A recent post on Massively caught my attention this morning; it was about another article on mmorpg.com with some information about the NCSoft & Paragon Studios debacle. The source of the information is supposedly anonymous former employees of NCSoft and Paragon Studios. The bullet point information presented in the article, from this source, is the following:
- CoH was profitable even before they converted to Free to Play but were even more so after the conversion.
- The studio’s total annual operating cost was 4 million USD. They grossed 12 million in revenue annually.
- NCSoft paid $8 million USD to buy CoH. They wanted $80 million USD to sell it. They only value it at $3 million for tax purposes.
- CoH had a high retention rate. Subscribers had a stick rate of 95-98%.
- NCSoft has no plans for a CoH 2. Paragon wanted to do it but NCSoft was growing ever more uncomfortable with a Superhero IP, worried that it wouldn’t work in today’s market.
- Brian Clayton tried to orchestrate a management buyout of Paragon starting over a year ago because it became progressively more difficult to deal with NCSoft. They had created a Kickstarter page and a campaign video, but it never went to press.
- They (Paragon) had a second project in the works. It was a compromise to not being able to make CoH 2. It was the show “Lost” meets Minecraft. You crash-landed on an island and you were able to build your own fortress and weapons. You teamed up with other players to tackle the mysteries of the island.
- NCSoft tried to work with Paragon, they really did. But the profits were not what they needed to be, and CoH/Paragon were the weak link in NCsoft’s lineup moving forward.
The article continues with some comments from NCSoft’s director of Corporate Communications, Lincoln Davis. He pretty much says that all the financial information provided is inaccurate and that the studio was not profitable (studio, not the game City of Heroes). This is the first time I have seen any name behind any communication from NCSoft around this. Even though the second part of his comments essentially repeats some earlier statements released from the company, I do appreciate to actually see a name and a title.
I think 4 million USD sounds a bit low for a studio with 80 people in the Silicon Valley area. But it has been a few years since I was visiting there and I have not been involved in the game industry, so maybe it is accurate. I am not surprised that the stick rate is high, although as high as 95-98% I would never have thought, if those numbers are accurate. I know a number of people who paid the subscription fee even though they were not playing actively, but still…
I think the information is somewhat conflicting though. It both talks about it being progressively difficult to deal with NCSoft and that NCSoft really tried to work with Paragon Studios. Lincoln Davis also does not claim any of that information to be incorrect, or anything about attempts to buy out Paragon Studios or thoughts around City of Heroes 2, superhero MMOs etc.
The financial information does not point to why NCSoft behaved as jerks when they handled the shutdown though; this is an area I became more disappointed with NCSoft than the game closure alone. I suspect that the actual closure decision has more to do with political matters and possibly that Paragon Studios were increasingly being considered a disloyal studio to NCSoft. In Korea, loyalty matters. At least that would make the behaviour from NCSoft a bit more plausible.
Therefore I also believe that the efforts made that showed the player loyalty and affection for the game actually made an impact on NCSoft, even though it did not reverse their decision.
Another year has passed and it is time to look back a bit on my MMO gaming in 2012.
City of Heroes
For most of the year, City of Heroes was my base game, the one I always fallen back to after excursions to other MMOs. Except for the months July and August when I had a break from the game, this was one I played to the very end. I do very much miss the game and community, in particular on my main server Defiant. I still get sad about it from time to time. There has been a lot of discussion and speculation why it was shut down; it would be good at some point to hear actual reasons and a bit more specific than “change in policy”. It would also be good to hear why they handled the shutdown the way they did, but I guess that is not something we will ever hear.
I did also play some of the competition to City of Heroes in the superhero genre, both Champions Online and DC Universe Online. After all, I am a lifetime subscriber to Champions Online. There are certainly good things in Champions, but for me that is a game that I can only enjoy during short periods of time. Part of the reason for that is because some of the features and elements of the game felt like simple money-grabbing features – the crafting/harvesting is one of those. I initially liked the change they had made, but realized it was a broken design from a game-play perspective – which could be overcome somewhat by spending plenty of money. I am ok with spending money on a game that is “free to play”, but not when design seems to be broken on purpose for people to spend money.
