Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Give and Take of Marvel Heroes Promotions

Marvel Heroes is throwing the biggest "10 month" celebration I'm aware of in an MMO, continuing an impressive trend of high value give-aways and live events.  They're also running yet another presale promotion in a way that leaves me less than thrilled with their marketing practices. 

The Freebies
If you are currently or have ever played Marvel Heroes, you want to go to the account profile tab on the game's website and enter the following promotional codes ASAP:
  • RNDMHRO - Provides a token that either unlocks a random playable character (retail cost: $4.50/$9.00/$13.50) or upgrades the random character's ultimate power if you already own them.  These are also handed out this weekend with the purchase of a hero (standalone only, not bundled) in the game's cash store for the above prices.  Your odds get worse as you own more heroes, but it's a heck of a freebie.   
  • RNDMCSTM - Provides a free random costume (retail cost: $4.50-$19.50) for a random character.  If it's a dupe you can apply a different set of stat affixes to it, or grind for an item used to re-roll three unwanted costumes for a random costume. These are also handed out this weekend with the purchase of any costume in the cash shop.  
  • PEWPEWPEW, VENGEANCE, FASTBALL, NOTASKRULL, REDWHITEBLUE: Free one-hour Iridium Triple Rush bars.  Gives 100% rare find, special find, and exp for 1 hour (additionals can be stacked for severe diminishing returns, or you can wait for the first to expire which is generally better).
  • InfiniteRetconWeek - Grants one free retcon device for respeccing your character.  It's described as infinite because Retcons are not consumed on use for the next week to allow people to respec after a large number of balance changes in this week's patch.
  • SPRCNDY2, possible also SPRCNDY (last week's code, but it may still work if you haven't used it) - Grants an easter consumable that grants +70% to various things for 70 minutes, not sure how these stack with other consumables.
In addition to all of these things, logging in every day this week results in a flood of event items good for vendor exp, fortune cards, eternity splinters, and other consumables.  If you are reading this on Saturday, log in ASAP, as today's gift includes an easter basket with at least one free unique item and generally at least two cosmics for your current hero, a four hour pentaboost, a level 60 cosmic medallion, and the Cowbell runeword if you missed it last month. 

My odds of getting a new hero were slim due to how much of the roster I currently own, but I lucked out and got Punisher - not a priority obviously or I would have him by now, but a heck of a freebie.  Also got the grey Black Widow costume (costs $7.50), which is low on my list, but there are very few costumes I actually want so this was pretty much guaranteed to be fodder for the random re-roll anyway. 

With this much stuff to celebrate 10 months, what are they planning for one year? 

The new bundle
The team has also kicked off a new pre-order bundle for the new team-up hero feature.  I have mixed feelings.
  • A marketing email announcing the pack was factually inaccurate.  The bundle claimed to be at least 50% off of retail price at its $40 price tag, but it also claimed that you are buying eight team-ups and getting a ninth team-up and an enhanced costume for free.  Both statements cannot be true at the same time - the highest price for eight team-ups is under $60, so you can't get to the $80 MSRP without including the "free" bonuses.  The websites have since picked one or the other.   
  • I pre-ordered the year's worth of heroes in December knowing that Team-ups were coming and would be available for the in-game Eternity Splinter currency (which I would not be spending on the heroes I just paid for).  Then the feature arrived, and it turns out that they cost twice as many Splinters as comparably priced playable heroes would, which means that you're wasting a huge amount of splinters unless you're never going to pay cash for another playable hero.  So I bought the cash store currency, G's, at a sale a bit over a week ago.  They don't accept G's for pre-order bundles, so now I either buy the new bundle on top of the money I already gave them for the G's or else spend nearly $40 worth of G's for half of the team-ups in this bundle.  Fooled me fair and square, but do you really want a customer who has spent $250 in a year to feel like you tricked them?
  • The hero pre-order bundle came with a bunch of extras, such as costumes and character-specific storage for all thirteen included characters, so it felt like a choice to pay more and get a lot more stuff.  Because Team-ups don't come with any extras, this feels like the choice is to pay the money now or pay the same amount later and get way less stuff. 
  • (Aside: Team-ups are supposedly priced in three tiers, but there are no options available or announced in the "basic" cheap tier.  They've confirmed that the bundle heroes will be at least middle or top tier to ensure the value for your bundle purchase, so we're looking at maybe two of the cheaper characters out of the first 20 or so that will be released.  This makes it feel like the bottom tier exists primarily as a stepping stone to have two pricing tiers above it.)  
I will say two positive things about the promotion - they have chosen characters that I would be happy to add to my roster (if all but 1-2 were terrible, skipping the bundle would be an easy call), and part of the reason why prices are such a high portion of the price of playable characters (who are much more work to produce) is that they are taking the time to do good quality VFX and voice work for them.  If you actually like the character, you get a good version of that character in a situation where they could probably dump out the cheap versions for much less work and still sell them.

