City Of Heroes: The Final Hours
It’s rare that games ever see protest rallies. Usually they provide neither the means nor the motivation for one.
On September 8th this year, City of Heroes provided both.
A rally took place on the steps of the town hall in Atlas Park as hundreds and hundreds of players gathered to hold their torches aloft, a protest against NCSoft’s decision to close City Of Heroes and also a hope that the light of their favourite MMORPG would never die out.
“It was originally scheduled to be just Virtue [City of Heroes server], but we had such a response that we created at least 33 instances of Atlas Park, and greyed out the server because it was full,” recalls Miriam ‘SunGryphon’ Halbrooks.
“Overflow went to other servers, those ones filled up, and I think at least three servers were marked as full at the height of the event. Virtue, Freedom and Infinity, If I recall. Justice might have been close to full as well. Although the other Atlas Park instances went away after people started logging off when the event was over, a group stayed in Virtue’s AP33 24/7 to keep it open right up until the game shut down.”
Yet despite the success of the protest and force of numbers, a sense of inevitability clung to the occasion as players pondered what would happen to their favourite game.
“The atmosphere was actually pretty somber on the steps, at least when I was there,” adds Halbrooks. “Not a whole lot of chitchat. Just a silent torch vigil.”
The End Of The World
In a realignment of company focus and publishing support, NCSoft has made the decision to close Paragon Studios.
It was August 31 when NCSoft issued that statement, at which point City of Heroes had been running for eight years.
All the players we spoke to told us of the changes life had thrown at them during their time with City of Heroes. Players who met their partners through the game itself. Players who moved from their family but stayed in touch with relatives via City of Heroes. Players who turned to the game to provide comfort after losing loved ones. Players who started businesses, had breakdowns, moved cities, had children and some players who went to university and graduated.
Eight years in life is a long time.
Eight years for a single game? That’s an eternity.
And yet despite its age, City of Heroes was a stable MMORPG. There were no prior warnings from NCSoft that the game’s long-term health in question, nor did players have a reason to suspect any problems.
If anything, the future of City of Heroes looked bright. Issue 24 was due for release (“maybe a month away at most” one player tells us) and Paragon Studios themselves had kept busy by promoting it via their official website, player streams, through the forums, anywhere they could. Paragon Studios had plans for the MMORPG that took them through to Issue 30.
Nobody outside of NCSoft saw the news coming.
“The decision to close City of Heroes came as a complete surprise, even to the development team,” says six-year player James Meyers. “Most of them were laid off the Friday before a holiday weekend, and the notice to the community went out the same day. There was no warning at all, or signs that the game wasn’t performing as expected.”
“New abilities, powers and so on were being released, right up until the announcement,” adds Curt Sayre. “The company had released new powers a week or so before the announcement. There were new costume pieces given away the day before the announcement. There was a big ‘fix a whole lot of complaints’ update scheduled to be rolled out in early to mid-September. It was on a server where players could go and put it through its paces, so the developers could see what needed to be fixed before it was released into the wild, so to speak. So the developers never saw the shutdown coming.”
Three Months Left
D-Day wasn’t for three months but when NCSoft announced City of Heroes was coming to an end, the community immediately lashed out with anger and confusion.
“We learned exactly what the announcement of the end of the world looks like,” says Mitchell Clerisy. “In the immediate two or three days following that message, everybody just went nuts. The GMs were far from gone from the game, but they’d basically just told the entire community that they had nothing to lose.
“You had pseudo-riots in the game, people breaking all the rules they’d followed for years, community factions breaking down, hardcore porn posted on the forums. A lot of the community fell into that nihilistic semi-madness that you imagine a world faced with impending doom to act like.”
Players eventually calmed down and begun to find their own ways of dealing with the impending closure of their MMORPG. Some began to blitz City of Heroes as hard as they could, ensuring they saw all the available content before it was lost forever.
Other players saw no point in playing on, knowing there was an end in sight. Others wanted to play but found it hard to log-in for the same reason (“I had a very, very difficult time logging in – it was hard me to want to get emotionally and mentally involved in my characters when I knew that in a very short while they would be deleted forever” explains Cobalt Azurean.)
Conversely, those who drifted away City of Heroes in the past rejoined the fight when they heard the announcement.
“The news got me to get back into the game and really connect with the community again because I felt like I owed it to the developers and other players in the community,” says Elliot Nyfield. “I even felt like I owed it to the friends I had made in game along the way, the ones that I’d lost touch with to be a part of the final months, weeks, days and hours of this great game.
“I’ve made life-long friends because of City of Heroes. I’ve gotten old with people, I’ve gone through breakups with these people, I’ve seen pictures of their new-born babies and they’ve seen pictures of mine. There was no way that I could stay offline when the game that had given me so much would go dark. No chance.”
But the end drew closer. Despite brave efforts from the community to convince NCSoft to reverse its decision, mostly through the SaveCoH campaign, City of Heroes’ fate was sealed. The last night was quickly approaching.
