The superhero MMO City of Heroes went offline for good in 2012—or so it seemed until a week ago, when the existence of a fully-functioning private server that had been kept secret for six years was suddenly revealed to the public. Called SCORE—Secret Cabal of Reverse Engineers—its existence was revealed by a YouTuber named Destroyer Stroyer, who said that server only had about 3000 total players, many of them friends and family of the dev team and all vetted by a group of admins and subject to an NDA, which apparently Destroyer Stroyer did not feel bound by.
Reacting to the leak, a member of the development team said that the CoH server was kept quiet because a similar effort to keep the even-older MMO Tabula Rasa going private ended in a cease-and-desist order from NCSoft in 2011. Despite calls from the CoH community to take the project public, the developer also said that it would continue to operate as an invite-only server, "unless and until we are certain that a Cease and Desist order is no longer a threat."
But now that the game has been revealed to the public, it seems that the threat of a C&D has been enough to force it offline. "We are on a direct course for legal action. As such, steps must be taken in order to protect the people involved in this project, their families, and their futures," a message posted to the City of Heroes Discord states. "We wanted to see our City return, but to do so at the destruction of the lives of those involved is too great a risk to take."
The good news is that the takedown is not necessarily the end of the project. A time frame isn't currently available but the team said that it will continue its efforts to bring the game back to life.
"We are in discussions to do what we can to revive some form of the server, however we do not wish to commit to a point in the future that we may not be able to reach. You have trusted us to this point," the message says. "We ask you to extend that trust, and we will in turn do everything within our power to prove to you that we are deserving of it."
A newer update from the project leader says that the project is "heading into legal fuckery," but also implies that it hasn't actually got there yet. The situation is obviously confused—"This is a panic spiral and we are trying to collect ourselves," they wrote—but the gist of the update is that the situation may not be as dire as it first appeared.
The server that was operating is down and "we do not physically have them," but there's apparently another drive, currently being verified, that also contains the server binaries. More importantly, it sounds like there has not been a formal request for a takedown. "As of now, we are running on the assumption that there is no DMCA," the most recent update says.
"We have a gameplan. It depends on verifying this code right now. Once it is achieved, we are pushing to get a server back up immediately. The original goal of the server has been to get a stable i24 for distribution and by the Well of the Furies we will get it. This chaos was unprofessional on my part (partly from my inexperience), and triggers were being pulled before we even had the horses at the races. We will also be futureproofing future development to make sure this kind of clusterfuck will never happen again."
Interestingly, Destroyer Stroyer's video about the server has also been taken offline. I've reached out to the developers for more information and will update if I receive a reply.