Can Social Media Make A Real Difference? City Of Heroes Players Hope So

City of Heroes, an 8-year strong comic-book superhero themed Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG), has remained a popular online game ever since it launched on April 27, 2004. While not as large as games such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars or Lineage, it retained a strong and very loyal fan base. Despite its age, the game still was winning awards for innovation, even being listed as the Best Sci-Fi/Superhero game of 2009 by Beckett Media. Over the years, City of Heroes has retained an incredibly loyal fan base, with an estimated 43 million characters created by over nine million players. Paragon Studios (named after the games fictional setting of Paragon City), the creative force behind City of Heroes, along with its owner NC Soft, had found a recipe for MMORPG success.

Then it came as an incredible surprise to have this post on the game’s website the past Friday, August 31st:

Farewell, from all of us at Paragon Studios
This morning we announced that Paragon Studios will be taking to the skies of City of Heroes for the last time.

In a realignment of company focus and publishing support, NCsoft has made the decision to close Paragon Studios. Effective immediately, all development on City of Heroes will cease and we will begin preparations to sunset the world’s first, and best, Super Hero MMORPG before the end of the year. As part of this, all recurring subscription billing and Paragon Market purchasing will be discontinued effective immediately. We will have more information regarding a detailed timeline for the cessation of services and what you can expect in game in the coming weeks.

The team here at Paragon deserves special praise for all that we have accomplished over the last 5+ years. These developers are some of the most creative and talented people in the gaming industry. By now, we’ve all been given this news internally, but to anyone who may be reading this message after the fact; know that your hard work and dedication has not gone unappreciated or unnoticed. To any potential studios looking to grow your team; hire these people. You won’t regret it.

To our Community,

Thank you. Thank you for your years of support. You’ve been with us every step of the way, sharing in our challenges, encouraging us to make City of Heroes better, more than everyone else thought it could be. We couldn’t have come this far without you. I implore you all, focus on the good things of CoH and Paragon Studios. Don’t dwell on the “how” or the “why”, but rather join us in celebrating the legacy of an amazing partnership between the players and the development team.

Thank you, and I’ll see you in the skies, one last time.

Andy Belford

Community Manager

Paragon Studios.

The players found themselves shocked into disbelief, that the holding company was shutting down both a profitable game and a development studio with minimal notice. While City of Heroes was not the largest of NC Soft’s assets, it was a cash cow bringing in what has been estimated as up to $10 million net profits per year. But instead of complaining, or surrendering, the players instead decided to act like the heroes they had created, and decided on working to save themselves. To coördinate this, they turned to the still fledgling power of social media.

Almost immediately, the player community began to pull together. Within hours, they launched a petition to ask NCSoft to reconsider. Also appeared a letter writing campaign to NCSoft’s executives. Discussions began to talk about forming a campaign to raise the funds to purchase the game from NCSoft directly. Notable celebrities which played the game such as Mercedes Lackey have chimed in. Facebook groups appeared to help the players network and plan.
And even in the game itself, being kept up until November to meet contractual obligations, people took their characters to the streets in a virtual Occupy Paragon protest.
There are rumors that the shutdown is because NC Soft’s new major stockholder, Nexon, is putting pressure on them as a result of cost overruns on the new games, Guild Wars 2 and Blade & Soul, producing a $6m loss in the second quarter of this year. The announced sale did cause the stock price to rise by 3.41%. This of course helps NC Soft’s CEO, Taek Jin Kim, keep up his golden parachute.

The use of social media to effect change is still very new. While the Arab Spring showed the power of it against governments, the use of it against large multinational corporations is still in its infancy. For years, the consumer has been ignored by corporations, who outsource their customer support, sell their customers private data, artificially increase short-term profits through offshoring, or through retail tricks such as what Consumerist magazine calls the Grocery Shrink Ray, where the company advertises goods as the same size, when in fact the newer product is slightly smaller to increase profits at the expense of the customer. To further add insult to injury, with the Citizens United decision, these very multinational corporations which feel that they are above paying taxes and being responsible to clean up their messes now can buy our elections. This remains a large problem, brought into a microcosm in a single case of a company shutting down a profitable product against the wishes of its customers.

Can a customer base change their fortune? Will NC Soft change its mind, or sell off the property to a new owner? The future is uncertain. However, in the modern social-media world, where global movements can begin overnight, I would not yet count on City of Heroes flying off into the sunset just yet.