Why Comic Book MMOs Don’t Work


One of Superman's lesser known abilities: to emit light from the top of his head

This being the Internet, I’m going to make a sweeping generalisation and present it as fact. Obviously some people are going to wholeheartedly agree with my commentary and some will fervently disagree. If you belong to the latter camp, feel free to re-write the title of this post in your head to “why I think comic book MMOs don’t work”. There, now we’ve got all of the namby-pamby stuff out of the way, let’s get cracking with the reasons why comic book MMORPGs will never be a Hulk-smashing success.

I Don’t Want To Play Alongside Batman, I Want To Be Batman

It’s such a darn big flaw in the entire concept of MMOising the comic book genre. Who the heck wants to play Random-Rodent-Man and just ideally chat to Batman or receive a mission from him? Not me. I want to be Batman. I want to play games like Arkham Asylum and come as close as possible to being The Dark Knight himself without my wife filing for divorce. The comic books we love are built upon the foundations of inspiring characters and we play superhero games to become them, not to play their unknown sidekicks.

The Jedi Problem

As yes, the Jedi problem. Star Wars Galaxies faced an interesting conundrum when it was released: how to take the lore of its intellectual property, in where only a handful of Jedi existed, and yet give every player the opportunity to be one? Suffice to say, they never came up with a good solution and now the game is overrun, unfittingly, by Jedi.

Comic book MMOs face a similar dilemma. The DC Universe isn’t overrun by superheroes, they only exist in secluded handfuls. That’s what makes them unique. If players inhabit a relatively small area of game world and constantly bump into other superheroes, how does anyone feel special?

Lack Of Itemisation

One fundamental aspect of MMORPGs is the ability to enhance your character through itemisation and, in return, change your characters appearance. Now unless you’re used to watching the Joel Schumacher versions of Batman, you’ll know that superheroes don’t often change their costume. The resulting problem? A RPG in which everyone always looks the same… forever.

Action Gameplay (And Other Mechanics)

MMORPGs are a lot of fun but they’ve never exactly broken the mould with innovative or fast-paced gameplay. The old “press 1-2-3 hotkeys” formula is fine for Utgard the Warrior but for when you’re playing Superman? Or The Flash? Or Deadpool? Superhero games need a variety of gameplay, from insane power to amazing stealth, and require custom mechanics that simply cannot be achieved in the standard MMORPG setup.

We Can’t All Save The World

Part of being a superhero is getting involved in ludicrous situations that involve everything from saving the planet Earth to the entire fabric of space-time itself (usually in a massively confusing and incomprehensible way) and that’s hard enough to convey in a single player game, let alone in an online persistent world. How exactly do you save the Solar System from being devoured by Galactus when your party members haven’t even gotten onto that stage of the quest yet?


Galactus has never lost a staring contest

Final Thoughts

Being a comic book super-nerd, I suppose I’m more sensitive to these factors than others might be. Of course, being a comic book super-nerd combined with a MMORPG ultra-geek probably makes me the best person in the world (yes, I’m just going to go ahead and say it… in the world) to comment on this situation and the most qualified to come to my conclusion.

But what do you think? Comic book MMOs: the memory of Thomas and Martha Wayne (good) or green Kryptonite (bad)?


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  1. Longasc says:

    I have nothing against comics, but I loathe comic book movie adaptions, games and MMOs. Guess why I never ever even bothered with Champions Online and barely played CoH.

    But you have a point, being a superhero in a city full of superheroes is more like being one more clown in the circus or crazy nut in the asylum.

  2. Merilar says:

    Hello Gordon,

    If I agree with most of the content of you post, I think this is not only reduced to comics MMO but to (most of) the entire MMOs.

    Allow me to reply to your comments point by point via your different paragraphs !

    “I Don’t Want To Play Alongside Batman, I Want To Be Batman”

    This is true for every MMO I think. When I play WOW, I’m not a random character; I’m heading to Icecrown defeating the liche king himself.

    “The Jedi Problem”

    Same for every other MMO, and again the WOW exemple. Just sit in Dalaran and look around: hundreds of over powered adventurers turning around. Isn’t that the “Jedi syndrome”? Other example (and probably the best): Age of Conan. I don’t know if you read Howard’s book, but characters with magical powers (mostly ranged DPS) are very few. Magical abilities are left to the big bosses and the (very) bad guys. In AOC, theses are everywhere.

