Crytpic Studios has admitted to contacting players of NCsoft's City of Heroes through that game's official forums and in-game messaging system, inviting them to the beta test of its own game, Champions Online.
The move has been interpreted as the first hostile shot in the coming war of the superhero MMOs. Cryptic, having developed City of Heroes itself before parting company with NCsoft, clearly wants to win back the audience for the genre it created.
According to a post by one of his employees (spotted by Massively), Champions Online's community manager Ivan Sulic said, "a few of our employees thought it might be a good idea to contact avid MMO notables and various guild leaders floating about to see if they wanted to test".
Sulic continued: "I'm certain this wasn't meant to be a malicious attack on a competing product, nor did anyone intend to steal players, violate user agreements, kill babies, or knife hardworking farmers in the back... If a line was crossed, it was totally inadvertent and no harm was intended... Shills, poaching, bullshotting... No chance, man."
Cryptic's actions came to light via a post on f13.net. "This isn't just two restaurants competing for the same customers, this is one restaurant sending service staff into the other and trying to get people to walk across the road with them. It's. Just. Not. Done," said the poster, UnSub.
It may have been going on longer than that; NCsoft felt moved to post a "word regarding outside solicitations" last week.
"Although we cannot stop someone from initially communicating with you - whether it be RMT (real money transaction) related, another game company trying to lure you to their competing product, or general spamming...we are in a position to investigate the situation (and potentially take action) once a solicitation has occurred, for it is a direct violation of our Rules of Conduct and EULA (End User License Agreement). "
Massively has taken a stand too, calling it a "highly unprofessional move" and saying "this is not the sort of behaviour we want the industry to feel is acceptable".
Storm in a teacup, or a step too far? Champions Online is due out for PC this spring, and you'll find plenty more at the Champions Online gamepage. Also, look out for the City of Heroes mission editor launching before the end of the month.