NCSoft, Your Company is Bad and You Should Feel Bad.
I've been sitting on this for a couple of months now, so I can remember exactly where I was when I made the determination that NCSoft is a bad company and that they represent everything that is wrong in the MMO industry.
Saturday Morning, Labor Day Weekend 2012 at Dragon*Con
As part of my duties as Director of MMO Programming, I have to coordinate with panelists to make sure they have everything they need from A/V hookups to pitchers of water for the panelists. We were getting ready for our City of Heroes meetup when I got a message from one of my panelists.
"NCSoft is shutting down City of Heroes"
I thought it was a joke, but that went away about 2 seconds after firing up my laptop and reading an avalanche of emails and articles in my newsfeed about the impending shutdown.
"Whiskey... Tango... Foxtrot?"
Now some of you might be thinking that my decision to label NCSoft as a bastion of soulless corporate suits might have been a knee-jerk reaction stemming from an isolated incident. Oh no. This was just the most recent of a series of incidents with NCSoft, most of which occurred during or close to Dragon*Con.
When I was starting out as a new director, I spent lots of time on the phone with, and exchanging email with, community and PR representatives from game studios. NCSoft was one of these. The first year, we couldn't get a response from them at all. Most game companies have better things to do than deal with all of the various fan conventions out there. Of course, not all of them have 50,000+ attendees like we do.
At the City of Heroes panel that year, the fans rose up. The started forum threads, they sent in petitions, they posted far and wide, and by the following year, NCSoft definitely knew who we were.
Making it Rain (Or Possibly Hail)
You can imagine my pleasant surprise when their PR folks arranged to ship an entire pallet of games to us. We gave away 500 copies of City of Villains and and several hundred copies of their newest release, Tabula Rasa. We also had a slew of demo discs for their other games as well as various bits of swag which were hungrily devoured by our fans.
The following month, NCSoft announced that they would be shutting down Tabula Rasa.
It also wasn't long after that when NCSoft announced that they would no longer ship City of Villains as a separate title from City of Heroes.
You follow? They were clearing their warehouses of all of the crap that they couldn't otherwise unload. Way to make your fanbase feel special, guys.
Back To Normal
For the next few years, NCSoft went back to ignoring us. Not that we really cared, we had a group of dedicated fans who ran the CoH panels for us each year so we didn't really have to spend much time on it. Interest in other NCSoft titles such as Lineage 2 and Aion wasn't big enough to warrant spending any time on programming for those games and they went unnoticed by our fans.
City of Heroes, however, maintained a pretty steady group of fans each year, and we could count on guys like Mark Brinkman to keep things going.
When the announcement that CoH was going to shut down hit Dragon*Con, you could feel the shockwaves moving through the convention. People like me, who hadn't played the game in years, were scrambling to download the client. The panel itself felt almost like a funeral. The question on everybody's mind...
Money? The game was Free-to-play. Surely the studio had recovered their development costs many times over. The studio had been recording steady profits year after year (note: until Q4 of this year...). Surely, CoH wasn't having any kind of detrimental impact to their bottom line.
Studio Focus? Sure, NCSoft was busy working on Guild Wars 2 with ArenaNet, but CoH has been cruising along for the better part of a decade, surely they didn't need to peel talent from the CoH team to work on GW2, which was almost ready to ship.
I've even heard a couple of folks speculate that the studio could make a one-time cashout by writing off the expenses associated with shutting down CoH. I'm not an accountant, but I have a hard time believing that a studio can make more money by shutting down a game than they can by keeping it alive.
If they issue is money, then why not sell the Intellectual Property to another studio who would be willing to keep the game alive?
At The End Of The Day
Someone at NCSoft made the determination that the company would be better off shutting down the game than selling it to someone else or keeping it alive.
That's not what creators do. That's what soulless corporate suits do. What's more? It isn't the first time. Tabula Rasa... Auto Assault... and now CoH.
Tell me why I should invest more time and effort into being part of another of their game communities, when it could disappear due to fickle corporate whim?
I think I'll pass.