'Unethical' game closure
US novelist slams NCsoft for shutting City of Heroes
By Cho Mu-hyun
Mercedes Lackey, who has over 80 published books under her belt, some inspired from playing the game, lamented the abrupt and seemingly unreasonable termination of CoH.
“I think game companies owe it to their stockholders as well as their players to continue to support the game as long as it provides a profit,” she responded in an email interview with The Korea Times.
“I think canceling a game that is making a profit, along with destroying jobs and an online community, is entirely unethical. And I believe that companies that do that are going to get exactly what they deserve, as customers revolt over greed killing cool.”
The Korean company announced in August that it plans to permanently shutdown servicing the 8-year-old game and terminated its Paragon Studios development team, despite the title continuing to bring in steady revenue.
The author and her supporters want NCsoft to “sell the IP, game code, the server code, and the customer account information at a reasonable price to one of several interested parties that came forward in the first month after the announcement.”
She added, “It only seemed reasonable” to retain customer and character account information given all the “time, money and effort people poured into those characters.”
NCsoft’s Seoul-based spokesman Kim Yo-han said that terminating the service was a “strategic decision,” adding that “nothing had been decided on selling the game or other action afterwards.”
According to local industry analysts, the game has been bringing in 3 billion won ($2.76 million) every quarter. “It is hard to comprehend what NCsoft means when they said they closed it for strategic reasons,” one analyst said.
NCsoft CEO Kim Taek-jin recently stated that he was planning a global acquisition in his bid to expand the company overseas. However, at first-glance the closure of CoH doesn’t seem in line with his plans.
“From a revenue stand point, the game contributed something below 3 percent. Still, it seems an unnecessary closure. It won’t help its image,” the analyst added.
NCsoft’s image in Internet communities in the West is very negative. Some magazines writers have asked for boycotts, including Starburst Magazine which has 250,000 subscribers (the same as the firm’s Blade & Soul’s peak number). Other protests have spawned online.
Lackey, along with the online community for CoH, has shown a strong attachment to the game.
“I truly think that in City of Heroes we were witness to the blossoming of a real, functioning online community,” she said. “The City of Heroes community evolved over time to become one in which sharing was the norm, helping was second-nature, and cooperation was commonplace.
“This is not so much a game as a huge town of 100,000 people who have intersecting interests and neighborhoods, and who play together and care deeply about their town,” she added.
CoH is a community, in every sense of the word and not just online. According to Lackey, players have raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity over the course of eight years. It also keeps loved-ones connected.
“Families can play together with their young children or their grandparents. My husband and I regularly play with his father (a retired Special Forces sergeant-major), who lives 1500 miles away from us, and has a very ill wife who needs constant care, limiting his options for recreation,” she said.
It has also helped her on a personal level: “When you write alone, everything goes just as you planned it. Your characters do what you tell them to.”
But when she interacted with the stories that other CoH players created for their in-game characters, it was a “surprise, you have to react to it, and I would say that in most cases, it makes the combined story much, much better.
“As a writer, I can say that I have become a superior writer because of this. My dialogue has become much better, and more realistic. My plotting is better,” said Lackey.
The community is determined to save the game and plans to find a new parent for it, looking to companies including Disney or Google and Lackey and some of her colleagues have put together pitch packages. “We literally do not intend to stop until we have exhausted all potential owners.”
Meanwhile, NCsoft’s stock price continues to remain around 160,000 won, having more than halved from earlier in the year.