Ok, so I know most of you didn’t know that I play City of Heroes (CoH). (You probably don’t know that I also play Star Wars: The Old Republic either, but that doesn’t matter right now.) I originally subscribed to City of Heroes on June 10th, 2004. This was about two weeks after the game went live. I’ve been subscribed ever since. In that time I’ve seen 23 updates, a massive overhaul of many of the game’s systems, the introduction of playable villains, a raising of the level cap, the introduction of new mechanics — I could go on for quite some time like this. The one thing that stayed the same, and kept me hooked, however, was the people. City of Heroes has an amazing community of folks — a dedicated group of people whom I have not always agreed but have always felt comfortable. In a place that does not physically exist, I really feel like I belong.
On August 31st, without any warning, NCSoft, the publisher of City of Heroes, stopped all development, closed the development studio, and announced that City of Heroes would be shut down November 30th. To say that this new struck like a swift kick to the gut would be putting it mildly. The discussion thread on the CoH forums has (as of right now) almost 2,600 posts (over 129 pages). Many of the initial comments, both there and elsewhere, have been of complete and utter shock. I’m sure that even the Devs (developers) didn’t see it coming; they publicly announced the next update (and opened it for beta) on August 7th. On August 21st they released a new power set for purchase. The next Friday they were all laid off. NCSoft didn’t (and still hasn’t) announced this development on their own webpage.
The reaction of the players has been dramatic. Shock quickly turned to anger, and the community has rallied and organized itself into a quest to save a game that many of us (myself included) consider to be ours. A petition to save the game is (as of right now) at about 15,000 signatures. Several in-game events (including a protest, of sorts) are scheduled, two Facebook pages are up (here and here), is working to get the media involved, and there are even rumors that Paragon Studios (the developers) in discussions with NCSoft and investors with the hope of somehow turning things around. We even have a tagline: “We are heroes. This is what we do.”
It’s daunting, however. An economic analysis suggests that NCSoft is making a reasonable economic decision. Even though City of Heroes pulls in approximately $10 million a year, that’s peanuts compared to the big players in the MMO field, like World of Warcraft, Lineage, or Final Fantasy. Interestingly enough, although Lineage I and II were listed at bringing $270 million to NCSoft in 2009, subscriptions are down across all of their MMO games, and earnings have gone negative. The decision not to sell the game/studio/IP, however, seems short-sighted. After all, even if $10 million is a drop in the bucket to their bottom line, it might be good enough to keep a small independent studio/developer going, and would encourage goodwill with the existing fan base. (I’d be a lot more likely to try Guild Wars II, for example, if the company publishing it wasn’t busy kicking me in the ‘nads by killing my favorite game.) Right now, because of the way they handled this, I really want to bring them pain, and I urge you to do so as well. I’m having a hard time not hoping that they fail miserably and go out of business.
And yet, even though I know that crickets are likely the only response, I signed the petition. Even though I know that I’ll likely be mourning at the end of November as the servers shut down one by one, I still read the forums, checking for developments and updates, hoping against reality that somehow something will pull together. I haven’t given up yet. I can’t. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that someone has to take a stand against the single-minded pursuit of “mo’ money Mo’ Money MO’ MONEY” that has taken hold in both corporate and civil society, because, paradoxically it’s killing both community and individuality. After all, what connection can you have to your community when the only place to shop is a Wal*Mart that was designed by someone over a thousand miles away? How can you possibly stand out as unique or different when the only place to eat is a McDonald’s, with food that’s been market-analyzed and focused-grouped into the most generically palatable product possible? Where does the Mom-and-Pop store or restaurant fit in this? When your only choices are scripted by big companies that simply want your cash, can you say you truly have free will? Do you, as a person, even matter anymore? I won’t even get into the problems this attitude creates with concepts like “public property”, or “aesthetically pleasing surroundings”, or even “clean air and water”.
That mentality needs to be fought, regardless of whether it’s manifesting as a disregard for small vibrant communities online or as a disregard for the physical environment in which we live. I have to believe that, as an individual who is willing to try, and to work, that I can make a difference. That’s why I’ve embraced the Portfolio Life (with all its flaws) instead of seeking a Steady Job (And All That Entails). This is why I sometimes insist on Reinventing the Wheel.
Someone has to take up this fight; the long-term consequences otherwise are just too awful to contemplate. How are you stepping up to the plate?