The Final Night
It’s hard to imagine what it would feel like to be told that the game that had become a pivotal part of your life for eight years would be gone in a just few months. MMORPGs rely on a sense of community and fostering interaction between players. They are social hubs as much as they are games.
And now, after eight eventful years, that social hub was closing down.
November 30 was the last night City Of Heroes was open. That night was marked by a wide array of responses as players flooded back in for the final hoorah.
In-game chatter was flooded with a mixture of anger at NCSoft, catching up with old friends and scrambled exchanges of out-of-game contact information. Some blitzed instances for one last time. Others took in the city they had called home for eight years. There were players who deliberately started the notoriously long Dr. Quaterfield task force knowing they’d never finish on time, just so it would be ‘the Quaterfield task force that never ended.’
One server had a queue of over a thousand players waiting to log-in.
Yet for all the activity, there was a sadness underneath it all, as players bid the game and each other a final farewell while the final hours ticked down.
“It was heartbreaking,” says Michelle Travis. “Everyone was trying to be cheerful, some even defiant, swearing that we’d find a way to get the game back and bring Paragon City and the Rogue Isles back to life. But it felt like a cross between a wake and a death watch – every hour that passed, more and more people were logging in, and so much was being said, so many goodbyes, so many memories shared.
“The last fifteen minutes was just… there’s an image in my mind that just won’t go away. I’m standing in Atlas Park and I’m holding onto the hands of my characters, the characters that my friends have played, and the hands of other players. We’re all trying so hard to hold on, but we can feel ourselves being pulled backward, we can feel ourselves losing hold. And then when the servers go offline, it’s like closing my fingers around smoke, and then they’re gone – my characters, their characters, and all these other wonderful people I knew. And now it’s all black, and it’s just me.
“I’m just so glad I wasn’t on voice chat at the time – I would have been even more of a wreck than I already was, and that’s saying something. Even now, just thinking about it makes me cry.”
“On the final night, I spent the better part of 20 hours logged into the game,” says another player, Wender Wu. “I saw a bunch of friends whom I hadn’t seen in a while online, ran missions with people, and basically enjoyed myself.
“As the final minutes ticked down, I moved my character to Atlas Park – the starting zone for heroes once you leave the tutorial – and found two of my friends. The three of us quietly sat on the rooftop of City Hall until the end.”
A message came.
You have been forcibly disconnected from the server. Servers are shutting down.
City Of Heroes turned out its lights for the last time.
With City Of Heroes being shut down and NCSoft taking all official communication channels such as the forums offline, there’s now the sense of a community that’s trying to find a place in a world without its favourite MMORPG.
There’s been an inevitable drift of players to other games in the genre, most notably towards Champions Online. Star Trek Online also picked up players too after it emerged that Cryptic hired a few of the staff from Paragon Studios. The Secret World, DC Universe Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic have also provided new homes.
Unsurprisingly Guild Wars 2, which is also published by NCSoft, hasn’t proved quite as popular a destination for former City of Heroes players.
Two groups of players are trying to write their own game to replace the City Of Heroes-shaped void. Others are clinging to the hope that City Of Heroes will be picked up by another publisher. Disney is the name that comes up most often but most players concede it’s unlikely this will amount to anything.
Most are simply angry at NCSoft. It wasn’t necessarily the decision itself that seems to have upset players but the manner in which it was conducted.
“This was virtual real estate, and someone just came in and evicted us, razed our neighborhood to the ground, and then salted the earth to make sure no one else could build there, either,” says Travis. “Imagine how you’d feel if you’d spent the last five years in a close-knit neighborhood community, and this happened to you. Just a game? Hell, no.”
“They can’t kill the community, and they can’t take away our memories, or the relationships we’ve forged,” adds Jay Dalziel, who had been interested in City Of Heroes two years prior to its release. “And they can’t get away with this unscathed, either. This many highly motivated and very angry people will be making NCsoft’s public relations department very unhappy for a long while yet.”
But all that’s left now is what was created while City of Heroes was active. Friendships. Memories. Screenshots of vigils with torches to remind us of what happens when a community comes together in the darkest of hours.
“City of Heroes was sometimes criticised for being old,” says Riff Devin, reflecting on the loss. “But there were almost 24 major patches updating content, adding content, new zones, costumes, enemy groups and makeovers, to name a few. So City of Heroes never really had a chance to get old. It was always growing, renewing and adding more cool stuff to do.
“Sadly not enough people heard that message and now we’ve lost a great gaming experience forever.”
Thanks to Hilda Dominguez, Steve Dannell, Riff Devin, Mitchell Clerisy, James Meyers, Miriam Halbrooks, Cobalt Azurean, Kheldarn, Michelle Travis, Carl Pease, Elliot Nyfield, Shane Zeigler ‘The Peacemaker’, Wender Wu, Jay Dalziel, Curt Sayre, Timothy Nowell, Ladystorm2007, Julie Freddino, Yoshua Coomans, Shadow Ravenwolf, Marc Hall, Stephanie Smith, Pitu, Liz Chesterman, Joseph Hudson, Eleathia Longcope and Steve Semler for all getting in touch to help with this article.