Every now and then, whispers from the realm of mobile gaming fall upon our ears but it’s not too often that people take a look at just what is going on in that section of gaming. There’s a reason lootboxes exist in games such as Overwatch and Battlefront, and mobile games have a lot to do with it. Today, I want to take you on a journey through one of Mobile’s most profitable games: Marvel Contest of Champions.
Full disclosure: I’ve been playing Marvel Contest of Champions sporadically throughout the past four years. During this time, I have occasionally spent a few bucks here and there (I’d rather not add it all up) in order to buy Units – one of the in-game currencies – or Deals that helped me out in my progress. I haven’t played it for four years straight – the game is so addicting that I often need to give myself breaks off it because I find it a bit too time-consuming and it gets in the way of me playing other games.
Contest of Champions is perhaps comparable to Gacha games such as Nintendo’s Fire Emblem: Heroes. It is a fighting game where you acquire Champions and progress through a storyline that consists of multiple fights. As you progress through the game, you acquire Hero Crystals, an item that you “spin out” for the chance to acquire new Champions to improve your team. Each Champion can be leveled up, making them stronger and increasing their stats but they can also be “Awakened” when you obtain them twice from a crystal, which gives unlocks a new ability. Champions come in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and, most recently, 6-star forms – each more powerful than the last. In a way, these Crystals are like gambling. No, scratch that. These Crystals are actually gambling.
The spinning of the Crystal emulates a lottery machine. As it spins, you can see the Champions you might get and occasionally the roulette will stop on a 4-star Champion just to quickly roll over to a 2-star at the last moment. Hence the term: “getting Kabammed.” It doesn’t help that some characters are straight up broken while others are garbage. Continuously hunting for the best Champions can be taxing, because there are dozens of Marvel characters in the game so the probability of getting a good one is pretty low.
Now, there’s an issue in the game’s mechanics that further complicates things. Crystals can be acquired by playing the game, but they can also be acquired at a much faster rate by busting out the credit card and paying for them. Of course, with the odds being what they are, the probability of getting what you actually want is quite low.
Imagine for a moment that I’ve spent a total of $100 on the game. In terms of gameplay progress, the money I theoretically spent could mean nothing. If I bought 100 Crystals, my odds of getting a 4-star Champion are about 2%. Out of those 4-star Champions, around half are decent. Of that half, about a third is what the community has dubbed God-tier – Champions that are so good they can carry you through most of the game’s content.
There’s an inherent problem to Contest of Champions’ design in that it is made for people to spend money, or at least the game pushes people to spend money. As you progress further and further through the story and game content, it becomes progressively harder to beat unless you have the right Champions. The lucky few who got them as they made their way through the game might be able to beat it without much issue, but those players that have still not acquired the Champions are pressured to drop a few bucks for the possibility of getting them. Only on rare occasions are stand-alone Champions made available for purchase – and when that happens they are exorbitantly expensive.
It gets worse. One of the fastest way to acquire Crystal Shards, which eventually turn into Hero Crystals, is by being in an Alliance and doing two modes: Alliance Quests and Alliance Wars. The former is not as insidious, but it does carry the same design issue that most of the game has as certain Champions are too good in them. Alliance Wars, on the other hand, pit players against other Alliances – and of course, the Alliance with the best Champions will win. This grants them more Shards and in turn more Champions, a situation that has snowballed into creating players known as “whales” – gamers who spend insane amounts of money in order to stay on top of the game.
It’s hard to say just how much exactly these whales are spending in the game, but suffice to say that it’s more than a standard console game’s worth. Hell, it’s probably more than what a console costs. To be completely fair, however, some YouTubers out there (namely Contest Champion and “Seatin, Man of Legends”) have made a point by having free-to-play accounts that are able to clear all of the game’s content and compete to a certain degree. The one issue is that this takes a lot of time and patience, but mostly it takes a lot of swatting away Kabam’s incessant deals and offers as they try to goad you into spending money or your hard-earned Units.
The next time you’re playing Overwatch and you think lootboxes are unfair, then remember that this all started because of mobile games like Contest of Champions. There is no doubt that this game generates a massive amount of revenue monthly – so why wouldn’t companies jump on the bandwagon?
There are many more things that I want to explore with Contest of Champions, but no one here wants to read a thesis-length article. Stay tuned at Parallax Media for the next part in the series of insights into the Contest!