH/V related decisions are inevitable.

Despite launching several subscription games developed in North America, NCsoft's greatest paid subscription hit has arguably been CoH/V. Auto Assault? Dead. Tabula Rasa? They jury is out. Dungeon Runners and Exteel? Not going to be market drivers. NCsoft want to see CoH/V continue - nay, flourish - on the back of its continued critical acclaim. To meet that target, it needs resources. Currently, Cryptic is splitting its resources several different ways, so while CoH/V may be the revenue earner, it isn't getting 100% of that revenue reinvested in it.

By buying CoH/V, NCsoft gets the ability to fully dictate the level of resources the game will get (and since the entire dev team came along, I have to think the resources on offer must look pretty attractive) while Cryptic gets a huge wad of cash to develop their secret projects (since MUO would be funded by Microsoft / Marvel). The CoH/V team would appear to get a flatter level of management - current Lead Developer Matt Miller aka Positron would seem to get the final call on gaming development decisions. At the same time, the CoH/V team likely get a big wad of cash put in front of them - NCsoft isn't going to start up a new studio without giving it some substantial seed money. With Issue 11 almost out, Issue 12 probably planned out and other issues on the drawing board, the seed money can be used to resource the question, "Where do we want to take CoH/V moving forward?". In the past 12 months I've been impressed where Positron has taken CoH/V and I'm very interested to see where he could take the game when he's got the final call and a lot of money to do it.

At this point in time, I see this announcement as a win for all sides. Cryptic wins in that it gets a large cash in-flow for developing its other projects. NCsoft wins in that it gets greater access to developing CoH/V moving forward. The CoH/V team gets more money and resources to take CoH/V forward. Even assuming some hiccups on the way, it appears that, most of all, the fans of CoH/V and Cryptic will win - more development for CoH/V and Cryptic's projects without the loss of people important to each one.

At some later date, things may fall over, or new information may come out that changes the light in which I see the announcement. But right now, I can see only good things coming from this announcement.

Update: CoH/V's player numbers are out for Q3 2007 - they are at 139k active subscriptions, down from Q2's 153k but pretty close to Q1's 143k. The last few quarters have seen CoH/V's numbers swing up and down quite a bit, but the trend is for them to sit between 140k and 150k active subscribers.