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In was an announcement of the inevitable. Tuesday, NCsoft and Cryptic Studios announced that the popular City of Heroes/Villains, which had previously been co-owned by the two companies, would now be solely under the ownership and care of NCsoft.

“We love the [intellectual property], we believe in the IP and for us it was all about focus on the IP,” said Brian Clayton, the new Studio Manager of NCsoft NorCal and Executive Producer of City of Heroes.

Ever since Cryptic Studios announced that they had partnered with Marvel and Microsoft to produce a next-gen super-hero MMOG for the PC and Xbox 360 some variation of Tuesday’s announcement seemed only like a matter of time. Whether or not it was the case, there was no way for Cryptic Studios to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest as they managed two competing IPs. The sale to NCsoft, according to both studios, is the best thing they can do for fans of the first super-hero MMOG.

“Anytime you have a single studio developing multiple MMOs,” Clayton said delicately, “it’s a masterful challenge to pull that off successfully.”

So what does NCsoft moving from 50% ownership to 100% mean? Not much. The deal saw every single person on the City of Heroes team – besides senior Cryptic management – offered a job in the new company and without exception, they took those offers. Over the next two to three months, the company will continue to work right out of the same office while NCsoft gets a new office 15 miles away ready to go.

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“Customers will see zero interruption between where we were pre-announcement and where we are today,” he added. Even before the transfer, all the logistical aspects like billing and customer support were handled by NCsoft, so in that respect, there is far less potential for interruption than there would have been had the sale gone in the other direction.

With the entire team moving, obviously there is not much change in short term vision for the game. In fact, Clayton doesn’t believe players will notice much of a change until roughly Issue 13. That doesn’t mean that the change doesn’t offer some wiggle room.

“We have a lot of exciting plans. It really took a while to get this deal closed, but it we’ve been making plans really over the last few months,” he told us. “We’re looking at least doubling if not close to tripling the team within the first year of operation.”

Clayton told us that the current subscriber levels of the game support that kind of reinvestment and the new studio, once it gets going, will be totally focused on the City of Heroes IP. While CoH is obviously the heart of that, they plan to go beyond just the MMO. He wouldn’t get into specifics, but made clear that there will be other projects set in the world.

As far as the game itself is concerned, they plan to leverage it for larger, more polished updates and a greater emphasis on what they call “quality of life updates” in between Issues. These patches are not about big, fancy new features, but things that fans want to make their livers in the game better. In fact, Clayton repeatedly mentioned a greater emphasis on community feedback when they put these updates together. They’ll include things like bug fixes, UI tweaks, minor new features and event small amounts of new content, like more costumes.

Over the next few months, the redubbed team will continue work on Issue 11 and have immediately jumped into a few initiatives to reassure their community. They’ve opened up the clients so that players who owned only one of City of Heroes or City of Villains can now have both free of charge. They also intend to do a debt wipe, a prestige grant and are hard at work on the Winter Fesitval, due in the middle of December. Clayton also alluded to a big announcement coming before the end of November that he promised will make the fans quite happy.

One person who is not part of the new studio is Jack “Statesman” Emmert. As the most identifiable person behind the game, his departure from it is an end of era, not unlike when Richard Garriott left Ultima Online or Brad McQuaid left EverQuest. However, Emmert himself was often the first to point out that as his corporate role within Cryptic demanded more of his time, he had less to do with CoH’s day-to-day operations.

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“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jack and he did a great job,” Clayton said. He acknowledged that for many, Emmert would be in their “hall of fame”, but pointed out that he really left the project 18 months ago and this just makes it official. “This year shows that we have the right team in place,” he said, as he pointed out the success of the last three issues under the guidance of the current development team.

The absolutely strange part of this story is that many of these sentiments about how this is good for the game are echoed by people at Cryptic Studios as well. This really does appear to be the best things for both companies and brings a wonderful resolution that could have been a messy situation if not handled in the way the two companies did.

As they move forward, NCsoft is very excited about their now wholly-owned property, which they believe can stand up to both Cryptic’s Marvel MMO and SOE’s DC Comics entry.

“We’re really excited to take City of Heroes to the next few levels,” Clayton said, “and we absolutely believe that the subscriber base is going to grow and grow massively.”

It’s going to be a tough challenge for them to stand up to the coming onslaught, but so far, they’re saying all the right things.

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