DC Universe Online: Talking Loud, Ain’t Saying Nothing

I have to say I’ve been massively impressed with how DC Universe Online has managed to spin the same (or standard) information out time and time and time again, each time as though it is something new or surprising. Sure, it’s to be expected in new MMOs, but DCUO has really taken the art form to the next level.

Take the DCUO Inside the Studio 5:

Let’s see the “new” information:

Q. Will their be options for player guilds? Answer: Yes.

Because, DURRRR, if DCUO didn’t have some sort of guild tools people would be asking why the hell it didn’t. Guild tools are pretty much standard for the MMO genre and SOE isn’t the kind of company to suddenly forget about them. The ‘leagues’ and ‘legions’ info was out in August 2008. It isn’t new information in the slightest.

Picture from 2009 of a young character in DCUO

And then there is this teen original character who was first shown in January 2009.

Q. Can you make ‘kid’ heroes?
Answer: Yes.

It’s a non-answer because superhero MMOs are all about character customisation. SOE knows it and has been talking about it for quite a while. Part of that customisation is the ability to adjust character height and appearance. Plus there have been images of young characters out pretty much since DCUO launched with pictures of Robin alongside Batman in 2008.

Q. Can DCUO characters get special weaknesses? Answer: not yet, but we might add it after launch!

This might be new information, or at least confirmation, but I’m sure I’ve seen this issue knocked on the head previously. However, going back to some of the original discussion about DCUO’s character creation, weaknesses were never included. Things can change, obviously, and I’m sure the “what about Kryptonite?” discussion will continue internally until some sort of character / item buff and debuff system is implemented… and players ignore it, because who wants to be debuffed anyway?

Anyway, this might be new information, but it is pretty weak sauce. Besides, it is tagged with the “… after launch” clarifier, which is pretty much the MMO equivalent of “maybe, but don’t bet on it”.

Q. How do you create a character inspired by existing DC characters? Answer: You can, and you get a powers template that plays like that character and costume parts that are similar to your inspired choice.

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.

Q. Will there be Player versus Player servers (PvP) or only Player versus Environment (PvE) servers? Answer: Yes. Both servers will have Arenas too. Plus Arenas will have special PvP-scenario related gear rewards (which probably includes beating up Superman).

This might be genuinely new information. Not surprising – PvP servers are hardly new – and DCUO has made its PvP server intentions known since at least August 2008. No, the new information (to me) is the special PvP-scenario gear rewards. Again there are no surprises here since such special rewards are often put in place to “encourage” PvP involvement, but it would appear to be new info.

Q. Will some characters who are dead in DC continuity appear in DCUO? Answer: Yes.

Congrats to whoever wasted their question on this. Or maybe that’s unfair – SOE didn’t need to pick this question and could have chosen something meatier, but didn’t.

DCUO will have its own continuity with the main characters as people expect them, regardless of whatever stupidity DC is doing to their characters. It’s all about picking the best bits of DC and putting them in-game, not worrying who is wearing Batman’s cowl in the latest issue of Detective Comics.

DCUO’s Three Marketeers

I may have missed it, but for a nice change the names “Jim Lee”, “Geoff Johns” or “Marv Wolfman” were not mentioned in connection with DCUO. These guys tend to get wheeled out a lot in the PR (so much so I think you could make a drinking game out of it) despite the fact they are completely peripheral.

Concept art is important, but Jim Lee (or his Wildstorm workers) isn’t actually working on the in-game models which is what players will see. Geoff Johns isn’t animating the models. Marv Wolfman isn’t finessing the in-game physics of thrown items. Well known for their comics work, they have often been used as reasons for why people should be interested in DCUO. It’s a smoke screen, but entire puff pieces are picked up about how Jim Lee is an old school MMO player or how Marv Wolfman is behind DCUO’s storylines (despite the fact that SOE is actually writing the mission content).

None of these things are important to how DCUO actually plays, which is the important bit. That’s entirely in SOE’s hands.

Signs and Portents

In August 2008, Jim Lee indicated that DCUO had been in production for 3 years. It’s two years later and despite an indication of a 2010 launch, there really is a deficit of new hard information about DCUO. With E3 2010 coming up, there is a solid chance of some kind of announcement about DCUO coming out, but unless DCUO is planning to start beta in July and launch in December – that’d be a rush – a launch before 2011 is unlikely.

Five years may not be a long development life for a MMO, but given it is SOE together with Warner Brothers / DC and the plan is to have a PS3 MMO, it’s likely DCUO has racked up quite a development debt. I suspect that DCUO remaining a free to play title is unlikely, or that the F2P element will come with a significant catch.

DCUO may be the fun-nest superpowered MMO ever developed and I’m sure SOE has taken careful notes about what to do / not do from other MMOs, but it is also a text book case of starting the PR / advertising train way too early. As such it seems to have resorted to spending time releasing media pieces (like the Inside the Studio 5) that lack any substance. Hopefully the next time SOE puts out something about DCUO, it will actually be worth saying.

One thought on “DC Universe Online: Talking Loud, Ain’t Saying Nothing

  1. Pingback: DCUO Announces November 2010 Launch « Vicarious Existence

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