NCSoft Has A Great Opportunity To Be Awesome And Human To 'City Of Heroes' Enthusiasts

from the be-the-hero dept

You will hopefully recall a few posts we had previously written about Blizzard pointing its considerable legal guns at fan-run World of Warcraft servers. In 2016, and again in 2018, Blizzard issued takedown notices and legal threats for two fan-run servers that were running the "vanilla" version of WoW that came out way back in 2004. With the nostalgia fad in full swing, fans of the game were interested in going back to its roots. Blizzard does not offer any vanilla experience of this sort, so fans of the game got together and offered one for themselves. Blizzard got both instances shut down.

But in those cases, Blizzard argued that the vanilla product competed with the current iteration of the game. What if there had been no current iteration? What if World of Warcraft had simply shut down, with Blizzard no longer offering any way to play any version of it?

Well, that's exactly the situation NCSoft finds itself navigating, as it recently came to light that a smallish group of enthusiasts for MMO City of Heroes had been hosting a server for the game that had been completely shut down in 2012. Perhaps the most surprising part of the story is that the folks running the server kept it private and mostly secret for something like six years. Perhaps the least surprising part of the story is that, when word eventually got out about it, pretty much everyone went into full freak out mode.

Word of the secret City of Heroes server—run by a group calling themselves the Secret Cabal of Reverse Engineers, or SCORE for short—first got out last week thanks to a now-deleted video by a player named Destroyer Stroyer. For six years, the video said, a few thousand die-hard City of Heroes fanatics had been able to keep playing the beloved game despite its official shutdown, thanks to the server. Blowback was immediate and fierce. The City of Heroes subreddit exploded with threads from players who felt like they’d been “lied to,” who felt that they should have been informed so they could have suited up once again as their bitterly mourned superhero alter egos and gotten back into the game. SCORE programmer Leandro Pardini told MMO-focused site MassivelyOP that he and others had been so hush-hush about the server because they’d seen NCSoft issue cease-and-desist orders to similar projects for games like Tabula Rasa, and they didn’t want to risk it. Following the video, however, the City of Heroes private server team decided to release their server code to the public so that other people could also reverse-engineer their own servers.

It would have been a tidy ending to a messy situation, but it was not to be: Yesterday, the public server’s moderators shut it down due to legal concerns. Operating a server entails replicating NCSoft’s copyrighted game code without permission, which flew under the radar when the server was secret and private, but would have caught the eye of lawyers if it were open to the public.

So, because NCSoft has gone the legal route with fan-stuff in the past, the operators of this fan-run server went public and then panicked, pulling everything offline. All over copyright concerns for a game that is no longer publicly available. Whatever this is promoting, it sure seems not to be promoting the progress of anything at all. Instead, this is exactly the kind of chill on the public access to the arts that too often serves as the antithetical output of copyright enforcement.

Adding to the confusion in all of this, however, was the about-face SCORE did shortly afterwards.

A few hours later, however, the team did a 180 and came to the conclusion that there was no imminent legal action coming after all. Innocuous chalked it up to “some fuckups that lead to mass server panic,” which partly stemmed from their own “inexperience.” The team then claimed to be working on getting another public server up. 24 hours later, they’ve yet to make any more announcements.

And so now the server is backup. Why? Well, it seems that some CoH fansites that have splintered off into wanting to create their own public fan-servers have been in discussions with NCSoft and there is a sense that the legal action so feared may not be coming.

The Titan Network, a long-running group of City Of Heroes fan sites, now claims to be “in talks” with NCSoft about a community-run server. “Things are looking positive, so stay strong,” said ParagonWiki head Tony V on Twitter. “We don’t have a timeline right now, but we’ll provide more updates as soon as we can.”

And what really needs to be hammered home here is the opportunity that NCSoft has in all of this to come out as a PR hero. Considering this is all about a game that has not officially been on the market since 2012, it's virtually impossible for NCSoft to claim any real harm here. The company has shut down a product, refusing to sell it, while someone else has filled that demand because they are fans of it.

Nothing precludes NCSoft from figuring out a way to be awesome and human and let this go forward. Options for doing so abound. All that remains to be seen is if some official arrangement can be inked that makes NCSoft the hero of its own story.

Filed Under: city of heroes, copyright, games, legal threats, old games, reverse engineering, servers
Companies: ncsoft


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  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 3:24pm

    This story is a lot bigger than you're reporting. Somehow, while all this was happening, somebody raised the stakes exponentially by posted a leaked copy of NCSoft's full source code for the game--both client and server--online for anyone to download. Suddenly it's not just SCORE's reverse-engineered attempt at a CoH server anymore; there are teams working to try and get an authentic City of Heroes server up and running!

