The IAP Inspector

Hardcore Heroes: the monetisation of Marvel: Avengers Alliance 2

Hardcore Heroes: the monetisation of Marvel: Avengers Alliance 2

Welcome back to the In-App Purchase Inspector - our regular look at free-to-play games from the consumer's perspective.

In each instalment, we consider the incentives or pressure applied to make in-app purchases, their perceived value, the expansion offered by IAPs and the overall value of the experience.

The end goal is to see whether the game makes a good enough case for us to part with our cash, or whether players are content - or engaged enough - to 'freeload'.

This time, we're taking a look at Disney Interactive's Marvel: Avengers Alliance 2, the mobile-only follow-up to the 2011 Facebook original.

5 years on

A lot has changed since the original Marvel: Avengers Alliance was launched on Facebook.

Notably, mobile gaming has continued to grow while Facebook as a viable gaming platform has all but died out.

There's also been a massive shift in visual standards, with this sequel replacing the simplistic 2D look of the original with impressive 3D characters and environments.

Marvel: Avengers Alliance 2  enters a far more crowded market than its predecessor.

What may hold Avengers Alliance 2 back, however, is that it enters a far more crowded market than its predecessor.

There are plenty of midcore card battlers out there now, and many of them are good - EA's Disney licenced stablemate Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes providing a particularly high benchmark.

Is there more to this one than the appeal of Marvel's iconic character roster?

Built to last

Yes, is the short answer. Far from the flashy but ultimately cookie-cutter experience it could have been, Marvel: Avengers Alliance 2 is in fact a lot deeper than its competitors.

If we continue the Galaxy of Heroes comparison, for example, Disney Interactive's effort is evidently far more complex than EA's.

The most immediate (and contentious) change is the lack of any auto-play function.

But there's added complexity in the meta-game, too. Iso-8, a mysterious resource debuted in the original game and since expanded upon in wider Marvel media, is the key to levelling up your heroes.

But Iso-8 comes in different variants, each providing additional experience for a certain type of unit.

It also comes in crystal form, each of which - when equipped - impacts a character's passive abilities in a different way. Active abilities are also customisable, meaning you can really make each character your own.

Disney reports that a significant community are still playing the original game, and this sequel has obviously been built with the same long lifespan in mind.

Money is power

Avengers Alliance 2 has a few different currencies and resources.

The first is Ability Points, which, as it says on the tin, can be used to unlock new and more powerful abilities. There's also Silver, the soft currency that is used in conjunction with Iso-8 to empower heroes.

Then there's energy that never seems to completely deplete during standard, non-intensive play, and an additional energy resource - Survey Markers - that are in far shorter supply and used only for high-reward scouting missions.

Finally, as is predictable, we have the hard currency: Gold. It's in decent supply for freeloaders, but it's actually pretty expensive to buy - bundles range from $2.79 for 12 to $99.99 for 750.

The value the game places on its characters, then, becomes fairly high - a superior power cell, which yields a random hero or ability, works out at approximately $5.80 in real money.

This is especially odd seeing as it's not uncommon to be gifted 50 Gold - enough to buy two superior power cells - at a time for besting certain bosses.

Disney has even more reason to design around its hardcore players given the incredible staying power of the original game's community.

Is this a psychological attempt to make rewards and the earning of new heroes a more valuable experience, or is it simply unbalanced?

Whatever the intention, from my perspective it served only to discourage me from spending.

Early days

It's incredibly difficult to come to a definitive conclusion on a game that is so evidently geared towards being continually played over a duration of many months - years, even.

Of course, this is the case with effectively all free-to-play games, but Disney Interactive has even more reason to design around its hardcore players given the incredible staying power of the original game's community.

However, from early impressions, Marvel: Avengers Alliance 2 is not an ungenerous game, but one whose IAPs are priced out of contention for all but the committed.

With the game boasting some of the world's most popular characters and plenty of depth, it shouldn't have any trouble finding these hardcore fans who are willing to shell out.

However, it does make one wonder if it will suffer through its lack of worthwhile options at the lower end of the IAP spectrum for impulse buyers or those testing the waters.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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