Last week we learned that Disney was cutting ties with Gazillion, the developer of Marvel Heroes Omega
. This is a piece of bad news, but in some ways it is not unexpected. Certainly, it was going to happen at some point. F2P server-based games will close eventually. They will stay open while the business model is viable, and when it isn't, the game will end. And when it ends, it essentially ceases to exist. No one can play that game again.*
MHO's death was even less unexpected because the development team had given some warning signs over the past month or so. Expected content rollouts weren't rolling out. Status updates weren't updating. And the CEO had an accusation of sexual misconduct made against him. While most of these misconduct statements are coming against politicians and media people frequently right now, the gaming industry has been hit by a fair share as well, and that really shouldn't be too surprising. This is a reminder that these are human problems that are not actually confined to, or prohibited from occurring in any walk of life. And many people in positions of power, such as bosses, judges, or just famous people, will use that as leverage to take advantage of others. I don't want to go off the rails on the sexual abuse issue here, because it is an unpleasant subject that I know far too much about, but it is relevant here as an item that was brought up as a possible additional reason why Disney elected to cut ties with Gazillion so quickly, given that apparently the property was still making money--if perhaps not enough.
As MHO goes, many of us remember one of the last big news story we had about the game. Here's TA's article on it: Venom Comes To Marvel Heroes Omega For A Limited Time
Venom is awesome. But is he worth $20?
Yep, a $20 DLC for a F2P game, maybe that's part of the reason why they weren't making enough money? Here's the worst part, at least for me. I briefly considered it. See, I love Venom. Venom
was one of the first comic book characters I really had an affinity with. Sadly, even though I kept that series in great condition as a possible collector's thing, it just doesn't have much value. So why not drop $20 more on him too? Particularly since MHO got me to break my cardinal rule on F2P, which is that if it is F2P, I will play it for free. Early on in the MHO life-cycle they offered a deal that any
purchase, which was as low as $5 would get a permanent account based xp boost and access to Nightcrawler as a playable hero, and Nightcrawler was at that time only available in that way.
Why did that appeal to me enough to open my wallet? You guessed it, Nightcrawler is one of my other comic book characters that I have strong affinity with. So I gave MHO a fiver, got my xp boost and Nightcrawler, and I was satisfied. But the thing about microtransaction is that once you make one, you are far more likely to be willing to make another. Getting the flow started is the trick, and unlike every other F2P game in the Xbox ecosystem, MHO got paid for turning the trick. This should have been strong evidence of a successful game, and one which despite problems, was generally well-recieved and fun to play, holding an unimpressive but solid 3.5/5 rating here at TA and 68/100 (critic) and 7.8/10 (user) Metacritic ratings. Those are solid numbers for a F2P game.
Ultimately, I decided that $20 for Venom was just too much, particularly since by that point I'd largely moved on to other games. There are too many to play and my time in MHO was going to be a grind from now on, so a new character wasn't enough of an incentive, in addition to the price being too high. Well, yesterday I bought Venom for 1 Eternity Splinter, the in game "free" currency that drops from random mobs in quantities of 1-5 every few minutes. Everything costs 1 Eternity Splinter now. Every hero, every costume, every loot box (of which the contents can, and usually do, include Eternity Spliters). An oddity of this is that the 5x products cost 1 Eternity Splinter and the 1x of the same product also costs 1 Eternity Splinter. Server shutdowns make for some odd math.
December 31st is the last day anyone will be able to play Marvel Heroes Omega
either on Xbox or on PC. The game had a much longer life on PC as "Marvel Heroes." I was actually a part of the beta for this game, which was very
different back then. I was excited about it because it was coming out as my interest in Diablo 3 was waning, so a F2P Diablo-esque game with Marvel IP was a good fit for me. And I was eager to be in the beta so I could give good feedback to help the game avoid the pitfalls that Dialo 3's vanilla launch had. Unfortunately, Marvel Heroes never took off for me on PC and I was back in the Xbox ecosystem after that. But now, years later it came to Xbox too, and I could have the best of both worlds! It was an exciting announcement.
Marvel Heroes Omega launched June 30th, 2017, which means that it's total lifespan on the Xbox One is going to be exactly 6 months. A month and a half of that will be in 'shut-down' mode, where the game is not functioning as it normally would, which means that Xbox gamers really only had Marvel Heroes Omega available for 4.5 months.
Two months after it released, Marvel Heroes Omega updated with a Title Update that added two new achievements--and broke one of the existing ones. The Beyonder achievement:
It's an easy mistake to make. "Check that all other achievements are won, if so unlock this." Well, which achievements are we talking about. Base game? TU? Both? It seems it doesn't matter what you do, this achievement has not unlocked for anyone since August 24th. (TU was launched 9/5, according to TA's data). We were told that a patch was in development and working in their test environment, but that patch seems unlikely to ever see the light of day now, which means that Beyonder will be my first officially discontinued achievement on Xbox One; the TA team has already marked it as discontinued, as is appropriate unless we get a miracle patch. This situation reminds me tremendously of World Series of Poker: Full House Pro
Despite tremendous effort and a lot of time spent grinding at this game after the server closure announcement was made, I was not able to earn that achievement because by that time, that achievement was already discontinued. That achievement had an approximately 3 month window when it was valid, and was only actually obtainable during limited periods of time (certain days and hours) within that window. It's an open question as to which is worse; but both are clearly bad outcomes for gamers.
