Marvel Heroes: Master Marketers

Magneto's new costume: Money Manipulation

Magneto’s new costume: Money Manipulation

Since Dungeons and Dragons Online opened the floodgates of mainstream F2P MMOs, we’ve seen a lot of gimmicks used by studios to fund their “free” games–pay gates, character restrictions, in-game advertisements, pay-for-hats, buy-to-play, and the dreaded and ever nebulous pay-to-win–but they generally have one thing in common: annoy the player into opening their wallet to make things easier or the experience better in some way. Then there’s Marvel Heroes, which applies the opposite strategy. At launch two years ago (has it really been that long?) I was initially really excited about it because I had just finished playing through Torchlight II for the second time, wishing there was an MMO like it the whole time. Marvel Heroes seemed poised to fill this void, but it had a pretty rough launch. Heroes were really overpriced, and the only way to earn them in-game was from a random hero token that dropped (rarely) from bosses. On top of that, some of the heroes (like my original starting character, Fantastic Four’s The Thing) were both boring and underpowered. Disappointed, I quit the game for about six months. When I came back, I discovered that something magical had happened that it feels like we see less and less of in MMOs these days: the developers listened to the community and made the game better. Hero prices were reduced, and hero token drops were replaced with eternity splinters that players could spend on the hero (and later, teamups) they wanted to buy. Heroes have been balanced and rebalanced on a regular basis, which is crucial when you essentially have an MMO with nearly fifty classes, and they’ve done a surprisingly good job of it. They’ve added multiplayer mini-games and PvP that are actually fun and not just something to keep players from complaining.

All that to say, the thing that makes Marvel Heroes so appealing is not its story (which is mediocre), not its combat (which is fun, but not very deep), it’s the feeling that the company behind it actually cares about their game and the people who play it. The game basically rides on the goodwill of its players, and Gazillion knows it. They give away mountains of free stuff, not just through in-game drops, but daily login rewards and coupon codes through email blasts as well. They’re even giving away a free hero of your choice today to celebrate the second anniversary, and we’re also getting a free pet and team-up in the coming weeks. They do anything it takes to keep the player coming back. And the crazy thing is that it works. A popular sentiment among players is “I’ve gotten so much gameplay time and free loot from this game, I’m ok with putting $10 in the Gazillion tip jar for a costume from time to time.” Personally, as both a player and a developer I would prefer this kind of model than the aforementioned annoyance model. Granted, Marvel Heroes probably doesn’t have the highest development cost on the planet, so maybe “success” is measured by a different standard than other MMOs, but still, they don’t show any signs of slowing down.

They’re also good at removing barriers to players enjoying the game. For instance, the most recent patch has removed respec potions, which were more of an annoyance than anything, and given how often they were handed out for promos and quest rewards, I can’t imagine they made much money on them anyway. The only sad thing about free respecs is that “Retcon Device” is the coolest name for a respec potion ever. I hope they figure out something else to use the term for. Additionally, they recently made all unowned heroes free to play up to level 10. I had a lot of fun just messing around with the ones I didn’t own, and, knowing full well that I was falling for their fiendish schemes, ended up buying Wolverine while he was on sale (not a huge fan of the character, but I’m as big a sucker for a DoTs and HoTs class as I am for sales) despite the fact that most of the characters I already own are under level 25.

Marvel Heroes may not be my favorite MMO ever, and it will probably never be my go-to game, but the studio really has really nailed the fine art of making the game a purely fun experience.

P.S. Dear Marvel, forget Ant-Man, can we please get a Squirrel Girl movie? Thanks.