The End: NCsoft Responds To Save City Of Heroes

By Nathan Grayson on October 3rd, 2012 at 10:00 am.

WAIT. Everyone, stop. Wanna just meet in the middle and hug it out for a while? Come on now. We've had a good run.

Recently, I spoke with folks behind the Save City of Heroes movement, and they were absolutely delightful. Intelligent, calm, organized, passionate, motivated, etc. If any qualities could actually manage to wrest an MMO from Death’s clammy grip, you’d figure those would do the trick. And, as it turns out, all the in-game and real-world events certainly got NCsoft’s attention. But now, after an agonizing wait, the recently “restructured” MMO behemoth has finally fired back. Unfortunately, it turns out that no news was good news. Sorry, everyone: No more (City of) heroes.

Impressively, NCsoft claims it really did try to find an alternative to paving over the city and turning it into a series of super-powered parking lots. It explained the sad situation in a brief letter to fans:

“We wanted to let you know that your voices have been heard and your concerns have been taken into serious consideration. We appreciate the overwhelmingly constructive and positive messages in the emails, notes, and packages you’ve sent in support of the game. It has not been an easy decision for us to close Paragon Studios and prepare to shut down City of Heroes. We’ve exhausted all options including the selling of the studio and the rights to the City of Heroes intellectual property, but in the end, efforts to do so were not successful. City of Heroes has a special place in all of our hearts, and we want to ensure its reputation and the memories we share for the game end on a high note.”

“Once again, we will be holding events throughout the process of preparing for the game’s end, and we encourage players and fans of the franchise to join forces and enjoy their time in a game that we’ve enjoyed supporting for more than eight years.”

Here are the events of which NCsoft speaks. Sobbing into guildies’ rippling spandex-clad shoulders, meanwhile, isn’t officially sanctioned, but comes highly recommended nonetheless.

Seriously, though, this is a pretty miserable ending to a really promising story. That said, there’s no reason to declare this a total defeat. Save City of Heroes laid a blueprint for communities in terms of getting publisher attention the right way, and that’s something to be seriously proud of. Really, it was an amazing effort by any standard, and it united thousands of people – but never by way of declaring some other party “the enemy.” No, City of Heroes won’t get to fizzle out and slowly fade away like other MMOs, but as far as ending on a high note goes, I’m not sure it’s possible to do it any better.

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43 Comments »

  1. trjp says:

    You have to wonder how you could look into selling-off the IP/operation of a highly successful MMO and fail to the extent that simply closing it and deleting it makes more sense.

    Surely someone offering you 1p is better than that – and 2p is 100% better again!?

    I suspect there is someone, somewhere who’s decided that removing CoH means it’s players will go play something else (which they make more money from) – wheras selling it wouldn’t have that effect?

    • MaXimillion says:

      The process of moving all the data and rights over would be expensive in itself, not to mention any possible lisencing issues and the fact that you’d then have the game in direct competition with other MMO’s you’re still running. So no, getting 1p for it is not better than simply shutting it down.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Are you saying you know the mind of investment companies that own these businesses. The same investment companies that sell the entire worlds economy down the drain? Would you expect these same investment companies to sell off an IP now for $xxxx when they could potentially sell it to Sony/Warnerbros etc for ten or a hundred times that?

    • Apolloin says:

      If it was a ‘highly successful MMO’ then closing it down at all would make poor business sense.

      But the difficulty is likely in getting someone to pay a proper amount of cash for the IP. A ‘cheapie’ deal would not include Paragon Studios and code without the Devs is pretty much useless as an investment.

      And no, in order to do a deal you’d have to cover the costs of the deal. There’s business people to do the negotiation, accountants to check the money side and, of course, there’s Legal. Oh god… Legal…

      Multiple lawyers need to scour the agreement to make sure that NC Soft wouldn’t still be liable legally even after the transfer. Each Lawyer charging 134 guineas an hour.

      For example, would selling the code include all the Player/Character data? Because you’d likely need every individual player’s permission to do so. If the package included the data of a single lapsed player who hadn’t given them the okay, then that would open up a legal liability.

      And any changes would require Techies to ensure they’d actually gone through okay. And then you’d need QA to test the changes before the hand over – and the whole time you just want to shut down the Studio, but you can’t until you have the stable hand over version. And so it goes on.

