I was at DragonCon last weekend when I found out that City of Heroes is being closed down. (I was also at DragonCon last weekend when I was supposed to be making last week’s post, which is why, along with some boring work-related stuff, you haven’t heard from me in a while. But I digress.) It’s hard to really describe how I feel about this news; I don’t really have a whole lot to analogize it to. I was too young to be in organized fandom when ‘Doctor Who’ was canceled, and I had already lost a lot of my emotional investment in ‘Buffy’ by the time it went away. Even situations like the sunsetting of the WotC Star Wars TCG, or the various times that I’ve seen Shadowfist look like it was going to go the way of all flesh don’t apply, because I still had the cards I’d already bought. I can’t get new Netrunner expansions anymore, but WotC didn’t come to my house and burn my collection. This feels more like finding out that a new highway is coming through my neighborhood. My house isn’t being wrecked, but a lot of the places where I spent time with my friends over the last seven or eight years aren’t going to be there anymore.
Even if the game does go down, though (and I know of and approve of the various efforts to save the game in one form or another) I think that the people who worked on it can take a lot of pride in what they did over the last eight years. City of Heroes might not have been one of the biggest MMOs out there, but its influence was out of proportion to its subscriber base. It was the first MMO to really push the idea that you shouldn’t punish people for playing your game; lenient death penalties, casual-friendly loot systems, and a grouping design that pretty much everyone in the industry scrambled to emulate made it clear that MMOs could, if done right, appeal to a large audience. It might be an exaggeration to say that MMOs might be a much smaller genre without City of Heroes, but I don’t think it’s wrong.
I’m trying not to be angry at NCSoft over this. I’m certainly not a satisfied customer, and I don’t think they see it from the same perspective as I do, but I think it’s about as useful to get mad at a company for making a business decision as it is for getting mad at a shark for biting you. NCSoft is a business, their goal is to make the most money they can. They think something else will be more profitable than CoH is for them currently, and they have the numbers to back that up. I can get upset over that, but I can’t really argue with it. In some ways, I think the saddest thing about all this is the way that it’s revealed an ugly vein of racism in the fan community, as some people are muttering darkly about how the Korean-based NCSoft is somehow doing this because they don’t like their American playerbase. I know these people are upset, and I can sympathize with that anger, but that doesn’t make what they’re saying right or appropriate. They’re doing what any company does, trying to find the most profitable investment of their funds. City of Heroes is profitable, but it’s not a cash cow and it’s never going to be. Do I wish NCSoft cared more about its fans and the wonderful development team that have put years of effort into this game? Of course. But companies don’t work that way.
I know that if the various efforts to save the game fail, I’m going to spend a lot of time missing Paragon City and the Rogue Isles. But I think what I’m dwelling on most right now, though, is the lost potential. I was still creating characters up through about three weeks ago, taking advantage of the new powersets and looking forward to the next issue (I already had an idea for a Chow Yun-Fat inspired Dual Pistols/Martial Combat blaster.) So many things that were teased and hinted at now may never be revealed. (Although I have to confess, I’m amused by the speculation that the “Coming Storm” and the mysterious enemy referenced over the last several issues was, in fact, the end of the game world at the hands of the developers.) Playing City of Heroes was always fun, but more than that, it seemed like a world of limitless possibilities that stretched out into the future. That’s gone, now, even though the memories are always going to be great ones.
What will I do with the time I spent playing City of Heroes? I don’t know. I probably won’t pick up another MMO. The setting was always a big part of the draw for me, and Champions Online never caught my interest in the same way. (As for DC Universe Online…I think I played it for five minutes, but that was only because it took me four minutes and thirty seconds to figure out how to quit.) I’ve already backed up my characters (thank you, mad genius who invented the character export tool!) and I’ll probably move on to other interests, and wait for the day when someone’s fond memories of this are strong enough that they make the game live again. Because to me, this game is worth waiting for.