NCSoft is not evil
NCSoft has received a fair amount of heat from MMO fans lately, in particular from parts of the City of Heroes community. I consider myself part of that community and I am not happy about the way the shutdown of Paragon Studios and City of Heroes seems to have been communicated to the people involved. Still, I do not see NCSoft as an evil company that cares nothing for its customers/players nor will I boycott everything that has NCSoft attached to it.
My emotional side wants Paragon Studios and City of Heroes to continue running and thrive and I really hope it can be saved in some way.
My analytical side see good reasons for this happening; Ysharros @ Stylish Corpse pointed to a good post by Unsubject on the subject. NCSoft bought the remaining parts of City of Heroes that it did not already own from Cryptic almost 5 years ago. At that time thee were about 15 employees at Cryptic that were working with City of Heroes. Paragon Studios has/had about 80 employees, more than 5 times as many employees. Efforts supported and financed by NCSoft did not include just “safe” bets, but also major efforts like Mission Architect and the Going Rogue/Praetoria expansion.
Paragon Studios seems to me to have had quite a bit of freedom to decide how to improve the game, grow it and make it more profitable. Also, some persons have been working on a “next gen MMO”. Not an infinite amount of money for sure, but probably quite a bit and with a decent amount of creative freedom.
Compare this to Perfect World and their handling of Champions Online. For it seems that the financial reins are significantly tougher there – much more geared to be in line with the rest of the family of Perfect World games and with comparatively limited resources to improve on the game and interact with the community. I am quite sure Champions is profitable, possibly even more so than City of Heroes – percentage-wise. But that is just guesswork from my part.
If City of Heroes will be saved after all, I suspect very much it will be run in a way similar to Champions Online – a quite reduced crew and content updates accordingly and with more focus on getting people to spend money in the store. And probably also server merges to make the game more crowded overall. There may be fewer people playing Champions, but the game feels more crowded since everyone is in a single world and Millennium City zone always has a number of instances.
Would Paragon Studios grown and been able to do the things they did over these 5 years under a different company, like Atari or Perfect World? I do not think so. A few years back NCSoft was a company that were probably my favourite MMO developer company – they supported, ran and developed a number of games that stood out, had some innovative ideas and were not stuck in the typical high fantasy template most other MMO developers worked within. That did not play out well and they have done some significant cut-backs over the years, in particular in the Western market.
They are probably more shrewd businessmen now, but I think there may still be a fair amount of passion about games there. But it may be difficult to grow and stay profitable on passion alone.