Save City of Heroes TonyV Interview
Questions by Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
Answers by TonyV, Save City of Heroes Campaign Coordinator
The Save City of Heroes campaign is run by OnRPG’s very own Meticulous Meta (Maressa), and Tony Vazquez (TonyV). We had the chance to sit down with TonyV to find out a little bit more about the campaign while Maressa planned their next event which we’re told will be revealed later this week.
OnRPG: Tell us a bit about yourself and your involvement in City of Heroes.
I started playing City of Heroes in August 2004. At the time, I worked a shift that rotated every eight weeks between night shift and day shift. When I was on my night shift rotation, I had virtually nothing to do on my days off, since during the hours I was awake everything around me was typically closed. So a friend of mine told me that he had been playing this great new game, City of Heroes. Being a fan of comic books while growing up, and loving superhero movies such as Superman, Batman (Michael Keaton!), and the X-Men movies, I had to try it out. The first time I saw how flexible the game is and took to the skies of Paragon City, I knew I wanted to be part of this game for a long time to come.
In 2005, I started a fan site dedicated to City of Heroes, the Paragon Wiki. It quickly grew and now consistently gets almost three million page loads every month. Eventually I inherited some other fan sites, and today, I and a team of other City of Heroes fans run the Titan Network, the collection of all of these fan sites.
OnRPG: Why did you start the Save City of Heroes Campaign?
When I got the news that NCsoft had closed Paragon Studios and plans on shutting down the game, it really hit me hard. Not so much because I expected the game to never end, but because it is still doing very well. We have a strong community, an avid fan base, developers that care very deeply about the game and its development, and from everything we have seen and heard, the game was doing very well financially. Over the course of the following day, it struck me that it is such a shame for the product of all of our community’s creativity to be in danger of being permanently destroyed. This has become much more than a game, it has become a creative expression, and if at all possible, needs to continue.
OnRPG: Who has been important in the campaign? What have they been doing?
The most important people are the players and fans of City of Heroes. Without them, all of my efforts would be meaningless. I really feel that the difference between us working to save the game and other such efforts is the strength of our community, the fact that the game is still going so strong.
We’ve also heard from several notable personalities. Author Mercedes Lackey has written a letter to the CEO of NCsoft with an offer of her publicity if City of Heroes can be preserved. Science fiction and fantasy author John C. Wright posted a blog post in support of saving the game. Through social networking sites like Twitter, our campaign has been promoted by writer Neil Gaiman and actors Felicia Day, Sean Astin, and Tara Platt. We’ve also seen very gracious posts by web comic authors and artists Scott Kurtz (PVP) and John Kovalic (Dork Tower). All-in-all, we believe that these people have helped our efforts be seen by millions of people.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the press, especially gaming news and information sites such as OnRPG who, as well as other comic book culture related sites and technology sites that have taken an interest in us. We believe that helping to spread the word about what is happening and how we are trying to prevent it has had a significant impact and turned a simple business decision into something more, something that we are hoping that NCsoft will see as an opportunity for even better public relations.
OnRPG: What is your ultimate goal?
Our primary goal is simple: Save City of Heroes. We have an outline of several options to accomplish that goal via several alternatives. Right now, our focus is on what I have referred to “the optimal outcome”; that is, getting the game into the hands of Paragon Studios as either an independent developer or as a subsidiary of another publisher. If that is simply not possible, then other longer-term options are being explored, such as getting a new studio or publisher to acquire the game, crowd funding acquiring the intellectual property rights to the game so that it may continue in some alternative format, or if all else fails, reverse-engineering the game so that it might have some sort of spiritual successor and so that the community can have access to their creative invention in some form. There has also been talk within the community of creating a new game, but at this point, we really consider that a very long-term, if-all-else-fails goal that will only be addressed once all other options have been ruled out.
A secondary goal independent of the code and intellectual property of the game itself is to keep the community together. The Titan Network (cohtitan.com) forums have become a portal for City of Heroes players, and we have several Facebook pages such as CoH Alumni and Save City of Heroes where the community is congregating.
OnRPG: What is it about City of Heroes that makes people like you want to save it?
Mainly two things
First, the game itself allows players such an incredible degree of freedom to customize their characters and their stories. When the game launched in 2004, it was regarded as state-of-the-art in the amount of outfits and options players had available to make a character look exactly how they wanted. Even with that accomplishment, the artists and developers have invested significant resources in providing more and more updates so that now there are options that most people had never even dreamed of.
But character customization is only part of the story. In 2009, Paragon Studios released a major update to the game called Architect in which players can also design custom stories. There is such a high degree of flexibility to design custom enemies, missions, dialogue, and objectives that you can truly make the game yours. Later that year, they released another update that allowed us to customize our powers to fit whatever theme we want. Does your hero shoot purple fire from his hands? Does your villain engulf her enemies in a pink haze of confusion? Not a problem.
