Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Non-Buyer's Remorse Remorse?

The Marvel Heroes online Diablo clone game is attempting to get off the ground right now with mixed and generally unfortunate results.

The game was down for the entire first day of the promised early access period for $200 ultimate founder's pack customers.  It appears from the forums that the game's account systems somehow completely failed to correctly flag accounts with what people had purchased.  Some folks who had NOT paid for the first wave of early access got in briefly this morning, some folks who did pay did not get in, and almost everyone did not receive the correct amount of bonus in-game currency - the devs were so busy trying to make sure people were able to log in that they gave up and credited everyone with the minimum amount of currency and promised to fix the remaining balance later.

On the one hand, this type of debacle is precisely why I don't pay for early access deals, and think they are a terrible (though industry-wide) idea.  When access a certain number of days in advance is a specific selling point, customers have every right to be irked if you fail to deliver.  On the other hand, part of me feels a bit of remorse that I'm not in the crowd that's currently feeling the buyer's remorse for their purchases.

The Pre-Sales Campaign
If you'd asked me back in January when pre-purchases were announced - without any knowledge of what was actually going to be in the game - what hero and what costume from the entire Marvel universe I'd like to play in the upcoming title, I would have said Cyclops in his 90's era costume.  Cyclops has been portrayed very inconsistently over the years, but that particular era's plotlines - and that particular visual look - were amongst my favorite memories of the comics I read in my high school years.  Ironically, that very character with that particular costume was offered as one of the $20 starter packs.

I didn't bite.  It didn't occur to me that the studio would engage in an incredibly aggressive hard-sell campaign.  Shortly after that first post, they reduced the amount of cash store currency included in all bundles without advance notice, and threatened that the deal could get even worse with no notice.  Then they started removing popular characters (i.e. most characters with recent movies) from the $20 tier so that they would only be available in the $60 premium packages.

Then they announced at PAX East that the pre-orders would be the only way to guarantee that you got the specific character you wanted.  At the time, they intended to disallow players from purchasing specific characters post-launch, instead offering a lottery ticket that would contain a random hero instead.  This went over so poorly that they had to walk it back - apparently even MMO players have an upper limit of how much business model abuse we will take.  (Instead, they've rolled out a system where all heroes are available in the store, with most costing $9-12 and a few popular picks as high as $20.)

Overall, as I wrote in February, the pre-sales campaign treated customers in a way that I do not want to be treated.

The alternative...
Of course, I didn't know any of this when I decided not to buy a starter pack back in January.  Rather, my decision was driven by lack of information about how the individual characters would turn out.  Sure enough, many people are saying very bad things about Cyclops on the forums and Reddit, referring to him as "Punchlops" since he seems to have to spend more time punching than firing optic blasts.  Even his defenders say he is a fragile character whose best contribution comes in the form of buffs for groups - and I'd anticipate spending more of my time solo.

Feeling locked into a character I don't enjoy playing because I paid for that character sight unseen months ago would irk me almost as much as the aggressive sales tactics and the significant issues with the game's launch.  On the other hand, in that scenario my decision would already be made, I'd be out $20 and left to make the best of the game one way or another.  In particular, I'd own that costume that I wanted and now know will cost $15 in the game's cash store post-launch - more than I can justify spending on an optional cosmetic item. This means that if I ever do get to play Cyclops - either as an unlikely random drop or by paying for the unlock - he almost certainly won't have that iconic look I remembered from high school and wanted to play. 

The good news is that I like The Thing, he's one of the free options for starter heroes, and supposedly he isn't bad.  I will now plan to roll into the game's non-pre-purchase launch next week without spending any money up front, and they will have a tough sell to convince me that I should give them money after all that I've seen and know now.  Objectively, I made exactly the right decision.  It just remains to be seen whether the cost of having been wrong would have been that bad. 


Carson 63000 said...

I thought Marvel Heroes was a particularly egregious example of the growing trend to try to get as much money pre-release as possible, by hyping people into paying before they get a look at the game. Or, in the case of "beta access if you pre-pay", paying in order to get a look at the game.

Fortunately, I scored a beta invite from Marvel Heroes a month or two back, without spending any money. I wasn't particularly impressed, I didn't find it entertaining enough to even carry on paying attention to when it was going to launch. This blog post of yours is the first time I've thought about the game in weeks.

Definitely a very disappointing entry into the ARPG stakes. Far, far behind D3 and Path of Exile (I didn't particularly like Torchlight 2, either).

Xintia said...

I know Marvel Heroes isn't a real MMO in the strictest sense, but it is certainly an example of how NOT to do free-to-play. I was looking at adding to my list of games I "wander" through, but after their hyper-aggressive and somewhat dishonest sales pitches, I may not give it more than a cursory inspection. I certainly won't be spending a dime on it. Do the developers really think there are enough comic book fanboys out there to support this? I guess so.

Green Armadillo said...

@Xintia: Worth noting that their last product was Marvel Super Hero Squad, their version of Free Realms/Clone Wars Adventures targeted at kids. Also worth noting that there were non-trivial numbers of people who dropped the $200 on Marvel Heroes, and perhaps you could even have made a case in principle that someone who is indecisive with money to spare would benefit from this package.

Personally, though, I'm with you - this is a game I wanted to like, and a game I was excited about the first I heard of it, only to be more and more concerned the more I've heard since.

ingvai said...

If you still want to buy the Punchclops starter pack, it is still available to purchase (with the 90s costume) for $20. Only difference from the previous offer is that you only get $10 of extra in-game currency instead of $15.