DC Universe Online
Very late this year, after the shutdown of City of Heroes, I also tried out DC Universe Online again briefly. Previously I had played in on PS3, but this time was my first experience with the game on a PC. I liked it a little bit better on the PC, but in the end the controls and the horrible character creator and tutorial turned me off that game. That, and that I could not use my SOE acount either, but had to use a ProSieben1 (Alaplaya) account – plus that it was not possible to merge these two accounts either. Maybe I will give it ago at some point later, but the controls does put me off this game.
Star Wars – The Old Republic
During spring-time I also ventured into Star Wars – The Old Republic. It was really a great and fun game to play – at first. In the beginning it was very cool and fun to play and I enjoyed trying out most of the different classes available, up to the point that it was time to leave the starter areas. For continued play, I stuck with my Sith Sorcerer and it was a quite enjoyable ride for some time. In the long run though the non-class-story missions started to feel grindy though and even getting to the different points for the class story missions became grindy – which is when I lost interest. I reached about level 30 I believe. Maybe at some point I will give this game ago again; I did not read up closely on the details for the “free to play”, but it did not seem that it would require much or any money spent from my side really considering how I expect to play. This is probably a game I will return to at some point in 2013.
Early this sping I did play a bit of Anarchy Online as well and enjoyed it quite a bit; at least for some time. The setting is marvelous, even though the graphics are dated. While there are many nice people in the game, many are long time veterans that have played the game for years. Most of them started playing the game long after I initially played the game, so in calendar time I am “more veteran”, but a newbie in terms of played time in comparison. We do not quite play at the same level, unfortunately. I do hope for a revamp of some of the combat mechanics; it is too much reliant on auto-attack for my taste at the moment. I did sign up for a 12-month subscription close to the end of this year and I hope to jump back in the game during spring, hopefully when there may be some beta testing of a new New Player Experience and the new game engine.
Age of Conan
Late this spring I also jumped into Age of Conan. I do like this type of fantasy setting better than the typical high-fantasy-with-elves-and-dwarves settings one see in a lot of MMOs. I am not too keen on fantasy settings, but this one is at least more tolerable. In the end though it felt a bit empty – most active people seemed to be doing high-end raids and dungeons. The gold seller spam was also quite annoying. Plus, another Funcom game craved for some time and attention in the summer-time, with a more contemporary setting. Similar to Anarchy Online, if this game gets a bit more people playing in my level range and experience level I might try it out again.
I played Guild Wars a bit on and off during spring. This is a game I love returning too – every time I do I realize why this was my favourite fantasy MMO-type game. For some reason I do not stick around though – I have yet to figure out why that is. While I have completed all of the main campaigns in the game, there are other story-oriented content I have bought but not yet played and a number of things on my to-do list. Remains to see how many people still play this when Guild Wars 2 is the new kid from Arenanet.
One game that I played briefly in the beta, but did not write anything about, was Raiderz. For some reason I got an invite to the beta for this game, so I tried it out for a short time. I did not expect to like it, but I quite enjoyed the tutorial/starter area. It was a bit different and it was fun. Then I got to the main land and to me the game transformed a bit from quite fun to more of a normal fantasy MMO-with-a-bit-of-grind from Asia. Perhaps the launch version is better, but the fantasy setting did not thrill me though.
City of Steam
Industral Age fantasy with steampunk elements – that is how the setting for City of Steam is described as. This game have had four closed beta weekends during autumn/winter an d I have played a bit in these four weekends. A notable feature of this game is that is is a browser-based game – there is nothing to install (except for the Unity3D web player plugin). The game looks great for a browser-based game; I think it compares favourably to for example Runes of Magic (at least as I remember Runes of Magic). I thought the combat was pretty fun (dual-wielding “wands” that throw lightning balls – what is not to like… ). There are some design elements that I do not quite like or am on the fence about; but the interaction betweent he developers and the community is top notch I think. I would be happy to provide some support to the game because of this, even if I would end up not playing it so much. There will be an open beta later in 2013, but no dates are set yet. I will try it out again then.
