Infinite Crisis Concluded

This post is my day 12 contribution to the 2015 Blaugust Initiative.


Have you heard of Infinite Crisis? It’s a superhero MOBA developed by Turbine, set in the collision between worlds that inspired the eponymous DC Comics series. And it’s shutting down forever Friday. Before it’s gone, I want to share a few of the experiences I had with the game. I’ve gone back through my testing journal and picked out some highlights.

Not for long, Cyborg.

Not for much longer, Cyborg.

I was invited to participate in the closed beta for Infinite Crisis back in early May of 2013. I’m not a big fan of MOBAs, but I do enjoy testing new games. It was exciting at first, with frequent updates, and I managed to get in a few hours of testing each week.

Initially, matchmaking consisted of a simple queue, but players could also build custom matches with friends. The interface was pretty bare-bones. IC used a newer version of the same engine that has powered Turbine games since Asheron’s Call. The engine was both beefed up to accommodate flashier visual effects and also slimmed down to increase the responsiveness demanded by a MOBA. Ultimately, it delivered on neither of these goals satisfactorily.

We started testing with a dozen champions and two maps to choose from. (Turbine went on to add 30 more champions and a third map by the end.) One of IC’s defining features was the choice of stolen powers at the start of each match, which let players pick an extra superpower from one of the other champions. During a match, customizing champions progressed similarly to other MOBAs, although combining mods and augments could become very complex.

The maps in Infinite Crisis, while excruciatingly (or perhaps comfortably) familiar in layout, focused heavily on controlling objectives to provide truly game-changing advantages over the opposing team. You can see an overview of them in the videos below. But with such a small pool of players, Turbine usually disabled all but one map for matchmaking in order to improve queue times.

Just four weeks into closed beta, IC made its eSports premiere in an MLG exhibition series at E3. These exhibition matches continued as Turbine chased the convention circuit. The company later partnered with ESL and its Go4 Online Cups to give away about $100,000 of prize money (by my count) in tournament action over the next two years of beta. One of the things that impressed me most was how smoothly Turbine inserted itself into the eSports scene.

In August 2013, Turbine began selling Infinite Crisis founder’s packs that included closed beta access. This seemed to attract mainly DC Comics fans with even less MOBA experience than I had. Conversations on the forums shifted toward which champions would be available next, from which universes, and what costumes players could buy for them.

Over the next few months, IC began to shape up considerably. Turbine hired top-shelf voice actors for its champions and translated the game into German, French, and Russian. The UI got a ton of polish. By early 2014, it was really starting to feel like a big-budget, triple-A game. Marketing efforts were ratcheted up, and it seemed like someone from Turbine was livestreaming every day with news about the game. There was even cross-promotion from DC Comics and Warner Bros.

This culminated in a “soft launch” for Infinite Crisis in mid-March. It was open beta, and anyone could play for free. Turbine’s servers handled the influx of curiosity seekers admirably, for the most part. The Gotham Divided map, added the month before, proved to be a good introduction to players from other MOBAs. Nevertheless, queue times remained long, and Turbine had to continue its policy of keeping only a single map at a time open for matchmaking.

In the year that followed, huge improvements were made to IC’s starter tutorial. Controls became more responsive, although the game still never felt truly fluid in my hands. The team kept cranking out new champions and customizations, and avoided some of the overpowered flavor-of-the-month builds IC had seen in its earlier days. Monthly online tournaments continued in Europe and North America, and Turbine hosted several in-game competitive events.

On March 26, 2015, Turbine officially launched Infinite Crisis, coinciding with its availability on Steam. But by early April, it was already clear that this wouldn’t be the infusion of players the game needed. The game got mixed reviews from critics and favorable reviews from players. But as different as IC dared to be, it just wasn’t different enough from its competitors to lure customers away.

If infinite worlds collide, but no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If infinite worlds collide, but no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

In May, Turbine made a last-ditch effort to bring players back to IC by turning on ranked mode. The initial seeding algorithm baffled players, and frequently resulted in horrendous mismatches. At the same time, Turbine unlocked all champions for free. This meant many players were experimenting with champions unfamiliar to them. The combination was chaotic, and only served to drive away the game’s few remaining skilled players, along with their followers.

On June 2, 2015, a mere 68 days after its launch, Turbine announced IC would shut down permanently in August. Within a couple weeks, the forums had closed and scheduled tournaments were cancelled. It was heartbreaking to watch Cardell Kerr (the game’s creative director) and Jim Duffy (associate designer) casting the final Go4IC monthly finals. The cash shop was disabled, and both Steam and Turbine refunded customers who had made recent purchases.

Throughout this entire process, Turbine fostered the least toxic community I’ve ever encountered in a MOBA. The community team, designers, and developers interacted daily with players. It wasn’t uncommon to find yourself in a match against one of them! This did lead to the unfortunate joke, however, that at least half of IC’s players at any given time were on Turbine’s payroll.

Still, even as I write this post, dozens of Infinite Crisis players are hanging out in the lobby, chatting about what the game has been, what it could have been, and arranging custom matches for old times’ sake. They’re not just doing this because the game is shutting down in a matter of hours; most of these people never stopped playing when the announcement was made two months ago. Now that’s heroic.

Have you ever played an online game from its first day to its last? What kept you around until the very end? Share your tribute in the comments below.

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