I loved City of Heroes -- really, really, really loved it -- but it was a terrible game as far as actual design was concerned, with 0 interest in anything resembling class balance, absolutely no interest in end-game content that was distinct from early game content, characters who could solo content designed for 8-player teams were a dime a dozen, the game's hey-day was one of cookie cutter builds (5 dam 1 acc! every power, every time!), the late game was one of stacking set bonuses until you were invincible, etc; it was fun
, but it was fun because it was flashy and had a great paper doll editor, not
because the game itself had legs to stand on. It had a lot of really neat ideas that would have been absolutely amazing if the game were even a little bit more involved; the Mission Architect was one of the best things to hit the MMO scene ever, imo, and the degree of customization (and the decision to decouple character progress from character appearance except in a few niche areas, ie capes and glows) was genius. I spent so much
time with the City of Heroes character editor!
The game had some amazing ideas, but it also had a lot of really poor implementation. That's really disappointing; what's weird, though, is that the game was ostensibly in the black right up until they shut it down. As I understand it, it had become more profitable
after it went f2p, and they accomplished that mostly by allowing people to buy new options (ie, the payment options weren't exactly pay to win, but there was payment-gated content.) Content updates that were bigger than they'd been under the subscription model were being released more frequently, lots of people were playing, and lots of people were paying
, and they shut it down anyway to focus on games that simply were not going to recapture the City of Heroes crowd -- namely, people who wanted a unintensive, solo-friendly, comic-book inspired, socially engaging game. To this day I remain baffled at the decision to kill City of Heroes. You can stick 'or' between all of those qualities, too; I don't think ncsoft has any games that really engage in the things that drew players to CoH and CoV, so they essentially gave up that portion of the MMO market. What's weird to me is that a lot of the people involved in City of Heroes weren't even being rerouted to work on other projects; they were just laid off.
Something new isn't going to have the lore draw
Really, I think it was familiarity, not lore, that did it. WarCraft's story has been pretty dumb from the outset, no matter how much I love it. People like me were attracted to WoW because it was letting us play in the world we experienced when we were little kids, a setting that we remained familiar with until we were adults, released by a company that had never let us down.
The Old Republic could have been the WoW killer if it had been excellent from the start, I think, because it has that same allure -- people are familiar with Star Wars, they like Star Wars, they've known it since they were children. But it wasn't excellent from the start, and in the current industry, if you want to attract American players, you have to be better than World of WarCraft immediately.
That's the big trouble, I think: nobody can make a game that starts off better than a game with going on a decade of polish. You can't not have an end game when you release; you can't have buggy controls. You can't have awful PvP. You can't release a game that is system-taxing to the degree that any of your content is unplayable by people with decent modern rigs. You do
have to be able to do the things that WoW does, and they'll have to do something new, too, to make people want to abandon years of familiarity and roots for it.
I'm not sure that anyone will be able to do that until WoW kicks the bucket.