At the end of the day, blog and forum posts are fine for posting discussion like this, but you can only buy or not buy the stuff that's out there.  From a rational perspective, withholding my $40 now isn't going to change the business model, I'll end up paying almost as much later for less stuff, so there isn't much to do but suck it up and save the G's I paid for to purchase future releases that are not part of bundles.  It's just always a bit unfortunate to be in a position where you view a $40 purchase as something you should suck up, even if they are giving out a bunch of unrelated free stuff elsewhere.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Content Reuse and Horizontal Progression

A thread on the Marvel Heroes forums over the weekend discusses how the game's priority has been to add new stuff to sell - playable heroes, costumes, and now new NPC "team-up" mercenary-like heroes - rather than new zones.  That part is obvious enough - you are what you sell, and Marvel Heroes is not in the business of selling new zones, nor could they make reasonable revenue doing so given how long content lasts in an ARPG.  The part of the discussion that I find more interesting is what they have done instead.

Since launch, the game has added a wide variety of new item slots or game systems that increase character power and are NOT tied to specific new zones.  Whether it's synergies for leveling additional characters through existing zones, runes and enchantments as world drops for farming existing zones, the new team-up characters to accompany you through the existing zones, almost nothing on offer requires a specific type of content (some of the rarest artifacts and rings are the exception). 

I'm not sure what to call this steady inflation to character power.  It's arguably not vertical progression since characters levels are staying the same and you aren't replacing one system with the next (i.e. you don't stop using synergies because you've gotten runes and those are better).  It's also arguably not horizontal progression in that the relative level of character power compared to the content - mobs have stayed at roughly the same stats and thus gotten progressively easier - is skyrocketing in a way that I find concerning.  Will players in 2017 zone into the newbie area, click their basic attack, and one-shot Dr. Doom from eight story chapters away?

There are many differences between an online ARPG like Marvel Heroes and a traditional MMO, but in some ways I wonder if this is the logical evolution of the theme park non-subscription model.  Don't be in the unsustainable business of trying to sell content - see version 1.0 of SWTOR.  Give away the content (roughly the equivalent of a single player console game) and make your money selling stuff to do in that environment.    Focus on replayability, accept that your most dedicated players will burn out and/or trivialize the game, but hopefully return after a break. 

Not saying this is better or worse, just different. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Movie Pricing Perspective

We were not able to get out to see the new Captain America movie this weekend due to the logistics of babysitting.  This got me thinking of perspective in costs. 

Two tickets were going to cost us roughly $30, and probably a similar amount or more for babysitting.  We don't go out to theaters the majority of the time because we'd rather stream stuff to our couch and have the option to take breaks etc - this typically costs between $4 and $20 per film depending on what streaming options are available.  So you're talking about a wide range - as low as $4 and as high as $60 or so - for a two hour movie. 

By contrast, Marvel Heroes had a variety of bundles for Captain America and Black Widow (who also appears in the film).  Some of these don't make a ton of sense to me as someone who pays attention to the business model, which may just mean I'm not the target audience (e.g. if you love Captain America enough to be willing to pay $50 for all of his costumes, wouldn't you likely already own the hero and at least some of said costumes?).  Setting aside whether the bundles are a good deal, the one that would make the most sense - if you want and don't own the heroes and at least two of the three added costumes - runs for about $28.50. 

I don't like direct comparisons between online games and other forms of media, such as movies, because they are inherently not apples to apples.  Amongst other things, I would not spend the money required to go to the movies every night, and it's actually very rare to find a film where both my wife and I are willing to deal with the time and expense to see it in theaters.  The models are also completely different, in that Marvel studios is releasing two films per year and thus typically has only those two opportunities to get money from me, where Gazillion has a new sale every week.  

I wouldn't even make the comparison except that I am spending the majority of my gaming time in a licensed MMO that's running cross promotion with the films.  It's just interesting to be reminded periodically - costs of going to the movies are steadily rising and that industry is fighting tooth and nail against making it more convenient to pay for their product, while MMO costs are flat or falling and entry barriers have been reduced to near nothing.