Over the last year or so, Marvel Heroes has definitely come a long way. After being almost universally panned at launch, David Brevik and the team at Gazillion buckled down, updating it almost every week. Now that both the game and the community have turned around, the studio celebrated hitting the 1-year milestone with a relaunch, renaming the MMO-action RPG as Marvel Heroes 2015. But it hasn’t been an easy journey.
“When we launched and it wasn’t very good, we made the conscious decision to open up the forums to everyone in the entire company, and start communicating with the audience, and asking what they would like to see improved, and prioritizing that and fixing things. That constant communication created a very close community. The devs are constantly on the forums talking to people; I personally stream 3 or 4 nights a week playing with the community. I invite people in and we play together, I answer questions, and so on.”
“I feel that those close ties really got us through those dark times, and now people are singing our praises for not only being very close to the community, but also all the changes we’ve made, and how rapidly we make them.”
While many new features like endgame modes and content like Midtown Manhattan have been added in the past year, Brevik was eager to show off their latest addition – raiding. It’s an action-RPG first, revolving around Surtur, a fiery demon from Asgard. Four encounters were included with the initial version, which was designed to be easy enough for players to queue up for. A much tougher version, Brevik added, will be patched in within a few weeks.
According to Brevik, it’s a combination of a several factors that have enabled Gazillion to stay responsive, both with responding to feedback and adding new content. “A lot of the team, I’ve worked with for a long time, and so they’re super-talented. I think comes down to having a great team to support us, as well as being given the freedom, money and power to actually make it happen. The people that invested in this company really believe in the IP, and believe in our product, and believe in us. Having that support to make our game successful has really helped a lot - it’s the reason we’ve been able to do what we do.”
I also asked Brevik if the studio had managed to carve out a niche for itself, and he agreed. “Yeah, I think so - there are no other superhero action-RPGs. We’re not fantasy, which so many of them are, so in a lot of ways it’s very different. Plus, being free-to-play, it’s fairly unusual. But then, making an MMO is very different from any of the other action-RPGs. The fact that you can meet people, there’s guilds, there’s raids, you’re constantly bumping into other people. It’s very different to a lot of other action RPGs, so in many ways we’re very different, but the core of the game is the same.”
“The big secret of action-RPGs, which is not that much of a secret, is that it’s very like a slot machine. As you defeat the enemy, you’re pulling the lever. That mechanic still exists; the random items, the random levels, all that it is in there, so at it’s core it feels like an RPG.”
Beyond building the game, Gazillion also works closely with Marvel, a creative studio that’s gone from strength to strength in recent years, most notably with several blockbuster movies. But just how involved is Marvel with the game? “They’re involved, not only in telling us upcoming events, like tying in with the movies and helping us with that. But also, they have to approve just about everything in the game. Any kind of assets for how a character looks, or lines of dialogue, or quotes from comics, or whatever it is.”
“They give us the freedom to choose what kind of direction we want to take with the game – if we went and did Raids, they wouldn’t say ‘No, you can’t do that.’ From a gameplay standpoint we have tons of freedom. When it comes to the actual IP, making sure that it stays on point, that’s where they really work. It’s been a really easy relationship – they are very supportive of us and really like the game, so it’s really enhanced the experience.”
A great example of that strong relationship is the Guardians of the Galaxy tie-in. Rocket Raccoon has been a part of Marvel Heroes since the early days, but recently got a major update with a whole suite of new powers, including the MAC he fought Thanos in. Star Lord is also a playable character, and it’s possible to team up with Gamora, Groot and Drax. Alongside the traditional comic book costumes, film versions have also been added.
Having that tie-in also worked surprisingly well for the game. “I don’t know if this has really happened before for us, but the tie-ins that we did, and having the Guardians in the game, really tied in well - we saw a noticeable bump in the amount of people that played within a week of the movie coming out. It was a pretty big rise in our numbers. It was pretty exciting – that tie-in hadn’t shown in previous films. So now we’re going to do a bigger tie-in with Avengers 2.”
Following on from Star Lord, the next hero in the pipeline is Rogue, who should be arriving in the next few weeks. According to Brevik, her full power-stealing ability has been preserved in the game, enabling players to fully customize how she works, almost like creating your own hero. It’s even possible to have several powers stolen at once.
Other future content includes a One-Shot side story featuring Mr. Hyde and The Lizard, told through the medium of motion comics. It sets up for a mission in Bronx Zoo – a brand new zone, with new graphics and background effects, and a new range of enemies to fight. The Lizard transformation formula has been leaked into the water supply, creating a new range of hybrids – lizard monkeys, lizard bears, lizard giraffes, even lizard sharks. There will also be new bosses of Mr. Hyde and The Lizard, as well as a surprise guest.
Similar to the existing Midtown Patrol, a new game mode called Brooklyn Patrol is also in the works, again with a different area and different types of enemies. It will also include new events that will trigger once enough players are in the area, with teamwork required in order to earn victory. This new mode will open up from the first level, giving players another progression path.
Finally, Brevik finished with a couple of longer-term additions to Marvel Heroes 2015. Achievements will be making their way in, including rewards for earning some of them. Playable villains will also be arriving towards the end of the year, starting with Juggernaut, Magneto and Venom, and will have a major story tie-in to explain their arrival. With all this planned for the next few weeks and months ahead, Brevik and his team are showing no signs of slowing down.
Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.