In 2010, we received yet another major update to the game, Shades of Gray, with the release of Going Rogue. Now we had elements of moral ambiguity in the game in which players can not only play classic heroes or villains, but also rogues and vigilantes. Do you face an immediate threat at the expense of serving a greater good? While many games have expanded their universe outward, it was very interesting to me that Paragon Studios chose to take the game inward, widening the spectrum of choices within its existing moral framework.
Second, the staff of Paragon Studios who has developed the game is really much different from any game studio I’ve ever interacted with before. Most other studios for games I have played operate on a very one-way basis. They give you news and information, they publish updates, they issue press releases. While you might sometimes meet a developer, the communication was very much one-sided. Ever since City of Heroes was launched, however, the game’s designers, developers, and artists have sought our feedback. For example, during a Player Summit event in 2011, the Paragon Studios team conducted a panel in which we the players suggested and helped them design a new costume set, retro sci-fi, which is in the game today. It was such a success that they expanded the panels to include players in designing a new powerset and a new zone revamp this past spring.
That level of interactivity makes this a game that feels like we have a vested interest in making sure it survives; like it’s not just a game we play, but a world that we’re part of.
OnRPG: What kinds of things has the campaign been doing so far?
We’ve tried to focus on three main areas.
First, we have been organizing projects to demonstrate to NCsoft how much of an impact this business decision has had on us, that we are loyal gamers who really want NCsoft to work with us. For example, we are currently conducting a campaign in which players send capes and masks to the corporate headquarters. The intention is to show that we aren’t just customers, that we’re people with a stake in the ultimate future of this game.
Second, we have been holding events to keep the morale of the players up and the former Paragon Studios staff. That was the primary purpose of the Unity Rally we held on September 8: to convince players, many of whom might be understandably feeling down due to the announcement, that we are still here, we are still playing, and we are still working to keep the game alive. The rally was a great success; we estimate over 5,000 players showed up to show their support. We have scheduled another in-game event on September 20 and 22 to again rally players together and give a nod to the game’s Lead Designer, Matt “Positron” Miller.
Third, we have been engaging in a large communications outreach in support of our campaign. At the Titan Network, we have set up forums dedicated to news, information, and “Calls to Action” to provide players things that they can do to help our efforts. Several active Facebook groups have sprung up, including the Save City of Heroes, which I have been taking an active part in. We are also sending out information via Twitter (@TheTitanNetwork) as we have it. We have been encouraging players to let their friends and fellow players know what is going on and how they can reach us. We have been reaching out to the press, notable personalities, and others who can help rally to our cause.
OnRPG: If you could talk to NCSoft personally what would you say to them?
I would first tell them that our goal is not to make them look bad or negatively impact their company. I understand the nature of business decisions, and sometimes as a company you find yourself in a position where you cannot please everyone. If City of Heroes is not in their long term goals as a company, I respect that and I am not trying to convince them otherwise.
I just hope that they agree with us when we say that there are opportunities here for everyone to come out a winner. Right now, because the game was still strong, City of Heroes is a property with monetary value that other companies would be interested in. If NCsoft waits too long, however, that value diminishes as the player base erodes. In addition, NCsoft has helped to build an incredible dedicated community of players. This is an extraordinary opportunity for a huge public relations win. As a gamer, when I think about how much commitment I want to pour into a game, it’s important to me that the publisher and development studio has a good reputation of fostering a strong community.
In the past five years, NCsoft has now cancelled five games: Dungeon Runners, Exteel, Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, and now City of Heroes. Some of these were not profitable, and I can understand not continuing. But City of Heroes is profitable; according to NCsoft’s own statement, it is being shut down not because of monetary concerns but because it “no longer fits within [their] long term goals for the company.” If a game like City of Heroes can be shut down even though it is doing well, has a strong community, and a dedicated, hard-working development staff, this makes me seriously hesitant to want to invest much time or effort into a newer title like Guild Wars 2 or the just-announced Blade and Soul. If NCsoft chooses instead to work with the community to ensure that City of Heroes continues under another company, however, it would be a tangible sign that even if a game is not in NCsoft’s long term goals, they will work as much as is feasible to ensure that its community’s investment of their time and effort isn’t simply wasted.
OnRPG: What part does Paragon Studios play in your campaign?
When NCsoft closed Paragon Studios, you all of a sudden had a tight, integrated unit of people–everyone you would need to continue development of City of Heroes–suddenly out of work and needing a project to work on. We are hopeful that the former staff of Paragon Studios might be interested in creating a new development studio and pick up where they left off, but with the hardware and rights to the game owned by the new development studio. I have publicly stated that we would back Paragon Studios in any such effort, including financially through a crowd funding effort if needed. I have not received any response positive or negative from Paragon Studios regarding the offer, but I remain hopeful that it is being considered. While I cannot speak for all players, we have received an outpouring of support for this plan, which we have optimistically dubbed our “Plan A.”
