The Surprising Success of DC Universe Online on Consoles

A relatively disappointment back in 2011, Sony's superhero MMORPG has found new life on consoles.

Analysis by Kat Bailey, .

It seems hard to believe after four most anonymous years, but DC Universe Online is doing really well these days. Really, really well.

"DC Universe Online has really taken off," SOE president John Smedley told me when I asked him which free-to-play game is doing best for them. "It's the number one performing free-to-play game on the PlayStation Network."

Its numbers would seem to reflect that surprising success. It currently boasts 18 million registered users, and it is the number one revenue generating free-to-play title on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. Maybe not that impressive given the comparative paucity of free-to-play games on the PlayStation Network, but not too shabby given where DC Universe Online was a few years ago.

First released back in 2011, it was met with middling reviews, garnering a 72 on Metacritic. It was initially lauded for its strong character creation and atmosphere, but others criticized it for its repetitive quests and simple click-to-combo combat. It subsequently vanished from the public eye almost immediately, resurfacing later that year for the inevitable free-to-play announcement, then disappearing once again.

But like Star Trek Online, which was similarly criticized at launch, DC Universe Online has grown considerably in the intervening four years. Since 2011, SOE has wrapped up the original Brainiac story arc, started a handful of ongoing trilogies, and introduced lairs and crafting. It also continues to be notable for its large PvP community, which comprises nearly a quarter (22.6 percent) of its player base.

With that said, however, DC Universe Online's rise has as much to do with being in the right place at the right time as it does new and improved content. It has benefited heavily from the launch of the PlayStation 4, where it's been available from the start as a free-to-play release, making it an appealing alternative to the platform's still nascent library. It doesn't match up to the likes of Final Fantasy XIV, which is both deeper and substantially prettier, but it doesn't have to either. Just being easily accessible and free-to-play is enough.

DC Universe Online also benefits from being more action-oriented than most MMORPGs. More of a beat-em-up than anything, its combat is a perfect fit for the PlayStation's controller. Not surprisingly, more than 70 percent of DC Universe Online's playerbase is now on either the PS3 or PS4.

Then there's the matter of comic book movies, which more than ever dominate the cinema. With famous names like Batman and Superman, plus a huge number of lesser-known but still popular heroes, DCUO is perfectly positioned to cash in on the current cultural zeitgeist. And with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice due out in early 2016, it's likely only going to get bigger.

SOE won't divulge details like how much DC Universe Online pulls in per day or its number of concurrent users, but SOE's eagerness to tout it as one of their leading games suggests that it's doing at least fairly well. Almost any success would represent a solid turnaround for an MMORPG that had largely fallen between the cracks in 2012. And considering that SOE hasn't been shy about killing underperforming games in the past—witness the swift demise of Free Realms and Wizardry Online—the fact that DCUO lives on should be considered a vote of confidence.

Going forward, DCUO will be facing more competition in the free-to-play space on the PlayStation 4 with the release of PlanetSide 2, but there's every reason to expect that it will continue growing over the next few years. Once an MMORPG reaches a certain size and picks up enough content, it tends to become almost self-sustaining. After a rough start, DC Universe Online seems to have reached the point, making it an unlikely success story of the new console generation.

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Comments 11

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  • Avatar for kidgorilla #1 kidgorilla 4 years ago
    I remember being really excited for this when it came out and was a little let down. Friends of mine have told me about the updates and the constant tweaking, so maybe I should give it another shot. Does it look about the same on PS4 as the PS3 version?
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #2 Kat.Bailey 4 years ago
  • Avatar for Thad #3 Thad 4 years ago
    They've still got Superman wearing his classic costume? Nice.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #4 VotesForCows 4 years ago
    I totally forgot this existed. Must put it on my to-do list.
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  • Avatar for robbybishop93 #5 robbybishop93 4 years ago
    I feel the author has been sloppy in their research. The ps4 version looks nothing like the ps3 version. Also load times are substantially faster. The brainiac arc ended 2 years ago. The entire combat system has been completely revamped all together. Everything about this article screams lazy writing. It's definitely not a "beat ' em up" it is a heavily team oriented action mmorpg. Also ps3 was 75% of the player population 2 years ago so with the launch of the ps4. I'm willing to bet the increase is around 78%Edited August 2014 by robbybishop93
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  • Avatar for simoamici42 #6 simoamici42 4 years ago
    @kidgorilla no it does not look anything like the PS3 version. the ps3 engine is crap. the PS4 version looks like the PC version; which is lightyears ahead in quality.
    @robbybishop93 it was 70% two years ago and they released numbers a few days ago confirming it is now appx 75% of the total population.Edited 2 times. Last edited August 2014 by simoamici42
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  • Avatar for timorr15 #7 timorr15 4 years ago
    Proofreading is apparently an obsolete skill.
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  • Avatar for rowdyrob58 #8 rowdyrob58 4 years ago
    Talk to the DCUO vets and they will agree to most of this but will also tell you that F2P is a major DRAG on quality play and BIGGER DRAG on new material because of far too many players that are under equipped and in adequately skkilled
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  • Avatar for rowdyrob58 #9 rowdyrob58 4 years ago
    Proof reading is a grammar NATZI issue. Kids today can't spell proof reading let alone perform it. Yes my words were misspelled on purpose to make a point
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  • Avatar for jeffreyhaas20 #10 jeffreyhaas20 4 years ago
    This is primarily about the ps version. How is the PC version doing?
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  • Avatar for daleackermann53 #11 daleackermann53 3 years ago
    I've been playing this game for a few years now (Deep Cycle) and I can stand firm in declaring the game is NIGHT AND DAY different between PS3 and PS4. The armor looks amazing now and the stages are glorious. Load times, ads, and configuration are very quick and smooth. The game has really taken off since the PS4 came out and it will continue to do well with the upgrades to visuals and content. Pretty soon, PS3 users won't be able to handle the game as it's that much higher quality...
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