Guild Wars 2
A big game of the year, but one I only played for about a week. Pre-ordered the game and played for almost a week – then NCSoft announed that they were going to terminate City of Heroes and Paragon Studios on August 31st. My focus switched to City of Heroes then after that weekend and I have not played Guild Wars 2 since that. I pretty much lost my urge to play the game during that period. Perhaps in 2013 if I get some cravings for fantasy settings I will try it out again. I am not sure that I will spend any money in the game though; I do have a bit of a trust issue with NCSoft corporate.
The Secret World
And finally, the game that for me has been the best still remaining game of the year. I played it a fair amount from early access to a few weeks after launch, then due to Real Life interfering activity dropped significantly during summer-time. The City of Heroes situation forced a pause from the game as well and now in December I picked up up for real again. The stories and missions are for the most part really quite enjoyable and I have gotten back into making builds/decks for my character, trying out different abilities and play styles & weapons. Contrary to most other MMOs I have mainly played melee-oriented combat in this game and I am quite enjoying it.
I have a lifetime subscription for the game and with the recent change I will get monthly bonus points to buy stuff for from the store. I will probably spend more than those points in the end – not because it would be necessary, but because I am more inclined to buy stuff just because I love the game and want to support it. The same thing happened in City of Heroes, so I suspect it will happen here.
A few minutes after 9am CET, City of Heroes server Defiant shut down for the final time.
I logged on about 2.5 hours before the end and these were some emotional hours for a lot of people, in particular the last hour. Despite the sad nature of the event people were very much focusing talking about the good parts, the memories of the game and the great community and what made this experience awesome.
It also brought a smile to see Philtrum, perhaps Defiant’s most prominent speed TF runner, starting an Imperious Task Force about 20 minutes before the end – and finishing 16 minutes later. Phil and many other veterans are also great examples of the community spirit – even though many have experienced and ran many of the task and strike forces countless time, they have also taken time and effort to help new and inexperienced players to experience to enjoy playing in large teams and various task/strike forces.
Last night on the final night and number of people gathered to do one final event toghether, a Hamidon raid. While the server has been somewhat empty in the past few weeks, this last week and in particular this final day and evening there was a lot of people returning – it was a lot of joy of many oldtimers seeing each other again.
For a number of people this was the first Hamidon raid ever, or the first experience of the “new” Hamidon raid.
With a lot of people being around, it filled up to the max size of a league (48). It took a bit of time to organize and perform, but in the end it was successful and a great way to finish the last evening in the game. Big kudos to Dark-Spider for leading and organizing the raid!
Many, including myself, still hope for some kind of resurrection at some point in time. If not, it has still been some amazing years and I thank everyone for all the great memories and experiences we have had together! In the end, this is what make it so special.
Take care everyone and may we see each other again!
In a couple of days City of Heroes will be end as a playable game and I will not longer have that game as a fallback when the MMO space looks a bit bleak at times.
The last months now has perhaps more than before put the spotlight, for me, the importance of the MMO game company’s interaction with its customers and game community. Not only is the presence of other players important, but also the relationship with a game company and the players of their game(s). Is there a passion for a game vision, a willingness to interact with the players, a mutual respect?
Combined with theme/settings preferences, this has resulted in a few games that I am going to look more into when City of Heroes comes to an end.
- The Secret World. I love the setting and what Funcom has tried to accomplish here, so I will most certainly return to TSW in about a week. Funcom is one of those MMO developers that ranks quite high on my list – they certainly mess things up from time to time, but sometimes it works out quite well. They do not try to play safe all the time, but do try new ways to do things and they do seem to be pasionate about what they do.
I have not come very far in my progress in TSW – my most played character is still in Blue Mountains – a zone which I thought was pretty ok actually, before I took a break to focus on City of Heroes. Not sure what the state of my cabal is at this point, but will see about that later.
- Anarchy Online. Another Funcom game and my first MMO. This is a game that probably does not have a huge amount of paying players and only a handful of developers working on the game. But Funcom still supports it and does not just try to keep a status quo and keep it running only.
