City of Heroes Issue 13: Architect - PREVIEW (The Management of Expectations, part 4 of 5)

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The Management of Expectations Continues

The brilliance of NCSoft and CoX’s marketing people is the way they manage to keep people’s expectations high despite a continued and almost perfect record of letting people down for 4 years. For 4 years, the main thing players have been begging for is something new to do with their characters- in particular something new and fun to do with their level 50s. Yet issue after issue this wish is completely ignored. As a game developer myself, I have no idea why a company would repeatedly ignore the clear and obvious desire of their customer base. I wish all my design priorities could be this clear cut. I wish it were always so simple to know what my players want. If I had the luxury of knowing the one thing my players wanted more than anything else, you can be sure I would actually work on it rather than ignore it for 4 years and work on variations of the same content they are already bored with.

The way NCSoft / CoX manages expectations follows a simple, elegant, repeatable pattern.

1) Release a paid expansion or “Issue."

For a short time, people are involved in the new content and are excited about it.

Sadly, most issues quickly disappoint, and within a month or two people see there was no meat there. This is when:

2) Announce details about the NEXT Issue.

This tides people over for a few months as they debate what the issue will contain. Usually, players’ hopes and interpretations of the official release is far grander than what will ever get released. This keeps people happy for a few months.

3) Slowly put pieces of the next issue on the test server.

Each new feature on the test server ignites more player fantasizing about what MIGHT happen between this version and the release. Somehow the assumption abounds that the final version of content will be 10 times better than the “teaser” on the test server. This mentality persists despite the fact that history has shown what we see on the test server is very close to what we will eventually get. Each release on the test server makes them feel the issue release is “just around the corner”, when in truth it is months away.

Once the test server no longer resets people’s excitement level…

4) Announce a release date for the paid Issue (but of course deceptively call it free). This release date is usually 2+ more months in the future.

This gets people excited again, and once more they inject their own ideas and preconceptions into what the issue will be like. They largely ignore the real details or the reports from people who actually tested things out on the test server.

5) Release the Issue, keep calling it free, and loop back to #1.

Give Them Credit, It Works

I really have to hand it to their marketing staff. They work this exact same cycle every issue and they work it brilliantly. Using this method NCSoft/CoX has managed to keep people hoping and dreaming that the “Ultimate Patch” that fixes every problem and adds every dreamed about piece of content is right around the corner. It never comes, but they are always dangling enough enticements there to keep their ~130,000 subscribers hoping and wishing.


This is part 4 of a 5 part preview. For the rest of the preview:

Part 1: City of Heroes Issue 13: Architect - PREVIEW (Mission Architect, part 1 of 5)

Part 2: City of Heroes Issue 13: Architect - PREVIEW (Paid Expansion, Day Jobs, Powersets, part 2 of 5)

Part 3: City of Heroes Issue 13: Architect - PREVIEW (Cimerora, Merits, Other Features, part 3 of 5)

Part 4: You are here.

Part 5: City of Heroes Issue 13: Architect - PREVIEW (Business Model Confusion, Conclusions, part 5 of 5)


Michael Hartman maintains a hub for articles about City of Heroes and City of Villains. If you would like to read more of his articles about this game, visit:

City of Heroes / City of Villains Article Hub