Crowded Comic Books

City of Heroes has had the superhero MMO market to itself for the past four years. (I don’t think Twilight Heroes counts, although Kingdom of Loathing compares favorably with Everquest in many ways.) Now the next couple of years are promising a sudden flurry, with DC, Marvel, and Champions MMOs forthcoming. Is there really that much pent-up demand for superhero-based MMOs? Maybe this summer’s batch of excellent superhero movies will help build an audience, but I do not see it. One game might have hoped to cannibalize City’s playerbase, but four?

Marvel and DC have their obvious stables of characters to use in advertising their games, although how you use those characters in-game could succeed or fail dramatically. Cryptic can market its game as “City of Heroes II,” with all the things that, in retrospect, they should have had the first time. City of Heroes can market itself as having four years’ worth of content additions and as Cryptic Without Jack Emmert, which appeals to a certain vocal part of the playerbase.

I know we have more than a dozen significant fantasy MMOs, but do we have even a half-dozen successful sci fi MMOs? Four superhero MMOs seems like a crowded marketplace. Unless the audience for them expands, that is bad for developers, and, due to network effects, bad for their players.

: Zubon

13 thoughts on “Crowded Comic Books”

  1. I think yes and no. No, if it is like CoX or comic-book WoW. The market will indeed be saturated.

    I think, though, if a dev made a really fast-paced almost Final Fight or X-Men arcade game-like MMO experience. The niche may be carved. I think getting rid of a lot of Diku-Mud style gameplay is also in order for a comic book MMO.

    Time will tell though.

  2. Didn’t the Marvel MMO get cancelled a couple of months ago, with Cryptic’s Champions being mysteriously born from its ashes?

    Not that I disagree. :)

  3. Wasn’t Cryptic working with Marvel to develop a superhero MMO until they pulled out with Microsoft? I thought that’s why Cryptic had to buy the old Champions license.

  4. Correct, Marvel is no longer a contender, it has become Champions Online.

    I find it interesting to speculate that 3 or 4 super-hero themed games which have their own takes on various game mechanics and locales to adventure in would be over-saturation, yet we have how many hundreds of fantasy games which do the same thing?

  5. I wasn’t sure if Marvel found a new home after that.

    Scott, I find that odd myself, but I also think of it as realism. You look at this chart, and note where City of Heroes is (not on it), and the only two non-fantasy games are below the first bar, combined. (SWG is listed just for historical reasons, I gather.) If the MMO market will support non-fantasy, I look forward to it. I’m the one who has been blogging City of Heroes here for years.

  6. This chart is a fair bit better for that comparison, lacking WoW and the Lineage games. The only pay-to-play game with a significant increase in active subscriptions since WoW’s release is EVE. Realistically, if you discount FFXI and the Lineage series for having a primarily Asian userbase, and Dofus for being free (how do you track active subscriptions for that?), then CoX and EVE are up there with LotRO and EQ2 – not to mention that CoX hasn’t seen a significant decrease in playerbase.

    That first bar you were referencing is 500,000 subscribers, which isn’t necessary for success unless you budget to be the “WoW-killer”. That said, has anyone had a launch smooth enough to be trustworthy of handling a half-million subscribers in month 1?

  7. I’m not much of a comic book fan, but I enjoyed CoX and I will check any of these out too. If they are fun, I will play them.

  8. Champions was Marvel. Champions has the problem of having been designed in an X-Box-centric way. Remember Deus Ex 2?

    Champions also has the issue of, ah… not really being Champions. At least, recognizably. It’s like something that was Champions once and then spent about ten years in someone’s private campaign.

    That said, I’m hoping it rocks. But Jack does his own thing, and his own thing appears to be winning over the Champions-nature.

  9. A half-million is not a WoW-killer. It is not even within an order of magnitude of WoW. There are lots of interesting things to say about the smaller, yes very successful games, but realize what we are doing when you say we should look at it without WoW or Lineage. That is talking about the US domestic car market, but setting aside Ford and GM.

    I have never really considered that a “successful” MMO has 1% of the subscribers of the market leader. Do all other Western MMOs combined tie WoW?

  10. Half a million is only not within an order of magnitude of WoW if you include the asian/chinese playerbase rather than just the North American playerbase. If you count just the north american market WoW has ~2 million subscribers. Still the market king, but 500,000 is a respectable number in comparison. Most western MMOs don’t exist in China, so comparing subscription numbers by worldwide totals is misleading.

  11. Zubon-> “half a million is not a WoW killier”

    that’s right… because it’s stupid to call anything an ANYTHING killer. However, an initial run of a half-million subscribers is about what’s needed to make an MMO “successful” (IE: paying off the initial investment+interest+ a reasonable enough profit) if that MMO had an original budget comparable to WoW’s (roughly 60 million).

    ( Age of Conan, for all people expected it to be a WoW killer, supposedly cost less than Everquest 2 (mid 20-millions). The estimate of 100,000 as a success is based on the business model of developing an MMO in the mid-teens (ascity of heroes did).

    You don’t need to unseat wow to be a success. You just need to beat your projections.

  12. Back to the original topic: I don’t think we’ll see too much overcrowding.

    We have 1 veteran game and 2 emerging contenders. The gameplay of one contender (Champions Online) was developed when Cryptic still owned part of City of Heroes. During that time, Jack’s stated goal was he “wanted you to [subscribe to] both games” and all indications are that the gameplay experience was intentionally different from CoH for that reason. It also has a console target market so there’s less inclination to cannibalize off one another.

    The other one is DC online. I many be biased since I’m unimpressed by anything I’ve seen from DCO, but I think it’ll get enough people because of the DC franchise, but not endanger either of the others on the merits of anything else.

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