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A Divided Mind Times Two

Richard Aihoshi Posted:
Columns The Free Zone 0

Like most people much of the time, when I have an opinion on a topic, I don't sit on the proverbial fence. I recognize that other points of view are valid for their holders, and I can fairly often see and even appreciate at least some of the rationale behind them. However, I usually find a position or direction that I favor. As a consequence, it was rather unusual to see two things come up recently where my feelings are split.

Can City of Heroes' players keep it alive? Should it go on?

A week and a half ago, NCsoft announced that it will close City of Heroes. It appears this will happen by the end of November. Development on the well-known superhero title, which reached its eighth anniversary back in April, has already been halted, and Paragon Studio, the internal team responsible for it, will also be shut down.

Although I admit to not having set a virtual foot in Paragon City for a few years, I continued to be at least somewhat aware of its community. As a result, it wasn't a huge surprise when some members quickly started a movement trying to prevent the game's demise.  For their sake, I hope they succeed, but unfortunately, I can't say I like their chances. The main focus seems to be on petitioning NCsoft to reverse its decision. Who among you truly thinks this initiative will achieve its hoped-for result?

A different possibility that comes to mind would involve the sale of CoH to another company. In theory, this could work. If the cost of acquisition were low enough, an independent studio, most likely smaller and with lower overhead, might still be able to turn a profit. But the smaller the price, the less the money would mean to NCsoft, which tends to suggest it may only feel a rather limited incentive to sell.

Furthermore, I wonder how attractive the game might be to potential buyers. After all, even if the current player base is large enough to produce a profit if the overheads are lowered, what's the realistic potential for any growth? If there isn't much, then the best scenario we can reasonably project is a slow decline. This is probably what has been going on for a few years now, which would further suggest that a reversal of fortune is unlikely.

While superheroes rarely die, perhaps it's better if City of Heroes doesn't stick around. I have over a decade worth of few positive memories about the game and the people associated with it, starting well before it was even signed by a publisher. I'm rather ambivalent as to whether I want to add more of it hanging around a little longer on life support. 

Will player-created content be the next big thing?

The concept of player-created content certainly isn't new. It has been around for years, during which time it has been talked about intermittently as a potentially important new direction or frontier for MMOGs. We've yet to see many implementations though, and none that have exerted significant influence on the entire category. Nevertheless, when SOE announced its Player Studio program last week, my interest was piqued. Again.

I have always known that MMOG communities include players who possess the knowledge and ability to create content that would fit and enhance their respective favorite titles. However, practicality has always been an issue. A publisher obviously has to check every submission to see that it is of suitable quality, appropriate stylistically, and completely original so as not to bring about any copyright problems. Since this takes time and manpower, it's not cost effective if a high proportion have to be rejected or if the ones accepted don't produce sufficient revenue. And on the other hand, if a program doesn't produce much, why go to the trouble?

As above, my feelings are somewhat divided. Part of me would be thrilled to see Player Studio become a big enough success to spawn similar programs from other publishers. I extended my own love of games by writing about them. If others can have the opportunity do so by creating items, great. However, there are reasons to doubt that the time is right for player-made content to reshape the MMOG landscape. So, while I still feel this direction has considerable potential, I also wonder if there are still too many practical obstacles to overcome relative to what and how much the publishers stand to gain. 

I suspect many readers agree it would be a positive step to see player-created content become a meaningful element in MMOGs. What do you think the prerequisites are for this to come about? And do you feel Player Studio will help make it happen any sooner?


Richard Aihoshi

Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.