Welcome back! It’s time for part two of Marvel Snap Week! Did anyone who worked on the game see part 1 and think “Wow, that review is positive,” or “He’s an illiterate hack, but at least he appreciates the game?” Well now it’s time to get rid of those nice feelings.
Mobile games are unique in that they’re the only platform where the games are usually “Free,” but have the potential to end up costing you more than a full ticket to Disney Land. As a result, the only sane approach is to enter with caution. They’re the only games I engage with while actively looking for a reason to NOT play them.
When a game is “Free,” you should always keep in mind panel 2 of XKCD #870.
To be honest, Marvel Snap isn’t that bad. It wouldn’t rank anywhere in my list of worst video game business models. But not being at the bottom of the barrel shouldn’t be the standard for this stuff. So let’s talk about Marvel Snap’s prices, the concept of dark patterns of design, and how the bar for mobile games is so unbelievably low that something like Marvel Snap seems “Fine.”
Let’s start with pricing. Marvel Snap currently sells two objects. Battlepasses, and Gold. Battlepasses work like most battlepasses in games do, but they can only be bought with real money for about $8. Complete quests that unlock over time to earn battlepass experience points. Level up the battlepass to get additional resources. It’s a fairly standard design, even if it does reinforce a lot of the dark patterns we’ll be talking about later. If you pay the $8 you get some gold, extra resources, and special card styles and avatars.
Now let’s talk about gold, and how Marvel Snap’s progression and collection works, because it’s a bit more insidious.
Marvel Snap has a very unique design for its progression system, one that I’ve actually never seen used before. Instead of opening booster packs to get cards, or pulling from boxes, or having a wildcard system, Marvel Snap has a single value for your collection level.
Your collection level increases as you acquire new cards, and level up your cards. As you travel along the collection level track, there’s a variety of rewards, and some of those rewards are mystery cards. What the game doesn’t really ever tell you, though, is that those mystery cards aren’t random. Instead, they’re random from a pool, and removed once you get them. So as your collection level goes from 1-216, you’ll unlock cards from pool 1. And once you reach 216, you’ll have unlocked them all, and you’ll move onto pool 2. This part is reasonable.
What’s not is how the tracker changes.
As you travel down the collection level, the amount of levels you need to unlock a new card starts to shift. First it’s every 4 levels. Then every 8 levels. I’m currently collection level 358 and I unlock a new card every 12 levels.
This means that even if you play the game the same amount every day, you’re going to start making progress far, far slower. This is because gaining card level comes from upgrading cards, which requires two resources: boosters and credits. And while technically boosters are a limiting reagent, you can get them fairly easily by playing games. Credits are limited by daily quests.
Guess what they sell in the cash shop for gold?
So if two players play, and one spends money, and the other doesn’t, the one spending money will progress their collection faster. This, combined with the fact that your progression is designed to get slower over time, feels scummy. They claim, “You can’t pay to win.” And technically, that’s true. But you absolutely can pay to speed up your collection progress.
Oh, also. The game sells alt-art styles for cards at between $10-$20 in fake in game money. Yes, the expensive art alt styles are 1200 gold. And yes, the closest purchase in gold to buy those styles is $20. So it counts as $20. Skim is a real trick.
Man, I’ve written like a page, and I haven’t even gotten to the game’s dark patterns. There’s nothing super egregious here, but they use a lot of the standard stuff. Daily quests force you to play daily. Limited-time battlepasses make you grind. The aforementioned bullshit where the in-game currency that you purchase is always just a bit more than the expensive item’s cost, so that there’s always some leftovers.
All of this sucks, because Marvel Snap is actually quite fun to play. And that’s what we’ll be talking about tomorrow.