I bought a $60 pack. Have been playing in beta since late-March. The game has improved by leaps and bounds since then. I find the game very enjoyable. I was greatly annoyed by Tokengate, but the developers listened to the community and eventually did the right thing.

Also worth noting, you will get a second random starter hero after you finish the tutorial mission. Even if you don't pay a dime, you will have some character variety.

Green Armadillo said...

@Ingvai: This post got written in large part because I was considering this option. According to beta pricing, Punchclops would cost $9, so throw in the $10 in currency and his STASH tab and the current deal is basically that I buy $20 of stuff and get the costume as a throw-in.

This unfortunately doesn't solve the issue of whether I would enjoy playing him (probably not, other than the cosmetic factor, this seems to be a game where I'd rather melee). Or the general lack of confidence in these folks as people to give money to based on their performance to date. Also, while they were forced to walk back Tokengate, they are standing by the idea that in a game where you don't make original characters because the point is to play established characters from the IP, they are willing and able to charge more for characters people actually want to play.

Overall, my guess is that there will almost certainly be sales on existing stuff and new options added to the store frequently. I'll pass for now, try the game for free, and at least if I pay more later I'll be making an informed decision to do so.

A final note - I'm seeing conflicting information on the forums and Reddit concerning whether additional starter heroes are still awarded by the first-time quests, or whether this was removed for live. Part of the confusion may be that everyone in the game at the moment is an ultimate pack holder with access to all the heroes. Will be curious if you still have the same experience when you get in tomorrow.

ingvai said...

Daredevil was my quest reward for the Raft on live this morning. I think the quest reward is a random starter that you don't already have.

For the $60 I spent, I now have Cable, Captain America, Colossus, Cyclops, Daredevil, Jean Grey, Storm, and Wolverine, with enough in-game cash to get another hero or three. Not bad, but I know I like the game :)

Green Armadillo said...

If I'd been watching closely enough to find out about the Valentine's promo, I would have taken that no question - probably the $20 Wolverine starter with Scott and Jean and Thing as the free starter to cover fast melee, bruiser, and ranged. Wasn't tracking the game that closely day-to-day that far out. Oh well, a studio that ran this many promotions pre-launch is unlikely to stop just because pre-sales are over - I fully expect we'll see sales kick in once they get their server issues settled.

Green Armadillo said...

Then again... $20 plus $5-10 later on additional G's would cover Cyclops, free starter Thing, and any one additional hero (or more with some of the cheaper options) based on what I feel my gaps are with any in-game drops I get. If heroes go on sale for 20% off, I might not even need the extra $5-10. So really, the costume and Cyclops' STASH tab are free if I plan to pay at least $20 for the game and unlock Cyclops. This may be a case to be made that I suck up the fact that it's a suboptimal choice (both business model and gameplay) because it's a licensed IP and thus it's worth it to play the character I want to play.

Wonder if they'll bungle the early access for basic starter packages too and offer compensation for that as well?

Yeebo said...

I haven't read anything that convinces me that this new "MMO" is better than the marvel superheroes (ultimate alliance) and X-men rogue-alikes that came with dozens of characters for free a few years ago.

ingvai said...

Looking at the cash shop right now. Here are the current prices of the heroes: $6 - any extra starter heroes and Black Widow; $9 - Black Panther, Cable, Ms. Marvel, Punisher; $12 - Cap. Am., Hulk, Rocket Raccoon, Thor, Wolvie; $20 - Deadpool, Iron Man, Spidey.

I can't see and am not 100% on the prices for Colossus, Cyclops, and JG. I think they are $9, $9, and $12, but don't hold me to that.

Pre-game offers and later sales always end up screwing someone. People are very rarely lucky enough to make the optimal choice, especially without full information.

Green Armadillo said...

@Yeebo: There is certainly a bad case scenario in which the game is no better than its offline ancestors, but I'd take issue with "for free" - the games in question retailed for $50-60. Having a dozen characters in those games was a mixed blessing, in that I'd feel I needed to level ALL of them, even the ones I didn't like, so I'd have options. If I pay half as much (or possibly nothing, though I'm not going this route) and get all the content, in exchange for being limited to the 2-3 characters who were my favorites anyway, I don't think that's a horrible deal. Meanwhile, there is a chance that open grouping and social features will actually add something to the action RPG genre.

@Ingvai: Thanks for checking the prices! Someone posted the same numbers (including your guesses) on the forums, so those are probably the numbers, at least for now. (Half surprised there isn't a step in between $12 and $20.) And thus my logic. Say I wanted to play Cyclops and Wolverine:
Founder's pack: $20 Cyclops pack + $5 for extra G's = Two heroes, costume and stash for Cyclops, 300 G's left over (assuming full price for Wolverine)
Post-launch: $20 G's + $5 G's = 2600 G's = Two heroes, 500 G's left over (assuming full prices for both heroes, you actually end up behind if you then pay 350 G's for a character stash tab)
It's approximately even if you don't care about the costume. Slightly better if you want Jean or Ms. Marvel (the two 1200 pointers left in the starter packs).

mindofyngwe said...

Not to plug my own blog, but I have some tips on there for first-time players. Check the section on Reserving Judgment. What I say about Cyke (as well as the other parts of the game) is still largely true. The fun level for him jumps with some key skills at levels 6 and 10.

Also, the group dynamics are more like GW2 than WoW. The game really shines when playing in a group, whether you are partied up or not. The "LFG tool" is in the Gameplay Options menu. You can check a box to auto-party you in instances. I have had good experiences with it so far, and it is worth checking out. The worst I got was a couple people who were a little too "go go go." Other than that, good experiences with the LFG.