Into the Super-Verse: Has Homecoming torched the plans of City of Heroes successors?
The game has been in development for over a year, and the team behind it is still working on it. It’s not clear how much longer they’ll be able to continue doing so.
The coh homecoming issue 27 page 2 is a blog post that discusses the future of City of Heroes and its successor, Homecoming.
Anyone who has followed my work for a long time knows how much I like City of Heroes. This isn’t a shock or a discovery. I wrote about the game from the beginning of my career till we eventually said our goodbyes to the franchise. This is a significant event in my life. This also implies that I have ties to the folks behind “Plan Z” games like City of Titans and Ship of Heroes, which were proposed and built expressly to fill the void left by CoH’s demise.
Except… that was the narrative when the game was really shut down. City of Heroes: Homecoming, as well as a number of other rogue servers with lesser populations, are now available. While this is unquestionably a good thing for those of us who enjoy the game and even the general community (I haven’t forgotten the majority of our crew running around in Paragon City, for example), I wonder if it will pose a problem for these titles where the plan was and always has been to recreate the no longer-very-defunct game.
Let’s get two things straight. First and first, this is coming from a position of love rather than disdain, if that is necessary to state. Because of my position within the CoH community, I’m naturally predisposed to like the individuals working to bring the game back in whatever shape it takes, and I’ve met and spoken with the folks behind most of the “Plan Z” titles.
Second, it’s essential to emphasize that, because to the nature of our work, these titles are still subject to examination. For example, City of Titans was Kickstarted with almost $700,000 in funding. While it isn’t one of the more severe Kickstarter failures, it falls into the broad category of situations in which a group of individuals donated a business money in exchange for the promise of a game.
So, what happened to the game? And, more significantly, what does the future hold for these games? Champions Online, strangely enough, seems like an interesting example to look at here.
CO is clearly not a project born out of the events surrounding CoH. It is undeniably a project that failed to capitalize on the zeitgeist in 2012, but “failing to hit the zeitgeist” is a recurring topic throughout CO, so let’s not linger on it. But it’s worth noting that the game was created by some of the same individuals that worked on CoH in the first place, namely the members of the team who joined Cryptic instead of remaining with NCsoft’s Paragon Studios. This group would have figured out how to produce “more CoH” if anybody could.
But it’s not the same as CoH.
Okay, maybe it seems a little exaggerated; both games include superheroes and a robust costume designer, as well as boring obese guys with dumb hats acting as the game’s famous face. That’s a fairly general component. CO, on the other hand, is a world apart from CoH in terms of gameplay, thanks to its free-build option, as well as its build-and-spend power mechanisms, gear sets, and other tweaks based on the same concepts. In terms of implementation, the two titles are very different.
In some respects, this may have been a drawback for the game when it first came out, since those who loved CoH weren’t sure what they were getting with CO right away. (Of course, the larger issue was that free creation was an imbalanced and ambiguous muddle.) But the point is that you aren’t selecting between these two games purely on the basis of their substance, regardless of which one you like.
It’s not simply that CoH outperforms CO in this area, but it does. It’s because the two games take such distinct approaches to gameplay that they can’t be mistaken for one another. If you’re playing CO right now, it’s because it offers a unique gaming experience that you won’t find anywhere else. It enables you to accomplish things that are difficult or impossible to do in other environments.
And it’s here that we start to have issues. Because, as far as I can tell, the different Plan Z games’ objectives were always to create something that resembled CoH with a few coats of paint and some polish. Which, you know… is exactly what all of the rogue servers are presently providing, although with some new abilities and ideas.
Context may be a powerful narcotic.
Now, when these games were originally being developed, this was an absolutely reasonable design choice. After all, these games were created to fill the massive CoH-shaped void in the market. The obvious design objective was to make a game that was essentially CoH with some modifications and a more contemporary graphics engine, with the additional advantage of not having to spend as much time getting bogged down by some of the design intricacies that the previous game had already worked out.
However, that was back then, and this is today. That CoH-shaped hole has now been filled… by CoH himself. The game has returned in a semi-official capacity, and we’re still hearing reports that the title may get official status in the near future. This sounds strange to me, but if NCsoft receives anything in exchange for its effort, it’s effectively free money, and it won’t have to worry about maintenance.
So, what’s the marketing pitch for the games that wanted to be CoH with minor changes now? We’ve seen how well that business model works for other games claiming to be X with modifications, and they were typically much larger projects with far larger budgets and audiences.
It was always going to be a niche game for Plan Z, and that’s great. It’s perfectly OK to play a specialized game. The only major issue arises when attempting to overfill the niche, as long as the personnel is paid and the server is functioning. Because there are too many games vying for the same niche, some of them will go dark because they’re attempting to satisfy a small demand that has already been met.
Sure, the City of Titans and Ship of Heroes cityscapes are stunning. These games’ player models seem to have been updated. The games seem to be appealing. But, in comparison to CoH, they’re young and unstable ventures, and… well, you can really log in right now and play CoH if you want to. It’s a lot tougher to persuade consumers to abandon the established market leader when your game accomplishes 90% of what the current game does with just a few changes.
I’m not trying to be gloomy, but it’s difficult not to. I appreciate the concept of these initiatives; I want them to succeed, and I want the individuals behind them to prosper. But right now, when I look at these games, I see some excellent concepts and improvements that are attempting to replace something that is freely accessible… It’s never a good indication when it happens.
The city of heroes servers 2021 is a question that has been asked for years. Will the game be able to maintain its player base?
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