A Video Game Entry – A Paragon of MMORPGs

I try to be funny in these blogs, but sometimes I am sad and I can’t be funny.  So this is an unfunny entry.  Last night, a world ended.  A fictional world, but one I have spent eight years in.  And it’s all gone now.

In August, NCSoft abruptly closed Paragon Studios and announced it would be shutting down City of Heroes/Villains at the end of November.  There was no warning.  Paragon was still creating new content and clearly all the developers were caught completely by surprise that they were out of a job.  That really sucks for them.  Less sucky, but still sucky, all of the players were told that the game they’d invested anywhere from zero to eight years in was going away, just like that.  I was surprised how sad I was to hear the news.

I played from nearly the very beginning and beta-tested City of Villains.  A friend got me interested in the idea of a MMORPG.  Neither of us liked the idea of WoW (nothing personal; it just didn’t suit us), so when NCSoft produced one of the first superhero MMORPGs, he took a look.  He liked what he saw and got me hooked.  It was the first game I was willing to pay a subscription for.  We played together as a pair for some time.  A few months later, other friends joined in and we eventually formed a supergroup or two.  My first character was a storm defender with electric blasts, which turned out to be awesome.  When the newly made Paragon Studios announced the development of a City of Villains, I was right in line to create a demonic stalker.

The developers clearly cared about the game and the superhero genre.  They also slipped in references to other genres when they could get away with it.  For example:
a) Find the Hand of Omega (Doctor Who)
b) George from the UHF station has asked you to find Dr. Philo (UHF)
c) Locate the book of G’kar (later changd to K’gar for copyright issues) (“Babylon 5”)
d) Rescue Doctors Murphy, Nelson, and Corbett (“MST3K”)
And the list goes on and on and on.

Some of the developments I was unsure about when introduced, such as the market system.  I also wasn’t too keen on “Going Rogue” although the idea of it, allowing heroes and villains to switch alignments, was intriguing.  These developments tended to build on what was already in the story canon.  “Going Rogue” took place in evil doppelganger Paragon City because even superhero video games have evil doppelgangers.  I am still disappointed “Going Rogue” only went up to level 20, and then characters had to choose City of Heroes or Villains.  I also wasn’t keen on the “free to play” mode since I had heard complaints about other games that had done that with poor results.  But since I was already subscribing, I didn’t really notice any change in the game for me, which was fine.  I had already decided to spend my money on the game, so it wasn’t a big deal to continue to do so even when the free option became available.

The free to play seemed to spur the developers to more content.  Their goal was to get people hooked enough to subscribe or at least pay for all the bells and whistles.  So they issued more costumes pieces (at a price) and more power sets (at a price) but they also introduced more storylines and contacts (some of which, yes, had to be purchased).  I can’t fault them for trying to make money.  They needed to keep the game fresh and interesting to keep people playing and get more people playing.  Again, it didn’t really affect me.  I bought costume pieces and power sets when I wanted.  I ended up buying the time manipulation set, for example, to create my own version of a Timelord.  Also, I really loved the costume designer.  The developers understood that good costumes are an important part of heroes and villains, and I got all the costume slots unlocked just to have the max number available to me.  My storm defender started with a 60s/70s minimal style costume, then got a very 80s look (everyone told me so), the 90s anti-hero style (complete with trenchcoat), a supergroup-uniform costume, and the storm god costume (I had an aura of lightning and thunder and glowy eyes; it was awesome).

I really enjoyed the variety of powers available.  There were  ten main categories of powers, but within those categories, there was so much variety.  Well, at least for the defender, controller, corruptor, and dominator classes.  The more melee-oriented categories tended to play roughly the same, no matter the power set.  But I played several defenders and the storm defender was much different from the dark defender who was different from the time manipulation defender.  And a friend played a couple of defenders with me, who were again different from the ones I was playing.  And like WoW, Paragon ran into the problem of what to do with max level characters.  WoW just raised the level cap and added new dungeons.  Paragon did not raise the level cap but added new dungeons, so to speak.  They had levels only 50s could enter and in the beginning they had prestige archetypes that could only be unlocked at level 50 (later they dropped this to 20, which I found annoying).  Then they started the “Incarnate System” which was basically another set of experience for max level characters to become more awesome.  And that awesomeness was needed for yet harder missions.

The world was dynamic.  Paragon introduced new storylines that profoundly effected how the world was structured.  In the beginning, for example, players could go to Galaxy City or Atlas Park for starting missions.  But Galaxy City was invaded and players had to start there for the first mission before going to Atlas Park.  Some zones that were closed to specific levels were opened later on to everyone.  Some zones that were open to everyone were later on closed.  The last development was the awakening of an evil god in Dark Astoria, which was already a closed zone, that turned into a level 50 only zone.  They had special events, such as the Halloween trick or treating event (you could literally knock on doors in the zones and have random Halloween themed monsters jump out as a trick, or get special costumes as a treat), or the winter events and Valentine’s events with special missions, or the Rikti invasion or Zombie Apocalypse.  They introduced PvP for people who like that kind of thing.  There were badges to note a number of defeats for a certain enemy type, exploration, gaining money, gaining debt (from being defeated), and all sorts of things.  When the world ended, my storm defender had earned 504 badges.

Then NCSoft shut it all down.  Why?  It was a business decision.  The game made money, but not enough money as far as they were concerned.  Plus, they had to buy the license for the game engine from another company and they didn’t want to do that.  They also are working on a new MMORPG to introduce in the US, so why increase the competition for their own game?  Eight years; all gone.  Just like that.  I looked at the message boards and it’s all happened before with other games.  People love them, corporations only see a waste of resources, people protest and rally, and the servers go dark anyway.  Maybe there’s a larger lesson in here – no matter how much you love something and fight for it, you may not be able to save it.  Or possibly the lesson is – corporations suck.  They don’t care who gets hurt as long as they make a buck.  Well, I know I’m never buying a NCSoft product again, and I hope the former employees of Paragon Studios develop a sequel to CoH/CoV and prove in the free market what a poor business decision it was for NCSoft to end their flagship game.

So last night the world ended.  Paragon City, the Rogue Isles, Praetoria, the Shadow Shard and all parallel worlds in between were gone.  Not destroyed by the Rikti, not destroyed by Mot, but destroyed by corporate business decisions.  The community fought back and tried to raise interest in saving the game and draw attention to the sudden death of the game.  Again, for my small part I know I will never purchase any NCSoft product again.  Last night the community came together one last time.  There were more team-ups and leagues than I have ever seen before.  Heroes stood on the steps of City Hall in Atlas Park until the very minute the servers shut down.  I don’t know what the next steps are.  Perhaps, like any good superhero or supervillain, Paragon Studios can be ressurrected, and I hope the US developers find new jobs (even if they aren’t working on ressurrecting Paragon).  I would play the sequel, although it will never replace the world that was lost last night.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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