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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

A Canned History of the Marvel MMO Given It May Be Dead Again

Posted by UnSub Tuesday November 13 2007 at 10:55PM
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As reported in a story by 1up, it has been rumoured that Marvel Universe Online, developed by Cryptic and published by Microsoft, might have been cancelled. Which would make it the third time this IP has jumped from the world of the living to the world of the dead (which, to be honest, is pretty common in the world of comic book heroes at Marvel, but a lousy attribute to have in a MMO IP).

To recap, the long, sad history of the Marvel MMO:

Things kick off in September 2002, when Vivendi and Marvel announce a 10 year deal to do something MMO-related with the Marvel comic universe. Why Vivendi? At the time WoW was a distant thing that was still under development and still to cost more than any other MMO developed. Vivendi was still to face a number of financial challenges (things started to turn bad in 2002) but was a very ambitious company. For Vivendi Games to get the Marvel license would have been a big deal. On the other side Marvel got to deal with a media company who also made games - something they would have been comfortable with from previous experiences - rather than a pure games company.

Then things go quiet. My assumption here is that having got the license, Vivendi did some things with it, but no major announcements were ever made on a Marvel MMO. My guess is that Blizzard's very costly World of Warcraft (announced a year before the Marvel deal) became the focus rather than a title that hadn't yet been started.

We hit July 2005 and suddenly it is announced that Marvel Enterprises and Microsoft Game Studios have signed a deal for an Xbox 360 MMO release, scheduled 2008. Guess that 10 years isn't what it used to be (or there was a clause that let Marvel get out of a deal due to certain milestones not being met, or something). Unfortunately for Marvel, certain contracts they have with THQ and Vivendi that would stop them using all of their characters, but with more than 5 000 to choose from, few fans would have been disappointed. In an interesting twist, Sony had signed on with DC to create a DC MMO likely as a consolation prize for also taking on The Matrix Online just a month before, setting up an interesting Marvel / Microsoft vs DC / Sony tag team battle.

In December 2005 it gets announced that Sigil was going to be the development studio being Microsoft's Marvel MMO. Stop laughing. It really happened. Brad McQuaid's presence on the Marvel MMO raised some eyebrows, but in an interesting turn of events (which I can't prove because I don't have screenshots of these things but simply observed in my searches at the time) Sigil never, ever mentioned the Marvel MMO on their site. Maybe it popped up in a press release, but there was never any page devoted to the Marvel MMO. Sigil was all about Vangard: Saga of Heroes.

Come May 2006, where Microsoft sells off its Vanguard: Saga of Heroes publishing rights to Sony Online Entertainment. Given that Microsoft Games Studios were reportedly unhappy enough with Vangard that they handballed it to SOE, it was pretty unlikely they were going to leave the Marvel MMO with Sigil.

Which they didn't - in September 2006, Cryptic Studios gets the tap from Microsoft to develop the Marvel MMO which is publicly called Marvel Universe Online. Cryptic, known for its own superhero MMO in City of Heroes / City of Villains, was both a natural and a surprising choice - natural, because they'd had the experience; surprising because they would conceptually be creating a competitor to their own product and because Marvel had sued Cryptic in 2005 at least in part because players could create characters that may have infringed on Marvel's comic character IPs. Marvel and Cryptic had settled on that suit, but no-one expected them to be working together. MUO was announced as an Xbox 360 and PC Vista OS MMO. In the following months, some comments were made by Cryptic's Creative Designer Jack Emmert regarding the MUO project, but things were kept very secretive.

Which brings us to today, where the project may have been cancelled. Again. A note to any future MMO developers - if someone approaches you, gleam in their eye, and asks if you'd like to work on a Marvel Comics MMO, RUN LIKE HELL.

