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A Marvel-lous Announcement?

Richard Aihoshi Posted:
Columns The Free Zone 0

According to multiple reports, it was revealed at a media event late last week that the upcoming MMOG based on Marvel’s popular superhero universe will be free to play.  I suspect most readers of this site pay enough attention to what’s going on with prominent titles in the space so that, like it or not, this news didn’t come as much of a surprise.  Following the launch of Lego Universe, developer Gazillion had already stated its focus looking forward would be F2P.  Reading between the lines then wasn’t difficult, and didn’t leave much room for doubt.

One thing I did find interesting about this news is how it was reported.  On Marvel’s site, the news section shows that a teaser for the April 28 event was posted on the 25th, with the headline “Marvel Universe MMO: Introducing the Writer”.  One might take this as an indication of the intended primary focus.  While I know little about Brian Michael Bendis, he’s apparently a big name in the comics world, so introducing him as the head writer would seem like a fairly big deal.

Or maybe not.  I looked at four reports on the event.  Admittedly, this is a small and incomplete sample.  However, I found it interesting that all of them chose to headline the F2P angle rather than the introduction of the writer.  I can appreciate that the respective writers did so in the belief it would garner more attention from their readers.  Instead of highlighting and concentrating on the actual new news, they prioritized the confirmation of a piece of old news.  I’m in no position to be holier than though about this.  While I can’t recall any specific instances, I have no doubt I’ve done the same kind of thing myself.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t sit completely right knowing that it happened, and wondering if the writers thought about or even realized it.

Details about the revenue model were apparently not forthcoming.  My guess is that it will include some form of monthly membership option.  Yes, I’m fully aware this doesn’t exactly represent crawling far out on the proverbial tree limb.  What struck me, however, is that as far as I can tell, neither of the two companies used any wording other than “free to play”.  So, even if the assumption they’re not planning to go the “classic” F2P route is correct, it seems they prefer to call their version F2P without attaching any qualifiers.  I trust they’re aware this is likely to bring them under verbal attack by the small but vocal minority for whom this is a particularly sensitive matter.

On Friday, the two companies followed up by launching their browser-based MMO, Super Hero Squad Online.  No surprise!  It’s F2P with a monthly membership option.  While it’s ostensibly targeted at kids, I’m curious to see if it will find a broader audience, such as Marvel fans of other ages who aren’t serious gamers, and who might not be so quick to regard the mechanics, visuals et al of a web release aimed at younger users as negatives, provided they’re having fun.

In the realm of intriguing coincidences, SOE’s DC Universe Online website was updated with an announcement the same day saying that the current US and European servers will be melded into four super-servers, one for PC and one for PS3 in each region.  The stated reason was to “allow for more opportunities to queue and participate in other group related game mechanics”.  This doesn’t explicitly say it’s meant to address the oft-voiced issue of low server populations, but why else?

From a broader perspective, I wonder if either of Gazillion’s titles will be the breakthrough one that takes superhero MMOGs to an entirely new level of popularity, one closer to the kind of audience potential my gut has long told me is out there.  Unless something unexpected happens, DCUO won’t do so.  For what it’s worth, I thought it could have more appeal than it has shown so far, but didn’t ever expect it to re-shape the MMO landscape.  Champions Online never had a chance.  Even if it had been flawlessly crafted, the IP doesn’t have nearly enough pull.

Obviously, the same can’t be said of the Marvel Universe.  It’s the biggest and best shot.  That’s why I’m pleased both games are F2P.  It removes the up-front barrier to entry that, even though it may seem minor to serious gamers because we’re used to it, can be quite significant for others who are not.  In addition, the browser-based title addresses a lot of hardware-related accessibility concerns.  That still leaves huge questions in areas like learning curves, play mechanics and fun, where all I can do is hope for the best.


Richard Aihoshi

Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.