Saving a Genre [Part 1] Superhero MMOs
A Message to the Publishers: Two Simple Cures
What’s the Situation?
Superhero Massive Multiplayer Online (SHMMOS) games are few and far between as of 2019—kept afloat in a near cult-like status by only the most dedicated fans of the genre.
City of Heroes (CoH), the first real breakout on the scene and widely regarded as the superior SHMMO according to player reviews, critics, and award count (though, there are hundreds of contributing factors, so take this with a grain of salt), lasted only a little more than eight years, competing the entirety of its life with the then indomitable World of Warcraft (WoW). This void was to be filled by Champions Online (CO) in September 2009, and less than two years later, DC Universe Online (DCUO) in early 2011. Both of which, to this day, remain the only current pillars to the genre.
These grand columns, however, are starting to show cracks with age. With Champions Online being widely ignored developmentally by Cryptic Studios in respect to their other titles, and with Daybreak Game’s questionable, and much debated business model embedded into DCUO (more on this later), many are starting to wonder: are SHMMOs dying, and if so, how can we fix them?
To the Publishers
The easiest way for video games, new and old, to collect revenue is via successful advertising.
This is especially true for Kickstarter companies that usually have little to no experience with breaking into the open market. Though large publishing houses typically understand the steps necessary to start and maintain a classic marketing campaign, they fail to adjust strategies to focus their efforts on the right crowd. This is especially odd considering the television and movie entertainment industries witnessing a veritable golden age among superhero related material.
In a way, generating interest is free advertisement. One would think the video game industry would have naturally capitalized. As it did not, we now must determine why.
Bridging the Gap
Many complaints among all superhero games is the lack of personal connection between what people are seeing on screen, or in their favorite comics, and what is happening in game. Often times, developers will incorporate new canon into their products relatively quickly. One of Cryptic Studio’s other titles, Star Trek Online (STO), recently pulled off this feat by introducing Star Trek: Discovery into their active gameplay within eight months!
So where is DCUO and Champions Online, the only fully released games in the SHMMO genre, during this “golden age”?
Answer: On the wrong side.
CO has absolutely no connection with the two largest superhero factories globally in DC and Marvel Comics, respectively. Worse, the game suffers considerably less active development than Cryptic Studio’s other titles, often buzzing in the background of obscurity brought on by its critically low, and steadily declining population rate. Certainly, the lack of copyright to popular comic distributors is not a death sentence in of itself. Many indie titles, for example, see breakout success based on originality in classic genres.
But when combined with the complete disregard towards active development and meaningful content, any online based video game would start to sink. This, unfortunately, is the hard and undeniable truth for Champions Online, who, without pressure or funding from publisher Perfect Worlds, is being left to drown in meaningless microtransaction sales and temporary in-game events.
Meanwhile, a majority of DC related movies since 2011 performed relatively terrible (at least compared to their Marvel counterparts) save for the Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Wonder Woman (2017), making DCUO players hesitant to pay for the expansion episodes that corresponded to them. These cinematic failures could arguably be a contributing factor against new player growth; especially considering the eventual cash one would shell out in the current “pay as you go” system. Such a business model functions extremely well when geared toward the workforce adults that summarizes the average gamer, but does nothing for the teen and young adult age groups. These two tend to have the least amount of purchasing power, but if one considers them as a long term investment, will still generate users, public hype, and their own disposable income within a few years. As such, they represent possible diamonds in the rough, needing only an engaging game environment as time naturally moves them into the working class.
As it stands, the financial strategy of DCUO has been relatively steady—feeding off a dedicated, older fan base to maintain a sustainable gaming population. How long such an alienating operation can continue, however, is anyone’s guess. There are many merits to “pay as you go” and “active subscription” styles when compared to completely free games (community maturity, for example), but one wonders how much Daybreak Games would have profited if their fiscal design was more inviting to the young, budding superhero fan base spurred by the box office phenomenon.
Among other “newer” underutilized marketing schemes is the use of common players.
Live streaming Twitch giants are heavily utilized with large YouTube personalities to play specific games and generate interest. The undiscovered resource, though, lies in the often overlooked, small time hopefuls, which make up a far higher population than those generating real “click revenue.” The difference between a good marketing campaign and a great one is the use of all utilities at their disposal (big and small). More minor personalities attract a different kind of crowd than larger ones, and getting a game’s name to these particular individuals could prove to be an untapped source of revenue.
The real benefit, however, to enlisting the aid of modest content creators is the chance of acquiring a dedicated channel. This is especially true for newer titles and small development teams. Bigger personalities are typically too busy to dedicate themselves to one game or, contrarily, have already built their entire franchise through singular loyalties. Less popular individuals often have no such ties to a specific game, and are already in the right mindset to commit themselves into what they believe is worth it. Dedicated channels not only provide marginal revenue, they can also serve as a foothold for a budding in-game community, a bridge between developers and their clients, as well as a media outlet to disseminate information such as patch notes, opinion polls, events, and expansions.
In recent memory, I saw this utilized most effectively in the early days of Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile (PoE) and Digital Extremes’ Warframe.
So, there you have it. Are publishers killing themselves through neglect, polarizing business models, and antiquated marketing tactics? What top two things do you think publishers need to prioritize for their games to get out there? What did I miss? What other sources do you have that you think is interesting? I hope you’ll join me next time as I move down the chains, tackling the biggest developmental mistakes in Superhero MMOs, the lives lost along the way, and introduce the new faces replying to the veritable Bat Signal.
Thanks for reading, we hope you enjoyed the article! If you’d like to see some related content, and support Exclusively Games in the process, click on our Amazon Affiliate links listed below to find related products. – EG Staff