It all starts to make sense. When Cryptic Studios announced the Champions Online MMORPG website on the 20th, the bits and pieces from the past months such as the rumors and cancellation of Marvel Universe Online, and Cryptic closing down its game-related forums. The latter pretty much only covered Marvel Universe Online at that time.
One can only speculate what was going on between Cryptic, Marvel and Microsoft. But my guess is that the Cryptic forums closed down when they had the Champions deal in place and were leaving the joint venture with M&M. Combining the agendas of all three companies were probably far from easy, in particular the both Ms I believe. For Cryptic, the MMOG business is their only business, so I think it is perfectly understandable if they felt it did not quite go where they wanted to get out in some way.
Cryptic Studios has acquired the intellectual property of Champions and Dark Champions, which is the characters and places and events included from Hero Games. So they have effectively bought the framework for their lore and story-line to use as they please. They have not bought the game system that the Champions RPG uses (HERO System), but they indicate that their game system is inspired by the HERO systems flexibility.
Both parts make sense. They now have over a quarter of a century’s worth of story material to work from, with no restrictions from other parties on how to use it – other than possibly issues with fans for the original roleplaying game. I am pretty sure the game systems they have conceived are as much borrowing from HERO system in spirit, as things they wanted to have in City of Heroes/Villains and included in Marvel Universe Online.
Essentially what we will be seeing is City of Heroes 2 and Marvel Universe Online without Marvel. The game engine and everything related is something Cryptic developed in-house. Since they plan to release the game in 2009 I think any major feature is already in place to some extent. Story content need to be worked out to fit Champions universe and probably some modifications and continued refinement to game systems and engine.
Apparently there is an article in the game magazine Game Informer about the game. I have never read that magazine and normally do not read game magazines at all, so some of my speculation here might be way off. I’m not sure if that particular magazine is on sale arund here at all. There is also an article at Massively aboutthe game – that one I could read :)
The game is said to be soloable through all levels, which means that there will be levels and lots of solo content. If City of Heroes/Villains is any indication, there will probably be scalable instances when content is instanced. Team sizes of up to 5 players sounds a bit small though; I like the upto 8 person sized teams in CoV/CoH. Although with the introduction of games to the consoles in particular there is probably a need to reduce the amount of information cluttering the screen.
One of the good things of CoV/CoH is the ease with which you can assemble teams. The sidekick/exemplar systems helps with that and I love that feature. That being said, I guess and hope they will not have that feature in Champions Online. I rather think they might pursue the level-less enemies that CoV/CoH has in the form of Giant Monsters and Rikti Invasion forces. In this case there is no need for sidekick/exemplar – anyone can team up with anyone anyway.
This would also fit in with the concept of a changing world a bit better. Anyone can play any content at any time and participate in events that change the world.
The customisation options sounds like they will be at least as good as CoV/CoH, which means that Pagaon City and Rogue Isle residents may finally fall to second place. Cryptic has before indicated that technical limitations with the game engine and graphics hardware limited them in this regard when City of Heroes was initially introduced and how much more they can do now (at the time they were working on MUO).
Adding alter egos and archenemies seems to be just natural for a superhero genre game, so one may just wonder what took them so long. Ayway, still good that it is being added.
I think there is great potential here, but I cannot say that I am particularly excited about the game. But then I cannot say that I am particularly excited about any future MMOG. Trailers, screenshots and feature lists may be great, but does not necessarily add up to a really good game play. In the end it is the people and company behind it. I think Cryptic is in a good position here. But time will tell.
In this blog entry there is an interview with Microsoft’s Shane Kim where he confirms that the Marvel Universe Online MMOG has been cancelled. With the rumors that have been circulating about the cancellation it is not really any surprising news.
It is interesting to read Kim’s comments regarding the cancellation though:
- Kim never mentions Cryptic Studios. He talks about Microsoft and Marvel and that “both parties” came to an agreement. So where does Cryptic Studios fit in all of this? Have they just been hired by one of the two M’s as consultants? In the MUO trailer on Cryptic Studios web page Marvel, Microsoft and Cryptic seemed to be included as partners all three. So what happened here?
- According to Kim there is only one successful subscription-based MMOG, based on Microsoft’s definition of success. That would be pretty certain that he is thinking of World of Warcraft and that success means a game that pulls in loads of money and/or is a game that many people will know about. He also indicates that a different business model than subscriptions would have been preferable.