      Doing the deal costs money. Closing the deal costs money. The deal would have to make more money than it cost, otherwise NC Soft could actually be sued by it’s share holders.

      • MiKHEILL says:

        Not to mention the (significant) cost of ongoing user support and server upkeep including maintenance. None of which is particularly cheap, especially with a free to play model and a small and dwindling “premium” subscriber base.

      • trjp says:

        Things can be ‘highly successful’ and still not viable – Concorde and the Space Shuttle leap to mind…

        On the issue of costs – I’m sure there are costs in handing-over a game to someone else but I simply don’t believe there was no-one who’s want it – it just makes no sense (there must be hordes of people wanting to buying a subscriber-base that large).

        Thus my conclusion is that they don’t want to run it AND don’t want anyone else to run it either – the easy solution is to kill it and so…

      • Stromko says:

        I don’t think transfer of player/character data would be a problem, it’s standard boilerplate that everything you do and say in an MMO is owned by the MMO. It would just be a sticky issue if they wanted to transfer contact information (easy) or credit card numbers (unlikely).

        What usually seems to happen when games are transferred is they shut it down for awhile, and then relaunch it. So old players would just need to input their payment details again. It wouldn’t be difficult to retain ownership of player accounts and characters, and they might choose to do that in order to bring the old players back.

        Here the would-be investors probably decided CoH/CoV was just too old to be worth reviving.

    • ineffablebob says:

      “I suspect there is someone, somewhere who’s decided that removing CoH means it’s players will go play something else (which they make more money from) – wheras selling it wouldn’t have that effect?”
      This is my guess too. As a long-time CoH player, I’m certainly going to play something else…but it won’t be NCSoft-owned.

      • icetiger says:

        I agree, I have been shafted multiple times by NC soft just because they want to, and i will never again play one of their games because of the fear that if i get to like it, they will close it down, i mean really, the original everquest is still going on and making money. you cant tell me that it CoH was failing to make a profit, what it was is that it is not making as big a profit as it used to and now they want to move people to thier other games where the profit is bigger, instead they will be losing players, because i am surely not the only one who be researching to make sure that NC soft is not connected to the games that draw my attention

    • Dark Nexus says:

      Well no, selling it for 1p isn’t a better offer than just shutting it down.

      Even if the sale price was 1p, the actual cost of the transaction would be much higher. This isn’t a street market where I can offer you 1p for something you’d be throwing out otherwise and you just take the coin and be done with it. NCSoft would lose money on that sale, once you accounted for the cost of lawyers to draw up the sale papers and god knows what else.

      And who’s to say they even got a lowball offer? It works the same for the buyers – even if the sale price was 1p, it’s going to cost the buyer a lot more. Beyond the lawyers fees, there’s also the hardware costs, the integration costs, and potentially a lot more costs related to billing systems, support structure, etc (depending on who the potential buyer is and what they’ve already got in place for other products). All of that costs money, which impacts ROI. Even assuming CoH is profitable (we have no reason not to), how many years would it take for a buyer to get their initial investment back and actually start making money? And how many years of profitability does CoH have left? If it was going to take 5+ years to get your starting costs back at current revenue levels, it’s not a smart risk on an 8 year old game.

    • Gabriel Jonsson says:

      Yes keep making noise! The key to success is to spread this to players of other MMO:s. NCSoft can afford to ignore us CoH fans, but if alot of players of the games they are still running are raising concerns about their games, they can’t ignore it.
      This post from NCSoft is a sign that they fear for the effect we have on opeing the eyes of their other customers, since that could really hurt their bussines. Keep spreading the word on how they are treating their customers!

  2. uggron says:

    *cue applause*

    For the speech I mean. Not for CoH ending.

  3. huw says:

    That’s such a shame. There’s something about the ending of a MMORPG that’s just so much more affecting than some shooter’s servers being shut down, or completing a single player game.

    Amazingly enough I never did try City of Heroes, but right now I really feel for those who did and still do. I hope the send-off is as enjoyable as it can be in the circumstances.

    • Geen says:

      He was a good game. What a terrible way to go.