    There are various technical hurdles to overcome: the server is very resource-intensive and requires a lot of hardware to run, and not all the source code matches the available data files it's supposed to be working with, but the community is working on making it work, and is actively in talks with NCSoft representatives about coming up with a legal resolution that will allow the server to run without lawsuits being filed. How optimistic the people involved are that this will be resolved peacefully tends to vary wildly from day to day, but it will definitely be interesting to keep an eye on...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anon E Mouse, 26 Apr 2019 @ 5:39am

      Re:

      You missed one big part - SCORE never reverse engineered anything. The secret server was running on the original source code. Keeping the server secret was all so they could milk desperate fans for donations "to keep their (non-existent) reverse engineering project running".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 26 Apr 2019 @ 12:59pm

        Re: Re:

        Do you have a source for this? Because pretty much everything you just said flies directly in the face of what's happening right now. (Struggling to get the server running because it hasn't been built from source yet, not accepting donations to avoid legal issues, having a "i25" version that's incompatible with the source server because it's the product of reverse engineering, etc.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anon E Mouse, 26 Apr 2019 @ 2:38pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          How about SCORE admitting they have the character database from the retail servers? Admittedly having this part of the server data does not equal having all the server software, but still.
          https://www.reddit.com/r/Cityofheroes/comments/bfj0gy/gdpr_and_the_character_database_a_transparenc y/

          There's also the original leak video, where 'Destroyer Stroyer' makes the claim in the first place, but 1) not much of a source there either and 2) the video seems to have fallen off the internet entirely.
          Another thing is how the secret server's been running for six years, practically from the moment the retail servers went down. Being able to get the server running so fast, yet working on the same thing for six years without being release ready is sending mixed messages.

          That's the best I've got, if you don't feel this is enough then we'll have to agree to disagree here.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 6:32pm

    Lifetime

    It is unreasonable for anyone to expect a CoH server to be running until at least 2105. If the creators want to shut it down, they ca shut it down for two lifetimes. That's the law.

    /s

    Seriously - if you aren't using it why should you be able to stop others? Even if you are - that's what the free market can decide, without interference from the government, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      rangda (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 9:36pm

      Re: Lifetime

      if you aren't using it why should you be able to stop others

      It's the same logic as piracy. Every pirated copy is a lost sale, and every user playing a game that isn't one of your current games is also a lost sale. In effect they are competing with their old shut down game. The temptation is to use copyright to put a competitor out of business.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 26 Apr 2019 @ 2:16am

        Re: Re: Lifetime

        "In effect they are competing with their old shut down game"

        In reality, they're competing with every game that has ever been made, plus every non-videogame form of entertainment that's ever been made

        It's interesting that they'd spend so much time and resources attacking one of those competing products, but the reality is it's a losing battle if they're not making their current product compelling enough for people to choose on its own merits.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2019 @ 12:38pm

        Re: Re: Lifetime

        This was a problem, back in the day, for the Mac game Avara (https://www.ambrosiasw.com/games/avara/) by AmbrosiaSW. It was a peer-to-peer first person mecha shooter with network play for multiple players.

        The problem was, it was a game that was really easy to hack (the maps and mecha designs could be created in Claris Works), to the point where only a very small number of people ever bought the game, and then everyone just shared it, modified it, and played it with friends.

        As a result, Ambrosia stopped supporting Avara, despite it having a sizeable following. Because they couldn't make a profit off it. However, 20 years later, they finally decided to open source it: https://github.com/jmunkki/Avara -- which would have been a wonderful thing for them to do back when they first realized it wasn't making them any money.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Unanimous Cow Herd, 25 Apr 2019 @ 8:00pm

    NCSoft Has A Great Opportunity To Be Awesome And Human

    I didn't know TD did satire.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 9:15pm

    "NCSoft Has A Great Opportunity To Be Awesome And Human"

    Yeah, knowing a bit of their history I make the not exactly shocking prediction of "not gonna happen".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Agammamon, 25 Apr 2019 @ 9:44pm

    I've never understood why companies in this position never just write up a quick and dirty license for non-commercial, non-exclusive, use and slap a small processing fee on it and let anyone sign up who wants it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Paul Brinker, 26 Apr 2019 @ 12:39am

      Re:

      Liability

      Just starting with 3rd party libraries that are not licensed to resale, say for example, the network encryption stack. Traps like this can be anyplace in the code and cost big bucks. Next is ownership, after so many years, who owns the server code? Do they have a clean chain of custody? Are all the art assets owned by the firm? Can you be 100% sure that some promotion for the return of superman is not still in the files someplace? What about those copies of marvel superheros that got made in the editor and might be found in the servers code?

