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    Posted September 11, 2012 by
    Los Angeles, California
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    Affecting Change Through Social Networking and Virtual Capes


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     'I started playing [City of Heroes] in 2005, took a few years off, and came back to the game a few months ago at the request of my son who lives several states away, so I have an emotional stake in this [planned shutdown], like many others.'
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    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 is 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 16,000 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, multiple generations of families playing together, of friends initially meeting online finally crossing borders  to meet in person all have been heard.  Twitter #savecoh was a top trend   and groups such as The Titan Network  (http://www.cohtitan.com) are spearheading multiple rescue operations.


    As it turns out, the gamers of COH might be a  bit more adept at making real world change happen than one might initially expect.  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.  The effort  has even picked up celebrity 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.


    "You have their attention.  They are listening."


    That was the the insider news regarding NCSoft, given to the virtual crowd at a player organized on-line rally, happening a week after the closure announcement.  Taking a page from the Occupy movements, over 3000 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. (Video:  http://youtu.be/XRsj2DtLCQs)


    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 are attempting 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.

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