Marvel Snap’s Macrotransactions Are Such Bad Optics
Marvel Snap isn’t the first mobile game to become wildly successful overnight. But what makes Snap remarkable is that it got there without resorting to all the shady monetization tricks every other successful mobile game uses. Not only does it break from card game conventions by eliminating packs, it also avoids all of the systems that make mobile games miserable to play and expensive to keep up with. There are no timers, no energy resources, no paid log-in bonuses, and no aggressive pop-ups encouraging you to keep spending money. The paid battle pass has a monthly exclusive card, but even that singular card eventually filters into the regular reward track.
Marvel Snap might be the only mobile game of its size that’s truly free-to-play, without becoming a nightmarish grind that punishes players who don’t pony up the cash. It represents a new way forward for mobile in so many ways, so why does its shop make it look like the same old mobile game trash?
If I was a new player that heard all of the good buzz about Marvel Snap and decided to give it a chance, the current state of the in-game shop would probably make me uninstall it immediately. I know how generous and rewarding Snap is, but from a new player perspective, the shop makes it look just as predatory and expensive as any other generic mobile game. Right now you’ll find one bundle of variants, boosters, credits, and avatars that costs 3000 Gold, the equivalent of about $40, and a “Pro Bundle” that costs $99.99. There are other bundles, as well as a rotation Daily Offer shop full of variant cards, priced from 700-1200 Gold, or about $10-$15. These aren’t necessary purchases, but everytime you want to claim your 50 free daily credits you’ll need to scroll past all of these ads. You might be able to resist the temptation to pay for a very expensive Collection Level boost, but the developer is counting on a certain percentage of players to give in.
I don’t begrudge Second Dinner for trying to make money. Marvel Snap is a live-service card game, and anyone who plays games like this in 2023 has a general expectation for how they work. Snap is a lot more reasonable that the rest, and I never hesitate to buy the battle pass every month. I also don’t have a problem with selling cosmetics, or even credits, to help players increase their Collection Levels quicker. What I take issue with is the absurd pricing, which is designed to target vulnerable players.
I can’t determine the fair value of a variant card or a pile of credits, but unfortunately, I can’t trust Second Dinner to determine fair value either. There’s a reasonable range for the cost of a cosmetic item, but once you start charging more than the full price of a game per microtransaction, you’re intentionally targeting people who will spend any amount, no matter what. Mobile game developers know most people won’t spend a dime on in-game purchases no matter how reasonably priced they are, so they go after whales instead, and make all the microtransactions astronomically expensive. If the “Pro Bundle” was $1000, a certain group of people would still buy it. Anytime you see a price in a mobile game that makes you do a double take, understand that that price only exists to prey upon players who either can’t help themselves, or don’t need money to live the way you or I do.
Second Dinner took a swing at a gachapon-style of monetization during Marvel Snap’s beta that the community hated, and to its credit, it quickly changed course. It seems like the studio is still trying to find the right way to monetize the game, and while I’m willing to give it some grace with that respect, it’s utilizing tried-and-true mobile techniques to capitalize off of whales, and it doesn’t need to. Second Dinner has made so many pro-player decisions in the design and execution of Marvel Snap, but it jeopardizes all of the good will it earned when it fills the shop with $100 microtransactions. You can ignore the bundles and dismiss the criticism by saying they’re totally optional purchases, but these kinds of disproportionately expensive microtransactions are predatory in nature, and they have no place in a game as good as Marvel Snap.
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