Why Marvel's MMO Won't Work

DCU Online is a lot of fun. I should clarify that. It's a lot of fun when SOE and PSN are actually up and running, but I digress. The somewhat controversial decision to not allow players to play as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc., was met with skepticism initially though. Could a game where you're fighting alongside those mainstays actually be enjoyable? Would some players create gamebreaking characters featuring strength on par with Superman, or psychopathic tendencies on par with the Joker?

In short no. DCU Online has been met with generally positive reviews and clearly the system works. The fact that both DC and SOE have created an MMO that still manages to leverage the intellectual properties without over-leveraging fanboyism is fascinating and welcome. That's why I'm troubled by Marvel's recent announcement to do an MMO that features the exact opposite in gameplay.

Marvel (in association with Gazillion Entertainment) recently announced the free-to-play MMO will be written by Brian Michael Bendis. That part makes a lot of sense. Bendis is pretty much the architect of the Marvel Universe right now so it's smart to have him write the game encompassing that universe. The part that doesn't make sense is that players will be able to play actual Marvel characters in the game.

Players will be able to play through some of the big events of the Marvel Universe from the classic 60s comics to present day. Right now, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Squirrel Girl (?) and Nova have all been named as playable characters. Interestingly the first four of those have movies under their character belts. Marvel promises more characters when it's launched though.

“The Marvel Universe MMO is going to launch with more characters than any Marvel game to date. It’s not just going to be the top ten or twelve characters, it’s going to be a monster list of characters,” said TQ Jefferson, VP of Games Production at Marvel.

I know what you're thinking right now. The ability to choose from tons of Marvel characters and play through timeless events in Marvel's history (Dark Phoenix Saga, Onslaught, Age of Apocalypse, Civil War)? Sounds awesome.

The problem will be the millions of people playing Wolverine and the one person that plays Squirrel Girl. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of Wolverine (sadly, I'm not too familiar with Squirrel Girl). I don't see how allowing everyone to play as him though makes living through Civil War any more enjoyable.

Bendis also wants to put the Marvel universe continuity in your hands.

“One of the real charms of a game like this is that the player will get to create their own continuity,” said Bendis. “This is the ultimate answer to message board bitching. ‘All right, go do it yourself!’”

Decent idea. Give the fanboys the ultimate say in who lives and dies. Some characters though have to take specific paths in certain events though right? Take Archangel for instance. The right-hand mutant of Apocalypse in Age of Apocalypse, Archangel switches sides and sacrifices himself to destroy Apocalypse's force field generator. If two people are playing Archangel and one decides to sacrifice and the other doesn't, isn't the story at a stalemate?

And I know a lot of you are thinking (because I know I am) that a similar setup worked in Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Players could be Spider-Man, Wolverine, Thor and other big ticket characters. That worked because it was a much, MUCH smaller scale than an MMO. There was always four players at any given time max, meaning that there would be only one Wolverine, one Spider-Man, etc. Scale that to MMO size (millions and millions of players) and you have a problem.

This MMO has (apparently) been in development at Marvel for a while now. It was canceled a year or two ago because they were worried about letting gamers play as the main characters. Now they've done an about face and are about to let you play whatever character you want while giving you the ability to dictate the storyline. In a Free to Play scenario, which is probably the biggest point of contention after the character thing.

Free is good, don't get me wrong. Free to Play is even better. Gamers shouldn't get excited though because Marvel will monetize the game somehow. Prepare for a death by a thousand cuts scenario. Do you really think you'll be able to play the game wearing that sweet, original X-Men Iceman costume out the box? Chances are you're paying for that. Beast as Hank McCoy? $1. Wolverine with bone claws instead of adamantium? $1. Marvel could even charge per form that Mystique can shapeshift into if they wanted.

Free to Play is the next big thing in MMOs, but the monetization comes in the form of microtransactions. With a universe as robust and granular as the Marvel universe you can be assurred that there will be a TON of content for you to buy as you retcon the entire timeline. DCU Online has some DLC as well, but the game is still functional without it since you're not constrained by the history of a character. You're creating the history as the character you've created. I'm sure the Marvel MMO will be playable without sinking a ton of money into it, but come on, who's going to play as Spider-man without the 2099 costume?

Personally, I see this being an unmitigated disaster. I have full hope that Marvel proves me wrong and that the game is a smashing success. The character, continuity and Free to Play aspects all scare me though. Joe Quesada isn't dumb (and neither is Bendis), so I'm sure they've thought this through and have a great way to miminize the above concerns. I just hope Marvel is ready for Spider-Man to kill Mary Jane to marry Jean Grey just to needle Wolverine and Cyclops. You know it's GOING to happen.


  1. It would make a better single player platform (or the standard 2-4 players for some games) but not online. I'm with you. I think the continuity-shaping storylines are a great idea, but catastrophic when you've got 30 people pulling the story in different directions. Good luck Marvel.


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