By now you’ve likely heard of the closure of Marvel Heroes. The announcement was made a few days ago, and the game is shutting down in about six weeks time. However, it appears that right up to the announcement (and for a little while yet) the company (Gazillion) was still accepting real money purchases in the game. Some players have taken up the fight for a refund for any items purchased in the recent past. This got me thinking. Do devs that run cash shop games have a greater responsibility to keep the game going longer? Is this an indictment on the free to play with cash-shop model?
The more I think about it, the less simple the answer seems.
At first glance, the easy answer would be yes. You’re accepting money. Sometimes a lot of money from players, for virtual goods. Some folks spend thousands on in-game items. There should be at least an ethical responsibility to allow players full use of those goods for a reasonable amount of time.
But games are a business and like any other business are there to make a profit for owners and shareholders. If a game is not making a profit, then whether or not it keeps going is a matter for the owners.
In the case of Marvel Heroes, the owner was Disney. The developer Gazillion, was clearly having problems and Disney decided to terminate their relationship. It’s likely in this case, the quick shutdown period was an attempt to prevent more damage done to the Marvel brand by Gazillion.
Still, that’s little comfort for the players that have spent good money on cash shop items immediately prior to the announcement.
The Downside of Free To Play
This I think is the downside of the free to play model. Games can’t operate with no income. There’s a lot of costs running a game, even with a minimal online component. If all a game does online is leader-boards or a simple lobby, it requires some hosted server to achieve that functionality. A persistent game like Marvel Heroes requires a greater investment in server tech. It’s costly.
At least with a subscription the cost is spread out over all players. But with free to play, the cost of playing is concentrated onto a few so-called whales. (Isn’t that a casino term?) And the idea of paying for virtual goods feels different than paying a subscription for a virtual service. With a sub you don’t feel a sense of ownership, even if there’s a sense of loss when a game shuts down and you lose your characters. But when you buy virtual goods. A character. Or, a mount. Possibly a sparkly outfit. There’s a sense of ownership, and a greater sense of loss when the game ends.
The flip side of this is that when a free to play game closes that you haven’t bought from the shop, there’s less angst about it.
Let me know what you think in the comments section below.