A View from Atlas Park: Bits and Pieces

Quite a bit of material has emerged about CoH / Cryptic Studios / NCSoft in the past few weeks, so rather than looking at one thing in particular, I thought I’d quickly cover three topics that interested me.

Marvel Vs Cryptic: Galactus vs Paragon City

I’ll state up-front that I am no legal expert and that this following bit is my layman’s take on what is going on. This is simply my opinion. Please don’t sue me.

You know, if this legal case really took place in superhero comics, Marvel and Cryptic would only beat on each other for a few pages before realising that their real enemy is (for example) Sony and teaming up together to fight the greater evil. Instead, we are left with a situation where a comics company could conceivably take Cryptic out of business (hence the Galactus reference above).

Is the situation really that dramatic? Not at this point, but only because the judge presiding over the case found that Cryptic Studios is an online service provider under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. If this wasn’t the case (ie Cryptic wasn’t found to be an online service provider), then Cryptic could easily have been held directly responsible for every violation of its CoH user base. I’m sure that Marvel only used this tactic as a longshot, but if it had been successful, then you could say bye-bye to Cryptic. Currently Marvel still has to prove that Cryptic is responsible for the alleged violations of the CoH user base and that finding will still be a long time coming.

After reading NCSoft’s press release on the latest events in the case I went looking to try to find out what breaches Marvel is still going after Cryptic on. This lead me to a Terra Nova page on the case and through that the Electronic Frontier Foundation page on the case, complete with court documents. I did attempt to read those documents, but (apart from looking at the pictures – I’ve seen better versions of Iron Man in-game!) just didn’t get what was going on. In any case, despite the confident tone of the NCSoft press release, the court case is still going forward. We’ll just have to see what happens over time.

One thought did occur to me about why Marvel could be suing Cryptic, or at least one possible outcome. Now, I’ll state again that this is just a thought I had, I’ve got no proof and I am just making this up so please don’t sue me.

The idea stems from this question – what does Marvel achieve if it wins? Cryptic will still be obligated to not allow representations of Marvel (and DC and Wildstorm and Dark Horse etc) characters to appear in CoH (which are against the current Terms of Service anyway), but this directly conflicts with both the excellent character creation tool and the mindsets of fanbois and fangrrls everywhere. It simply can’t be done – there is always some character that could be duplicated due to the sheer flexibility of CoH character creation. So what would the options be?

One idea that occurred to me was that Marvel, if victorious, could take control / specially licence a version of the engine used to create CoH for their own MMOG. It was widely announced that Marvel and Vivendi Universal had joined forces in order to create a Marvel MMOG (you can see an article about it here) but that was a long time ago. Whispers exist that this Marvel Online project has been shelved at this point in time. But Marvel just loves licencing out its characters and video games is one of those areas that it makes money from by doing so. If Cryptic was found to be in breach of copyright law and left facing hefty damages, Marvel could offer up a Hobb’s choice: go out of business due to the extent of the damages, or sell CoH to us.

Marvel would get its MMOG (and one with several awards at that) which I’ll call Marvel Online for simplicity’s sake. Cryptic would stay on in some form to develop the Marvel-orientated content for Marvel Online. Perhaps there would even be an official storyline that brought Paragon City to the Marvel universe, with offical comic to go with it. Players could be given the option to bring their existing character to Marvel Online, thus minimising the fuss for the existing customer base. Sure, some of us might quit in disgust, but I’m sure enough players would stick around and get some thrills poking around the Marvel universe, fighting the villains they’ve seen before only in 2 dimensions.

As I clearly stated above so that I’m not sued, this is just an idea and one I have no proof of will ever happen. It came to me after thinking about how copyright disputes are usually settled between comic book companies. For example, at one point DC took on Fawcett Publications on the grounds that Captain Marvel (as published by Fawcett) was violating the intellectual property of Superman. Fawcett won the case, but was so gutted by the legal costs that DC ended up buying Captain Marvel off them. Bigger comic companies have often bought out smaller companies and leveraged their intellectual properties to their advantage. The precedent for this kind of thing is there.

But the most important thing is: don’t sue me.

Parlour Games

In the March Newsletter, Cryptic has announced the release of a CoH collectible card game (CCG) and a CoH pen’n’paper role-playing game (RPG). It may just be me, but isn’t it a bit backward for high-tech companies to put their products out in low-tech form?

I mean, the point of CoH is playing it online. To me it just stupid to divert from that, especially in going into the low-profit and overstacked world of paper RPGs and CCGs. At the rate that Cryptic appears to be moving in terms of licencing, I’m willing to bet that it will be during mid-year that we will hear about the CoH movie, starring Josh Harnett as Statesman and Gary Oldman as Tyrant.

Hypocrite that I am, I’ll still end up buying the CoH RPG books. I’ll do so to find out the backstory behind Paragon City, and also to get some insights into the mechanics of CoH (which I’m sure will be the simplified version of the full CoH online experience). The CCG doesn’t interest me at all – as an embittered ex-Magic: The Gathering Player (Revised / Fallen Empires through to Ice Age) my love of card flopping has well and truly left me.

I can understand why Cryptic are doing something like this – the lead designers have publishing experience in the RPG field – but it also niggles a bit that things like this come out when the Super Secret Skill System is still unavailable to us online players. You know, the ones currently paying Cryptic’s bills.

T-Shirts! Get your T-Shirts!

It was also announced that NCSoft has a new online store. Of note to me was the CoV t-shirt, which I like, but also get a small chuckle over. At a time when Cryptic is being sued by Marvel for alleged copyright violation, they release this particular logo? My case in point:

image image

<p]No, I can’t see any similarities either.[/p]

I’m thinking about getting that CoV shirt, but what I’m really waiting for are the Outcast shirts. Their logos are fantastic in both their simplicity and symbolism and would make great shirt designs. Now, if only I can convince Cryptic to release them while at the same time shrinking the CoH / CoV logo down to about quarter of the current size on the back…

– UnSub [email protected] 29/3/05

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