Monday, May 13, 2013

The Unheroic Demise of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

In the world of super-hero comics the death of a hero can be an ostentatious event and great characters often don't stay dead for long. Unfortunatly I feel that the loss of licencing from Marvel for Margaret Weiss Productions' Marvel Heroic Roleplaying will not follow the same narrative cycle as the heros it portrays.

Annihilation - omen of an RPG.

This one really hurts as I've only seen good stuff regarding this game and have purchased almost everything on the shelf for it at my FLGS. I even asked if they could bring in a hard copy of "Civil War - X-Men"

So what happened here? I have my own theories and something about the following quote from MWP doesn't ring quite true - there's something not exactly transparent.

"And in Marvel news… the economics of licensing a tie-in product is always something we have to weigh carefully. We brokered an admittedly ambitious license with Marvel. Our first event, CIVIL WAR, was successful and well received, but it didn’t garner the level of sales necessary to sustain the rest of the line. We’ve learned from this and are taking a very different approach with the other licensed properties we’re bringing out to you in the next three years. We believe we created a great game. Those of you that have supported us have been terrific, and we appreciate you. But, unfortunately, we will not be bringing any new product out under the Marvel line. We know this affects our customers. Those that have pre-ordered Annihilation will receive a full refund or a credit worth 150% of their Annihilation order to use on existing or future product".

Really? This game has hardly been out for a year. It also was the 2012 ENnie Awards Silver Award winner for Best Game and Gold Award winner for best rules. They even say in the quote above that CIVIL WAR was successful and well received. How much better was this expected to be. I can't help but think that somehow this has something to do with Marvel over valuing their licence for this game after the success of the Avengers movie. If this game can't make enough money to be viable then I seriously doubt Marvel will be able to find a game company (or develop a game themselves) that will "garner the level of sales necessary to sustain the rest of the line".

If MWP would come clean with the details maybe the fans could do something regarding this. Specifically, did MWP dump the line because they couldn't make enough money on it? I hope not because they just invested in that tired old property "Firefly". If they dumped Marvel Heroic because they felt they couldn't keep both it and their other newly acquired properties then that would be tragedy. That would essentially mean that they were not prepared to let Marvel Heroic grow and produce returns for them and that they took the money we spent on it and rolled it into a licence for crap like "Firefly".

If that isn't the case, it means that Marvel wanted too much for the line as negotiated between the two  and MWP couldn't make enough profit to viably keep publishing the line- "an admittedly ambitious license". Also if the stuff already written is now being scrapped that means MWP expected to take a loss if they continued. The other scenario here is that Marvel was in a position to request even more for the licence after a set time period, and seeing the success of their Avengers movie, jacked up the fees, making Marvel Heroic unviable. 

Here's the situation. If MWP pulled out because they felt they would rather focus on other properties because they were more profitable than Marvel Heroic, but Marvel Heroic was still making money then basically it's over. If MWP lost the license from Marvel because it was too expensive then it's clobbering time. Basically it's unlikely that a new Marvel RPG is going to do better than Marvel Heroic. Its popular and won 2 ENnies. Marvel has to understand the "actual value " of its propery in the RPG game industry. They can either make some money or no money. But here is the game changer. If a game that was popular in the circle of customers that would be interested in such a game didn't generate enough value to continue the line, we need to let Marvel know that we want it to support Marvel Heroic, and that we will not be supporting any forthcoming system. This in effect will make any Marvel RPG completely unviable, unprofitable and generate nothing for Marvel and its properties. If Marvel wants to make any money from our hobby they need to renegotiate a new deal with MWP to continue the Marvel Heroic line. Simply put, we don't need Marvel to keep playing this game, we can make the content ourselves,the OSR has proven that it can be done, and MWP could easily publish the operations manual without the Marvel IP. Marvel has an opportunity to create even more fans, make some money, and watch a game line grow, with the future opportunity to make money on RPGs for every comic book tie in / event they have ever published and/or ever will. However this is Disney - creator of the Disney Vault - they're perfectly willing to sit on this, It's worked for them in the past. This time it's different, because if we keep building our own events and data files then there will never be a demand for a Marvel RPG. Our community will become the one with all the content and all the players. If Marvel sits on this they lose.