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Marvel MMO on Xbox 360

Versus DC version on PS3?

Microsoft has obtained the exclusive rights to develop and publish massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) based on Marvel superheroes for Xbox 360.

Interestingly, the move announced at Comic-Con International could pit Marvel on Xbox 360 against rival outfit DC Comics on PlayStation 3 - as Sony Online Entertainment announced plans for a DC MMOG on PC and next-gen platforms around one month ago, and its affiliation with Sony Computer Entertainment is likely to tie the game to that format.

Marvel is home to Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men and countless other properties, while some of DC's most famous exports include Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.

Microsoft's Peter Moore said the company was "thrilled" to have landed the Marvel deal, and said it would give Marvel fans "the ability to create choices with their favourite Super Heroes, villains and creatures in unbelievable detail".

Details of the first game are expected to appear in coming months.

Microsoft has previously targeted a number of massively multiplayer ideas, believing it to be one of the key areas to expand in the next generation of online gaming, as it attempts to increase numbers of subscribers to its Xbox Live service.

The company has already secured a port of Square Enix's Final Fantasy XI, which it announced at E3, and World of Warcraft developer Blizzard recently told this website that it had been courted by the platform holder but turned down the opportunity.

This week's development is bound to be seen as exciting news for comic book fans, although many would argue that Cryptic Studios' City of Heroes, which allows players to design their own superheroes with similar attributes to those from the world of comics, is already doing a fine job in that area.

Indeed, City of Heroes was actually the subject of legal action brought by Marvel after the company discovered it was possible to create broad facsimiles of its own properties using the game's character-creation tool.

That issue is still tied up in litigation, although City of Heroes publisher NCsoft announced this March that a Los Angeles judge had dismissed several claims key to Marvel's case after an impassioned defence - a position backed by the vocal majority of online gamers and commentators - before Marvel replied that its case was still strong.

It's worth pointing out, finally, that while Marvel and DC superheroes are now bound to certain publishers in a massively multiplayer context, neither deal will scupper the chances of individual superhero games, whether single or multiplayer, appearing on other platforms in future. Indeed, just last week Warner Bros. announced a new RPG for PS2 and Xbox based on DC Comics' Justice League of America.