Paragon City: the Rikti alien invasion couldn’t destroy it, Marvel failed to sue it into oblivion but the gaming studio behind City of Heroes are ready to pull the plug on their digital metropolis.
That’s because NCsoft, the umbrella firm atop developer Paragon Studios, has shut the team down and on November 30 City of Heroes is demolished.
But after eight-and-a-half years of fighting the good fight the strong-jawed citizens are not giving up. They are petitioning NCsoft to give them the coding tools to keep the lights running and the capes flying.
So what? Massively multiplayer online roleplayer games (MMORPG) seem to spread faster than herpes in the 16-18 age bracket. We have The Secret World, DC Universe Online, an entry from Marvel at some future point and the granddaddy itself, World of Warcraft.
So this: City of Heroes, originally put out there by Cryptic Studios back in 2004, can be credited with popping the virginity bubble of thousands of gamers. It predated World of Warcraft by a handful of weeks. And like MMOs of the time you had to pay a monthly subscription fee to enter the world of Paragon City. Let’s say about £8. Now pay that for eight years, with a few quid on top to buy expansion packs, costumes and gadgets for your super person - that’s probably a £1,000 investment.
No (boy) wonder then that the loyal gaming community shed a few digital tears when NCsoft said it was shutting City of Heroes down. Andy Belford of Paragon Studies said: “In a realignment of company focus and publishing support, NCsoft has made the decision to close Paragon Studios. Effective immediately, all development on City of Heroes will cease and we will begin preparations to sunset the world's first, and best, super hero MMORPG.”
That news came like a kick in the teeth to fans. Level 50 scrapper and seven-year veteran of Paragon City, Vandellia (that’s the spiny fish that swims up your penis hole), said: “It was such a shock. Only the day before the developers had been talking about plans for new issues, new items and new powers and the next thing we heard was an announcement saying we were being ‘sunsetted’."
“Seeing the way the community has swung into action to save our game is amazing – it’s incredible to see people leaping to defend our world from being obliterated, like just our avatars have been doing for years.”
Four months before Paragon said it was “looking forward to many amazing years to come” and revealed 43 million characters had been created. That’s just shy of the population of Spain. The exact figure of how many people play City of Heroes is a loaded question. They’ve never been released and when the game became free to play last year a surge in numbers were predicted.
All of which just adds more fuel to fans’ fury, who are convinced the game remains profitable. When news of the closure broke, Paragon City’s best and brightest protested – digitally of course – by taking to the steps of the game’s city hall, their time-crafted avatars punching the sky not with fists but with pixel-painted placards screaming STOP!
Some cynics have pointed a finger at NCsoft and accused the firm of clearing the table before it releases Guild Wars 2 this year. But a rallying cry is bringing together heroes and villains to overthrow their biggest challenge.
Tony Vaquez runs the Titan Network. He’s been coordinating a multi-pronged campaign to keep City of Heroes ongoing. At the time of writing the petition was 12,000 strong and efforts were going into raising money to make a decent offer to NCsoft to buy the game’s intellectual property rights, persuading Valve to buy it, donating subscription fees into a war chest and so on.
Evidence that the passion of gamers can be converted into hard cash has been seen on Kickstarter. Cult favourite Shadowrun has notched up $2 million, a Broken Sword sequel reached its $400,000 goal, along with a new game from the mind behind Gabriel Knight. Then there are the gamers themselves. The Black Mesa Project has released a free-to-play and rejuvenated Half-Life thanks to codes from Valve. The team painstakingly recreated the game following the lacklustre 2004 re-release and beefed up the story, graphics and gameplay off their own back.
All of the above inspire nostalgia and big love in their fans, hence their success. Many gamers of City of Heroes say the reason they find World of Warcraft and other MMORPGs a turn off is it doesn’t have the same community. But if it all ends badly some of that community may jump ship, perhaps to rival Champions Online, to keep the gang together.
Sign the petition at http://www.change.org/petitions/ncsoft-keep-ncsoft-from-shutting-down-city-of-heroes
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