The new game engine as well as a revamp of the new player experience is expected to go into beta early next year (yes, I know – the usual Real Soon Now, not holding my breath). Server merges for RK-1 and RK-2 is expected to happen before the end of this year.
While the new engine is interesting to see what comes out of it, I really also hope there will be some revamp of the combat eventually – it has been to much dependency towards auto-attacks for my taste.
- The Repopulation. A Scifi sandbox/sandpark:ish MMO under development. The feature list is quite neat,looks pretty niced from what has been shown so far and the developers behind it seems quite nice and passionate about what they do. I was a backer in their Kickstarter campaign and I will look forward to jump into a beta some time next year. They are amining for a late 2013 release – about a year from now.
- City of Steam. Another City of-game, but in this case an MMO with a steampunk:ish flavour. And it is a browser-based MMO, using the Unity engine. I have picked up a key for the closed beta. The game company, Mechanist Games, seems to be quite transparent and willing to interact with the players – I get a definite positive vibe from what I have seen so far here.
I have only played a little bit in closed beta so far. While I have not seen any any NDAs I will probably not write much details about it yet, since there is still changes being made and things missing. But I think it looks like a charming game with potential. CLosed beta weekends will continue in the coming month and I suppose an open beta at some point early next year.
In general, not everyone “gets” MMO mechanics and gaming mechanics in general. But something you only really fully appreciate if you play lots of other MMOs is the fact that honestly, our devs had almost *no idea* how to keep control of the game they developed, certainly initially, and to a significant extent even past that point. Our game engine and powers systems allow us to do so much relative to what other games allow you do to in large part because the game was originally written by people who literally had no idea how to limit performance and no idea how important it was to do so. Most MMOs have combat systems in which things are extremely predictable for the benefit of the developers. Attacks have very specific, impossible to alter DPS curves that cannot be mucked with except in proscribed ways. So the players know *exactly* how much damage they can put out when they use a bunch of attacks, and more importantly the *developers* also know that, so they can actually balance the game.
The notion of the attack sequence, the attack chain, “arcanatime”, and the optimal single target output? These things simply don’t exist in other games, because players don’t have the ability to switch slotting, change the order of their attacks, and *double* their output. They don’t have the ability to superbuff recharge and spam AoE. There’s no soft-cap to reach, and even if there is in theory, no level of effort gets you anywhere near it. Most of the time, you’re fighting over tenths of a percent improvement in performance, using tools everyone knows exactly the benefit of under all conditions.
The bane and boon of City of Heroes is that the devs tossed pistols and hand grenades into a room full of chimps and then charged admission. And we loved them for it.
And amazingly, against all conventional wisdom, it actually worked.
- Arcanaville, City of Heroes forums. Original forum thread here.
With only about one week left until City of Heroes gets killed by NCSoft, I reached my final goal that I set up for myself in the game. When I started to play the game for real about 6.5 years I created a number of characters, although most of these first did not stick with me. However, one that remained was my Plant Control/Thons dominator – Sarek. This was also the first character that reached level 50, after about 14 months.
Since that time I fell in love with the Dominator archetype; it is a hybrid that packs a really nice set of variety – melee and ranged combat, excellent crowd control, debuffs, pets and the supercharged mode of domination – makes crowd control even better and gives mez protection when active. Defense kind of sucks though, which is good I think, because it gives a weak spot of the gameplay that you need to watch out for – and thus avoid gameplay to become boring. Given that must of the strong points of the archetype is in the crowd control it also requires you to be active to get the benefit – more fun than getting the benefit from some toggle power that just keeps running.
So with my first max level character being a Dominator, I decided about a month ago that my last max level character would be a Dominator as well – and Jotunheimer was created. He is an Ice Control/Dark Assault/Ice Mastery large Dominator and has been quite fun to play. On Thursday Jotunheimer reached that final ding and became my 10th Dominator to reach max level. (22nd character in total to max level).
With this goal reached I have currently nothing left that I feel that I have to do before the end – I played through all my stories I have written again in Mission Architect, taken at least one screenshot of all characters that I have on my main account. Unfortunately I cannot log on to all my characters – when I lost VIP access I lost some access to those and could only unlock 18 of them. That is not the end of the world, although it would have been nice to give each one a run and perhaps save a screenshot of all costumes – not just the one that shows on character select screen.