      Eh, screw it, they deserve it. I want my Tabula Rasa. I’ll never forgive them for the forged resignation bullshit.

  4. oceanclub says:

    Can anyone who once had a subcription join in the end of days? I would love to give Goatboy one last night of crime fighting… *sniff*

    P.

    • BooleanBob says:

      Depends. Was he a Controller or Mastermind? If so you’re SOL; those were stuck behind a microtransaction when the game went F2P and the CoH funny money is no longer available for purchase.

      Otherwise, sure! You can download the client via the NCsoft launcher. You’ll only get access to two of your characters per server (that’s the F2P base number of character slots, and adding more also costs funny money), although I think you get a couple of global slots you can lock in to a server for a total of four?

      I’m a bit miserable because the only alt I’d want to go back in with would be my mastermind. Hopefully they go crazy and start throwing paid unlocks out to subscribers, so I can bounce around paragon (obvs the best travel power, superjumpers represent!) one last time before the lights go out.

  5. JohnP says:

    “We’ve exhausted all options” — well, I don’t really believe NCSoft, since they’re the same company who forged Richard Garriott’s resignation letter.

    • Hunam says:

      Whilst he wasn’t even on the planet :P

      Tbh, that’s pretty epic. Is there a legal loophole that allowed them to do this because he wasn’t on earth?

    • Whosi says:

      They are also the ones that forced Auto Assault to be released too early to it’s doom and then said FU to NetDevil when they wanted to buy it back to keep it going on their own. NCSoft doesn’t give a rat’s ass about a game’s community.

  6. Inigo says:

    Aw dammit – I was just about to join the movement with a superhero called Captain Canute.

  7. Frosty840 says:

    It would be nice if some altruistic company would start up a cross-MMO guild-management API.

    Register your guild on an MMO, build the guild, then get options to transition it to other MMOs. Register a core pan-MMO user account and when you register with a guild on one MMO, get notifications that, for example, when signing up for a new MMO “Your MMO-X guild also plays MMO-Y on this server. Click here to sign up to one of your guild’s reserved spaces on this server.”

    Could be started up across a particular company’s stable of MMOs, then farmed out across to other companies as momentum gathered. There would be resistance, as it would theoretically allow guilds to just up sticks and leave your MMO en-masse (because of the lack of lock-in), but on the flipside, they could join your MMO en-masse, too, so nobody would really lose out, there.

    Would be nice, and would make the death of these older MMOs less tragic.

    ::wanders off, aimlessly::

  8. Baardago says:

    NCSoft’s letter there reeks of bullcrap. Just saying.

    I highly doubt they ever thought of selling IP rights, just as I highly doubt they ever gave a damn about the Save CoH movement.

    They didn’t care about the community, in the past, to the point that they forged Richard Garriott’s (aka Lord British) resignation letter to the absolutely devastated TR community, when, in truth, they had actually fired him, forced him to sell the NCSoft stock he had during a bad time and cost him some serious money. Of course, they lied to their community, especially the Tabula Rasa community, through their teeth about all that. They don’t care now.

    I’ll not be surprised if this is exactly what happened with CoH, here, given the abrupt and sudden way it happened and how badly NCSoft handle it.

  9. Xaromir says:

    Times change.

  10. matty_gibbon says:

    “It has not been an easy decision for us to close Paragon Studios and prepare to shut down City of Heroes.”
    Easy enough that you did it heartlessly – without any warning to the community or Paragon studios

    “We’ve exhausted all options including the selling of the studio and the rights to the City of Heroes intellectual property, but in the end, efforts to do so were not successful.”
    NCSoft, are you seriously trying to make out that it’s not your fault? “We tried our best, honest!” Don’t believe this I’m afraid. Here’s an option you haven’t exhausted – don’t shut it down – just keep a profitable game running. Know it’s not going to happen now, but just pointing out how utterly insincere this is.

    We know there were at least negotiations with Paragon around them buying the game (after the announcement I might add, not before, which shows how much they care). Still seems like it should have been the right thing to do. Could Paragon raise the money to cover the costs of any transfer and make it worth NCSoft’s while? Don’t know. I’d like to know what went on in those discussions.

