Are there solutions to the issues facing Marvel’s Avengers to be found in a previous license holder’s title?
I began this article intending to write about the pitfalls so many developers seem to fall into when it comes to launching their new title under the guise of Games as a Service, and focusing mainly on Marvel’s Avengers’ current struggles. However, in examining where Marvel’s Avengers falls short at times, I couldn’t help but think of how a game that was put to rest just under three years ago managed to get so much right.
I loved Marvel Heroes, and more than that I heavily invested into Marvel Heroes, I was almost at a point where my bank should’ve called up to make sure Marvel Heroes wasn’t the name of a fast-talking Nigerian King in desperate need of shuffling around his finances. So when developers Gazillion liquidated and that game was put to rest, I was desperate for something to come along and fill its lofty boots.
So upon announcement, I followed the development of Marvel’s Avengers (At that time The Avengers Project) with a beady eye. Not that there was a great deal to keep an eye out on though, for the majority of development Crystal Dynamics decided that the best form of expectation management was to simply not build up any expectation (however ironically I think this just allows people to speculate and run away with themselves about what games could be). For a while, I was questioning if the game had been cancelled. It took about two years before we would see Marvel’s Avengers again, rearing it’s bashful head at E3 2019, reigniting my hope that this would be the game that scratches that itch for me.
Fast-Forward to the beta (read: glorified pre-order demo) and to the games eventual release, and I’m now, after little over a month, struggling to find the motivation to even open the game. It’s icon slowly slipping further and further to the right on the PlayStation’s quick launch bar. And I’m not the only one in that position, observing the player count over at SteamCharts.com it can be seen that over the last few days there is an average of between 1,000 and 2,000 concurrent players at a time. At its peak, the game was hitting numbers of 28,000. To put those numbers into perspective, at the time of writing there are 52,000 concurrent players of Destiny 2, a game also delivered as a service and was facing issues on launch.
So what is it that Marvel’s Avengers could do, to regain traction with its player base? I’ve scoured my brain and come up with a few examples of where Marvel Heroes got it right.
Drop the palette swap.
Marvel’s Avengers seeks to offset the cost of future development by in part giving us the option of purchasing various cosmetics for our heroes. However, when you look at the costumes available you’re likely to notice the vast majority of these costumes are palette swaps.
Don’t get me wrong, some of these skins can look pretty good, but considering what they could potentially be offering to us, switching Captain America’s suit from blue to brown isn’t exactly a thrilling notion.
Marvel Heroes was flush with character costumes, drawing deeply from each character’s comic book history and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Classic styles and looks, spanning all timelines and story arcs. Storm had around 12 unique costumes alone, even characters of lesser importance like Squirrel Girl had enough costumes available to make you feel unique in your choices.
But more than that, hero costumes, were not JUST hero costumes. When Gazillion released a skin for Dr Strange based on his MCU design, it also changed the look of his powers to match. Some costumes would change the character entirely, one particular costume for Captain America would see him become female Marvel hero American Dream, along with new voice lines and animations. Costumes were capable of more in Marvel Heroes, they were desirable, they were interesting and they were far more likely to get you to spend your money on them than what currently resides in the Marvel’s Avengers store.
Bigger risk, Bigger reward.
At present Marvel’s Avengers has four challenge levels (1-4) and seemingly very little in terms of reasons to attempt missions at anything higher than challenge level 1. There are slight increases in loot level depending on challenge picked, however, the main difference in challenge levels is the number of resources you can from chests around the map (Challenge 3 and 4 give a 125% and 150% increase respectfully). Common to legendary gear appears to drop at the same rate regardless of challenge level chosen.
Marvel Heroes on the other hand would reward you for taking on more difficult missions, by altering the drop rate of different loot tiers. If you were aiming for cosmic gear (Marvel Heroes’ equivalent of legendary) your best bet was to unlock cosmic difficulty and play missions at that level. It gave you a way of consistently getting rewarded for the risk you took, while also giving a different feel to the missions you had already undertaken. Yes, it was still grindy, but it was goal orientated. You were also rewarded with bonus XP increasing in amount for each level of difficulty above normal.
Marvel’s Avengers could do well to make use of their challenge levels better, imagine knowing Exotic drops will only fall from challenge level 4 missions and having to work towards building up to that level to secure the highest tiered drops in the game. It’s a system that makes you feel rewarded for the effort and time you put into it, and it could do wonders to keep players coming back each day to improve on their gear.
Add Freemium to Premium.
Marvel’s Avengers has two types of currency Units and Credits. Units are in-game currency and are plentifully found in chests and as mission rewards, you can use them to buy gear from vendors and can even use them to buy select cosmetics from the helicarrier when swinging by. Credits are the currency used to purchase challenge cards and marketplace cosmetics, if you want these, you either have to earn them through challenge card rewards or by using real cash (Think V-Bucks).
Marvel Heroes had numerous currencies used for various purposes, however, the main three I point to are Credits, Gs, and Eternity Splinters. Credits in this game were the equivalent to units of Marvel Avengers used to buy gear and crafting items, Gs were the premium currency used for unlocking new characters or purchasing cosmetics. Pretty standard so far, but then there are Eternity Splinters. Eternity Splinters would drop in-game, and you could use them to purchase things only purchasable otherwise by Gs, mainly character unlocks. The dropping of Eternity Splinters was timed, meaning you would usually have to wait 5-10 minutes or so of game time between them dropping, and when they did drop they would usually drop 1 or 5 at a time.
I spent many hours grinding out Eternity Splinters to unlock new characters, and I know if I was consistently rewarded in Marvel’s Avengers for playing the game with currency to spend in the marketplace, I’d probably be putting in the hours there too.
Variety is Propriety.
Marvel’s Avengers has seemingly the entire Marvel library to draw from, and while AIM and MODOK have been a fantastic initial foe, the game sorely lacks in terms of enemy variety.
Marvel Heroes managed to do this in abundance, in one mission you’re coming face to face with Ultron Sentries, the next you’re taking on mutant purifiers, after that you tackle HYDRA, there’s frost giants, dark elves, member of the hand, and maggia mobsters. We all know the mechanics of a lot of these enemies remains unchanged, that it’s mostly cosmetic smoke and mirrors hiding the same basic enemy handling, but it keeps the game feeling like there’s more going on, that the world is full of more than AIM Beekeepers and Synthoids.
One area that Marvel’s Avengers seriously needs to work on is its villain roster. Taskmaster and Abomination were fantastic to see in early trailers, but I didn’t expect them to be the only real villains of the game (in terms of the Avengers Initiative anyway). Marvel Heroes managed to cram dozens upon dozens of recognizable (and some very unrecognizable) and fun villains into its gameplay, we’re talking everyone from Magneto to Batroc the Leaper.
Plum the depths of Marvel’s character library and give people the ability to feel like they can take on somebody new every day, and they’ll want to..
Don’t give up.
I paint a rosy picture of Marvel Heroes, I know I do. Now that it’s gone it’s easy to see all of its pluses and forget a lot of the negatives. But Marvel Heroes was not perfect, no game is. It took time for them to build up the library of content that I fondly look back on now. The game made considerable changes to itself over time, readjusting visuals and gameplay and more.
I enjoy Marvel’s Avengers, I think it’s a game that’s brimming with potential. While I’m feeling a little burnt out for now I know I will be one of the players that Crystal Dynamics’ Studio Head Scot Amos feels confident will return within the next few months to experience their new lineup of content.
Don’t be afraid to make changes, don’t be afraid of trying something new, and don’t give up until they turn off the lights.