    “Lack Of Itemisation”

    This is not the case for Champions Online. The character creaction is just fantastic. And you can have several costumes. And you can proceed to itemization (via craft), limited yes, but existing.

    “Action Gameplay (And Other Mechanics)”

    Again Champion Online will be my counter example. The talent creation is just enormeous. You can customize the color of your lightning bolt. You can choose whatever abilities you like and no one can have the same talent tree as you. You can be very special in it. Of course, efficiency is something else then ;)

    Again sorry for my poor english !

    • Gordon says:

      Thanks for your great thoughts and comments, Merilar!

      I feel slightly differently about the WoW lore than I do comic book games. For instance, I’ve grown up reading the Batman comics and I’m very attached to the character however, in the world of Azeroth, there aren’t really any characters that I want to be. This means that it’s easier for me to bond with my own “unknown” avatar and not feel jealous because I can’t be Person X.

  3. Wakela says:

    I sort of agree with this post. If you are thinking about ACTUAL comic books heros such as will be in DC Online. However, I think COH & Champions are not true comic book heros. They are comic book like heros. They are complete unknowns when you start out the game. Its not the same as Batman, Superman, Spiderman, or Wonderwoman. The NPCs in that game are just like the NPCs in most games. They are completely dev created.

    Now going in the same vein of thought, Star Trek Online is one that I had attempted to play for a short period of time. Again, you have the whole wanting to be the crew of the Enterprise, but having to end up being someone you hope isn’t wearing the red shirt in that episode.

    Admit it, in Lord of the Rings Online you want to be Aragorn, Pippin, Legolas, etc. You don’t want to be their lackey going out to fetch some random thing. Whereas in EQ or WoW, you are still doing the same things as you would in LOTRO or STO, yet you feel more accomplishment because you feel that you are just as good or even better then the NPCs.

    So I guess what I am saying is that I don’t really feel that it is based off of MMO genre, but more likely based of the fact that it is a well known entity before it became a game.

    Just my 2 copper on the subject.

    • Gordon says:

      It’s a very good point and I think I’d have to agree. I guess I’m not so bothered about it in games like LotRO or Stark Trek because I don’t feel as attached to the characters as I do those in the Marvel or DC Universe. I can live playing a nobody warrior in LotRO because I’m not a huge Tolkien fan whereas in a DC game, I only want to play the characters I’ve spent years reading about.

  4. xXJayeDuBXx says:

    I agree for the most part with Wakela, but I do agree completely with you. I don’t think it’s that comic book or super hero MMO’s don’t work, they are just not epic enough like what you find in a comic.

    BTW, love the pics. I know the first one is from Kingdom Come, but what is the pic of Galactus from?

  5. Tesh says:

    Speaking to the “everyone’s a hero” and “I wanna be X”, an X-Men sort of MMO could work by letting players set up their own sort of mutants. Sure, it would be like CO with scads of Wolverine ripoffs, but if the mutant genome is sufficiently interesting and… er… mutable… the variety of possibilities might work.

    Combat is the biggest sticking point for me (as I’ve already given up on storytelling); hotbar combat is OK for some things, but Rock-Em Sock-Em Comiccritters doesn’t do all that much for me.

    Oh, and geek cred ++ for mentioning Deadpool.

    • Gordon says:

      A mutant game would be pretty cool :) They’d definitely need to get the action element right though. Not very much fun firing an Optic Blast just by press the ‘2′ key.

      And thanks… I try my best to uber geek out whenever possible :)

  6. [...] Book MMOs Do Work, So NYYAHHH To You! We Fly Spitfires has posted up a list of reasons why comic book MMOs don’t work in his opinion. Sharpened by years of arguing these points on various superhero MMO sites, let’s cover them [...]

  7. [...] Again, the discussion about ‘inspired’ characters was discussed at least as far back as January 2009. I’m sure the GUI is being tweaked all the time about how it works in practice, but the theory has remained pretty constant, making this more non-news that exists as a dog-whistle to those who really, really want to play as Batman. [...]

  8. Bruce says:

    Listen The answer to all(except,bieng batman) is DC Universe Online, it’s fast paced like an action game, you can change your costume, whenever, and There is HEroes and Villians, so there is alot of diversity for dc fans

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