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Michael Bitton: Marvel and the Unfortunate State of ‘Social Games’

Column By Michael Bitton on May 14, 2014

Despite working at Zynga for a time, I was never really bitten by the social games bug. Most of the ‘games’ really never came off as games, but obvious cash grabs designed purely around addictive game design to keep people playing – and more importantly, paying. All this happened while F2P finally began to be a legitimate business model in the West, mostly due to a number of Western developers leading the way with more consumer friendly approaches to the model, instead of the blatant Pay-to-Win implementations that most gamers were apprehensive about.

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Even with the F2P model now popular in the West, social game developers continue to take the consumer hostile approach with their games, monetizing anything they possibly can. The games themselves, on the other hand, have been evolving. Games like Playdom’s Marvel Avengers Alliance are actually well crafted experiences full of content and nuanced gameplay. Avengers Alliance, in particular, was the one social game I was willing to try. I’m a huge Marvel fan and Final Fantasy is one of my favorite game series, so a fusion of the two (with a bit of Pokemon thrown in) was incredibly hard for me to resist. Still, I’ve been at odds with the game ever since. It really is an excellent RPG with a huge cast of characters to play, but the business model remains clearly steeped in the trappings of every other social game out there. I began playing the game a year ago, and after finding myself addicted for a time, I had to force myself to stop. It just became too much. The business model won out over the fun of the game for me, and that’s truly unfortunate.

A couple of days ago, Playdom announced a spinoff of the popular social RPG, called Marvel Avengers Alliance Tactics. Take the basic premise of Avengers Alliance and instead of fusing it with turn-based Final Fantasy style combat, Tactics fuses it with the 3D turn-based combat found in games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Great! Now they’re making a Marvel game based on another series I love – XCOM. Tactics is currently in beta and unavailable in the US, so I can’t jump in and try it for myself, but I can already see myself ending up addicted once again when the game does become available in the US.

It’s regrettable that Marvel is extending its properties into these less seen game genres using social game developers that are tying their blatant Pay-to-Win business practices to them. I feel there are a substantial number of gamers out there who would love to play these games, but like me, are incredibly put off by the business models attached to them. So what gives, Marvel? I’m certain these games would turn a profit as fully fledged PC or console titles. Heck, I wouldn’t mind opening up my wallet to pay for reasonable things like new characters, costumes, and even new content. But being nickel and dimed for every little thing – even my ability to just play the game when I feel like it, just ruins the experience for me.

To make matters worse, Avengers Alliance was released on mobile (and I am assuming Tactics will end up there as well) with progress and purchases not carrying over from the Facebook and now defunct Playdom versions of the game. Being charged for everything once was bad enough, but expecting people to pay up twice if they want to take their experience with them on the go is simply insulting.

Have you played Avengers Alliance? If so, what’s your take on all this? If not, have you avoided playing the title (even though you’d like to) due its terrible business model? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB

 

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