Marvel Universe: Steep Uphill Climb

At one point working on MMO Fallout excavated a tiny part of my brain, and replaced it with a long list of industry names and their associations. So any time I hear the name Bill Roper, David Bravik, or Max Schaefer, the “Flagship Studios” red alert goes off and won’t stop buzzing until I finish writing the article. My article on Marvel Universe’s complete disregard for character creation caught a lot of attention (and was featured on MMORPG.com), and the topic as a whole stemming from the initial interview has been thrown back and forth by supporters and dissenters.

I raised the all important question at the end: What will make Marvel Universe stand out from its competition? The market is already somewhat saturated with three MMOs. Two of them hold subscriptions, one is free to play. All three allow me to heavily customize my hero, including free range of powers. Two allow me to play as a villain. One relies on a cash shop. One leans more toward action games while the other two lean closer to the traditional RPG. Now, the future of Champions Online rests in where Cryptic is sold off to, and DC Universe hangs on the will of its players to continue populating the servers, but City of Heroes has proven it isn’t going anywhere soon.

So I’ve been pondering what Marvel Universe will bring to the MMO table, and I’ve come to a few conclusions.

  • Story: If Gazillion can manage a ton of characters but give them their own stories, they could have a viable system. Bring players in with the flow of free characters, play through their stories, then offer premium characters with more story as cash shop purchases. If MU only carries one storyline for all characters, you’re going to see the population drop off fast once people complete with their favorite character.
  • Gameplay: I have a feeling Marvel Universe is going to be Marvel Ultimate Alliance Online, and honestly I’m okay with that. I loved the Ultimate Alliance games, sans the PSP versions, and an online lobby based game would likely make a fitting sequel. That being said, Marvel Universe won’t be an MMO. A game where you choose from pre-created characters and run through levels isn’t an MMO, it’s an online game. It can still be fun and support microtransactions, but it is not an MMO.
  • Pricing: Gazillion did good by announcing Marvel Universe as a free to play MMO, because tacking on a subscription would be throwing a brick wall right at the starting line. If Gazillion plays their cards right with the microtransactions, they can stand to make a lot of money from Marvel Universe. Make the free content engaging enough and people will want to buy the premium content. Heading into the system of “well the free stuff is kinda crap, but it is free, but the paid stuff is better,” won’t bring in enough people to cover those that are disenfranchised by the message.

I want to make it clear that I’m not saying Marvel Universe will be a bad game, but rather expressing my concerns in Gazillion advertising it as an MMO. It should not mark itself as an MMO because it will not function as an MMO, and should not be supported and developed for as it if were an MMO. Gazillion is clearly going after a different audience than those who play City of Heroes/Champs/DC Universe, and calling it something along the lines of Marvel Ultimate Alliance Online might have presented the game to its proper target audience. Gazillion has already talked about the game being ultra cheap to maintain (a system similar to Guild Wars).

Pull the MMO market and tell them they aren’t able to create their own characters, and they will reject the game as an MMO. Call it an online game with microtransactions, and you’ll have a wider audience. Those who want to play a superhero MMO are likely already playing a superhero MMO, but again Gazillion is not advertising to MMO players.

I’ll be doing more articles on Marvel Universe as more information appears.

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