Are we at a point when it possible for developers to dictate to us that we play their game only for the period of time that they permit us to do so? Are we prepared for the darker future world where developers retain that level of control over games we have either paid money for; or where there is an implicit agreement that we get to play for free because of the freemium microtransaction? These particular examples catch our attention because the time period is so short. 2-3 months to fully complete a game or it becomes permanently non-completable is not something many of us find acceptable. If it were announced as a feature, rather than implemented in hindsight, many of us would avoided it entirely. Others would have played, but made sure completing those requirements was a priority. The lack of transparency is a problem, but it's not one we can even blame the developer for--they fully expected their contract on the IP to run another year or two.
The first games as service. The first microtransactions.
This is ephemeral gaming. It's "games as a service." It's removing any vestage of ownership of the game itself from you the gamer and making sure it is retained by the developer/publisher. In general, I dislike renting games. I buy a game to own it. When the Xbox One launched with its focus on digital gaming, many were afraid that the move to the digital store would result in much more of this ephemeral gaming, but the reality is that it has nothing to do with the store. When I buy a digital copy of a game from the Xbox Store, I do own it. What I don't own, however, is a right to play Assassin's Creed: Origin's Trials of the Gods 10 years from now. With this shift, the ownership is swaying back towards a place we left behind in the 1970s.
Let me conclude with one more example of ephemeral gaming I recently read about. Friday the 13th: The Game
was a mess when it released, so it was patched and patched and seemed like it finally reached some level of functional. The developers certainly planned for people to be playing their game for a while, though.
Playing as Jason is either random or semi-random. The solution indicates that you could boost this with one other person and have 2.5 minute matches and be Jason half the time. That's an ideal case. In most cases you'll be Jason 20-25% of the time, probably. Maybe lower. And the matches will probably take longer than 2.5 minutes. So 1000 matches as Jason is a significant time investment.
But apparently that time investment is enough for the developers. Because once that achievement unlocks, the game breaks. Permanently.Caution - Game WILL Crash for GOOD
The same guy who posted the solution got bit by actually earning the achievement. Here the game is playable for a significant period of time, but the result is ultimately the same: at some point of the developer's choosing, whether intentional or not, the gamer is locked out of playing the game any further.
Discontinued achievements are bad, discontinued games is next level bad.
I hold out some small bit of hope that for MHO a disgruntled developer sneaks the patch into the update queue for the last week of December saying, essentially, "who cares if it isn't properly tested at this point." But that's a very low probability outcome. And even if it happens, it only fixes an achievement. The game is still gone. I enjoyed playing it with my kids. My eldest daughter loves Black Widow. My middle daughter loves The Hulk. This is a game we could easily play together. Now all that will be left are memories, and my Let's Play streams
The future is digital, and apparently transient, and connected and multiplayer games offer a lot more potential content and engagement in our games. These are features I largely embrace, but when we are dependent on them for functionality, we are certain to be disappointed in the long run. Almost all F2P games follow this model, which makes it all the more surprising that I play so many of them
. I blame my cheapskate factor. But it is in turn that factor which ultimately shutters those games. At least, in theory, the fact that I, and others like me choose to not pay dooms these games in the long run. Maybe not; I mean, it's a very weird coincidence that the one F2P game that I put money into is the one that shuts down the fastest and in the most ugly fashion. And those reasons are never truly going to be known, whether it was the allegations, or the IP rights, or just the bottom line not being good enough. For once it wasn't my doing.
Later on this week, when it is my turn to give thanks, I think I will say a small thank you for all of the smaller developers making quality offline single player content and forgoing the microtransaction money. They are quite possibly the only ones actually selling me a video game these days. Everyone else is selling me a limited term contract, and one where they have all the options about the future.
*A game as popular as World of Warcraft has gone through many iterations. So many in fact that the game cannot truly be called the same today as it was at launch, and folks missing that "vanilla" experience were able to recreate it themselves. Though they were ultimately sued by Activision out of existence, Blizzard started running their own "vanilla" servers to accommodate those who preferred that style of game. Still, World of Warcraft will only work as long as it makes money. Someday, before I die, I suspect, World of Warcraft will no longer exist. Unless those enterprising folks can get a new copy of vanilla up under Blizzard's radar. Most games, however, do not have the dedicated user base that World of Warcraft does, and such projects remain fringe at best, in addition to being problematic under copyright law.