Some players of Marvel Strike Force, a free-to-play mobile game featuring superheroes like Thor and Ironman, got a nice surprise when they logged in Sunday—thousands of dollars worth of premium lootboxes.
In Marvel Strike Force, players cultivate teams of Marvel heroes like Spider-Man and Captain America and send them on missions to fight waves of bad guys. Playing the game generates orb fragments and other resources players can use to unlock new characters, cosmetics, powers, and campaigns. For a few hours on Sunday, players logging into Marvel Strike Force received 3,000 orange orbs—one of the highest tier lootboxes with the best possible gear. For example, an orange orb can contain Colossus from the X-Men.
Typically, a player needs 2,000 orange orb fragments to open an orange orb. The login bonus was supposed to give players 3,000 fragments. Instead, it gave them three thousands orbs.
“Earlier today there was an issue with the Valuable Lessons login calendar granting the incorrect resource for Orange Catalyst Orb fragments,” Marvel Strike Force said in a tweet. “The problem with the calendar has been fixed but we will need some time to properly review the situation of players receiving too many orbs.”
"The situation" is an unmitigated and kind of hilarious disaster for a game that relies on free-to-play monetization. According to YouTuber Alternerd Reality—who frequently plays Marvel Strike Force—3,000 orbs is the equivalent of more than $33,000. Like many free-to-play games, Marvel Strike Force’s store is intentionally complicated to mask the way players spend money on the game. Players can’t directly buy orbs, they have to purchase a premium currency called power cores used to open orbs. Opening one orb will cost roughly $10—depending on the type of orb and if a player buys power cores in bulk. The orange orbs are so rare that players can’t use the premium currency to get them.
To get the orange orbs, players have to grind the game at high levels for multiple hours. Scopely, Marvel Strike Force’s developer, has a huge problem now. A large part of its playerbase has free access to end game loot that would typically represent hundreds of hours and dollars worth of effort. Scopely shut the promotion down, but not before a number of players started cashing in orange orbs.
The act of opening a lootbox in a game like Marvel Strike Force is a pleasurable experience. It has its own room in the game, where the orb is placed in a machine where it’s scanned then popped. The loot flies into the air and lands before the player. It’s so much fun that there are multiple YouTube videos of folks spending hundreds of dollars to pop orbs.
Scopely has two obvious options—roll back their game servers to the hours before it ran the promotion or call it a wash and let the players enjoy their free loot.
“The idea of giving a significant chunk of players several days, or even possibly weeks of progress with those advantages is absurd,” player BDJ21988 said in a thread about the controversy on the Reddit. “Conversely, allowing those players to play for days at a time, then rolling back all the progress they made, is absurdly unfair to those players who gained those orbs through no fault of their own. We're already at the point where if the impacted players are rolled back that it's pretty unfair to them, but the longer this goes, the worse this looks for the company.”
This isn’t the first time Marvel Strike Force has been at the center of a monetization controversy. In August 2018, players needed a team of a specific composition to enter a new short term event campaign. Players needed a full team of Kree minions to help them, but Krees were rare drops. To make up the for the random Kree drops, Marvel Strike Force offered a special deal where players could buy the full team they needed for $99. Several prominent Marvel Strike Force YouTubers quit playing the game in protest.
As of this writing, Scopely hasn’t said how it plans to handle the orange orb accident and did not return our request for comment.