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The Digital Continuum: Superhero standoff

Kyle Horner

Lets face it, the superhero genre is a bit of a niche right now in massively online games. That's not to say it doesn't have lots of potential, but there is certainly a more limited user base to garner steady subscriptions from than, say, fantasy. Ever since Marvel Universe Online got canned, the future was starting to look a bit murky for fans of the super-powered MMO -- at least until recently.

It all changed with the revelation of Champions Online's existence, a game whose development team is by all means a reason to feel excited for the new superhero MMO title. Cryptic Studios not only has the experience, but they've got the bankroll and what can be seen as strong determination. Putting all doubts aside, lets assume Champions Online owns up to all its promising -- feature and content-wise. Does City of Heroes have to start worrying? I'm pretty sure they already have, but that's a good thing -- maybe they'll take a preemptive attitude towards all of this. Well, they could also freak out and press the big red button labeled, "Do not touch."
Why should they worry? Oh, probably because their new competition literally knows exactly what their player base wants and seems to plan on delivering all of it and more. So if Cryptic does manage to make that happen, CoX will be in a bit of trouble -- to put it lightly. There's only so much super-subscriber love to go around, you know.

Don't think I'm entirely discounting NCsoft NorCal, however. Nothing gets developers to amp up improvements like some competition, so I fully expect to see some sort of announcement concerning the future of the franchise. Who knows? Maybe they'll announce a City of Heroes 2 sometime in the coming months -- at this points all bets are off. One thing is for sure, we're looking at these possibilities: incredible issue updates, a big expansion or a sequel to the original game.

There's also Sony Online Entertainment, who -- as far as we know -- is still working on the DC Comics MMO. If that game comes through then the stakes are going to get much higher. However, since very little is know about the title it's a bit pointless in discussing much more than that. I do hope that SOE makes good use of the license -- there's a lot of fun possibilities in a world with Superman, Batman and The Justice League of America.

Getting back to the two current contenders -- I have to say that at this point it really seems like Cryptic currently has the upper-hand. They've got the experience, the newer graphics engine, license, geeky ferver and the time to pull it off. That's actually a big factor in the grand scheme of things -- ample time. Because Cryptic is self-published, they get to decide when their title is ready -- financial limitations notwithstanding. They already had plenty of time to develop ideas and concepts during the development of Marvel Universe Online, so even if they can't use the assets from that project they've still retained the experience gained from the venture.

As a fan of superheros, comic books and all things Kirkman-related I honestly can't wait to see what Champions Online brings to the table. In the meantime, however, I'll be spending my superhero moments within the districts of Paragon City. So it's not like all is lost for City of Heroes -- at least, not yet it isn't.

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