Why Aren't Superhero MMOs Hugely Successful

Developing with David Brevik, From Demons to Dr. Doom

I jumped on Skype with David Brevik last night. You know David Brevik, co-founder of Blizzard North, Lead Designer of Diablo 1 and 2 and current CEO and President of Gazillion Entertainment? Sure you do. He’s the guy who defined the Action RPG, and more recently, the mastermind behind the upcoming superhero Action MMO, Marvel Heroes.

Last month during Gamescom I had a chance to see Marvel Heroes in action, and spoke with David a lot about where they were taking the game and what we could expect on release; you can read about it in our Hands-on Preview. This time, I wanted to take the opportunity to find out more about David’s personal motivations behind the project; he was more than happy to oblige.

‘I love MMOs’, he started, ‘I played a nearly illegal amount of Everquest, and was involved in a lot of World of Warcraft design, so I played tons and tons of that, too. With Marvel Heroes, we knew that it shouldn’t be this cookie cutter type of game – MMOs haven’t strayed very far from that formula, and we wanted to do something different.’

Warms the cockles, doesn’t it? It seems more and more these days that developers head into design for the wrong reasons; hearing David talk about beginning Marvel Heroes with the idea that they wanted to do something different sent me gushing into learning how the project first started.

‘I wanted to make an Action RPG, and I’m a huge Marvel nut, so I sought this licence out. I’m a comic book nerd, and I’ve wanted to do this for a while. It was really a dream come true.’

‘I came to Gazillion about 3-ish years ago as the Creative Director to start my own development team, and brought a lot of my own guys with me. I wanted to make something that was different, but also add a lot of familiarity so that people could easily relate.’

‘During that time I was promoted to President and CEO of the company [Gazillion], so I was running a lot of the business. Though, my focus has been, and continues to be, on this particular project. During the day, over 80% of my time was spent working on Marvel heroes.’

It was at this point that I started to get curious about why David found this action-style of gaming so compelling, and fired off a few questions in that direction.

‘It’s a variety of things. I’m a huge RPG fan, it’s my favourite type of gaming. I guess it comes from playing Zelda, Final Fantasy, Ultima, Might and Magic – these were the games that were the biggest influence on me when I was younger. I wanted to take all of that depth – the monsters, the swords, the fantasy – then I just wanted to blow things up.’

I followed up by asking how David felt Action RPGs had evolved over the years.

‘We haven’t had as much change as I would have liked to see – a lot of companies have gone toward the FPS, so that genre has evolved a lot, but there haven’t been a lot of Action RPGs, and I’d like to see a lot more evolution in this genre – more breakout and change. That’s one of my motivations for making Marvel Heroes – adding superheroes and MMOs to the genre, and really mixing it up.

Then, of course, we needed to talk a bit about MMOs. Marvel Heroes is aiming to bridge the gap between MMOs and Action RPGs, so it was the next logical step. I spoke a little about how others, like Drakensang, had attempted to do this before, but the results were little more than an action RPG with a friend’s list and communal town.

‘We’re really trying to make Marvel Heroes an MMO, so we’re focusing heavily on those elements: having a lot of people in the same area at the same time, completing quests and using vendors in a non-instanced environment.’

‘We’re creating public combat zones with fifty-ish people running around fighting and doing their own thing, coupled with public events bringing them together – a social, dynamic experience – fusing these aspects into the action genre.The original design for Diablo 3 was a lot like this, it’s the next logical step forward. I’ve been trying to do it for 10 years – this is the third time,  and we’re going to do it right.’

Sounding more epic by the minute, isn’t it? A true Action MMO, probably the first. But that’s only half of the story – it’s not just an Action MMO, it’s a Marvel Superhero Action MMO, so I asked David a little about what it was like working with an IP like Marvel.

‘I’ve worked with licensed material before – I made a game on the Genesis which was a DC Universe title. Normally, I prefer to create my own IP, because there aren’t so many restrictions – but it’s exciting for me to work with Marvel because I’m such a huge fan. It’s worth it for this IP, but it does have its difficulties.

At this point we were starting to run out of time, so selfishly, I finished up with the biggest question I had in my arsenal. If you don’t already know, Marvel Heroes is said to be launching with over 20 heroes – not this ‘make-you-own’ stuff, either – we’re talking about the heroes from the comic books that you’ve known your entire life. I wanted to know how balance was going to work with so many heroes, given that traditionally, this genre has been limited to about 5.

‘I’m not going to claim that we aren’t going to have balance problems, but what it comes down to for me is that each character needs to be fun to play. There’s no such thing as perfect balance, but we’ve done this before, and we know how to make skills that don’t break the math – we’ve got a lot of experience, and we’re going to make sure it works.’

In fear of gushing further, we wrapped it up here. Hearing phrases like ‘there’s no such thing as perfect balance’ really gets me excited, because it reminds me that David really does know what he’s talking about. He has done this before, and if he’s confident that this is going to work, I’m confident that it’s going to be awesome. And, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re looking for, isn’t it? Awesome games made by awesome gamers?

Hearing David speak about it, I’m feeling fairly certain that Marvel Heroes is going to be an incredible experience. The short amount of time I spent playing it last month confirmed any doubts I may have had about it being ‘just another free to play MMO’ – it was crisp and responsive, polished and refined – honestly, I just can’t wait to get my hands on it at home.

Thanks for reading, folks – and stay tuned for more Marvel Heroes coverage in the very near future. And a special thanks to David for setting aside some time to talk about the project today, and… y’know – making it and everything. We’ve been crying out for a true Action MMO for a long time now, and it’s a great feeling knowing that it’s about to arrive. Cheers.

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