Microsoft's latest stab at a console MMO appears in serious trouble.
By Patrick Klepek, 11/13/2007
Alan Wake, Banjo-Kazooie, Halo Wars and Too Human are all fine. However, 1UP has been told the Marvel, Microsoft and Cryptic Studios collaboration, Marvel Universe Online, has hit serious, potentially stalling, development troubles. Though the MMO hasn't been outright canceled publicly just yet -- albeit a move Microsoft hasn't had an issue with before, says True Fantasy Live Online from beyond the grave -- our word from the inside, combined with recent controversies surrounding the studio behind the game, raises serious suspicion.
Last week, NCSoft announced it had acquired the City of Heroes IP from Cryptic Studios. Additionally, the staff behind the franchise -- approximately 15% of Cryptic -- was moving to Mountain View, CA and opening a new studio to operate within the NCSoft umbrella. During and following the announcement, no comment was made about the status of Marvel Universe Online. Curious, then, when we heard the game's status was in danger and contacted Microsoft for an update on the game's progress. Given there's been nothing new about Marvel Universe Online (outside of bringing comics writer John Layman on board in July) since an October 2006 interview with IGN, it's not exactly a bizarre question.
"We have nothing new to share about Marvel Universe Online," said a Microsoft spokesperson. Pressed further about whether the changes within Cryptic had affected the game, Microsoft was no more forthcoming. "Cryptic's recent sale of the City of Heroes IP to NCSoft has no bearing on the development of "Marvel Universe Online," continued the spokesperson.
Of course, that doesn't really answer the question of whether the game's canceled. An inquiry specifically passed to Cryptic about the game's status has so far been ignored.
Reading between the lines of interviews conducted with Cryptic following the City of Heroes news is telling. Despite Marvel Universe Online being the only title Cryptic has publicly revealed to be in development, they've yet to make any mention of the project, instead focusing attention towards to-be-revealed future announcements. "The decision to sell the franchise allows us to focus resources on our soon to be announced first-party projects," said Cryptic President and co-founder Michael Lewis in the NCSoft sale's press release.
What about Marvel Universe Online, Mike? The studio's own FAQ about transitioning City of Heroes from Cryptic to NCSoft strangely ignores the game.
"What's next for Cryptic Studios? Cryptic is developing new titles and new IPs, as well as expanding its business interests. We have a talented team of game developers and technicians, and a large part of our motivatation [sic] for this move was to free up resources for our future projects. With these new projects we will challenge ourselves to make even better and more immersive MMO games. Stay tuned!"
And in an interview MMO blog Ten Ton Hammer, Lewis again ignored a question invoking Marvel Universe Online. You'd expect a studio head to at least tease about a project as ambitious (and exciting) as Marvel Universe Online, yet Lewis seems content ignoring the game's very existence (or lack thereof).
Boomjack: Is there any concern that your former customers will feel"abandoned," harming potential sales of Marvel Universe Online?
Michael Lewis: We think Cryptic has a pretty good reputation with both the City of Heroes and City of Villains communities. In many ways both games are like children going off to college - we created them and raised them, but now even though they are not our responsibility anymore we still want what is best for them in the future. We worked cooperatively with NCsoft to create a smooth transition for all CoH/CoV users, and the fact that we worked closely with them to keep the entire CoH development team intact and with the project attests to our desire to provide our players with the best possible experience.
Is Marvel Universe Online dead? If not, it's certainly in serious trouble if no one involved -- publisher or developer -- can state anything as simple as "it's still coming." As already mentioned, Microsoft hasn't had an aversion to canceling MMOs well into development; True Fantasy Live Online was apparently near completion when the plug was pulled from the ambitious Level 5 online title for Xbox. Microsoft Game Studios head Shane Kim told EGM the title was doing fine just few weeks before the game was publicly canned.
Hopefully the game wont be unplugged from the 360, I was/am looking forward to the game really badly.
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