Marvel Heroes is a free-to-play PC game that plays like Diablo, but stars Captain America and his friends. Marvel Heroes Omega is the just-announced console version of that four-year-old game.
The former’s fans are not happy about this latest development.
Let me catch you up real quick. Marvel Heroes launched in 2013. It was conceived as a sort of spiritual successor to the Marvel Ultimate Alliance console games, but redesigned as an MMO.
It also came with a great pedigree: David Brevik, one of the creative leads on the original Diablo, was the CEO of Heroes studio Gazillion Entertainment during the game’s development. He left in early 2016, but not before helping to sand down the early rough edges.
While it wasn’t universally praised at launch, the sticky, loot-obsessed gameplay and Marvel Comics tie attracted a loyal following. Heroes improved over time, especially after a 2015 re-launch that merited a fresh round of reviews; the 2013 game that had launched with a lowly score of 58 on Metacritic suddenly climbed to 81 after its re-emergence.
This week, Gazillion announced Marvel Heroes Omega. It looks like a straight port of the PC game — though the specifics are unclear at this time — and it’s coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sometime in the next couple months. Here’s a trailer:
So. What’s with the drama?
The general consensus among many of Marvel Heroes‘ current players: they feel ignored. Gazillion made great strides when the game re-launched in 2015 and won praise where it hadn’t before. A regular stream of updates followed for the next year, further fine-tuning the game and adding to the already-large roster of heroes.
Then, sometime around the middle of 2016, things slowed down. Gazillion’s regular dialogue with the community tailed off and game updates became less regular. A community that had grown accustomed to lots of cool stuff on a regular basis started seeing less. It became a point of contention.
With most games, it’s normal to see support start tailing off after a year or two. Marvel Heroes isn’t most games, however. It’s an MMO — a “live,” constantly evolving online game — and that type of experience depends on a regular flow of new stuff. Without that support, community tends to wander off.
Jump ahead now to April 2017 and the Omega announcement. A console version of Marvel Heroes had already been rumored, but its official reveal seemed to confirm a growing worry within the community: Gazillion’s focus had shifted. They felt like the PC version had become yesterday’s news; Omega, which can reach the larger console audience, is all that matters now.
This is reflected already in Marvel Heroes‘ various community touchstones around the internet. An Omega Q&A on the game’s official forums is currently at 21 pages and counting just 24 hours after it first posted.
The very first response, from forum poster Quelaan, sets the tone: “So, no transfer to consoles AND consoles get their own items. Hilarious, really. What are the chances that console version will be the primary focus now? Quite high, I’d say.”
Another early response, from Tzeentch, speaks to the lack of communication from Gazilliion: “I have a question that’s not answered here – why hasn’t one of the higher ups come down here to reassure the PC players and explain what the future is for the PC version of the game?”
This goes on for pages and pages, and it’s not the only example. There are multiple other posts that take a similarly combative stance toward Gazillion and its communications shortfalls, as well as a whole separate uproar on the Marvel Heroes subreddit.
It’s also worth noting: a lot of these concerns are echoed by one of my Mashable co-workers. He’s a big fan of Marvel Heroes, with well more than 1,000 hours invested in the game, and he’s not at all thrilled with the current state of the game.
To be clear: these are all entirely reasonable concerns. The disappointment over PC characters not being transferable and Omega having some exclusive content is understandable, but the root of the issue articulated in the above Reddit post — and, I think, in the general discontent among fans — is Gazillion’s lack of communication.
In the end, a lot of this drama is going to sort itself out naturally. The smart move for Gazillion — and likely what will happen, in time — will be to make sure console players and PC players have access to the same basic content.
Maybe one platform or another will have an exclusive outfit, but Gazillion’s goal should be to get all versions on the same page, in terms of who you can play as and the challenges you can tackle. It’s better for the community, sure, but it’s also easier on the studio side if work on one update applies to everyone.
That said, these gripes coming from the community are understandable. It’s likely Gazillion slowed down on both the content drops and the communication because it was focused on Omega. That’s a normal thing in game development; chatty content creators tend to start clamming up when a big reveal is on the horizon, usually because they’re working on the thing.
But whether or not the silence was justified, the fact remains that Gazillion’s active community of players felt like they’d been left in a lurch. Omega‘s announcement coming after that then amounted to a betrayal: after months of dwindling communications and content, there’s now something to blame.
I can see both sides here, and I think both sides will have something to take away from this when all is said and done. Assuming Gazillion knows its business — and by all appearances, it does — many criticisms being leveled right now will turn out to be unfounded.
Yes, players still won’t be able to transfer characters between platforms and they’ll still gripe about console-exclusive costumes… but those are minor features, and the kind of gripes that many games face on a regular basis. The bigger issue — the sense that the PC version of Marvel Heroes is functionally “dead” now — should dissipate once Omega is running and the content spigot switches back on.
As for Gazillion, there’s a harsh lesson here: switching over to stealth mode when you have an active, passionate community is a perilous choice. It’s an understandable stumble, but one the studio would do well to learn from as it maps out the future of Marvel Heroes.
With additional reporting from Ben Fullon.