      No firm wants the liability, an official license says the selling firm owns or has a resale license to all the above and much much more. Easier to simply forget about it and look the other way when a server shows up.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2019 @ 1:03am

    It's worth mentioning that Blizzard are currently in the process of developing their own vanilla WoW offering, which will be released this summer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2019 @ 2:07am

    "But you can't compete with free!" screamed out_of_the_blue, stamping his feet as dribble spewed from his lips. "You can't! You can't you can't you can't!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2019 @ 5:44am

    https://www.freeallegiance.org

    I will like to point out when Microsoft was awesome and released the source code for their game that was ahead of it's time and let people patch, update and maintain private servers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    A Passing Ssuperhero, 26 Apr 2019 @ 7:45am

    NCSoft has never been 'awesome and human'

    When the game was shut down, there was an effort by elements of the community to get them to reverse the shutdown, license it out somehow, and even to outright buy the IP and game from them. Nothing came of any of it. I will be more than happy to be wrong, but I have no expectation that this time will be any different.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2019 @ 9:21am

    It's my ball and I'm going home....

    Why do I get the impression of a school yard bully taking the groups ball and ruining the game, not because they have any need for the ball, but JUST BECAUSE THEY CAN...

    If corporations want to act like spoiled kindergartners, then we should treat them as such.

    Now go to your Board and explain yourself.... You have people willing to pay you money for something you already built, and you are unwilling to accept money, because ??? Greed? Pride? Take your ball and go sit in the corner where you belong

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2019 @ 9:44am

    It's worth noting that Daybreak Games entered into a written agreement formally recognizing a fan based not-for-profit EverQuest emulation server ("Project 1999") allowing them to continue running and updating the game without risk of legal repercussions. https://www.everquest.com/news/project-1999-daybreak

    And this was despite Daybreak creating their own 'classic' progression servers that require paid subscriptions to access.

    So it's not without precedent and NCSoft could follow suit if they wanted to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sir Lucas J Horn III, 26 Apr 2019 @ 10:52am

    Nothing changes, nothing ever will

    This isn't the first time that Titan Network has tried to buy the rights to the game for a community server. They tried roughly 4 years ago. They made a big splash since apparently it was going to be leaked to the press, but then it quickly died off and nothing ever came of it.

    As for NCSoft? I have no hope that they'll ever do the right thing. They seriously have a reputation for killing off games left and right, and in some cases flat out committing fraud while doing so (i.e. Tabula Rasa was cancelled, supposedly with the 'blessings' of the games creator, which he didn't give since he was OFF PLANET at the time, thus he turned around and sued NCSoft).

    Plus this article leaves out a lot of drama and jucier bits of info. Like the fact that Leandro has a copy of the database that has all of the characters that were on the game when it was closed down, but he refuses to give it to anyone (despite the fact that he was using it on his own private server) citing GDPR concerns. Then there's the BIG fact that Leandro and other players on the game flat out spent years telling the rest of the community that such a private server was 'impossible', and deleting any and every comment/post claiming it wasn't impossible and that one even existed (Leandro and his friends were the Mods and Admin on the City of Heroes Reddit, the bulk of the City of Heroes Facebook groups, and the Titan Network forums). In the first few days after this story broke you had people first going to 4chan, the few Facebook groups that weren't under their control, and the MMORPG subreddit and not only spilling their guts there, but also sharing stories about how they'd been bullied, threatened, and flat out driven out of the City of Heroes community by Leandro and his buddies. And even then you had people from Leandros serve still going to those other groups/subreddits and down voting en mass, reporting posts, and flat out calling people liars and trolls that should be ignored, since the protocol (and yes, they had a protocol on the forums for their private server) was to pretty much abuse, gaslight, and bully anyone who didn't agree with them into submission (as such MULTIPLE Facebook accounts ended up being shut down in the first 48 hours by this group).

    Thankfully since the new PUBLIC server went live, things have started to calm down, and the community has started to come together again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 26 Apr 2019 @ 6:25pm

    We need a clause in copyright law that says when a company shuts down an online-only game, they lose their copyright to the code.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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