Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hard Sell for the NDA'ed Marvel Heroes

A few weeks ago, a $20 starter pack to the upcoming Marvel Heroes game was on the list of things I was thinking I would probably purchase later this year - I figured that if the game was worth my time at all, it was going to be worth $20 to play as the characters I like rather than the free characters.  Seeing how they've run the marketing campaign since calls into question whether the studio is pushing hard to make money now, before the NDA comes down.  It also leaves no question that they are treating their customers in a way that I am not willing to be treated.

Better buy fast, before we make the deal worse
The initial presale plans were announced on January 9th.  At the time, the $20 single-hero package was described as "over $30 in value" including one hero, two costumes (one of which presumably comes standard on the hero, so really 1 extra costume), $10 in currency, and $10 in "bonus currency" (the larger packages came with correspondingly larger amounts).  The announcement stated that it was a "limited time" offer that "won't last forever".  

Apparently, the "limited time" ran out two weeks later with no advance notice, on January 23rd, and the "bonus currency" disappeared from all of the packages without any announcement.  There was no public comment on the situation for a few days, and then the studio came back on January 28th with a new offer.  In response to "huge demand", they're adding only $5 in "bonus currency" back to the bundles, noting that the original offer was higher for their "earliest adopters".  

The new announcement specifically alludes to how short the first "limited time" was, but declines to provide a firm deadline for the new offer.  They also made the new offer retroactive to January 23rd, suggesting that some players paid for a package in the interim and only noted after the fact that there had been an un-announced change to what they got for what they got for their money.

Context: What is lurking behind the NDA?
While all this is going on, there is also some sort of testing conducted under a non-disclosure agreement.  All we know are a few tidbits from a press tour that did not go so well.  A few articles:
  • Forbes' Erik Kain: "Marvel Heroes fails to provide a rewarding, fun action game experience - at least so far."  
  • Massively's Justin Olivetti: "I recognized what it was trying to be almost instantly: a superhero-flavored Diablo.  And you know what? That's what it is. Whether that's a horrible, shirt-rending event or something that sounds like a cool mix is up to you. "
  • Massively's Eliot Lefebvre: "Marvel Heroes isn't a heroic marvel" (article title)
  • Rock Paper Shotgun: And throughout there was one thought in my head: why did they let journalists look at this now? It’s possibly not the most positive thought."
Almost all of the pieces make the point that the game remains in development and could improve (Eliot suggests the issue is a design flaw that may not be fixable).  Still, I'm struck by how consist all of the reviews were.  This mid-December press tour is all the information that we have about a game scheduled to launch in "Spring 2013".  If the developers know that what's hiding behind the NDA is not going to be well-received, that certainly puts a different spin on their push to collect people's pre-purchase money ASAP, and especially before they are forced to drop the NDA.

Purchasing decisions in the pre-purchase era
As a Marvel fan, I would love for this game to be fun to play.  Instead, the picture I'm getting is a game that is neither a good action game (too grindy - kill 100 mobs!) or a good use of the Marvel setting (characters that are basically cosmetic covers over a small handful of archetypes, even if that means the Hulk can't punch harder than a non-super-powered street thug).  On the merits alone, I do not think it is a good idea to make a $20 non-refundable purchase to secure an extra $5 in currency.

As to the marketing effort, pre-order and pre-purchase campaigns are relatively established.  Historically, these promotions could be good for the consumer in the specific case where resources were limited.  When the store is going to sell out of NES cartridges or the server is not going to have the capacity to handle the launch rush, it's perfectly reasonable to allocate these scarce resources to those who were most dedicated and most willing to sign up in advance.  Over time, though, we're seeing more and more deadlines like the one that Marvel is offering that do not appear to have any basis in scarcity or benefit to the consumer and do appear to be timed to encourage a decision with as little information as possible.  MMO players are as individuals critical thinkers who are seldom reluctant to share an opinion, and I continue to be surprised that we as a group tolerate this treatment.

(Tangentially related story - we are now a month past SWTOR's expansion "pre-order" deadline, with no release date and no meaningful information about the expansion's content.  Questionable reasoning aside, I suppose one cannot fault Bioware's communication - they said the five days of "early access" would be reserved for those to paid before January 7th, and there has not been any hint to suggest that customers who pay in full between January 8th and whenever the expansion comes out will be allowed into the new content any faster.  I suppose someone might spin this as an improvement over the game's original launch, in which players were admitted to the headstart in the order in which they paid, but with no transparency as to when exactly that was going to occur.)


  1. I will try Marvel Heroes when it launches because, like you , I am Marvel fan. I am not optimistic, though.

    I am considerably more of a DC fan (50 years and counting - really, ask my mother who had to read the speech bubbles from Superboy out loud to me before I'd even started school. She still complains about it) and while I certainly don't think DCUO is perfect, it really did resonate with me. I think they got the better deal.

  2. I'm certainly interested to try out Marvel Heroes (I'm a Marvel fan, I'm a Diablo fan), but I don't think I've ever been drunk or deranged enough in my life to pay money for a free-to-play title before I had a chance to play it!!

  3. I sprung for the $60 Uncanny X-men pack. I originally was not going to, since I haven't played the game yet, but I did some more digging and found some fairly positive reviews. In addition, I understand that a lot of beta improvements will be going through in February (makes you wonder why they let journalists review this build). It looks to me like an online X-men Legends, which I played the shit out of back in the day, so I will give it a crack.

    Also, if you signed up on the web site, you should have gotten two advance warnings about discontinuing the "bonus currency." I got those, but still didn't buy until the second round, because I didn't see any of the positive reviews until then.

    Hopefully, I am not feeling ripped off in a few months.

  4. What has been promised is a Marvel themed rogue-alike. The previews I have read seem identical to the reviews of the console marvel super hero rogue-alikes we got a few years ago, Marvel Ultimate Alliance being among the most popular. Of course, based on previews, you got more characters and costumes for $60-20 (depending on when you bought it) in MUA then you get for $100+ in this new Marvel "MMO."

    The big weakness of MUA was that all of the characters had to be roughly equal for the purpose of game balance. The end result was that you weren't really playing as superheroes you've read about so much as a Diablo clone featuring characters with abilities vaguely inspired by Marvel superheroes. Nothing I have read convinces me that this new game manages to avoid that pitfall. I strongly suspect that I already have a game that is as good or better sitting on my media shelf (MUA, plus some older X-men themed games).

  5. For anyone who is interested in the game but afraid of putting any money up without playing, there is a pretty large beta weekend going on this weekend. Here is the link:

    This will be my first time playing too. We'll see if that $60 will be worth it :)


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