A Paragon No More: The Final Hours of City of Heroes

When Cryptic Studios launched their superhero MMO City of Heroes, it marked the beginning of a never-ending battle for freedom, liberty and justice.  Eight years later that “never-ending” battle has come to a close.  The brave heroes of Paragon City have survived alien invasions, assaults from a mirror dimension, and the fiendish schemes of the villainous organization Arachnos.  But what finally brought down these costumed do-gooders was mere business sense.  Last night the game’s publisher NC Soft shut down the servers for City of Heroes.

City of Heroes began in the days before World of Warcraft. It was cutting edge at the time of its release, and the developers released a constant stream of free content upgrades that added in new features over the years to keep CoH competitive in the MMO market.  Retail expansion packs came, as did micro-transactions, and eventually it adopted a free-to-play model with paid premium content.

It was an asset for NC Soft right up to the end, with new content in the works even when the game’s cancellation was announced. The fan response to the announcement was essentialy “Please take our money”, and City of Heroes could have remained a self-sustaining business venture for much longer.  Yet the resources needed to maintain an aging MMO would most-likely be more profitable if devoted elsewhere.  And thus Paragon City met its ignoble end.

Online games go under all the time, but when a multiplayer-only game dies, it is especially sad because that content is lost to gamers forever.  Making this game’s demise even worse is that City of Heroes held the distinction of being the first MMO to add in player-made content.

Any hero in Paragon City could use a tool called The Mission Architect to create their own missions with unique plotlines  and characters, then share these adventures with the entire player community.  Now that the game is gone, these heartfelt stories created by fans are gone forever, even to the players who created them.

That’s the true loss behind City of Heroes; it was more than a game where players experienced a story told by the creators.  It was a game where every player created their own story.

Long praised for having the greatest amount of character customization in a MMO, City of Heroes encouraged players to do more than make a unique costume.  The character creation system had a special section to write in the character’s backstory and origin, along with a hotkey just for screaming his or her battlecry.

As the player population dwindled and servers were consolidated, more and more players transferred their characters to “Virtue”, the unofficial role-playing server.  By the final years, Virtue was full of dedicated role-players who had slowly accumulated tons of unlockable powers and premium upgrades, and scripted custom macros to trigger theatrical animations.  If players parked their hero near City Hall they would be treated to all manner of super-heroics performed by people who were there for the chance to portray a superhero, rather than just click on monsters.

The day before the shutdown, the developers were on hand to spawn powerful enemies for players to fight one last time.  But in the final hours last night, Paragon City was solemn and quiet.  Players who had been away for years stopped back in for one last mission, or a final screenshot of their favorite character, or one last look at the stories they had created for the Mission Architect.

When the end came, it came abruptly and with little fanfare.  A few minutes past three am New York time, thousands of screens simply froze up and a city of heroes became thousands of isolated fans sitting alone in front of their computers with a final image to mark the end of their eight-year journey.

The fate of the intellectual property has not been revealed.  NC Soft has been silent despite the loyal fanbase.  City of Heroes 2 may already be secretly in the works.  The game, as is, might be bought by a new publisher, or perhaps Statesman and the other original characters from the game will resurface in the on-again-off-again film adaptation.

The fate of the heroes of Paragon City is uncertain.  But that’s life in the City of Heroes; another day, another threat to the very survival of the world. We’ve survived the Rikti, The Praetorians, Arachnos, and an annual attack of giant pumpkin monsters and snowmen.  Servers can be shut down, but heroism never dies.