Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: What can you share with our readers about the genesis of this project and its overall mission?
Mike Davenport: The project started as a response to a thread question in the old City of Heroes forums.
Many in our group saw the potential in that game and would often express our sentiment as to its future, all the way up until it was sunsetted in 2012. From there a few friends would chat, and I started collecting the ideas for what we would want in a superhero MMO. We were all Marvel fans and that became the basis for the Marvel Universe Online. We chose that name because it was the running title of Marvel’s first attempt at an MMO and was eventually dropped when the effort failed.
I decided the smart move was to take all these ideas and create a Facebook page as a repository. When we began to see interest in the ideas, we started structuring them into a series of concepts. Many of the original group members left and at one point it was just me keeping things running. Other folks pitched in to help along the way, and we decided to turn it all into a pitch project. We would take all the ideas and build a website in the style of an actual gaming site as if it were a real game.
To make an authentic gaming website required knowledge of the game development, visual arts, marketing, and a slew of analytics. Early on we did get help with our basic understanding of development pipelines from folks at CryEngine and AWS. Right around the time Marvel Heroes was discontinued, we were ready to launch our first iteration of the Marvel Universe Online website. Most of the art assets were borrowed from the internet, but we eventually wanted to have our own works specifically done for the project. This was the genesis of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Online. We would use our version of this character compendium to scout and showcase artists we commissioned from the comic community. It was a way for us to support the community, while at the same controlling costs and remaining a zero-profit endeavor.
Our mission would be to build a “Community-Driven, Pitch Proposal.” Without licensing, a publisher, or a studio, we were never going to have to opportunity to pitch directly to Marvel. I was even told as much by folks connected with them, so we decided that the community drive would be the best option to work around the “Catch-22” of being outside the industry. Our hope would be the depth of detail and the richness of our lore would build our fanbase into something that would be hard for anyone to ignore.
BD: What can you tell us about the team behind this project, and how would you describe your shared creative process as you have worked to bring it to fruition?
MD: The team has fluctuated over the years and, as I said before, sometimes the team is just me. Early on, we would get together weekly to brainstorm ideas. At that time, none of us had any idea about the nuts and bolts of game development and all we have was tantamount to a “wish list” of features. That was when we started to look past City of Heroes and started digging into what worked in other games, the “Pillars of Inspiration” for the Marvel Universe Online came from games like City of Heroes, Destiny, Star Citizen, and particularly from a Kickstarted called Project Awakened by Phosphor Games. It had the beginnings of nearly everything we wanted in the next generation of superhero MMO. Unfortunately, the Kickstarter came up short of its funding goals and eventually shelved by Phosphor.
Today, the team consists of myself, our PR rep, and a rotating roster of artists and writers that we bring on as funding permits. As you can imagine, with so few people, everything moves at a snail’s pace.
BD: There are many facets to Marvel Universe Online. For those who may be completely unfamiliar, how would you describe the project and its features to those who may be coming to the project fresh?
MD: For those new to the project, we want them to understand that this is a pitch deck, meaning as cool as everything is, it is not an official Marvel entity. With that in mind, we want new folks to see what we’re trying to do and enjoy it for what it is. There are three main facets to the Marvel Universe Online Project: the technical game development and marketing aspect where we strive to present to practical aspects of what would go into developing a game of this scope. Then, we have the community outreach aspect, where we support comic artists and take input from fans to help us understand what the fans want from this very niche gaming genre. And lastly, there is the lore. We’ve expended to rich history of the Marvel Universe and molded it into a version that leads to a point where future players can create their own paths forward. It’s this part that we hope sparks the imaginations of the fans enough to keep us going.
BD: Where do you foresee the project a year from now? 5 years from now?
MD: A year from now I hope we have enough support to allow us to maintain a static team able to generate content on a regular basis. I have a motto: “There are no volunteers, everyone gets paid, except me!” and I wish to have the funding to stick to that. Five years from now, I hope to have the website completed and have the team focused on lore and the Handbook. At this point I want to be prepared to reach out to my contacts at Marvel Games with the confidence that we will get an opportunity to make a serious presentation with the support of thousands of fans behind us.
BD: Are there any other elements to Marvel Universe Online that you will soon be announcing or separate upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
MD: Like Tony Stark said in the original Iron Man movie, “This is the mission, there is nothing else!” With that said, we do have milestones we are trying to reach, one piece in particular is an animated trailer. One of the first pieces of comic art created specifically for the project was a three-page piece called “The Call.” This was an intro into our fictional world of Earth 619. Recently, we created a second part called, “The Conflict,” done in digital 3D. The last piece, “The Aftermath,” would be an animated trailer, simulating a typical CGI gaming trailer. Even if we are unsuccessful at the actual pitch, our hope to keep the project alive through the lore and the Handbook as an enduring love letter to fandom.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Marvel Universe Online?
MD: The first-place readers should go is to the website at www.themarveluniverseonline.com. The website is a constant work-in-progress, so sign up for the newsletter to keep up with any major movements in the project. Because the site is designed in a way to illicit questions, you can either send your questions and/or suggestions to us through our Contact page, or connect with me or our PR rep on all the major social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, and Discord).