Sunday, June 26, 2016

Updated Game Review -- MARVEL Avengers Academy

Game Review: MARVEL Avengers Academy
Score: FAIL

Previously I scored MARVEL Avengers Academy a respectable +7/-3. However, since that time they have put out several special events that are aimed at ruining all the fun in the game. They had an excellent casual smartphone game. They had aimed it to be "midcore" but the gameplay demands now are pushing it to hardcore. You not only have to strategize on how you spend money on the game, but the time demands are high as they introduce scheduling and systems that force you to constantly check your phone to keep the event going.

Here is an example of a frustrating mechanic:
  • Film Rolls are needed for just about everything in this first stage, especially the very-limited-time Spider-Crates and Limited Time Prizes. They are only some of the many resources needed.
  • You can have up to four stations: 1 per 4 hours, 2 per 8 hours, 2 per 8 hours, and 3 per 12 hours. If all four are constantly active and you you click-to-collect-and-restart-the-timer all the time, you are basically getting a rate of 4 per 4 hours.
    • This seems like a lot, except "octobots" will randomly attack a station every few hours. An "attack" is to freeze the production counter until you remove the Octobot with a Web Shooter. So far the mechanics are unclear, but it looks like the more stations you have, the more are likely to be attacked, but the time in between attacks is also greater.
    • The timing between attacks is not clear so you can't just periodically check at set intervals.
    • If you fail to remove them all at the same time, you've screwed up the counters so you no longer have all of them in 4-hour cycles -- necessitating even more phone-checking.
    • To remove an Octobot you need a Web Shooter, which needs 2 vials of Web Fibers which drop from the special event Mission Board, which typically requires a Mission involving a character working on a task of at least 4 hours.
      • Sometimes you get a shorter mission but you only receive 1 vial, which is not enough. Sometimes you get a longer mission (8 hours) but you get 3 vials.
      • In any case, if a character is tied up elsewhere or if another character is already at the building station the task requires, you either have to wait and therefore the time to get a vial increases; or if you have a lot of characters from main game progression, you could try cancelling the mission and getting a new one. There is however a 70-minute cooldown before a mission is replaced.
      • Once you have 2 vials, it requires 2 hours to actually manufacture a Web Shooter, meaning a minimum of 6 hours to get one Web Shooter.
Obviously they are playing on fear-of-missing-out to get you to spend money, but if you are on the Facebook page you will see just how much resentment this causes. Even people who spend money on the game to get premium characters are frustrated. Obviously, like most game companies, TinyCo needs money to keep going and it isn't different from most game companies in how they want your money. But there is a better way: Offering real value.

So if you play MARVEL Avengers Academy, look VERY carefully at what advantage you are buying with your money and THINK whether you are spending your Shards wisely.
In the particular case of the current Spider-Man event, you needed to watch the game carefully and get advance warning from players who've moved ahead to look into the mechanics. You would have seen that buying the premium content does NOT get you ahead.
For example, buying the Spider-Ham character helped you with various drops toward getting Reporter Wasp, Spider-Crates, and Limited Time Prizes, but you are still dependent on Film Rolls for Reporter Wasp and Spider-Crates, so that's where the bottleneck really was and Spider-Ham or any other premium content really can't address it. Even the Spider-Signal and Spider-Spotlight buildings (which are useless after the event) only help keep your production free of octobots, but it doesn't actually increase production.

TinyCo still has a great and unique product but they really need to shift their paradigm away from creating resentment.

My recommendations:
  • Show value
    • If someone has spent money, show that the money they spent enhances their game. Do away with premium (need to be purchased with Shards, which cost real money) buildings that will be useless afterwards.
    • If someone bought a character, make sure that character isn't unused afterwards -- a very common complaint so far.
    • If someone buys a character during an event, make sure the benefit is really there. During the Civil War, players complained that premium characters only INCREASED the workload because they were scrambling to work on those characters too, and their help during the event wasn't actually that great.
  • Reduce complication
    • The current mission-board style of generating resources is complicated for the different schedules it creates and the jigsawing of charcters and trying to queue them into spots.
    • Instead, for each mission, choose a building, and populate its spots fully with valid characters (no overlaps, no characters chosen more than once for the same mission, no characters queuing for spots in that building for the same mission). The net hours characters spend working there will determine the amount of rewards.
    • Instead of selling additional resources, sell automation to reduce work and checking.
      • For example, the current Spider-Man event has buildings you can buy (using real money) to drop Web Shooters to remove Octobots. Instead, have the building automatically remove Octobots without the player having to click to collect Web Shooters and continue monitoring for the appearance of Octobots.
  • Reduce event complication and focus on story
    • Instead of getting people to jump through so many hoops and luring people to buy premium characters for supposed benefits during the event, make ALL event characters playable for the event.
      • This will give players a good idea of whether they like that character based on their story interactions with other characters.
      • It would also make the game story-driven rather than task/mechanics/systems driven.
    • Instead of making weird mechanics to accomplish tasks, do away with all that. For event items like Decor pieces, have event missions drop the event currency or tokens needed -- and therefore players can do it while advancing the event character storylines at their own pace.
    • For premium characters, let players have them too but to keep them in the Academy after, ask players to buy them with Shards/money.

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