Champions / Marvel | MMOrgue 3

Champions / Marvel | MMOrgue 3

In this week’s MMOrgue, we’re digging up the dirt on the world of superhero MMOs! Join us as we don our capes and tights to take a look at the latest troubling reports from inside Marvel Universe Online, as well as examine the effects that SOE’s network security issues and subsequent outage have had on DC Universe Online.

Last but not least, we examine the announcement that Atari is parting ways with Champions Online developer, Cryptic Studios. What has motivated this divestment, and what could this mean for the studio’s future and existing projects?

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Show Notes:

First, to respond to some feedback:

“The dark theme and name do not suit the show’s content.”

  • First the obvious reasoning behind the name: Everybody talkes about MMOs, and everybody considers themselves an expert worthy of a name and brand. Hence, MMO-everything is taken. I kid you not.
  • More importantly, the concept of looking at the inner workings of a living industry is very much in line with the idea of cataloguing and studying our dead.
    • I chose this theme and name to illustrate a scientific and analytic approach to the stories that will be covered herein.
    • The communities, technologies, and professionals of this industry are very much the heart, lungs and brains of any MMO. Without analysing what motivates and drives any of these, we potentially lose sight of the whole.
  • And lastly, the MMO industry is a dangerous place. Covering titles and technologies that are dead, and finding out what put them there, is something that WILL be covered on this show.

“You need a co-host.”

  • If this was a show about sharing the latest press releases and announcements, I would be inclined to agree. Finding commentary and conversation on such topics is easy, and flows best between separate minds.
    • However, as this show is 100% editorial driven, the content is created from the mind of its host. Increasing the number of minds involved would only fragment the content and any opinions contained herein.
  • That said, there will occasionally be important industry events which either slip my radar, or about which I know too little to accurately form an editorial opinion.
    • In these circumstances, I intend to invite “correspondents” to join me on air to discuss those particular situations. If you feel as though you would like to become a correspondent, please contact me by posting at, or by emailing, to start a discussion on what content you would like to present to our audience.

DCUO and SOE outage

  • Infographic
  • On May 2nd, SOE went dark. Then hundreds of thousands of gamers cried out in frustration, and never went silent.
  • It took almost two weeks to get the network, and all of Sony’s games, back up and running and (apparently) secure from further invasion. That outage is estimated to have cost SOE a total of $171 million.
  • And this is AFTER a fiscal year that ended in March, which reported an annual loss of $3.2 billion for the company.

What does this rough patch mean for the future of DCUO?

  • Nobody at SOE is making any official statements yet, other than to say that DCUO’s population is currently “very good.”
  • In the past 3 months, there have been two replacements among the DCUO project’s upper management that were made from within … existing execs taking on extra responsibility instead of promotions, or new hires.
  • And this after the project suffered a round of layoffs in April.
  • It is likely that subscriptions will see a noteworthy drop due to the outage. Even with the incentives being offered by SOE by way of apology.
    • This comes down to Consumer Confidence, which is fancy way of saying “people don’t like to be jerked around.”
    • SOE has a large overhead, capable of supporting a few rocky patches. Even so, they’ve been known to shut down games (Matrix Online).
  • GOOD NEWS: Apparently this outage scared SOE into being more interactive with their customers, and their forums are now ablaze with Dev Posts at regular intervals sharing REAL info instead of SOE’s standard practice of silence and mystery.
    • Let’s hope it lasts.


  • Just days before the SOE network outage, it was announced that ALL of the existing DCUO servers would soon be merged into a few instanced networks called “MegaServers.”
  • Through the use of “phasing” technology, players will still be participating in areas that will have reasonable populations.
  • The benefit of this is to allow all of the back-end queueing for Raids, Duos, Alerts, and PvP to work across ALL players (on a per-platform basis).
  • The idea of server mergers has always been seen as a bad thing by the MMO press. It indicates a population decline, and a lack of interest.
    • This MAY be different, as this sounds more like a fundamental tech shift, and not just a run-of-the-mill merger.
    • However, it is still addressing an issue that would not be present if the game had a large and active population of gamers (queue times for instanced content).
  • Community outcry of “name collision” issues, and lack of solid responses from SOE, are causing additional schisms and rage among players.

Champions Online – Atari divests itself from Cryptic

First, rumor killing:
– Nothing is happening YET. Atari has only announced their INTENT to divest. They have not announced that they are seeking a buyer, nor that any change of staff will occur as a result of this decision.

Atari is making a Bad Choice

  • Investing in casual markets
    • Casual / Facebook games do not create brand recognition, fan loyalty or press.
    • As this market continues to mature, games will become more and more complex and impressive until their development budgets rival current standalone titles.
    • Long-term investment in this area will continue to require more and more finances to remain competitive. It is not a quick and cheap money-maker market.
  • Profits continue to rise
    • 17.3 million prior year, 7 million this year, next year = ??
    • While actively developing at least one unreleased title – Neverwinter
    • Early indications that Champions Online move to F2P has resulted in huge increase in profits, which only occurred in Q3 of 2010.
  • Foundry Tech
    • No other MMO has created such a successful and robust UGC tool, and it is now available to be ported to all titles using the Cryptic Engine: STO, CO and NWO.
    • Giving the power of content creation to users opens up new doors to new types of gamers, and creates a powerful sense of community.
    • Other MMO devs would probably love to get their hands on this technology…

Independence for Cryptic?

