There’s a lot to like about Marvel Strike Force, and that’s part of what makes the game’s recent decisions so infuriating, and the justified community reaction so lamentable. This all could have been avoided, if the developers had made different decisions.
There are the bones of a very fun role-playing mobile game in Strike Force: You recruit heroes, weigh their strengths and synergy, and then build teams to face off against a variety of challenges. That’s a solid formula, but everything built around it is what you might expect from the worst-case business practices of a mobile game — and even that has recently been taken to extremes.
The game’s most recent update, a time-limited campaign based around Nick Fury and the Kree, has angered the community so badly that two of the game’s biggest YouTubers quit and posted videos calling out publisher FoxNext for its development decisions. Strike Force has spun so wildly out of control in a scenario that captures the good, bad and ugly of mobile gaming.
The plot of Marvel Strike Force is simple and to the point, with some cheeky writing and superhero humor thrown in for flavor. Nick Fury has mobilized the alternate-reality black ops force STRIKE to protect this particular Earth, which is the nexus to all worlds. A villain named Ultimus has conquered countless other dimensions, subjugating their heroes and brainwashing them, and is now coming for the player’s home planet. Players engage in RPG combat, complete missions and slowly “free” heroes from Ultimus, which unlocks them in the player’s roster.
There are a variety of game modes and challenges that offer different ways to unlock heroes and currencies to spend. There isn’t a lack of content; players can go through campaign missions, arena battles against other players’ squads, short-term “Blitz” events and limited-time story events to celebrate new heroes or movies in the Marvel universe.
Marvel Strike Force reportedly racked up 10 million installs over four months and earned $25 million. Players can earn currencies like gold or raid tickets through playing the game, or they can purchase “power cores” to speed things along. The game also distributes a small amount of power cores through normal gameplay. All of this is pretty standard so far, but when you scratch the surface, things start to get a little odd.
Unlocking a hero like Black Panther can take months of grinding and luck, or you can spend $50 upfront and just buy him. The newest Nick Fury event requires players to have a full team of Kree minions. That’s a pretty tall order considering they do not reliably drop and are considered suboptimal for any competitive situation. If you’re short, don’t worry — the game will offer you a boost to your squad for a mere $99.99.
At this point, we’re well out of microtransaction territory; when it costs more than a full-price, AAA game to get a cadre of low powered, literally no-name troops, that’s a macrotransaction. This deal won’t give you a complete deal on the Kree, either; it’ll simply unlock the set for you and start you on the path for your grind. Heroes can level up to 7-stars and each star takes more shards. If players want a seven-star hero, they’re looking at hundreds of dollars. A team takes five heroes; if you want your A-team to be top of the ladder, be prepared to shell out thousands (or be very, very patient and grind very, very hard.)
Add in an already outrageous financial model with slow restrictions on the free-to-play elements of the game, like diminished raid rewards, no power cores in log in rewards, and top end raids requiring completely different team layouts, and fans are furious.
“Kraken OXTS86V” and “Seatin: Man of Marvel Strike Force” represented the Marvel Strike Force community on YouTube. Both of them posted goodbye videos; they are both quitting the game in response to FoxNext’s changes, with the Nick Fury event being the last straw.
“This will be my last video for Marvel Strike Force and this channel,” Kraken said in a YouTube video. “I am done making content for you, FoxNext. [...] I have given you more than 10 chances to turn the game around, and you haven’t. Not only have you not turned the game around, but you made it worse and worse and worse for the last two months now. Bullshit offers, bullshit raid reward system, no incentive to keep playing, just trying to grab the cash at every single turn. You are going down a really wrong path and I am not ready to follow you down it.”
“I’ve been playing this game since one, since beta,” Seatin said in his own video. “As soon as that launch patch hit, I don’t know what fucking happened! It was just shitty decision after shitty decision, just constantly bringing so much of the game back, bringing the rewards back, increasing the difficulty, just trying to cash grab at every opportunity, it’s been an absolute shit show!”
Both videos are worth a watch; both content creators were clearly passionate for Marvel Strike Force, were in communication with FoxNext, and wanted the game to succeed. Despite that, the rewards, difficulty and macrotransactions were enough to drive them away. The game’s subreddit is also in open revolt, commenting on the new Deadpool El Scorcho raid difficulty, the YouTube exodus and the constant flood of offers for players.
The ultimate fate of Marvel Strike Force isn’t decided quite yet; the core gameplay is still solid, but the infrastructure built around it is inflaming the playerbase and driving fans away. It remains to be seen whether FoxNext is able to salvage the core of what is genuinely a good, fun superhero RPG. After a mountain of bad decisions chasing the elusive whales of the mobile market, it may be too late.