DC Universe Online designers try to build new MMO audience

The success of DC Universe Online may depend on whether the title finds an audience among gamers who have yet to enmesh themselves in the addictive MMO genre.

Besides using the DC Comics universe as a setting, the new title is designed to attract new players by offering a slam-bang combat system and gameplay that’s relatively quicker than existing MMO titles.

“What felt superheroic was picking up cars and throwing them at people,” game director Chris Cao said. “I wanted to make MMOs more fun for more people.”

DC Universe Online is scheduled to be released Tuesday, Jan. 11. Sony Online Entertainment is releasing the game for PS3 and PC.

The game allows players to design their own superheroes or supervillains and play under the tutelage of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman or those characters’ nemeses, Lex Luthor, Joker and Circe. The storyline casts Superman foe Braniac as lead antagonists, and other DC Universe characters are billed as featured players.


Sony’s game is not the only effort to set a well-known fictional universe as the scene of a new MMO. Bioware’s “Star Wars: The Old Republic” is set for a springtime release, and Cao laughed a little when asked if he was excited to see his team’s game on the market first.

Millions of gamers enjoy massively-multiplayer online games, but any quick scan of the Internet can reveal commentary from many other game fans who stay away from the genre. Titles like Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft” or NCsoft’s “Aion” can attract players with sprawling virtual worlds, but can repel others simply by the prospect of grinding through long hours of gameplay.

Thus in Cao’s words, DC Universe Online comes across as a game designed for the MMO newcomer, if not the MMO skeptic. The game has the character creation and raiding features that are common to MMOs, but also player-versus-player challenges that pit skill against skill. In other words, the idea is for playersto be able to to compete against each other even if they haven’t spent every waking hour grinding through level after level.

The game’s combat system is designed to be more similar to titles like “Bayonetta” or the “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance” series than other RPG’s, CAO said.

Grinding is also reduced compared to other MMOs, he said. Players can reach the game’s highest level in 40-50 hours.

“If you want to play another game or another couple games, you will be able to,” he said.

DC Universe Online is set to retail for $59.99 on PS3 or $49.99 on PC. Monthly subscriptions are set to cost $14.99 after 30 days. PS3 and PC players will play in separate “universes.”

The game is rated T for Teen.