A while ago I looked at the end of City of Heroes / Villains (CoH/V) and how NCsoft potentially had some valid reasons for shutting it down. You didn’t have to agree with the decision, but when a title continually drops its revenue over the course of five years, then its future isn’t going to be rosy.
One new piece of information about CoH/V’s closure appeared in April – I only came across it months after it first appeared – but I think it is notable because it sheds a new light on CoH/V’s closure. I debated writing about CoH/V again since we are pretty much at the point where those who were still interested have long since fixed their opinions in concrete, but I think the new bit of info serves as a useful capstone to CoH/V’s closure story.
Hey Look! The Sword of Damocles!
One of the major criticisms thrown against NCsoft’s handling of CoH/V’s closure was that they shut the game down quickly, with no real attempt to find a purchaser. Claims made by NCsoft representatives that “[w]hile we looked to sell the franchise multiple times, we were unsuccessful in finding a suitable partner” were met with lot of derision. From the outside, it looked like NCsoft had just decided to turn CoH/V off one day with no warning and were now claiming that they’d tried their best as a sop to player outrage.
Which is where a Gama Sutra article on the closing of CoH/V reveals something important: former CoH/V lead developer Matt Miller (aka Positron) says that Paragon Studios had been told by NCsoft that they were on the chopping block. According to the article:
“The sad saga of Paragon actually starts a couple of months before the doors were closed. Clayton, Bales, and Borden were told things were not looking good for the studio. NCsoft management was planning some changes and they were ordered to begin planning for the end of City of Heroes.”
That actually changes the narrative of CoH/V’s closure somewhat. NCsoft closing CoH/V didn’t come out of the blue, at least for senior Paragon Studios staff – NCsoft told them what was going to happen even if the ‘when’ wasn’t as firm. This led to Paragon Studios getting involved in trying to find alternate homes for the CoH IP. At least one alternate publisher discussed buying Paragon Studios from NCsoft, but a deal couldn’t be reached. Miller says:
“So [Paragon Studios] actively sought another publisher to purchase Paragon Studios from NCsoft. [...] Suffice it to say that eventually the talks broke down. The buyer wasn’t going to buy and NCsoft wasn’t looking to sell. So, plan B, which I always thought was a great plan from the beginning was the management buyout.”
In the time since being told they were being closed, Paragon Studios went out and found at least one potential buyer, then tried to buy CoH/V themselves. But that didn’t work out – NCsoft and Paragon Studios ended up on “one or two points where neither side could budge” and NCsoft elected to pull the pin, ending CoH/V and its studio.
The timing of the CoH/V’s closure was a surprise, since Paragon Studios thought they had more time, but the fact that things were in motion for a while. Paragon Studios knew they were under threat and it has to be assumed that the points blocking the management buyout wasn’t going to happen were extremely significant. After all, Paragon Studios had its metaphorical back to the wall here – it was either find a new owner (even if it was themselves) or shut down.
This actually ties in with one of the previous claims that Brian Clayton, General Manager of Paragon Studios, had been trying for at least a year to organise that management buyout from NCsoft. If Paragon Studios had been trying for that long (or even at least six months) to make the deal with NCsoft and it wasn’t happening, there’s a case for understanding NCsoft thinking that the deal wasn’t going to go anywhere.
The above also makes NCsoft’s comments that they’d tried to sell the franchise but couldn’t seal a suitable deal completely true. NCsoft spoke to at least two different parties about the sale of CoH/V. Although there will be some people who believe that they should have tried harder, or acted more like Girl Scouts and door-knocked every potential buyer in order to sell CoH/V like so many cookies, attempts were made. Discussions were had. NCsoft doesn’t sell off its failures and would have been less-than-familiar with selling off one of its Western titles. They apparently drove a hard bargin in a market used to picking up older MMOs on the cheap, so no saviour for CoH/V was found.
None of which makes the closure of CoH/V any easier for those who miss it, but the above does shed a different light on NCsoft’s behaviour around the closure: they did really talk to other potential buyers before deciding to shut the game down.