Leading up to the shutdown of Gazillion Entertainment, I was more of a prominent fixture on the Console forum boards, having been drawn into it while it was still in the console beta. As the beta progressed and launch approached, all the familiar feelings of a game shaping up to go live materialized. As I’ve been playing games for decades, the red flags of what Gazillion did were stark, and often. As we currently live in an unprecedented era of gaming, and by unprecedented I mean an era of gaming where monetization is affluent, in many cases, when the game is not only unfinished, but these days monetization happens with nary more than an idea or grasp of a game is apparent, I still believed that brand integrity meant something. Oh, how wrong I turned out to be.
Lesson 1: Integrity is “subjective”. That subject is always money.
Marvel, Disney, Sony, Microsoft, these are big companies. Huge ambitious companies, some would even consider too big to fail at this point. Unfortunately lending such beloved licenses to a development studio that never seemed to get a handle on development was easily Marvels biggest mistake. While the PC version was rife with issues early on, and ongoing inasmuch that the development team reimagined mechanics and even relaunched the game to the point where confidence was already at a low point leading up to the secretive console release, Gazillion was adamant that the Console version of the game was the standard they wanted to emulate back to PC in the future. Between this, and the fact that Marvel made a deal in June to extend the Marvel License (barely 2 months after the console launch) it isn’t way out of nowhere that consumer confidence was high enough to put hard earned dollars into what appeared to be a game with some lasting appeal.
However it all turned sour when the license was pulled just 4 months later, and Marvel, Disney and Gazillion all kept players in the dark until late November. Questions swirled as to why such a decision was made, but also why packs were still available if a shutdown was imminent. Why Disney purportedly clamped any mention of it from Gazillion in November, and it all compounded on the players when Sony rejected refund offers, only to cave in and offer wallet refunds of 3 months of play time, when Microsoft was automatically processing full refunds for all purchases on the game. Did Gazillion believe they could get away with some extra cash in the coffer by letting the purchases ride after they knew the game was being shut down? Did Sony think they would get away with denying refunds with no recourse? Did Marvel really believe Gazillion could turn around poor sales in only 4 months after renewing the license? In all situations integrity was thrown out in favor of how to keep money in their pocket, and only when the uproar over the poor handling of the situation began to make waves in the media did we see some any response.
Lesson 2: A game with no direction, will likely never find direction.
As mentioned I was in the beta of the console version. During that time, I saw strange decisions being made on areas like character design, monetization, and community interaction. One of my most memorable “WTF” moments was when gazillion decided to put all costumes into loot boxes, and then run a special on those loot boxes. The special on loot boxes was something along the lines of forty or fifty dollars. While most people were wary of purchasing loot boxes, it seemed par for the course when it came to games these days. Where it went wrong was when, just days after the loot box sale, a message went out that the loot boxes were changing to become more enticing. This wasn’t the only change to the loot box tables, but it was the most questionable. If you wanted the more rewarding loot boxes, you had better be willing to pay for them. They later added a way to earn those boxes through the game without purchasing them (albeit in limited supply), but this sorely stood out to me as a company that was either extremely underhanded and money hungry, or a team that just didn’t know where they were trying to go.
The red flags continued to grow. By the time the Omega Prestige patch hit, it was fully apparent they had no clue how to keep players engrossed in the game. With each new announcement of a feature people expected some kind of game plan or roadmap perhaps. The community managers’ tight lipped responses weren’t due to him keeping his cards close to the vest, but now I believe that Gazillion just had no real end game they were heading towards.
Lesson 3: There is no “buying your way” out of a bad game.
This is a tough lesson to learn for some. It was certainly a tough lesson for me. I enjoyed Marvel Heroes Omega. It was a game I could jump into with characters I loved. It wasn’t City of Heroes, or DC Universe Online. I didn’t create my own character, yet the nostalgia I had for the Marvel intellectual property and its characters tethered me to the game, at least casually, in the end. Within the first several weeks of playing it was apparent that the game was scant on things to do. The diabloesque loot tables and poor drop rates for truly special items made the game repetitive and boring. To avoid burnout, you either moved on to a different game, or you put a little money in to obtain new characters to rehash the same content. I preferred the latter, being a super hero fan such as I, but the money spent wasn’t a panacea for the pain of repetitive play.
I believe for many these days, especially in the days of loot boxes and “Ultimate Edition” online games, monetary attachments and accomplishments are just as integral to longevity in these games as time investments once were. I’ve actually seen this first hand from friends to old guild mates. The phrase, “I’ve spent so much money in this game, I’m not going to stop playing completely,” permeates some game communities from WoW to Fortnite. I’m not saying that any of these games are bad by any means, but I am saying that the way out of a game you’re not enjoying doesn’t start by finding the bottom of your wallet. Of course, there is something to be said for funding games you enjoy and want to see grow but, at least in my case, the nostalgia goggles blinded me just enough that I refused to depart from a ship that was not only sinking, but was on the wrong course to begin with.
Now that Gazillion is shut down, and Marvel Heroes is no more, we’ve had some of the developers speak out into what was happening behind closed doors. We hear stories of characters and mechanics that never made it into the game. We hear stories of the ineptitude of management. My time on the forums of Marvel Heroes just happened to be one of the best experiences I had with the game –while not directly having any relation with the game. The Marvel Heroes Community was welcoming, passionate, quirky and at times a little snarky. My heart also goes out to the developers that lost their jobs at such an inopportune moment with the holidays approaching. Despite the severe developmental missteps the team deserved better. As players, looking forward to new games on the horizon, we too deserve better. Have you learned any lessons from past experiences with developers?