I am certain that Microsoft’s main platform for the game would have been XBox 360. With the XBox Live service which in itself is a subscription-based service, would the game have been good enough to lure a significant amount of XBox players with another subscription fee? Perhaps not; certainly not at the numbers Microsoft would have liked for the game (millions no doubt).
I would not be surprised if M&M have looked at material available for The Agency and throught “we should have taken a similar approach”. Will Microsoft try again at some point? Traditionally Microsoft buys companies that make stuff that is better than what they do themselves and that fits in their portfolio. So will they buy an MMOG game studio at some point, or just stay out of the traditional MMOG market?
I think they might focus on more casual multiplayer games than the MMOGs typically offer. That could potentially attract many more players than the traditional MMOGs. If there are some good candidate game companies in this area that are XBox friendly I think they could become candidates for being bought by Microsoft.
Cryptic Studios recently announced that they are closing down their forums and blog. The reason for this is being that they want to make sure they present the projects work on in the best way.
I have read their blog and I popped in and read some in the forums every now and then. The blog did for the most part not contain any game specifics, but was more of a window to the work place community at Cryptic. There was not really anything there to affect any presentation of a future game. The forums was another matter though and with only one announced title besides the exisiting City of Heroes/Villains, a number of discussion threads were related to Marvel Universe Online.
Is it just a matter of people not having time anymore to write in the blog or read and comment in the forums, or is it part of some damage control regarding the Marvel Universe Online rumors? Or just to make sure no-one accidentally gives away too much information on the projects they are workign with in general?
I think it is probably a combination of all of that and perhaps originating from some other pertner they are working with? The Cryptic people did not strike me as a group that would have control issues and at least the blog was not really about gaming so much.
The announcement indicates that there is something that is targeted for 2008 and other projects for later years. If there is anything next year that is probably Marvel Universe Online, or they have been good in hiding .
Is taking the lore and story lines from other media and adapting it to the MMOG sphere a successful approach?
There has been a few attempts so far – Star Wars Galaxies, Matrix Online and Lord of the Ring Online comes to mind. The two former mainly coming from the movie business and the latter from fantasy litterature.
The Star Wars and Matrix efforts have probably less than the expected playerbase today. Lord of the Ring Online seem to be do fairly good at least, but I think it is still to early to judge.
There are some more coming up, like Marvel Universe Online, Star Trek Online and Stargate Worlds and probably a few more which I do not know about of have forgotten. Then we have some that might fall somewhere in between, like God & Heroes which is based on perhaps primarilyRoman mythology but likely have used some creative freedom in adjusting the stories to adapt to the gameplay.
Where am I going with this? I must say that I am a bit sceptic when it comes to media cross-overs like this, in particular when there is a strong control factor in favour of the non-MMOG medias. I think this has been the case with Star Wars Galaxies and is a situation that Turbine faces with Lord of the Ring Online as well.
Just as most movie adaptations of books often tend to be a bit of a disappointment for readers, this can probably happen when moving to MMOG space from other media as well. A key here I think is when moving story lines and lore to MMOG space is to continue to develop the lore in that space, together with the previous media. The MMOGs cannot just adapt to fit within the frames of the existing lore from the other media, it must be developed further in MMOG space.
Lucas have a quite strong control element in what happens with the Star Wars brand and I am not quite sure they have been that interested in moving the lore and developing it in the MMOG space. This is by far not the only problem SWG have had, but I think this has been a contributing factor to the troubles the game have had.
For Matrix Online I think there was an effort to develop the lore within the MMOG space as well and that game has still not been doing well. But the lore cross-over factor is just one factor.
I think the longevity of LotrO might potentially be a problem as well. JRR is not around to help develop the story line and while there is much material to work from, Turbine is still restricted in fitting it in the existing litterature. It may last for a while, but I think it may have trouble sticking around for as long as other games with original lore. Ultima Online has been around for 10 years, Anarchy Online for 6 years and Everquest falls in between. All of these games will likely be around for a couple years more. If they are shut down it is not because of the lore, but for other reasons (outdated graphics and game mechanics comes to mind).
Of the later coming games it seems that at least Stargate Worlds and Marvel Universe Online are going in the direction of developing the lore within the MMOG space, which I think is a good thing and that these games may end up successful also in the long run.
Will this be different for different markets also? In the Western hemisphere PvE and lore focused gameplay have had more success, while it is more PvP oriented in the East and possibly also less focus on the lore. Going for existing players/customers, the cross-ver development is probably being more important in the West. But will it be for future potential players/customers as well?
What do you think?