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    Posted September 6, 2012 by
    Los Angeles, California
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
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    Fighting the End of the World with Social Networking and Virtual Capes


    I will be updating this article as I can, but please look at the Official CNN Vetted version of this article here:  http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-840174


    Paragon City, RI

    Clouds of dust surround a crumpled, caped form. Cracks in the pavement radiate from where it lies. A dark, ominous figure stands over the fallen champion. “In three months, you, your world, and everything in it will cease to exist. There is nothing you can do to stop me! Mwahaha!”


    The caped figure stands slowly, painfully rising back up. “You're right, I can’t….” The dust begins to settle revealing numerous other caped and masked figures behind the rallying hero  “… but I am not alone… and WE will stop you!”


    The comic book cliché of heroes preventing the destruction of the world is nothing new, but now fiction has crossed over into reality. On August 31st Korean based gamemaker NCSoft (OTN: NCSCF), in a move widely considered baffling by gaming industry bloggers, announced the immediate end to the 8 year old comic book themed MMORPG: City of Heroes. The announcement, citing only “A realignment of company focus and publishing support” resulted in the halting of all development and the immediate layoff of its entire staff at Paragon Studios, based in Mountain View, CA.


    The move came as a surprise to many, as new content was being released regularly and the game had a steady but growing player population.  City of Heroes was doing well for a game of its age. Development staff were seemingly just as shocked as the players, but Paragon Studios set the tone, publicly focusing on the positive achievements. City of Heroes was an award winning game, widely known for its loyal base and strong internal community.


    In a potentially unprecedented move, that player base has taken action. Using the power of social media they have quickly moved to great effect. Within days petitions in protest have reached over 13,000 signatures (http://tiny.cc/59v7jw ) and numerous efforts are being made to save the venerable franchise. Blogs and forums are alight with stories, not only of the game, but of the intricate social interactions that have grown in its framework. Stories of marriages being made in game, of people finding the freedom to fly in the city skies while fighting terminal illness, of friends initially meeting on line finally crossing borders to meet in person are common.  Twitter #savecoh has been seen with growing frequency and groups such as The Titan Network (http://www.cohtitan.com) are spearheading multiple rescue operations.


    While the end results of these efforts remain unseen, what is clear, is that the people are rising up to defend not only a game but the friendships and social interactions formed within it, creating the potential for a damaging PR event for NCSoft. This creates a new chapter in business, as closing down a  product suddenly has become much more complicated than before, especially when that product has an active social network attached to it.


    It should be of no surprise, that in a game based on being the hero and saving the world, so many players have attempted to do just that. In doing so, it seems another comic book adage applies: “With great power comes great responsibility”. Companies are eager to access the power of the social network, but may be finding that there is a responsibility that comes attached to that access..


    Many eyes will be on the ultimate fate of Paragon City, and this clash between the social network and the corporate boardroom will certainly affect the business landscape for the foreseeable future.


    ***Update*** 9/8/12


    "You have their attention.  They are listening."


    That was the the insider news regarding NCSoft, given to the virtual crowd at a player run on sever rally.  Taking a page from the Occupy movements, over 2500 players logged in to 'camp' the virtual city hall, to recap the actions of the last week and show support of the game.  All that was missing were the tents.


    The message continues to spread and gain momentum.  As the signaure count of the main petition passed 16,000,  #SaveCOH became a top trender and the effort has picked up celebrety endorsements from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Mercedes Lackey and others. As this virtual experiment becomes more organized, it is no wonder this has made the heads of NCSoft turn.


    As it turns out, the gamers of COH might be a bit more adept at making real world change happen than one might think at first glance.  Prior to this, in game groups have already organized real life charities (http://realworldhero.com/) and several on line radio stations exist ( http://www.radioparagon.com http://www.siradio.fm http://thecaperadio.com).  Far from the stereotypical loner behind the computer screen, this community is proving to contain a wide range of professionals willing to organize, publicize and make their voices heard.

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