The official meticulously articulated RPS stance on City of Heroes' upcoming closure is this face :( Legions of superpowered super-fans, of course, share that sentiment – whether we're talking eight-year crime-biffing veterans or recent arrivals from the stagnant shores of normalcy. Out of the blue, NCsoft announced that it was pulling the plug, and many folks started feeling understandably Hulk smashy. But while videogame fandoms have become somewhat notorious for taking what they want by embittered force, the Save City of Heroes movement has managed to stow pitchforks and mob mentalities in favor of fundraisers and 5,000-person in-game rallies. Will that be enough, though? I spoke to campaign coordinator Tony Vazquez about the rather astonishing effort and touched bases with Paragon Studios and NCsoft to see if it's made an impact.
“We've been saving Paragon City for eight-and-a-half years. It's time to do it one more time.” That's the mission statement of Titan Network, a colossal City of Heroes community that's mobilized to swing in and save its favorite virtual world from certain doom. There's a certain somber finality to the statement, but it'd do the movement a tremendous disservice to confuse grim determination with giving up.
“For the first day, I was hurt and... stunned, more than anything else,” Tony “TonyV” Vazquez told RPS. “I won't say 'angry'. I was stunned, because it was so unexpected and so bizarre at the time. When I first heard that they were shutting down Paragon Studios and closing the game, my first thoughts were just... I thought the game was doing really well. And it really is. The player base is strong. We have a lot of avid fans. The game was doing well financially according to all the financial reports and the reports we've gotten from Paragon Studios and NCsoft in the past. Everything has gone really well.”
“But by Saturday night, when I'd made up my mind that we had to try to do something about it, the effort has been focused on, 'Well, we can't [get sad and angry]. We've gotta roll up our sleeves and get to work. We can't stay in that place for long.'”
So they did. It began with typical tactics – Internet petitions and the like – but quickly metamorphosed into a beast of a far craftier nature. What followed were campaigns to mail capes and masks to NCsoft employees, send heartfelt messages to NCsoft's CEO, and go for a little walk at an in-game location called Atlas Park. A little tiny teensy-weensy 5,000-person walk.
“I was extraordinarily happy with how it turned out,” Vazquez enthused. “I had no idea that so many people would show up. I was honestly expecting, probably, 1,000 to 1,500 people, and I thought that was an optimistic guess. At one point I had mentioned that I'd like to see 10 instances of Atlas Park, which is 100 people per instance. A total of 1,000 people. We ended up having 5,000 people. Things got so crowded that people started spilling over onto other servers. There was a pretty significant queue of people waiting to get into the game. It was absolutely fantastic. I couldn't have asked for a better show of support for the game and its developers.”
Since then, Vazquez and company have also organized a $1,000 fundraiser (which collected everything it needed in a mere three hours) to buy a dinner for the entire, potentially soon-to-be-unemployed City of Heroes dev team at one of their favorite restaurants. The message? The community actually cares, and curse-spitting knee-jerk reactions don't solve anything. Organization and unbridled passion – not entitled kicking and screaming – will save this day.
“I won't lie,” admitted Vazquez, “we have had a few people who have been angry and hurt - and understandably so. But I have to say, I am very, very impressed with how well people have been reacting. How positive they've been. It really has been more about supporting the game and the studios, and not so much about negativity about the game ending and NCsoft killing off our community. The community has been very positive. I think the rally was just a good example of that, where people were very positive and supportive.”
But while there's a storybook-style romantic appeal to the idea of insanely passionate fans turning the tide with determination alone, every MMO in the history of, well, ever would still be up and running if that actually worked. This, however, isn't a desperate shot in the dark. OK, so it might be a bit desperate, but the community's put a pretty incredible amount of thought into the ideas it's trying to convey. Observe:
“I did sit down and seriously consider, 'Is this do-able?'” said Vazquez. “I've asked myself that question every day since. And I really think it is. I think we have several things going for us that maybe typically aren't going for things like this. One, unlike a lot of games that get shut down, we have the fact that the game was doing so well. This was not a game that was slowly dying. The players cared a lot about it. We still had a strong population. We had an incredibly devoted development team working on the game. So this is not a case of, 'Well, over the course of time, resources have sort of slipped away and the game's not doing as well, so it's just slowly coming to an end.'”
And so, that's the crux of Save City of Heroes' plan: NCsoft's restructuring. Unless City of Heroes suddenly sprouts ten million new players, it's simply not on the publisher's priority list. But that doesn't mean the spandex-clad crime-fighter couldn't carry on elsewhere.
“We've really been focused on trying to convey to NCsoft that this is not just us wanting our game to stay around,” explained Vazquez. “It's actually a good business decision. Since it is a profitable game, there is an opportunity to allow the intellectual property and the code base and the distribution rights to the game to go to some other company. It is a marketable property that somebody else would be willing to pay for. If City of Heroes were dying, nobody would touch it with a ten-foot pole. If you're NCsoft, this is actually an opportunity you have to gain some financial resources and put them towards other projects that are in your long-term goals.”
“In the past two years, they've abandoned several games – Exteel and Auto Assault. Tabula Rasa was probably the most famous one. So it's a good public relations move from NCsoft to convey to players that you can feel safe and secure in investing time and money and effort and creative energy into their games. Because if they help us save City of Heroes, I believe it would help turn that image around, that they will just turn servers off and abandon a community. It would convey, in a very tangible way, that they're willing to work with the community to ensure that the product of their creative expression is continued, even if the game is not in the long-term plans of NCsoft.”
Those things in mind, I contacted both Paragon Studios and NCsoft to find out whether or not the community's Justice Fist had punched a hole in the fully charged Death Laser aimed at its favorite game. At first, things seemed hopeful. I heard from multiple sources that discussions between Paragon and NCsoft were ongoing, and both sides quickly agreed to answer some questions for me via email. But then a week passed, and I didn't hear anything back. Finally, I received very carefully worded “no comments” from both NCsoft and Paragon.
“We appreciate the opportunity to present our take on things, however it seems as though this is one story that will have to wait until a later time,” read Paragon's statement on the matter.
Meanwhile, a post concerning refund plans and elaborate End of Days events recently went up on the City of Heroes website, tossing around words like “final” with worrisome abandon. In spite of all that, however, Vazquez and co aren't throwing in the towel yet. Win or lose – those are the only options. Quitting is out of the question. For these people, City of Heroes is more than “just a game.” It's a creative outlet. It's a means to keep in touch with friends who are many, many cities away on a daily basis. It's the starting point for an incredibly close player-developer relationship, with a team that frequently joins in on forum discussion and even convenes summits to get player input on new features. It's many things to many people, but one thing binds them all together: they're willing to fight tooth-and-nail to keep it up and running.
“It's a game that you can really make your own, when you've poured your heart and soul and your creative energies into it,” Vazquez concluded. “And the players have done such a wonderful job of designing all their characters and the stories. Some of these players have been around [for ages]. I've been playing this game for over eight-and-a-half years. Once you've put that amount of creative energy into the game, you can't just let it go.”
“All along I've known, 'Well, someday they're going to shut the servers down. Nothing lasts forever.' But I always thought that it would be when the player base faded away, there weren't a lot of activities going on, and the developers, they had moved on from the game and were doing something else. But I feel like we're really at the height of the game's... I won't say 'popularity.' We have had higher subscriber numbers. But I feel like we're at the height of the game's technical and artistic capability. Things were going so full steam that it totally hit us by surprise.”
“I think we have a good chance of pulling this off. I really hope so.”