When Avatar came out in 2009, the video game industry was quite a bit different than it is today. Loot boxes hadn’t yet made their way into Western games, and microtransactions hadn’t really caught on. We didn’t use the terms “liveservice” or “games as a service” because they would have only applied to MMOs. There was no metaverse, no blockchain, no NFTs. Pay-to-win hadn’t even been coined yet as a term. Even mobile developers hadn’t yet discovered the innumerable ways to extort money from players. It was a simpler time - maybe even a better time in some ways. The only thing gamers had to worry about back then was a lazy, cash-grab movie tie-in game like James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game on PS4 and Xbox 360 which, frankly, wasn’t even that bad.
But 2009 was 13 years ago, and as we all know, things have changed a lot. Loot boxes, battle passes, xp boosters, challenge swaps, time savers, and pay-to-win mechanics have infested almost every corner of the industry, but no more so than mobile. With the first sequel hitting theaters this December, it’s finally time for Avatar to re-enter the video game landscape. While my hopes are pinned on Ubisoft’s open-world Frontiers of Pandora, I’m less enthusiastic for the recently announced Avatar: Reckoning - a mobile-exclusive MMORPG that’s already showing all the signs of being yet another Marvel Future Revolution-style stain on the entire industry.
There are many studios working hard to repair the reputation of mobile. The microtransaction-free Apple Arcade games, high quality ports like Alien: Isolation, and modestly monetized games like League of Legends: Wild Rift are all worthwhile experiences that don’t rely on predatory design practices and high-pressure microtransactions. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of developers using every dirty trick in the book to exploit players. Studios like Netmarble, developer of Marvel Future Revolution, make apps that can only be considered games using the loosest definition. They are digital storefronts with self-playing “games” designed to get vulnerable people to spend as much money as possible. Netmarble’s games are a blight on the industry and should be categorically avoided. And while we haven’t seen exactly what Avatar: Reckoning is, there’s already enough indication to suggest it’s going to be more of the same.
Avatar: Reckoning is not being developed by Netmarble, but the studio behind it, Archosaur Games, is clearly the same kind of studio. Its mobile games Dragon Raja and World of Kings use all of the same aggressive microtransactions mechanics as Marvel Future Revolution. Dragon Raja reviews on Android suggest that it’s “100% pay to win” and littered with so many ads for in-game purchases that it's nearly impossible to play the game without accidentally clicking on them. World of Kings uses autoplay - a tell-tale sign that a game isn’t actually designed to be played for fun - as well as absurd grinds that can be circumvented by, you guessed it, paying money.
We don’t know much about Avatar: Reckoning right now, but when I see a licensed mobile-exclusive MMORPG, all of my red flags go up. It’s disappointing to see Disney farm Avatar out to dispassionate studios that churn out soulless, money-grubbing apps like Marvel Future Revolution, but it isn’t surprising. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the villainous megacorp in Avatar would absolutely have a game dev branch that mass produces low effort, highly profitable mobile MMO games. If Avatar: Reckoning uses Unobtanium as a premium currency, I am going to become the Joker.
The first teaser for Amazon's Lord of the Ring show is here, along with the official title and release date.