Xix13 writes:

One of the problems anybody doing Marvel or DC MMOs will face is the fact that CoH/CoV was done so well.  And unlike the fantasy genre, I don't think the comic book superheroes audience is large enough to support multiple MMOs.  So I think that anybody planning any kind of superheroes title will be doomed.  However, if you've bought the license before CoH/CoV came out, you're REALLY behind the 8-ball, and I think most of these maneuvers are just trying to recoup what are now obviously bad decisions.

If you're gonna buy an IP, make sure it's got a large enough audience to support multiples, and if there's already a successful niche game, DON'T buy the IP!

Wed Nov 14 2007 8:03AM Report
UnSub writes:

Everything starts as a niche with a very particular audience. Over time the three options for such niches are grow, stagnate or die.

I think that a superhero MMO could attract a lot of new people to it (CoH allegedly did) but the issue is how to make the player feel super in a world where everyone is.

Regardless, we'll know soon enough if the rumour was accurate, someone putting 2 + 2 and getting 5 or some part of a larger, vaguely wacky PR campaign.

Wed Nov 14 2007 8:29AM Report
Hexxeity writes:

I've never thought Cryptic was a good choice for this IP.  Much as I love CoH, I fully recognize that their storytelling skills are extremely lacking, as is their commitment to creating worthwhile content.  CoH's strengths are in character customization and combat.  Their ability to make an overall fun experience has yet to be proved.

I hate to say it, but maybe SOE should take a crack at it.  We've seen them take a number of severely lackluster titles and polish them up to a passable experience.  Maybe a good superhero title would be just the thing to round out their fantasy-heavy stable of MMOs.

If only someone could convince them to MOVE AWAY FROM THE BLOODY AUTO-ATTACK.

Wed Nov 14 2007 11:23AM Report
Sturmrabe writes:

I both agree and disagree with Hexx and Xix: yes they do need to move away from autoattack, but no there is never ever EVER any ANY reason to go to SOE or Turdbind with any IP EVER...

As to Xix: CoH's char creation set a bar that as far as I've seen only AoC is coming close to touching... but the game lacks content and long term immersion. Though I would not act like CoH is unassailable, in fact just the opposite, while I agree that there is little room for 2 superhero MMO's, a well done Marvel MMO would be the CoH killer... or DC (but superman is such a sucky cornball I've always been a Marvel Zombie, Iron Man in 08 baby, 'nuff said)

Wed Nov 14 2007 12:32PM Report
Shohadaku writes:

Cryptic sold City of Heroes to NCsoft. I would not say Marvel is cancelled.

Wed Nov 14 2007 10:23PM Report
Anofalye writes:

Maybe Cryptic sold CoH in order to focus on Marvel?  You see, it is easier to focus on 1 super hero game at the moment.  Imagine that the peoples next to you work on a similar project, but not the same, and that the new programmer is helping 1 team, then the other, then back to the first...this could lead to many mistakes...and tons of confusion.  If you have a good you apply it to Issue 15 or to Marvel?  These questions won't happen anymore with the split.


At any rate, I will try whatever MMOs Cryptic launches...will I play it long is another topic.

Wed Nov 14 2007 10:48PM Report
Amarsir writes: Well they were already separate teams at Cryptic. But I think it likely that NCSoft, a company with reasonably good business sense, saw that things were looking weird over there and decided to cut off the part where they had stakes. On the other hand, 1up doesn't really have much evidence. And by "much," I mean "any." All they have is the fact that no one has reminded us about it recently. Considering that we don't know anything Cryptic is working on, there really isn't a basis to say they aren't developing Marvel Online at full pace. That said, there is all that history as Unsub blogged for us. And do not forget, Emmert is a *very* inexperienced designer. He did bring out some creative elements, but his education is in Greek History. (Seriously.) It's no stretch to imagine his ideas being at odds with a tech-saturated, by-the-book Microsoft. Thu Nov 15 2007 2:52AM Report
Hexxeity writes:

There aren't a hell of a lot of *experienced* MMO designers out there.  Experienced game designers, yes, but that doesn't always translate into being a good MMO designer.

