Here’s a story we didn’t really cover as we should have: Marvel teaming with Cryptic Studios to create their long-rumored MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game). The story is amusing because Marvel was formerly SUING Cryptic for copyright infringement with their hugely popular superhero MMO, CITY OF HEROES. Now it’s all lovey dubbins. However, this link at GigaOM suggests Marvel may have its work cut out for them, as licensed MMO’s have historically been hard to launch.

At first glance, the project’s success seems like a sure bet. With a huge, generation-spanning readership, and several blockbuster movie spinoffs, including Spider-Man and X-Men, how could an online game version fail?

Trouble is, it can. In fact, I’d be very skeptical, because the track record for MMOs based on non-game IP is pretty dicey. Star Wars Galaxies4 performed moderately well at first, with a few hundred thousand subscribers at peak– but before its 2003 launch, experts predicted5 it could be the first US-based MMO to break the one million subscriber mark. (And does anyone even remember Matrix Online6, let alone play it?) The fundamental stumbling block seems to be a mismatch of medium and desire.

More in link. We don’t follow the gaming community well enough to know how accurate this analysis is, but that’s what the comments are for.


  1. Yeah, it sounds bang on to me. Everyone will indeed want to be Wolverine rather than Wolverine’s errand boy. They can’t adopt the City Of Heroes/Villains approach and have Spider-Man stood on the roof of the Daily Bugle doling out missions to slap the Kingpin’s goons around (and occasionaly making an in-fight appearance himself) without upsetting fans who will want more interaction than that.

    This is presumably why Cryptic have so far denied that it’ll just be the City Of Heroes game style with Marvel characters. They want people to think it’ll be different to that and, I’d assume, they’d ideally like to deliver something different to that. It’ll be tough to pull off.

  2. I’m always careful around people doing a “That’ll never work as a game” argument. For a start, it’s worth remembering that before City of Heroes arrived, accepted wisdom was that a Superheroes-faithful approach didn’t work in videogames full stop.

    Yes, traditionally, licenced MMOs have fared poorly. That’s because licenced MMOs have been fairly poor.

    Star Wars Galaxy’s primary problem wasn’t that you couldn’t be be Luke Skywalker. It was because it really felt nowt like Star Wars at all, in lots of fundamental ways. In fact, many other licenced Star Wars games have been made which feature absolutely none of the central chracters. The Knights of the Old Republic games are some of the most popular in recent years and are set thousands of years away from the actual Star Wars setting.

    In fact, considering the quality of Star Wars Galaxies as a game, its initial success is probably testament to how much a licence – even poorly implemented – can work. Those initial numbers are much higher than City of Heroes has ever been.

    So, yeah, the Marvel MMO presents Cryptic with an interesting design problem, but it’s far from an impossible one. They did a load of smart things in City of Heroes and some deeply unprecedented (The level of instanced-levels no-one had seen before, for example).

    Marvel won’t work in a WoW-esque setting, sure, but it’s far too early to say it can’t work in any MMO-setting. It’s still a young genre. There’s plenty of room to innovate.


  3. Here’s why it won’t work as well as COH. Marvel (and DC) for that matter, approach everything with a locked box mentality, where they keep their properties strictly limited, and within games like an MMO, limiting the imagination to their little long boxes won’t ever work. It’ll be retared having everyone running around like Spiderman, or being second fiddle heroes working with storylines of the real heroes. Or haveing Spidey TEAM UP with you on your missions…. lame. That or you’ll have a hundred spiderman running around, and thors, and wolverines…. Or in the very “limited” creativity, they’ll say it’s another dimension or some lame crap.

    COH works because it allows YOU to be the hero. The Icon. The kind of freedom that locked up corporate dinosaurs won’t allow.

  4. I think the Marvel license has better potential to succeed than DC’s competing MMO as the Marvel universe potentially has several key features that are very MMO friendly. There are very distinct “factions” that players could play in — X-Men, SHIELD, Avengers, the Brotherhood, etc. that all lend themselves to distinct types of play, different skills and different stories, while still sharing the same space. Also, because politics and technology/science are an integral part of the world. there are opportunities for stories and equipment that would keep the game from boiling down to nothing but superpower battles. I think a good superhero MMO would not be about everyone jumping in as Wolverine, but about working your way up the ranks from Xavier student or SHIELD recruit and eventually getting invited to join the Avengers and save the planet. Star Wars Galaxies tried to go this route and made the process too tedious/complicated (then going too far in the oposite direction with version 2.0). If Marvel can strike a better balance, I think they’ve got a hit.

  5. I don’t know foolhardy, if Cryptic is making it, then Marvel must recognize COH’s appeal. I hope Cryptic will take their knowledge of what works and what doesn’t in a superhero MMO and take it to the next level. It could be cool. I’ll wait until the first screenshots/article to judge.

    As a rule though, I pretty much hate MMOs. Until there’s one that’s twitched based and works, I’ll stick to FPSers. I don’t like turn based combat unless it’s a real strategy game.

  6. I have sworn off MMOs due to the suck-you-in game play. I got hooked for years, had to get out, cold turkey. I’m sure Marvel and Crypitic have some plans, and if they’re smart it won’t have much to do with the license charcters, much like the Star Wars, and Final Fantasy Online games. The problem they will have is City of Heroes / Villains already exists. To pull off a Marvel MMO would be in direct competition.

    The best scenario, if they could get beyond the legal eagles, is to bring Marvel into COH in a massive update. But then again…. they could play second fiddle to COH. Even that can be profitable…. but as others have said, a bad MMO is still a bad MMO. It all depends on the launch, the program and the system. Too many hoops and gamers won’t touch it. I’ve been in those trenches.

  7. Keiron says everything I would have said — liscenced MMOs haven’t done well, so far, because people who tried those games were unhappy with the games.

    As for everyone wanting to be Wolverine or Spider-Man, before NCSoft got the clones under control, it didn’t hard to run into a VVolverines Spyderman and, while annoying, that didn’t really take away from enjoyment of the game. You still felt like a superhero, regardless of how the other guy on your team dressed.

  8. Well, as for all MMOs so far the “party” system will prevent most “mission / events” from running wild with a ton of Wolverines and Spider-men. The classic set up will most likely remain (as it does for others), A “tank”, an attacker, A healer, some kinda thief, and all that jazz. Prevents gangs of solo characters and promotes a more Avengers set up. But will that work? Who knows. I would think you go on “events” with name characters, because customization is top priority in MMOs. Everyone wants to be unique in a system of clones.