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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.