Monday, April 29, 2013

The Marvel RPG "Curse" Strikes Again

In case you haven't heard, tomorrow, April 30th is the last day that you'll be able to purchase the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game and its sourcebooks in pdf form. Margaret Weis Productions has lost the license and Marvel wants product pulled off of ebook catalogs. It's a shame really, I didn't much care for the system because of the muddy rules and lack of real character creation (though the fans have sorted those aspects out), but it was getting good press and it seemed like it was selling well, and even though the system didn't suit me I still liked the books; they were gorgeous and fluff was well put together. Evidently it wasn't selling up to Marvel's expectations however.

I don't know what the deal was that MWP struck with Marvel, only Marvel and MWP know that, but it seems like the string of Marvel RPG failures since the end of the original Marvel Super Heroes RPG from TSR have one thing in common: Marvel has really high expectations for any licensing deal they make. There's nothing wrong with that, but they should temper their expectations with a nice garnish of knowledge of the medium. RPG's aren't the big sellers they were in the pre-internet days. We're not likely to ever see another RPG boom like we did when D20 burst onto the scene (then again, stranger things have happened). Even in the days before the net and MMORPG's it wasn't like D&D was outselling all other forms of entertainment, y'know the days when MSH was on the market and running strong...

Plus, I can't help but notice that Marvel RPG seem to always be attached to some "experimental" product. The color chart of MSH, card-based roleplaying in SAGA, and then awful resource management of the Marvel Universe RPG. Marvel Heroic wasn't really experimental, but Cortex is hardly a "mainstream" rpg. If they wanted higher sales, go with the current big dog in the supers RPG market: Green Ronin and their well done Mutants & Masterminds. Sure, they'd have their characters stated up in the same system as their competitor DC, but so what? No matter the system, gamers are going to stat up their favorite characters, and I don't know anyone that only does Marvel or only does DC out of some sense of purity or what-have-you. Heck, they could have even licensed it to Steve Kenson to work with his excellent ICONS system (yeah, I realize that Steve didn't have control of ICONS when MWP struck their deal with Marvel). ICONS may not be the M&M juggernaut, but it's still a damn fine system written by the same guy that made M&M what it is.

All in all, I see the only "curse" with Marvel is, well, themselves. They expect too much from a niche market in a niche market in a down economy. There's plenty there in the Marvel Universe to put out a library of books, and great material to keep gamers that love supers to keep coming back for more, but that's never going to happen if Marvel expects RPG's to sell anything like toys and/or video games. Plus its just as likely not to happen if they keep going with untried system. Sure there's that chance they'll hit onto something that will resonate with gamers that's beyond the norm, but the chances of that are rare. If sales are the main concern they need to go with someone that's tried and tested, be it an author like Steve Kenson, or by licensing the universe for use with a popular system.

It's sad to see Marvel Heroic leave the e-shelves of e-bookstores through they net, and here's hoping that someone else it willing to give it another shot.

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