Sometimes a rollback happens in an online game and it’s no big deal because you weren’t playing and didn’t lose anything. Most times, it’s one of those things that happens to other people.
After the jump, this isn’t one of those times
I had a great time playing Marvel Heroes on Thursday night. I really like the game. And I was thrilled to find a character as a drop. Normally, you have to buy characters. But sometimes, you can find them in the course of playing the game. In all the time I’d spent playing, this was the first time I’d gotten a new character. Furthermore, it was a non-crappy character. I could have gotten Black Panther or Daredevil or Cable. But I got The Punisher. I even know who The Punisher is from the goofy Thomas Jane movie, the more grimly goofy Ray Stevenson sequel, and the straight-up grim YouTube short.
So when I killed Sabertooth — I have no idea who Sabertooth is — and my eye was drawn to that purple text in the cluster of drops, I was thrilled to read the words “The Punisher”. I immediately spent time getting him to level eight or so. One of the things I like about the Punisher is that he’s not really a superhero. He’s just a dude who shoots the crap out of things with a bunch of guns. After all the time I’d spent blasting things with Jean Grey’s mind rays, it was a nice change of pace to shoot a hearty automatic shotgun and let rip with submachine guns akimbo that fired as long as my mana held out. Basically Max Payne, but without the bullet time.
When I started out with my newly discovered Punisher, I even decided to reset my story progress, basically starting the game at the beginning. I ran through the first few areas again, paying my dues by taking out muggers and punks, doing the first rounds of boss fights, covering the same territory I’d been retreading during the early stages of the endgame. I was rocking a serious rocket launcher once I earned a few levels. I foolishly fought Taskmaster — I also have no idea who he is — on my own rather than waiting for a party. I kited him around a small room to wait until I had enough mana to blast him in the face with three rockets and then I did it again. It was tough, but gratifying. I boosted my ammo reserve (i.e. mana) by putting points into a skill that taps into The Punisher’s “vengeance” to complement how long his mana holds out.
Oh, wait, no I didn’t. According to Marvel Heroes, I didn’t do any of these things.
When I logged in today, The Punisher wasn’t there and my main character had lost two levels. There was no explanation. No note. No post on the front of the launcher. No message in an ingame inbox. In fact, if someone on this site’s message board hadn’t mentioned it, I would have had no idea what had happened.
So what did happen? In the course of issuing compensation for a previous screw-up, Gazillion screwed up all over again and introduced a bug that let people duplicate an ingame reward. While trying to correct that bug, Gazillion screwed up all over again even more. “This was some new tech that we hadn’t used in this exact manner before, hence the unintended result,” wrote CEO David Brevik in a forum post that most players will never see. So Gazillion had to repair this “new tech that they hadn’t used in that exact manner before” by resetting the game to an earlier state before the last patch, much like Superman flew backwards around the world to rewind time to before Margot Kidder died. I’m not exactly sure how much time Gazillion erased, but about five hours of it was mine.
Gazillion is, of course, sorry for what they’ve done and they’re raising the drop rate for special items and adding an experience point boost for the weekend. That won’t do me any good, because I won’t be playing. They’re also crediting those of us who played during the lost time with $4 of spacebucks. But The Punisher is a $9 hero. So Gazillion basically took $5 from me when they rewound the clock and paid me $4. But it’s all virtual microbucks anyway, so whatever. The greater crime is that they wasted my time. If I was getting minimum wage for the time spent, they’d owe me about $40. Of course, I was being entertained during that time, so the idea of minimum wage isn’t entirely applicable. But a big part of that entertainment is based on the idea of making progress. That’s just how action RPGs work. So Gazillion invalidated part of the value I derive from the game. And since I don’t really know how else to charge for my time, I’m just going to call it minimum wage. Frankly, I think that’s generous. I’m confident it would hold up in a court of law, if that court was run by someone like Judge Judy.
But that’s still not the worst of it. You can’t put a price on the greatest loss, which is the thrill of finding a rare reward. The Punisher was the first new character drop I’d found. It was a momentous occasion. I actually went “Sweet!”, loud and out loud and despite the fact that there was someone else in the room with me playing another game on the other computer. I will almost never say “Sweet!” out loud. It was a grand moment and I consider it part of what makes a game like Marvel Heroes special. When the slot machine finally pays off, it colors the experience of playing that slot machine. In a weird way, it justifies the time you’ve spent. “Sweet!”
But now that moment is gone, and it’s a greater loss than the actual loss of the character or the time. If I were given a compensatory Punisher at this point, it wouldn’t matter. I don’t want another Punisher. I want the one I found fair and square, the one I immediately got to eighth level because I was so thrilled to find him, the one I picked out from the rest of the junk Sabertooth dropped.
One of the most valuable commodities in any game with an online component is trust. You have to trust that the servers will be online when you want to play the game you paid for. You have to trust the servers won’t be shut down in a year. You have to trust that the servers are secure enough that they won’t be compromised. You have to trust your progress won’t be reset. You have to trust that the people running the servers know what they’re doing. That’s just how online games have to work if they’re going to be online.
I’m confident that Marvel Heroes will eventually be a stable game. It’s too big not to be. If I decide to come back eventually, it will hopefully have lots of good new content and new concepts and new ways to play and new things for my characters to do. The basic idea is bulletproof, the execution is mostly solid, the business model is a recipe for commercial success, and the license is pure gold. But at this point, the developer is someone I simply don’t trust with my time.