While almost all major publishers are trying their hand at reaching the burgeoning smartphone and tablet audience, major success stories continue to come from publishers and developers which specialise in that market. Even EA, with almost all of its major franchises receiving big-budget, purpose-built experiences on the platforms, can’t claim a measure of success which rivals the biggest of the big.
Marvel, however, struck blue gold with its Facebook title Marvel Avenger’s Alliance, and has made its next move with Marvel Avengers Initiative, not for any browser-based platform, but for smartphones / tablets instead.
If you’ve touched Infinity Blade, you know the swipe-em-up genre this new effort represents, but the crew at Marvel, Disney and developer Wide Load are cleverly leveraging their existing audience, inducing them to cross-over in multiple ways.
Orchestrated as a ‘season’ of content beginning with a chapter centred around Hulk, with Marvel promising that this premium-priced opening will be followed by a year’s worth of DLC featuring each of the other Avengers as central playable characters, while also giving players scope with this first bout to customise their own Hulk with mix-n-match combinations of every conceivable incarnation in the character’s history.
At a recent showing in Sydney, TQ Jefferson, VP of Game Development for Marvel, and Patrick Moran, Director of Avengers Initiative from Wide Load, spoke about the game via conference.
Jefferson made it clear that there has been a quantum shift at Marvel in terms of how they manage game crossovers.
“We’ve reprioritised and re-dedicated ourselves to quality gameplay experiences and true-to-Marvel gameplay experiences,” he said. “Going through that self-exploration, we identified three core pillars that we feel if we’re hitting those notes, we’re in the right place and are positioning ourselves for success as a Marvel game.”
“The first is fun and engaging gameplay – fun trumps everything else. Second is a compelling story – if you look at our films, animated and television series’, everything stems from the comic story. Third is the true-to-character experience. So let the characters be the characters.”
To that end, the team at Wide Load was given a license to delay the game if need be in order to get it right. Development began 14 months ago, with a team reaching a peak of 36 at one point.
“We felt that core gamers and enthusiast gamers on mobile were underserved,” added Moran.
“Hulk is a fairly one-dimensional character, but for this game we wanted multiple shades of green, if you will. So there are four different play styles and four different ways to build your hulk.”
In a push to try and match the character to the gameplay, signature moves are unique to each character being played, enemies are picked based on their comic-book suitability as an opponent, and, in the case of Hulk, creating a story arc (based off the comic lore) which gives clear reasons why someone as indestructible as he might actually take damage in a one-on-one match.
Moran continued: “Early in development, we had a death animation where Hulk fell over and collapsed, but that just wasn’t Hulk. So, he’ll take a knee and he’ll be down, and that’s definitely out of the Marvel canon, but he always comes back.”
The thing which Marvel are hoping will draw people into this game besides the attention to detail and production values is the cross-over with Avenger’s Alliance. Marvel XP is being utilised in both, and they share a story arc.
“We dealt with the aftermath of ‘The Pulse’ in Marvel Avenger’s Alliance,” Moran explains. “We’re continuing that story, but we’re focusing on one character at a time.”
“We see our job as being to continue to support the cross-game narrative as we move forward between Alliance, Initiative and forthcoming games. We want to take advantage of that connected experience, which is unique across platforms here.”
When asked about how they plan to rollout a year’s worth of content on a game with this kind of production quality, Jefferson chimes in: “We’re already at work on the next update. Our full intent is to offer all these updates for free. That’s the only toggle which is to be flipped on or flipped off.”
“All our energy, plans and discussions right now are about how we can add content for free.”
In the bizarre new world of games as an ongoing service (epitomised in the mobile space), patches, updates and DLC are considered value-adds to keep people playing. The value of all such enterprises is in an ongoing and well-supported fan base which can be kept active until the time does rock around for another monetised release.
So while Marvel have only just launched this first chapter of this attempt to make lightning strike twice, and while it does feel like it has the guts and the gumption to grab people’s attention early on, it’s this promise of a continued investment in growing a fan base over time which has the potential to demonstrate the game’s livelihood moving forward.
The game employs a mindless action mechanic, but carries it off with a love of the comics and fans and a promise of much more to come which should render anyone undecided able to justify a foray.
By Leigh Harris
Avengers Initiative is available to download now for $7.49 on iPhone, iPad and selected Android devices.