Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Analyzing the Marvel Heroes Advance Pack

There was an interesting discussion amongst Syl, Chris, and Tobold last week about the relative values of games, especially considering gamers with different levels of income.  Marvel Heroes' new Advance Pack - which I have elected to purchase - is as interesting a case study as any. 
The Good
So why did I buy this thing?  A few reasons, chief amongst them are convenience and flexibility.
  • Testing a new hero currently requires a separate 12 GB client install of the test center client, some patience to await the next testing cycle, and the better part of an hour reading tooltips, setting up hotbars, and playing through low-level content (that I now know very very well).  Even in this much time there's no guarantee that you'll have a good sense for how the hero plays at higher levels.  All the while you're picking up loot (including Eternity Splinters, used to unlock heroes in-game) that will be wiped for the next Test build.  We're talking probably 10 hours or so of time that I would have spent on Test for these dozen characters.  
  • Building on that point, making the small purchasing decisions can be hard.  There's always the chance that next month's new hero would be better, and so it becomes harder to say yes, spend your 400 splinters today on hero X.  It's easier to make a big decision that the game writ large is likely worth $100-130 over the next year.  
  • With all the heroes for the next year unlocked, I'm free to spend my splinters on whatever else I want.  In this case, I immediately hit the random hero box twice with the splinters I had saved to unlock Nightcrawler in January.  (As you own more heroes, your odds of getting a new hero from the box go down - therefore my odds will be getting progressively worse from here on out and the time to gamble was today.)  I got Phoenix - one of my highest priorities - and Human Torch (second tier of my want list, but unique enough that I'll consider playing him now that I have him).  
  • Bottom line, I'm now free to try many more characters that fit the model of the Torch - interesting but not quite high enough to ever make it to the top of my shopping list.

The Bad:
The most valuable portion of the pack - the upcoming heroes - can be earned in game.  Between this and the bundling of 12-13 characters, most players will find that they have spent more than they might have otherwise, and/or that some of the savings are off-set by having purchased characters you don't want or need. 

There are also risks because this content will be en route for a while to come - you may not like all of the costumes and you could give up on the game (though, as a non-subscription title, the heroes will wait for you if you return).  In my case, I've spent $70 on the game in a relatively small portion of 2013, but that would not have translated directly into spending $130 (probably more like $150 if there's anything else I want from the store in the next year) over a full year - at some point you would normally have all the heroes you need for the foreseeable future and stop buying more. 

Also, one bit of bad news whether or not you buy the new pack - if the hero you want is not on the list (which has two question marks, one of which is almost certainly Rogue), there's a good chance that you're going to be waiting for over a year for them to be added to the game. 

The Cost
Yes, you are almost certainly paying for at least some stuff you would not have purchased.  That said, the marketing folks priced this thing aggressively.  Part of the studio's revised strategy since launch has been to get new characters into players hands - at significantly reduced or even no cost - so that those players will keep playing and consider paying for storage, costumes, and more characters. 

I expected the bundle to be $120 for twelve "hero packs", which have historically contained the hero, their launch day alternate costume, and their STASH tab (for gear storage) along with some goodies.  They actually went with a $130 price tag that includes a thirteenth hero pack as a pre-order bonus.  I'm prepared to accept Ghost Rider with his stash and misc stuff for an extra $10 given that the hero and stash are priced at $17. 

More surprisingly, they elected to offer a just-the-basics bundle of just the dozen heroes and their STASH tabs (optional when you just have a few heroes, start to become much more significant when you have a dozen new heroes inbound) for a slightly lower $100 price tag.  If you don't ever like or purchase costumes and did not want Ghost Rider (or don't buy the pack before his deadline), this could be an appealing option.  With Ghost Rider, though, you don't have to like very many of the included costumes for an extra $30 to be a very good deal. 

Finally, the comparison.  Retail prices for digital products are arbitrary, especially with the inevitable sales.  That said, $100 buys you 11,500 G's and $130 buys just under 15,000 G's.  At an average price of 900 G's - Ghost rider is coming in at the premium 1350 G's level - $100 is just shy of what you need to get the thirteen heroes.   Thirteen stashes cost another 4,550 G's.  If you actually buy costumes, you are generally looking at 950 G's per.  Either you think of it as saving a fair chunk, or you can think of it as a small discount and then a bunch of costumes thrown in. 

