If you want a reminder of how weird the games industry has got, consider the case of Marvel Snap. The mobile-first digital card game (which will also be available on PC), is still deep in a closed beta, without a firm release date. But free-to-play monetization is what it is, and the community is currently mired in an absolute uproar over a particularly brazen transaction scheme. In that sense, I guess you could say Marvel Snap is way ahead of schedule.
Marvel Snap is unlike other card games in the sense that you can't buy an unlimited number of boosters to chase down whatever legendary you're looking for. Instead, the only way to add new heroes to your catalog is to advance on a "collection track," which grants you a random card every couple of intervals.
However, developer Second Dinner (which is composed of former Hearthstone developers), recently changed that model with the introduction of time-limited "Nexus Events," allowing players to spend real money (first converting it into an in-game currency) for a chance to get exclusive cards, variants, and avatars.
The two ultra-rare cards in the current Nexus Event pack are a Jane Foster Thor card (which can only be collected through the promotion) and a Destroyer, which is also available in the free-to-play path. Each of the two Nexus Event cards have a 1.5% chance of appearing per spin, which means you could hypothetically spend about $500 obtaining them both. To add insult to injury, the common rewards in these packs aren't cards at all. It's just in-game currency and resources to upgrade your existing collection. The Jane Foster card looks pretty powerful, so you can understand why players might be feeling betrayed.
Sure enough, the burgeoning Snap community has been taking Second Dinner to task over the Events: The subreddit is full of players who say they want to love the game, but have been let down by the mobile market's worst instincts.
"My biggest gripe is that a 'Nexus Event' is not an event at all," said one player. "You don't participate in this event, just dump your wallet into it."
I've been playing Marvel Snap for the last week or so, and you'll see my impressions on the site soon. My take on the monetization: Snap needs a system that allows us to build the decks we want while using the full expanse of the card supply.
In Hearthstone, I can turn any card in my library into Dust—a resource I can save up to purchase whichever legendary I need to fill out my latest experiment. That gives me a lot more creative agency as a player. Currently in Marvel Snap I'm using the same deck I've built over and over again, because the number of cards I own is pitifully small and progression moves at a snail's pace. It feels really bad when the player across the table drops a Captain America or whatever, when you know it's a total dice-roll if you'll ever have a copy yourself. And that's just my issue with the free progression track. The Nexus Events are adding cards I only have a chance to access if I pay an exorbitant fee until they're added to the randomized collection-track stockpile a few months down the line.
The compromise seems really simple here. I'd happily accept an avenue where I can purchase a card I want at a fair price, with the roulette wheel left to the free-to-play track. The deck sizes and total card pool in Snap is deliberately small, and Second Dinner could do something where every one of their cards are sold off like a League of Legends champion—no gacha nonsense necessary. Until then, it's an upcoming card game where obtaining cards is convoluted, frustrating, and expensive. That isn't a good combination.
After this article was published, Second Dinner's Ben Brode addressed the issue with a message in the Marvel Snap Discord server. Here's what he wrote:
"Earlier this week we shipped the latest release of MARVEL SNAP to players and launched in New Zealand and Australia. With that release came a new monetization feature we wanted to introduce and test: Nexus Events.
"It's clear that a lot of you are disappointed with Nexus Events and we hear you. We missed the mark on this. Internally, we're having Discussions around next steps and how we can act on your feedback. We're here for the long run, and are focused on creating a great game that is fair and that you'll love. Stay tuned to hear more from us."