True, Emmert made his share of mistakes with CoH, but overall I feel he did an excellent job.  The biggest faults with the game always lay in the writing and content areas ... I'm thinking more a lack of manpower than a design blunder.

I would trust Mr. Emmert far more than Matt Miller, who made a royal mess of City of Villains.  He's allowed the team to slap some bandages on the gaping wounds he made in the game, but the underlying problems he created can never be erased.  CoV will never live up to the potential it once had.

Thu Nov 15 2007 4:11PM Report
UnSub writes:

Cryptic expanded pretty rapidly when they got the MUO nod but afaik the core of the CoH/V team remained the same. If new people came in, they weren't publicly recognised, while the people who left CoH/V for MUO were replaced by devs who were already known by players (e.g. Geko left and was replaced by Castle).

It's really hard to say what is going on with Cryptic and MUO. There may be a culture shock of Cryptic trying to get along with both Microsoft and Marvel. There may be a technical aspect with them developing for the Xbox 360. There might be a number of reasons at play. But they've only had MUO officially for a year. It will be an interesting decision if MS cancels the MUO just a year into official development.

As for CoV - I think a lot changed when Lord Recluse (aka David 'Zeb' Cook) jumped ship from CoV to the Stargate MMO. Matt Miller was left to pick up the slack of that change and I'm sure it cost CoV some potential aspects of gameplay. Zeb's leaving certainly appeared to be sudden and his exit was only publicly announced after he'd left.

Serdar Copur, who picked up the Lord Recluse moniker at some point, appeared to be in charge of Cryptic's other secret MMO, so his attention wouldn't have been on CoV.

Thu Nov 15 2007 8:45PM Report
Amarsir writes: [quote]True, Emmert made his share of mistakes with CoH, but overall I feel he did an excellent job.[/quote]Well you can list for me the baseline things you think were poorly designed about CoV, Hex. We can take that on it's own basis. Emmert (and yes Positron and Geko by extension) designed a game and left balance up to the _animation_ department. Their entire thought process was "Power 1 does 10 damage. Power 2 does 20. Well we're done, let the animation department draw something pretty, and that will be the activation time." They did have some nice ideas - the spawn logic is one bit I've always admired. But creativity can come from anywhere in design. The guy on top has to set the process and lay down the rules for everything else to follow. By not doing that, there were years of 10 defense plus 10 defense = 10 defense. (Positional not stacking with type.) And to this day a Fireball's deflection is not based on *fire* defense. I use inexperience as a euphamism. Having read his posts for years, what I really think is that Jack Emmert is a "D" student in math. Good for storyline, good for innovation. Bad for running a software company. UnSub, do we know that Zeb "jumped ship?" I thought he and most of his CoV dev team was shown the door... Sat Nov 17 2007 11:23PM Report
Amarsir writes: (Sorry, that was formatted better as I typed it.) Sat Nov 17 2007 11:24PM Report
UnSub writes:

I honestly don't know if Zeb jumped or was pushed, just that he left CoV and turned up on Stargate: Worlds very soon after that. This suggested to me he'd been recruited for the Stargate MMO and left to be the big fish on that project rather than a smaller fish at Cryptic.

There was about four weeks between his last public comments and the announcement of his departure, which could coincide with giving his notice. Or the timing might be a coincidence that means nothing. Only Cryptic and Zeb know the full story and neither talk to me :-)

There are some CoV devs still on CoV that I'm aware of, so it's not like everyone left.

Mon Nov 19 2007 11:21PM Report
JohnWhorfin writes:

Months late to the party here, but if anyone reads these old comments, that quiet period back in 2002, when Vivendi had the Marvel license, that wasn't without development. Wolfpack (Shadowbane) had a playable with destructible environments. Supposedly it looked fantastic, though I've not seen anything apart from some printed materials.

Wed Jan 02 2008 5:52PM Report writes:
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