The character creation has also been one of the enjoyable parts of playing the game – and not just at start, but also adding new costumes to existing characters. There has been more than once that just changing the costume actually made the character more fun to play for me – more emotional attachment to a new custome and powerset design.
Also a great point has been the travel powers. I think my favourite travel power in the end is Super Jump. Not the most convenient one, but it never fails to provide a bit of a rollercoaster-like rush jumping around with great leaps around the world.
With no more goals the rest of the last 7 days will be just hanging around and enjoy the game as long as it is around. I am so going to miss this game.
This week I reached the leveling goals I had set up when I learned about that NCSoft was shutting down Paragon Studios and City of Heroes – to get two of the controllers I were leveling at the time to max level 50 before the game shuts down. Thus these became the 20th and 21st character I leveled to max level in the game.
On Wednesday my gravity/dark controller, Vortexer, hit the magic limit. This was a character I started after the gravity control revamp in Issue 22 and it was a really fun ride! Gravity and Dark was a nice combination, plus gravity in general is quite fun to play with all the ragdoll physics and general tossing around in place. When I tried out SWTOR a couple of months ago I was a bit disappointed in the force powers in the game, especially on Jedi side. Those powers felt rather mediocre in terms of gameplay fun in comparison to what gravity control in City of Heroes provide. One would not be able to equip a laser sword though at the same time, so it would not be a complete Jedi replacement.
Lift and Propel were the two main damage powers, with Lift being a mix of damamge dealer and ghetto crowd control powers, with its tossing of enemies. Propel is also nice for its ability to throw stuff at the enemy, and knocking down those enemies near the impact area. Wormhole is an amazing and fun non-aggro AoE teleport+stun, an excellent power to pull a couple of enemies with – just teleport them to any spot nearby and watch them walk around disoriented while you hit them. Unless you of course have dropped them off a high cliff or something similar, then they smash into the ground below as well… always good fun!
Singularity is perhaps one of my favourite pets in the game and is a nice controller pet and a decent damage dealer. Combine that with Dark Servant and there is plenty of control power to toss around. The heals and debuffs from the Dark powerset fits in quite nicely also, a quite nice combination. In short, I really like playing this character.
My other controller Nashira is a quite different beast; with Plant Control and Trick Arrow as powersets she does not really have any damage powers at all and is almost strictly focused on debuffing through TA, with crowd control from Plant to support that. The damage powers used here were some of the extra veteran powers mainly, other than that she relied on being able to confuse enemies to defeat each other, debuffing them to make it quicker. The Fly Trap pet helped a bit with the damage part also and could possibly be considered damage dealer in that tag team.
Suffice to say is that Nashira was not the best soloer and that was not the intention either. She was strictly set up for team support. To that extent it worked out ok, but not excellent I would say. Some of the debuff powers essentially required targetting a ground area – this was not always easy to see and place in the middle of a battle. Also, with the very focus on debuff + crowd control the gameplay was perhaps not always that exciting – place and apply debuff and/or crowd control powers – and keep repeating that. Not that much tactics to make it more interesting and fun. Still, I enjoyed playing Nashira most of the time, although the times where I might pick her up to play more with would be fairly situational. Which is a polite way of saying – enough at 50, let’s focus on other characters.
An old-fashioned Time’s Arrow task force
A couple of days I joined of for a run of the Time’s Arrow task force, or the Imperious Task Force (ITF) as most people call it. This turned out to be kind of a special run. Not because the run was extremely successful, but because it ended up being quite a bit of work to complete. In recent years with high level characters becoming more and more powerful, including incarnate powers, running the ITF has become more of a run for people to get rewards quickly – some people can speed through it and complete it in not too many minutes.