    “City of Heroes has a special place in all of our hearts, and we want to ensure its reputation and the memories we share for the game end on a high note.”
    Again, why shut it down without warning the way you did? And why take so long to make an official announcement? Insincerity now cloyingly thick.

    Oh, and need I mention – no apology for the way this has been handled.

    Some have speculated that the SaveCoH movement was starting to get to them. Not that they would ever change their minds, but that they were starting to fear that this would do some damage to their reputation; that something had to be done, and the usual position of silence could not continue.

    Taken in that context, this letter is a plea to be quiet – here are some words, now please can you go away?

    If only for the principle, I hope the SaveCoH participants continue to make noise – louder than before if anything. Not for the change, not to get their game back, but to let NCSoft know that this letter will not do – it is not enough.

    Whether they listen of not is neither here nor there, but it would be a sad end to the story if all those players suddenly went silent after this letter – just rolled over and accepted their fate.

  11. zaphod42 says:

    Why don’t they just let the fans host it?!?

    They don’t even have to release the source code or anything. Just release the server executable file, and I promise you that dozens of people will find a way to pay for hosting to get 24/7 new City of Heroes servers up and running. They might not be able to support the population levels of the official servers, but it would be something, it would keep the IP going.

    There’s literally 0 reason not to. They could happily force you to agree to terms and conditions where they can revoke the right to private servers at any moment if they find a buyer for the property and decide to bring it back as a pay game.

    For people who purchased the box and paid monthly fees, its a huge kick in the pants when an MMORPG goes down.

    They should always release a private server to the public. There’s no excuse. You owe it to your fans who supported you so much for so long. THEY BOUGHT THE GAME. Let them keep playing.

  12. Grey Ganado says:

    If it’s as popular as they say it’ll get a fan revive just like Star Wars Galaxies did.

  13. PopeJamal says:

    Frankly, this is exactly why I don’t really play MMOs any longer.

    It’s already bad enough that I spend hours plugging away at a game when I could be doing something “productive” with my time, but at least I have a little something to show for it. In theory, I can pass my save games on to my grandkids:

    Imaginary Kids: “Come on! Show us the save game your granddad gave you where he beat ALL THE THINGS! I’ll give you half of my lunch money and a candy bar!”

    Grand Kid: “OK, But just this once…”

    Imaginary Kids: “Oh! Wow!!!”

    In the brave new world of my dreams, I can export my character data from Game X (because it belongs to ME) and import it into whatever new game I’m playing now. Hell, I should even be able to import it into singleplayer games.

    Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his avatar’s brow?
    ‘No!’ Says the man in Developer Row, it belongs to the IP holder.
    ‘No!’ says the man in Distributor Row, it belongs to the Publisher.
    ‘No!’ says the man in the Internet, it belongs to the Pirates.

    I reject those answers and I choose something different. I choose…SINGLEPLAYER. (Preferably with co-op, and no DRM)

  14. Wulf says:

    I blame this on the Nexon takeover. This is what happens when you have publically owned companies, which is the worst thing a company can be. This is also why Valve is still Valve after all this time. A lot of shady things have been happening since that happened. And some slightly questionable (yet not too horrible, yet) things have happened to Guild Wars 2 between beta weekend 2 and now, too.

    I wish Perfect World had done the takeover, to be honest. To their credit, they don’t fuck up the games they own. They own Cryptic, and they haven’t done anything truly horrible to Champions Online (as I feared they might have). In many ways, it actually gave Cryptic the resources to make a better Champions. In fact, the only thing I hold against PW is the disappearance of Tumerboy.

    But yeah, Nexon now pretty much owns NCsoft, and they’ve been doing… well, things to NCsoft. And this is one of those things. Worse things may yet happen, we’ll have to see. But thus far this whole Nexon thing has left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Well, maybe CoX Emu can start up again, now.

  15. Jenks says:

    (Ok I’ll do this in a few posts since it was waiting for moderation for a few hours, the links in order tell the story)

    “Save City of Heroes laid a blueprint for communities in terms of getting publisher attention the right way, and that’s something to be seriously proud of. ”

    http://furiousfanboys.com/2012/02/soe-kills-eq-mac/

    http://savealkabor.tumblr.com/

  16. dontnormally says:

    Wish I would have played this game – it seems really cool.

