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Marvel’s Avengers Revealing the Threat of Games as a Service

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The Marvel’s Avengers game was released in August 2020, and seven months later it still fails to live up to its promise. With what Steam reports as a tiny player-base making co-op all but impossible in many places, industry spectators have declared Marvel’s Avengers a failure, but it didn’t need to be this way. As a project, the ambitious title had some great ideas, but many of these ideas suffer from poor implementation under the games as a service (GaaS) model. Though the title still has a roadmap left ahead, it’s uncertain if the game will follow through, or whether it could end up going the way of other GaaS releases like Anthem. Still, leaning on the most popular movie franchise of all time, how do you go wrong?

What is the Games as a Service Model?

The GaaS model has its basis in MMORPGs, the biggest early examples of which were 1999’s Everquest, and 1997’s Ultima Online. The idea of these games was simple, to exist as evolving products, or services, rather than titles that stayed fundamentally unchanged after release. In MMORPGs, this concept was supported by necessary monthly subscriptions, which has kept many games operating decades after their arrival.

In a more modern context, GaaS refers to titles that try for the same long-running service ideal but operate outside of strict RPGs, and which lean on other funding models. In some cases, Gaas titles release as free games supported entirely by microtransactions. While in others, these games arrive as full-priced titles first, also relying on microtransactions to keep the money rolling in. For both routes, the idea is that continued funding will allow the games to persist and evolve over time.

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Marvel’s Avengers followed the full-priced with microtransactions path, and in doing so set itself up for a rocky start. Have players pay a full price for a GaaS title at the beginning and they’re going to expect a lot of content, or at least well-implemented systems with a promising future. Avengers, while certainly not the worst example, fell short in both regards.

The Strength of Traditional Systems

Before looking more specifically at Avengers, considering a range of different paid digital entertainment avenues, even outside of video games, can demonstrate some key components that Marvel’s title missed. For most users, the biggest example of expanding entertainment services is demonstrated by streaming systems like Peacock, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. These collectively have well over a hundred million subscribers and are in no threat of failure. Big thanks for this success is owed to a wide selection of titles. So vast is this collection, that nobody could realistically experience everything on offer.

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For shorter-form media, music systems like Apple Music and Spotify illustrate a similar idea. The radio stations and songs on offer from these services are again passive experiences and far outnumber what a single person could imbibe. On a more active entertainment note are the slot games on services like Betway. As interactive titles, these games like Augustus and Solar Wilds can be much more engaging than passive experiences. Due to the enormous selection and the base appeal of slot games, the gaming experience remains exciting. In other words, it’s about understanding how users interact with each medium, and these examples all understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

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Where Avengers Failed

Despite its status as a video game, some hugely important parts of Marvel’s Avengers don’t seem to understand what players want. The primary offender in this regard was a lack of launch content. Unlike the example above, early adopters of Avengers could easily run out of content not long after they finished the main story. While this is not unexpected right after the launch of GaaS titles, Avengers failed more than most and as such was crippled right out of the gate.

Making this cut even deeper was how Avengers botched a core component that every GaaS title needs – player customization. Though players can switch character skins for a total costume change, the options were limited, and they avoided the piece-by-piece gear customizability that makes titles like Destiny 2 so great. While such an approach might be complicated for near-nude characters like Hulk, the idea of iconic character designs like Iron Man being able to change out parts is a practical necessity.

Though there were other standout failures in Avengers, the last central tenant tying them all together has been the massive number of bugs. Audio failures, soft-locks, and glitched training missions set the stage, but what hurt Avengers the most was connectivity issues. This is a game that built itself on the idea of playing with others, yet even when player numbers were high connection errors were constant, and this issue has only been minimally addressed over time.

As for the future of Marvel’s Avengers, that depends on how far the developer and publisher want to push. There’s always some hope that, as like No Man’s Sky, Avenger’s could eventually form into all it was promised to be. On the other hand, chances are equally good it could end up like Anthem, which was promised immense ongoing support before being unceremoniously dumped. If nothing else, Avengers should serve as a warning to those wanting to follow in its GaaS tracks, but given the track record of the video gaming industry, we wouldn’t be surprised to see others make the same mistakes.

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