Also, while the former staff of Paragon Studios has not communicated with us regarding any such plan, they have expressed an immense amount of gratitude for our efforts. Because we feel like we are part of the studio thanks to their interactivity over the years, that really means a lot to us as well and motivates us even further.
OnRPG: Why is there such a focus to save the studio as well as the game?
The practical reason is because no one is better qualified to continue development on the game. Some of the designers and developers working on City of Heroes have been with the game since the beginning, over ten years. While another studio might possibly be able to take over development of the game, doing so would add an element of complexity to the situation that we hope will not be necessary. Also, if the game is in the hands of the studio, we would not have to worry about another publisher making the same decision NCsoft did, causing us to be back in the same position we are today.
In addition, thanks to the level of interactivity we have had with the developers, we genuinely care about them. While the staff of Paragon Studios have a successful track record on a genre-defining game and most will probably be hired quickly, we know that being laid off in a tough economy is always difficult. If we can achieve our optimum solution of the game ending up in the hands of the Paragon Studios staff, it would certainly ease the burden of having to seek employment.
OnRPG: What would you say to people who are skeptical that your efforts will do any good?
I have encountered this a lot, and to be honest, I expected it and I understand it. What we are trying to accomplish is very rarely done, so it is perfectly reasonable to think that the odds are against us. However, we believe that our situation is different for a few reasons.
First, because City of Heroes was still successful, our player population is higher than many games that have been shut down. Second, because the City of Heroes franchise was doing well financially, there is incentive for investors to make an offer to NCsoft to acquire the game. Third, we have a significant infrastructure already in place across fan sites, Internet radio stations, social media presence, and other such outlets that are available for us to use to communicate our message and coordinate our efforts.
While we understand why people are skeptical of our efforts now, we know that they will continue to watch and see what happens. We believe that as we make progress, the tide will turn in our favor and they will believe in the work we are doing. When that happens, we will welcome them with open arms.
OnRPG: Is there a point where you will give up on the campaign?
The practical fact is that if NCsoft is unwilling to release the game to be acquired by another company, no one can force them to do so. While we feel that would be a terrible public relations move both within and outside of the City of Heroes community, at that point, it will be highly unlikely that the game will ever exist as it does today. However, we have worked on contingency plans that would allow the community to stay together and remain friends. We have also explored other options to help keep the game alive in some form for its players, but we are avoiding thoroughly exploring those options until further along, choosing to focus our energies where they are most needed immediately. The only way I can see us really giving up on this campaign is if the City of Heroes community loses interest to the point where we can no longer sustain it. Based on what I have seen of the community, I suspect that will not be for a very long time.
OnRPG: What does the future hold for the campaign?
This weekend we have been encouraging players to contact the CEO, CFO, and Chief Strategist of NCsoft to tell their stories and express why allowing City of Heroes would benefit NCsoft. This coming week, we have an event coming up to help rally players to do what they do best: participate with their friends in the game working on missions. We are hopeful that this and future events will help to keep morale high and players interested in continuing to play the game.
We are also in the process of working on a portal where we can collect news, information, and media related to the campaign, as well as continuing to expand our outreach to more communities and notable personalities. We also have begun planning for our annual charity events, which have raised nearly $30,000 for sick children, world hunger, and our armed forces over the past three years. And, of course, there will undoubtedly be more projects and events to help convince NCsoft that allowing City of Heroes to be acquired would be a great business move and to keep our players’ excited about the game.
OnRPG: If you do succeed what options are being looked at for the future of the game?
Ideally, the new development studio will pick up where it left off. There was a major new update ready to be released that probably would have gone live by now, and we would love to be playing it with our friends. After that, options will depend on what our situation is.
OnRPG: How can people get involved with the campaign?
Right now, we are communicating primarily through three main methods. First, we are using the Titan Network forums (http://www.cohtitan.com/forum/index.php/board,134.0.html) as a portal for information related to saving Paragon City. Second, we are posting frequent updates on Twitter using our Titan Network account (@TheTitanNetwork) and encouraging users to post news and information using the #SaveCoH hash tag. Last but not least, we are communicating through Facebook using the Save City of Heroes group. In addition, we are working on a dedicated news and information portal that we hope to announce very soon.
OnRPG: Do you have a message for City of Heroes fans and Gamers in general?
Absolutely! To fans of City of Heroes, keep your spirits up, this is not over yet. Also, play the game. It is still a lot of fun, there are still a lot of friends to make and meet, and it helps keep the morale of other players up. Please check the Titan Network’s Save Paragon City forum often for our calls to action, and help spread the word to your friends in the game and using social networking sites. Remember, we are heroes. This is what we do.
To other gamers, we hope that you will support us. Even if you do not play City of Heroes, I hope that other gamers can relate to what it is like to have such an outlet for your time and creative energy, and will appreciate how it would feel to have it unexpectedly taken away. We have a petition at http://tinyurl.com/savecoh that we are asking everyone to sign, and we’d appreciate whatever support other gaming communities can offer.