Back in the old days when this task force was first introduced, it was a bit of a challenge back then to figure it out and complete it – it could take 2-4 hours. Today it is completed in much less time. The run we did in a way returned a bit to the more old-fashioned times, most of the 8-man team were characters in the 30s to 40s, with the team leader being 50. This was a run that was intended to take the time to get XP and not rush through. The three first missions was completed without too much trouble, with two wipes – one on the first mission and one on the third mission. It was when the final battle with Romulus took place that the main challenge.
One team member had dropped out and left the team and the team stuggled with Romulus – damage output and debuffs were not good enough to defeat him with the healing Nictus essence around – we kept lowering his health a bit, only to see it healed back up again after a while. Another player dropped off and we were down to 6 players. Through a a number of tactical discussions and various attempts we managed to adapt – this brought back memories from the early days of playing this task force. With a lot of work we managed to complete the task force in the end, after about 3 1/2 hours. Because of these challenges and that it forced us adapt and change approach to it, I think we learned and re-learned/remembered a few things about the encounters. Despite ending quite late in the evening, it was a task force that felt more satisfying to complete than many other task forces in recent times and certainly one I will remember.
These are the kind of moments that will be part of my memory of this game.
If you look at any music videos on YouTube, then chances are that you have seen the widely popular Gangnam Style, by Korean rapper PSY - which has been viewd over 500 million times on YouTube. Today on City of Heroes Tube I noticed a quite funny video by Angelus Animi. It is essentially a City of Heroes version of the popular video. If you have not seen the original yet, I suggest you look at that first to appreciate the details in the City of Heroes version.
I also recommend to have a look at other videos at City of Heroes Tube, there are a number of nice videos there.
When NCSoft announced that they were shutting down Paragon Studios and City of Heroes, one of my reactions then was that I must get into the game and use the time that was left to play the game. This is also essentially what I have been doing, to the point that all other MMOs that I had active to play (The Secret World, Guild Wars 2, Champions Online, Age of Conan) were simply pushed aside.
There are other players that essentially have a similar mindset, while other players have stopped playing the game already now. They have looked for alternatives and moved on. It is interesting to see that there are distinctly different ways to approach the fact that an MMO is shutting down.
On one hand there are people that continue play as before, or perhaps play even more – taking advantage of every bit of time left. Perhaps play and do the things they have liked most, or try out things they never got around to (as much as that is possible given the circumstances). This is pretty much the group I place myself in.
On the other hand there are people who just move on at this stage. Perhaps that works as a better closure, with all good memories and move on right away, now that the end has been given a specific time? With no new content updates or any way to spend money to get perhaps a new powerset to try out, perhaps the more interesting options are not available.
It has been interesting to see in some discussions in forums and elsewhere what people may be moving on to and how they react to some other games. Many people have tried out Champions Online again, but there seem to be more people who does not like it than those who actually like it. Perhaps part of that is a mindset problem, people hoping that it may be a City of Heroes alternative – it is not really. It is a superhero MMO, but I think still a fairly different target audience and approach.
A fair amount of people seems to have move on to The Secret World, possibly the modern day setting is one of the things that TSW provides as a CoH substitute in that regard. Some people play Guild Wars 2 and I have also seen a few comments about TERA and SWTOR.
Then there is also a group who simply will not play another MMO. They are simply not interested in MMOs and consider themselves City of Heroes players rather than MMO players.
Some of the comments from people in this last group got me thinking about where I stand here myself. I am definitely an MMO player, but thinking about it I may possibly be more of a City of Heroes player than an MMO player. City of Heroes is the game I have played far longer than any other MMO and is the game I fall back to whenever I get tired of other MMOs. Same as I rather see myself as an MMO gamer than a computer gamer – I pretty much exclusively play MMOs on the PC, not other computer games. I am not sure what I will end up doing when City of Heroes is not there to fall back to.
NCSoft has published an official response to the various forms people have used to say to NCSoft what they think about their decision to close down Paragon Studios and City of Heroes.
As may have been expected, they have not changed their mind about their decision. I think the text is mainly a PR packaged response that with a few changed words could be for anything really. Given how they have handled the situation with the announcement itself and the first weeks after that, I do not believe there is much genuine sincerity in that response. Especially when it is just signed “NCSoft Team” instead of an actual spokesperson.