Not to toot my own horn, but I’m something of a connoisseur of doomed video games. I can’t explain exactly why, but the deeper I fall in love with a new online game, the more likely it is that game will fail miserably. Games like Rocket Arena, Crucible, and QC Games’ Breach never stood a chance once they got their hooks in me. I don’t necessarily believe I’m some kind of video game harbinger of death, but I’ve seen enough games fail that I’ve learned to pick up on the signs and patterns that indicate when a game is in its death throes. To whit: Marvel’s Avengers is on its second to last phase before shutting down for good, with the final phase being, of course, going free-to-play.
I’ll break it down for you step-by-step to demonstrate what happens when a video game dies. The first step is the most obvious: Release a busted product. Marvel’s Avengers had an undeniably disastrous launch. Crashes, game-breaking bugs, soft-locks — you name it, Avengers had it. The first major patch for the game fixed over 1000 bugs and that still didn’t address everything. For PS4 players — possibly the biggest segment of players thanks to Spider-Man exclusivity — the poor performance made the game completely unplayable. Many of these early problems have been solved, but that only made it more apparent how fundamentally flawed the game is.
It certainly isn’t the case that only glitchy, bug-ridden games fail. Rocket Arena, though not technically dead yet, is a great example of a fun, polished game that still faded into obscurity. “Busted” doesn’t mean mechanically broken like Avengers was, and kind of still is. It means that something about the design, presentation, or execution of the game has failed to retain players.
In Avengers’ case, it’s a combination of excessive bugs and a lack of meaningful, replayable content. Not only has the roadmap for the game already been extended, with new characters and missions previously promised to arrive “weeks after launch” being delayed until the end of the year, but the content that is there gets real old, real fast. We still don’t even have a strong, replayable multiplayer mission to grind endgame gear. All of the rarest loot is only accessible in single-player missions. Avengers is a half baked game that has yet to prove it can deliver on either quality endgame content or promised release dates.
If the first step is the cause, the second step is obviously the effect: the game has no players. Some games fail to ever find players in the first place, while others — Avengers included — start with lots of players but lose them quickly. The Avengers player base tanked fast and nothing, so far, has been able to bring it back. Just weeks after launch, the 2016 single-player game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided had more concurrent players on Steam than Avengers did. PC player counts are so low that it’s become almost impossible to find other players to group up with through matchmaking. According to Steamdb, Avengers peaked with over 30k players on release but now has less than 1,000 concurrent.
Crystal Dynamics is confident that players will come back — though I’m not entirely sure why. It isn’t entirely unprecedented: No Man’s Sky made a historic turnaround over several years of content updates and brought tens of thousands back to the game. Avengers also has years of content planned, supposedly, but will Hawkeye’s protege Kate Bishop bring all the boys (back) to the yard? It doesn’t seem likely.
Which brings us to the third step of a dying game, the step we’re currently on: desperation. Avengers has been throwing everything from discounts to “apology bundles” at players to try to entice them to come back to the game. A week or so post-launch, players were given a bundle of rare crafting materials to make amends for a bug that prevented players from completing Faction Missions and Villain Sectors. Last Thursday, everyone was given $15 worth of premium currency as a “thank you”— but only if you log in to claim it before November 5. This week, everything in the marketplace is discounted 50%.
These are not the behaviors of a game that is thriving. Indeed, every game that eventually died has reached a stage where throwing free things at the players seemed like the only thing they could do to keep anyone interested. Look at Rocket Arena again: the game launched at $30, was discounted a week later, and eventually just went free-to-play. A peek at the game’s Discord server will reveal frequent giveaways and free friend codes designed to supplement the player base. It definitely seems too soon for Avengers to go free-to-play, but that’s certainly the road it’s headed down.
I believe there is still hope for Avengers because the IP is just so incredibly strong, but as time goes on, more and more games — particularly next-gen games — become its competition. Spider-Man will bring PS4 players back, without a doubt, but whether they stick around next time will depend entirely on the quality and repeatability of the content available — if the game can even survive until then.
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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.
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