    I like the apparent flexibility and open-ended nature – isn’t that what all MMOs should strive for…?

    • SAM-site says:

      It was only ever a game of great potential IMHO.

      The character creator was absolutely tremendous, head, shoulders and cape ahead of any other MMO before or since (excluding Champions, which is essentially the same system). I’d spend hours just coming up with new characters and saving their outfits – almost worth the price of admission alone.

      The gameplay was pretty solid but was let down by using a class system, so all fire blasters were essentially the same character with a different costume.

      The environments were also very good, and the quests were pretty engaging.

      Yet I loathed this game. I unsubscribed out of frustration and resubscribed out of optimism on 5 occasions. The levelling grind was little short of brutal, unless you were fortunate enough to have a group on the go all the time and you’d drop into XP debt every time you died. This just wasn’t fun, but I kept going back because I thought maybe just maybe they’d have made it better.

      The only game boxes I keep (the rest are virtual on Steam/GoG or discarded with the disks and manuals retained) are MMOs and I’ve quite a collection, and I have 2 copies of City of Heroes (1 UK, 1 US – I was desperate to play it at launch) and a collectors edition of City of Villains.

      I really did want this game to be great, and in many ways it was, but when it came down to it was just rage–inducing to play.

  17. D3xter says:

    “and they were absolutely delightful. Intelligent, calm, organized, passionate…”
    “That said, there’s no reason to declare this a total defeat. Save City of Heroes laid a blueprint for communities in terms of getting publisher attention the right way, and that’s something to be seriously proud of.”
    That’s the problem, you don’t get far with those qualities (well at least farther than a nice letter basically saying “Nope”), if they threw a proper old shitfit of amazing proportions like the ones against EA or BioWare and it’d be all over the Internet, over short or long they’d likely have gotten what they wanted.

    Hey at least they got an RPS article telling them how nice they are, ain’t that a good consolation prize?

  18. Shralla says:

    So I guess I should give up my hope of them resurrecting Auto Assault as a free-to-play MMO, huh?

    • Stromko says:

      ‘Fraid so, and that’s too bad. Near the end the only problem I felt playing AutoAssault was the abject lack of players.

      Though it felt like the failing was that they could never figure out a way to make teamwork really matter, so players rarely had a reason to interact and give it that spark that MMOs need. Nowadays it seems obvious, just throw in some missions with ridiculously tough enemies that require multiple players to defeat, reward the effort with superior loot. (Actually I think AA had a few of those, so, um, I don’t know)

      • Whosi says:

        AA had PvP, it was mostly a single player leveling experience though. There were some bosses that might need a little help, but by max level everyone pretty much had a farming build IIRC.

  19. jsfetzik says:

    Based on the numbers in in NCSofts quarterly reports annual gross revenue, not profit, for CoH was around $10 million, a reasonable price to pay would be around that $10 million dollar mark. Up to 2 or 3 times that if it was significantly profitable. Lower than that if it was loosing money and/or had significant debt.

    I have it from a pretty good source that some low ball offers have been made. In the hundreds of thousands to one million dollar range. Way too low.

    I am sure NCSoft offered it to a hand full of potential buyers before the shutdown announcement. I am also pretty sure that the asking price was way ore than $10 million. They are probably looking to recoup what they paid Cryptic for the game, which rumor says was well over $10 million.

    There is also the fact that the game engine is licensed from Cryptic and there are likely contractual complications there that could be costly.

    It would probably be a viable stand alone business if you could get everything for $10 million and you had another $5 million to cover transaction costs and ride out 6 months of bringing new employees one board. Biggest problem now is that a lot of the employees of Paragon Studios have already gotten other jobs, so you would be working with a skeleton crew for a long while.

  20. ghoststalker194 says:

    We gave it our best…
    Now it’s time to enjoy our last moments within the game. See you later CoX…. you’ve been an awesome friends for many happy hours. I’m going to miss you.

    But I’m not going out without a bang! There’s till November to clean up the streets of Paragon City, and I’ll be damned if I let anything stop me!

    Here’s hoping that in ten years NCsoft copyright runs out and someone picks up the torch and on that day, I’ll be there to stand vigil again.

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