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MMORPG Comic Wars

Andree Ehrig Posted:
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City of Heroes, © NCSoft

City of Heroes, © NCSoft

City of Villains, © NCSoft

Superman, © DC Comics

Spider-man, © Marvel Comics

Comic MMORPG War Looms: NCSoft vs. Marvel vs. DC

The players:

  • Microsoft recently announced an alliance with Marvel at Comic-Con International, the largest comic-fan gathering of the world. Famous for superheroes such as Spider-Man, Hulk and the X-Men universe, this huge franchise is now aiming for a piece of the multiplayer online games market cake. It has been said, the product is going to be exclusively for X-Box 360, which would be rather bad for PC-owning superhero nerds like me. A release date of 2008 has been reported by Reuters.
  • Sony Online Entertainment, infamous for their recent screw-ups with Star Wars Galaxies, signed a deal with DC Comics to build a MMOG based on heroes such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Sandman. The release of this MMOG for PC and console is scheduled for winter 2007.
  • NCSoft known for their highly successful portfolio with games such as City of Heroes, City of Villains, Guildwars and Lineage already has a secure foothold in the market with their twin-games City of Heroes and City of Villains, both of which I rather enjoyed playing.
Let’s have a look at the various companies and what we can expect from them in regards to superhero MMOGs.

Microsoft with their huge marketing apparatus, almost endless financial abilities and some of the best game developing studios on the market at their fingertips, has the potential to produce great Superhero-MMOGs for us to enjoy. Sigil Games (Vanguard - Saga of Heroes) has been tasked with this project. Combined with Microsoft’s game development prowess, the Marvel franchise is predestined for incredible character customization options. Who would not like to play Xavier, Wolverine, Storm or Spiderman in a multiplayer game after all? Questions that remain to be answered are: how exactly is it going to work? What happens if you want to play as Wolverine, but someone before you already had the same idea? Will we see dozens of Wolverines, Wolverinees, Wulverines and X-Wolverine-X’s? Will you have to play a “lesser hero” if your favourite character is already taken? Will the “big names” be playable at all? How will the various superhero universes, which are not normally interconnected, fit into one MMOG? Can we play villains too?

If Microsoft’s developers manage to solve these game play issues and stay away from automated content generation, a MMORPG based on the Marvel license is a 99% guarantee for success. Of course only if they don’t screw it up royally, this is always a possibility when the expectations are as high as from fans of this license. Personally I’m looking forward to such a game, if it is released on PC. Not everyone owns an X-Box 360, so maybe we’ll hear more about a Marvel PC MMOG in the future.

Creating a multiplayer title based on Superman, Batman and other DC heroes appears to be equally complicated. The heroes usually do their heroic deeds alone and the amount of character customization options in a DC MMOG is going to be more limited than in a Marvel competitor. The DC game is scheduled for release on console and PC in winter 2007, so until then, SOE will have to deal with various issues. Firstly the same ones Sigil Games have to deal with. But primarily, SOE have a problem called bad publicity. SWG has turned into SOE’s public nightmare due to game changes that caused uproar in the player base and left many players disgruntled, swearing to never touch a SOE game again. This bad publicity might hurt them in the long run when their DC superhero game is trying to build a community. On the other hand, the ideological battle between the DC fan base and the Marvel followers has been infamous for years and both fan groups are quite large, untapped potential for huge MMOG communities. If the DC fans can forgive the mistakes SOE have made in the past, a DC-based superhero MMOG is also destined for success.

Lastly we have NCSoft, who can be called the creators of the superhero MMOG genre with their highly successful game City of Heroes. I played it and had much fun while doing so. Considering how securely NCSoft placed themselves in the market with their stable of MMOGs, it will be hard for Marvel and DC to compete with CoH and CoV. There is not much that can be said against NCSoft’s superhero MMOGs. Their games are mostly fun, the superhero feeling is very authentic, character customization options are excellent and numerous. NCSoft have earned the image of a very professional MMOG studio with all their games. If Microsoft and SOE want to do it right, they should look at City of Heroes and City of Villains.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. Personally I never liked the auto generation of content, since I grew bored relatively quickly, doing the same missions over and over. If Microsoft and SOE can improve that, we’ll see potent competition to NCSoft’s games on the market. However it is still a long time until both new hero games will be available and in Microsoft’s case, it is uncertain whether the game will be available on PC at all. If the Marvel game is scheduled for release on PC, their lawsuit against NCSoft, which was settled in favour of NCSoft recently, becomes a whole new meaning…

The battle between DC and Marvel goes into a new round. Will they succeed against NCSoft’s stranglehold on the market? Will the games be fun to play without bugs and good balance? We shall see… I for one am looking forward to more variety on the superhero MMOG front and if Microsoft releases the Marvel MMOG for PC as well, I’ll be one happy nerd. However they should not forget that there are also players who prefer to play the villains and monsters. If they don’t cater to those who (like me) prefer to play evil, their games will not be as successful as they could be. By the time Microsoft and SOE release their hero MMOGs, CoH and CoV will be old news and NCSoft might well have a sequel in the making. Competition will be fierce, just as it should be.

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Andree Ehrig