(The big advantage of skipping the bundle and buying the G's instead is the flexibility to choose which things to buy.  Also, you can use any existing currency balances rather than paying the full price in USD (as the new bundle is not available through the in-game store with G's.) 

Bottom Line
At the end of the day, I was definitely going to buy two heroes (Psylocke and Venom) regardless and I was probably going to want to unlock at least four more characters.  I could have spent less by going this route, and perhaps that's what I would have done a few years ago.  Today - with a kid, limited time, and disposable income in my pocket - this particular purchase was not a tough call.   It may or may not have been the correct choice - I'll evaluate in a year - but in the mean time I expect to have some fun as a result of having made it.  Isn't that ultimately the point of playing games? 


Carson 63000 said...

I dunno.. I didn't particularly like Marvel Heroes, but I feel that even if I did, I'd still look at this and say "are those heroes really worth more than everything in Diablo 3, Torchlight 2 put together, plus a few things from Path of Exile's cash shop as well?"

Just seems.. colossally, blisteringly, teeth-grindingly expensive. Reminds me of why so many people say "I don't play free-to-play games.. I can't afford them!"

Green Armadillo said...

I never finished either D3 or Torchlight 1. I'm on my third playthrough of Marvel Heroes with Cyclops and have started playthroughs with three other characters - I have found that the game feels very different with different character kits. So yes, I'd gladly trade in both of those product licenses for more Marvel Heroes G's. :P

Perhaps a better comparison, subscription MMO's routinely offer up extended deals in the $60/6 months range, and also charge a $60 box fee. I.e. the $200 I have now spent on Marvel Heroes is pretty much the same amount that many subscription MMO players pay on day one. (Side note: I actually LIKE the fact that this bundle will be providing new content periodically for the next year or so, versus just giving me a huge bundle of cash store credit and leaving me to figure out how to spend it - that is how you end up wasting money on impulse purchases.)

The costs for storage and costumes are high, largely because those are the only things that actually guarantee revenue for the studio. They've actually consistently lowered the prices on heroes over time (and completely redid the drop system to make it possible to get the specific hero you want in-game with tokens) because encouraging people to play the game makes it more likely that they will stick around and buy more stuff.

Anonymous said...

We have talked about this a bit, and while the Advance Pack is not for me, I fully agree with your reasons for purchasing it.

The ironic thing is, there is a good chance that I will spend $100-$130 over the next year on this game and end up with less in return. I do like the idea of more flexibility for impulse buys, because there is a good chance an awesome costume will release for an existing character than I really want, and I can use my bank of Eternity Splinters for the few new heroes I would like (mostly X-related).

While $100-$130 sounds like a lot for any game, much less a F2P game, the point is, it is your choice to spend it. No one is forcing it on you. You could just as easily grind the Splinters to buy each of those heroes over the next year without spending any cash. The game allows players to spend what they want and gives them responsibility over how they manage their game time versus their money spent on the game. Your choice to spend money now versus my choice to wait and see is a good example of how people can play the game differently, spend money differently, and still keep the developer in business. It is a great, flexible system.

And Carson, as a F2P game, it is always worth dropping in every few months for a look-see. The devs have been constantly evolving the game and have added more content and positive balancing changes in six months than many games add in their first two years.

Green Armadillo said...

I definitely understand waiting, even if it means paying more. I could have had significantly more bonus G's for about $10 less than what I actually spent - maybe more costumes too, I don't remember the exact terms - if I had bought the Founder's Pack version of the X-Force bundle back in time for the Valentine's promo. No regrets though, as there was not enough information at the time (or immediately post launch) to say that I'd get $60 of value out of that purchase.

The other big thing about the Advance Pack is that it contains enough of a mix of definite buys (Venom, Psylocks) and probable buys (Nightcrawler, Magneto, maybe Ghost Rider if on sale, Rogue if she's TBD #1) that I can reasonably hope the remaining characters make this bundle pay off. Will be very curious to see what they do going forward - deliver all twelve ASAP so they can sell the pack for the next twelve, or try to sprinkle in some non-included characters (in addition to Nova) to sell AP owners for cash. That said, I have a hard time thinking of 6-8 heroes that they would have to include to convince me to buy the 2015 edition of this pack - it could be done if you let me spam all my favorite not-yet-released X-Men, but if 7-8 of the slots need to be non-mutants then it's hard to see why I would buy another bundle.