It’s official. Square Enix has officially confessed that Marvel’s Avengers has underperformed for the company, according to a recent article on Gamespot.com. Having the red-hot Marvel license attached to it, the game should have been a massive success for Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix. But a series of bad decisions, both before and after release, has turned what should have been a blockbuster game into one of 2020’s biggest gaming blunders.
Marvel’s Avengers is a live service action game that was released in September of this year. In a previous post, I outlined the reasons why I felt the game was not worthy of my purchase at launch. What I was more interested in was how Marvel’s Avengers was going to support the game post-launch and how quickly content would be added to the game. At launch, there were six playable characters (Ms. Marvel, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow, & Thor), a 20-30 hour campaign to play through, and a sprinkling of extra missions. While this sounds like plenty in theory, what actually happened is that many players rushed through the campaign and found the extra missions to be bland and repetitive. To date, none of the DLC characters have been released and it’s been more than two months.
Square Enix attributed the game’s downfall to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the costly advertising campaign. I have seen it time and again with major corporations spinning a narrative intended to verbally soften the blow of a significant flop. With investors involved, I can see why companies are careful with how they communicate their shortcomings. It is true that progress on gaming development was slowed and release dates were affected due to the coronavirus. This has been the case for many companies, causing delays into 2021. But what is also certain is with more people at home, the video game industry has continued to thrive. COVID-19 did not stop video games from being profitable. If this previous post is any indication, it can be argued that COVID-19 created an even greater market for gaming. There are more people at home, which means more people are spending time playing video games. With the Marvel license at its disposal and the current gaming climate, Marvel’s Avengers should have been a very lucrative endeavor for Square Enix.
Opinions have been many when it comes to why Marvel’s Avengers has fared poorly. Some believe Kamala Khan was unfit to be the main character of the story. I don’t believe Khan had anything to do with the game’s struggles. In fact, from what I’ve seen through gameplay videos, her portrayal appears to be very well done. Being that she is only one of six playable characters when Spider-Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, Ant-Man, Ghost Rider, and Dr. Strange are missing certainly doesn’t sit well with Marvel fans. This is because they know The Avengers’ roster is supposed to be much bigger and that their favorite characters are not included in the game yet.
The choice of making Marvel’s Avengers a live service title is also touted as the reason for the game’s struggle. I don’t believe this is valid as there are many successful live service games on the market. When live service is done well, gamers have no problem paying for subscriptions and micro-transactions. In fact, they are willing to pay monthly for access to a game that they truly never own because of how much they enjoy the content. Consider games such as Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft as prime examples of top moneymakers within the live service genre. When live service works, players can’t get enough and the companies rake in billions of dollars.
Three major flaws that plagued this game from the start. The first was the lack of content. For a Marvel game, six playable characters is not enough unless the game is focused around one superhero character. For instance, in the Batman Arkham series, you can play as Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Harley Quinn, and Catwoman. Yet the games are all focused around Batman. So playing as other characters feels like a bonus. Marvel’s Avengers is built around the concept of a group of superheroes so having only six heroes to use feels very limited. To provide some context, the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games have no less than 20 characters for players to use. Fighting games such as Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Marvel vs Capcom Infinite have more than 20 Marvel-based fighters to choose from. Even the Avengers movies themselves had more than six heroes that were featured throughout the films. Remember Scarlet Witch, Vision, Falcon, and Hawkeye? Marvel fans expect Marvel games to contain a variety of different characters.
Furthermore, the missions beyond the main campaign should have been expansive and varied. Gamers were complaining about the repetitive nature of the extra missions. This could have been remedied through the use of sophisticated procedurally generated stages and enemies that would have added variety. Also, the game should have launched with enough missions to the point where even the most committed gamer would have been kept busy. With this type of game, the content amount should have been so high that it couldn’t readily be numbered. The fact that it has been multiple months and Marvel’s Avengers is in its current state shows a lack of support. This is why even players who purchased the game stopped playing after a while.
The next major flaw with Marvel’s Avengers was that it had too many bugs and glitches at launch. I’ve come to expect there to be some minor bugs that may need to be worked out when a game is released. But when the bugs render the game unplayable, that is a major issue. Over a thousand issues were reported by gamers from the time the game was released. There were also reports of players losing content that they had paid for through micro-transactions due to bugs. As a result, the newly released title received a lot of negative publicity from the beginning. Unfortunately, it was also much deserved. Sometimes it is better to delay a game to work out the kinks and have a better launch. More testing may need to be done. Whatever the case may be, the game shouldn’t be released if it isn’t ready.
Arrogance is the final flaw that led to the botched release of Marvel’s Avengers. It appears as if the game was released with the mindset that because the “Marvel” moniker was attached it, everyone was going to buy it regardless of its present state. What was true was that the game did receive very good initial sales. But once the consumers started playing the game, the problems began. Perception is vital in gaming and even more so with live service gaming if a company wants to retain its player base. The perception of Marvel’s Avengers became negative very quickly and suddenly the player base declined. While Square Enix believes the release of future content will draw the players back, the truth is that some of those players who have been lost and lost for good. And some of these same players are telling their friends that Marvel’s Avengers is a game to avoid. For a live service game, it can be the nail in the coffin.
Let’s not lay Marvel’s Avengers to rest yet. Even with its incredibly flawed start, the game can still be turned around. Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) is evidence of a game that made a significant turnaround when the developers decided to do right by the players. The evolution of No Man’s Sky is regarded by some gamers as the “greatest turnaround in gaming history.” What was the key with both games is that the developers and publisher committed themselves to valuing their customers and were willing to recognize that they hadn’t been doing so before.
I want Square Enix to turn this around and am pulling for them. Marvel’s Avengers has to potential to be an incredible game. Who knows, maybe one day it will be a game that I may want to buy.