  • In today’s MMO landscape, no Dev survives alone.
  • They all need a publisher, and most publishers end up owning the Dev studio
    • Blizzard was acquired by Activision in 2007
    • Bioware became a part of EA in 2007
    • Turbine, the biggest example of a successful “indie” developer, was purchased by Warner Bros in 2010.
  • To date, no major developer has managed to leave its parent publishing company, and survive. In fact, it’s such a risky prospect that studios typically just dissolve rather than even attempt it.

So then, who buys Cryptic?

  • I think it’d be a bit presumptuous for me, as a gamer and not a financial analyst, to try and make an educated guess on this one.
  • has a couple good editorials that cover most of the major candidates in this area. Check the show notes for details, as I don’t have much else to add to the discussion at this point.
  • Fans of Star Trek Online are hoping that the company is acquired by CBS, the IP holder of the Star Trek franchise.
    • Would CBS be interested in entering the online gaming arena? They haven’t yet.

Future of Neverwinter IP?
Possibly the biggest question mark in all of this…

  • Atari holds publishing rights on all Dungeons & Dragons products until 2017.
  • A lot of money and time already invested in the project, including a co-publishing deal with a line of novels written by R.A. Salvatore, and a deal with Wizards of the Coast for additional tie-ins.
  • Unlikely that Atari will let this one go completely.
    • It will either get pulled from Cryptic and given to another studio with Atari maintaining their publishing oversight, or a new deal will be worked out to keep Atari on board in spite of their divestment from the studio.
    • Either option discounts the title from being a bargaining tool in obtaining a new investment partner.

Marvel Universe


  • Attempting to live under the title of “First ever AAA F2P MMO in the West, at time of launch”
    • Color me completely unimpressed.
    • First of all, you can’t CLAIM a title like “Triple-A” without having a product. At this time, with the total lack of game footage, screenshots, timelines for beta/release, or even branding… what is here to lay claim to?
    • This just sounds like empty hype, from a company that has already started disappointing us with overblown hype for their other unlaunched MMO, Jumpgate:Evolution.

No Character Customization
Rank this as my “most worrying” concern for this title.

  • On the one hand, it will allow players to jump into game as iconic well-known superheroes from the Marvel franchise.
    • A lot of people will find this appealing, as evidenced by the outstanding sales records for single-player superhero titles like “Ultimate Alliance.”
    • Developers at Secret Identify Studios claim this will make everyone feel more heroic, and “we won’t be merely ‘sidekicks.’”
      • EMPTY CLAIM — CO allows heroes to feel like heroes, and even have their own Nemesis with minions and a base. What sidekick has that?!
  • On the other, how many Wolverines and Hulks will be roaming around? Or will each server have only one instance of each? Where’s the “massive” in this MMO, if that’s the case?
    • And how about progression? If you have to unlock the powers of your favorite superheroes, how do you explain them losing their abilities at the start of the story?
  • Possibly one of the biggest selling points of superhero MMOs to date, has been character customization. CoX and CO had it in droves, and DCUO’s comparative lack of options brought them a lot of criticism from MMO players and press.
    • This is a technological step backwards, and will only work if this is NOT a true MMO as we’ve come to define it.
    • If this is just another “X-Men Legends” or “Ultimate Alliance” with robust online matchmaking services, then it could work.
    • But any form of persistence, progression and community, will be lost without personalization of your avatar.

Written by Bendis
This has the potential to make me excited.

  • Brian Michael Bendis is the godfather of Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe, and creator of some of the most critically acclaimed stories ever to spring from comic books. Including “Avengers Disassembled,” “House of M,” “Civil War,” and “Secret Invasion.”
  • He claims to be writing stories for MUO that will portray some of the most iconic moments from each characters’ lore, and re-imagine them into events that players will experience in-game.
  • Not much else to say about it, really. Bendis has never really done anything ‘wrong’ (except, arguably, killing off Hawkeye… ) so it’s great news for the story side of the game.
  • Between this, and the news that R.A. Salvatore is writing for Cryptic’s “Neverwinter,” it could set a precedence in the industry to bring in more established high-profile writers to flesh out the story of an MMO. Nothing wrong with that at ALL. There’s a reason they are high-profile after all… it’s because they’re AWESOME.


Man… this whole episode was a lot of bad news, wasn’t it? And here I was hoping that superheroes were a HAPPY topic of conversation…

Well, maybe next week will turn some of that around…

+ RIFT feedback and discussion
+ 2KGames enters the MMO arena, through a partnership with XLGames (Lineage)
+ Bioware talks Mass Effect MMO


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