CoH in Living, Breathing Four-Colour

[p]For those of you who missed it, Cryptic announced that along with the launch of CoH will come a monthly comic book, mailed out to subscribers and available in comic stores. The comic will weave in plot lines and happenings from the game, keeping readers abreast of what is going on and even possibly converting player characters into literary versions. Now, I’m all up for getting a comic each month to read for “free” (subscription fee not withstanding) but I see a few possible problems on the horizon… mainly because I’m just a cynical soul.

[p]But first off – the praise. This is a fantastic idea. I’d love to get an issue, open it and see UnSub on one of the pages, perhaps even with a speaking part. It would be something to treasure and show my future children (not that I’d let them remove it from the mylar bag…). Plus, it’s a great extra on top of the subscription fee – its tangible and removes a little bit of the concern of getting value for money if I’m not playing the same amount of time as a powergamer. A comic in the mail is something that no other MMOG offers, so it stands out as unique. Sure, it’ll probably take two weeks to get to me thanks to travel time, but I’ll look forward to getting it (assuming that Cryptic et al will be mailing them to non-US subscribers…).

[p]The link is also there – a comic about a superhero game. I don’t know how many people will buy CoH because they like the CoH comic, but it’s possible and also opens up a bigger segment of the population to CoH. It could create an additional revenue stream for Cryptic which is a good thing for the survival and future expansion of CoH.

[p]But… a couple of things niggle me about it. Although CoH arguably has the strongest link to the comic book market of any MMOG, comics based on MMOGs usually don’t do so well. If we expand that out to include computer games in general, most computer game-based comics don’t seem to last that long either. Most of them seem to be mini-series, more aimed at sparking interest in launch or an expansion than being a good read.

[p]One major failing of these game-licenced comics is their failure to capture the “feel” of the game. For one reason or another they just miss out the important aspects that compose the computer game, despite getting all the names of the locations and special abilities right. It could just be that sort of loss is to be expected due to cross-media differences (ie reading a story on paper versus controlling the character in the game) but it really sucks the life out of the comic for those that have played the game.

[p]Secondly, let’s face it – most computer-licenced comics really haven’t been supported by the best and brightest artists / writers / editors. These titles are mostly seen as paychecks and stepping stones on the way to landing the big title jobs everyone wants. Also it hasn’t helped that often these writer / artist teams get swapped over continuously, so just as one team gets settled, they have to move on. This doesn’t help create an enjoyable comic.

[p]Both of those issues above may be covered since Rick Dakan is the writer for the comic. No-one knows CoH better than Mr Dakan – he’s been there since the beginning and no doubt he has some ideas of how to mesh the comic and game as only the Head Writer for both can. I know nothing about the artist (Brandon McKinney) or colourist (Moose Bauman) attached to this project, but the sample pages on the Blue King Studios looks pretty good.

[p]I’ve got some concerns about how the comic would impact on the experience of CoH. According to the press release, the characters in the comic will be War Witch, Horus and Apex, some of whom appeared in the original CoH comic. The series would be their story, which is fine, except that CoH is meant to be your hero’s story. If these main characters are going around and solving all the problems / having all the adventures, or doing things that would be above their level, then I wonder how that is going to impact on players who aren’t feeling as quite a part of the action. Plus if these characters ever appeared in game… well, I’m sure they would be mobbed by players looking to group, get their mug into the next issue, offering suggestions / advice / demands or all of the above.

[p]I’m also very curious on how player characters are going to be integrated into the comic. Personally I’d really dislike it if one of my characters was used in such a way that I felt was against the nature of that character. And how will I find out if my character is going to be used? An email? It would just appear in the comic? I’m fully aware that my character is property of Cryptic as part of CoH, but wonder if some players’ noses will be bent out of shape if scores of characters start appearing without some sort of warning / permission being sent.

[p]I also wonder how the PC’s selected to appear will be chosen. If it’s those with the highest security level then surely this favours powergamers. Should this become the case, then I’m sure the old casual player / powergamer debate will yet again be brought out, this time with some new ammunition. Yet again casual players will feel left out and a bit dejected that since they have things like (say) jobs or relationships, they can’t excell in their chosen hobby.

[p]My final concerns are from the business side of things. Now, Cryptic has the numbers and I don’t, but I worry about them putting out a comic and potentially sucking funds away from the further development / survival of CoH. Comic companies open and close with frightening regularity once you look past the first few pages of Previews and into the independents – many open and fold having only released an issue or two of their masterwork they were sure would grab readers, but didn’t. Noted, Cryptic isn’t quite in the same boat, but it will still cost money to get the comic out and for a company that is yet to receive any revenue off this game I’m concerned as to how deep their pockets are.

[p]I’m also interested in how other comic companies are going to take this news. NCsoft NA Marketing Vice President Fred Schmidt believes that the CoH comic “may reach record levels of distribution” and hit six-figure numbers, becoming “one of the top-circulation comic books of any kind in the country by year end”. Admittedly the bulk of these will come from CoH subscribers who are getting it for “free”, but this is a big claim and one that really steps on the toes of existing comic publishers, who theoretically do this for a living but don’t reach the same sorts of numbers except for their biggest titles.

[p]Not that I’d ever claim that these publishers can be petty and childish in behaviour, but if the CoH comic is making their established comics look bad, I don’t doubt that some of them will take extra time to take a hard look at the PC’s in the CoH MMOG. If they find one that even vaguely could be violating their intellectual property rights, it’s very possible they will cause trouble – trouble that yet again takes time away from the developers of CoH, meaning less content is generated for the MMOG.

[p]Personally, I’d like to see CoH come out, establish itself in the MMOG market, gear up to its first expansion and then release a comic as a sideline… but then that’s me and I don’t have any experience running MMOGs or comic book companies, so what do I know?

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