Marvel Snap, the latest mobile card battler that has taken the world by storm since its global launch last month, has shown no signs of slowing down. Following a huge launch and a subsequent nomination at The Game Awards, the development team at Second Dinner has big plans for the little game that could.
But what exactly is so special about Marvel Snap? This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen a digital card game come to mobile devices. There are plenty of competitors in that space including Hearthstone and The Legend of Runeterra. It’s also not the first time we’ve seen a card battler launch with the powerful Marvel IP attached to it.
What sets Marvel Snap apart from the competition is how fresh and unique it feels in 2022, at a time when card games have inadvertently built a reputation for being just a little too obtuse or unwelcoming.
I hopped into a call with Second Dinner’s chief development officer, Ben Brode himself, and the first thing I asked was, “Were the card game casuals like me the target audience for Marvel Snap?”
Somewhat surprisingly, the answer wasn’t as simple as a straightforward “yes”.
“I grew up playing card games,” Brode tells me. “And I loved them, you know. But I had the old-school experience of having trouble getting my friends to play them because these games traditionally are pretty complicated for a lot of people who might enjoy card games, and they might bounce off because of the complexity. Coming here to Second Dinner and working on Marvel Snap, I was like, ‘Hey I think there’s still room to grow the audience for card games.’ I think if we made something that was really welcoming, and we reduced the friction on deck-building, and have no card types, I think we could make something that welcomes even more players into the genre and show them what’s really fun about card games.”
Brode emphasizes that while it was extremely important for casual card game players to be able to get into Marvel Snap, they weren’t the target audience. And that’s because there is no target audience. Marvel Snap’s target audience, if you can call it that, is basically everyone.
“Literally anybody of any age, regardless of gaming history, can play and love Marvel Snap.”
“When trying to get investments and talking to potential business partners, when you’re making a game, everybody wants to know the target audience. And that was just such a weird question to me,” Brode laughs. “Because for me, it was everyone! Answering that question is inherently exclusionary, right? Because I’m only talking to these people and not these people. The way we were thinking of Marvel Snap was, hey this is a game for everyone –literally anybody of any age, regardless of gaming history, can play and love it. And people who already love card games will also love it because it’s got the depth that they really enjoy.”
Aside from just creating a card game that was fast-paced and easy to pick up and play, it was also important to make Marvel Snap look good. A big part of the game’s appeal is the card art, along with the hundreds of variants combined with cool effects, borders, and splits that really help to make a card pop.
Second Dinner didn’t necessarily have a particular art direction or style in mind when creating Marvel Snap’s cards, but as the art team expanded and grew bolder with experimentation, it began to dawn on them that this could very well be the best-looking card game ever made.
It all started with Marvel Snap’s art director, Jomaro Kindred, whom Brode describes as “an unparalleled artist”. Kindred experimented with a few different art styles in the beginning, landing on a hyper-realistic style, a little foreshortening, and anything to really show off the action in the cards. Then things grew from there, as Kindred began spreading the word in the art community.
“This is it. This is gonna be the best-looking card game.”
“[Kindred]’s been part of the art community for so long,” Brode tells me, his smile getting visibly wider as he continues the story. “He started spreading the word saying, ‘Hey we’re working on a Marvel game, anyone wanna get in on this?’ And we got a ton of incredible artists –some who have been working on Marvel stuff for years, some who have been doing other types of art, who wanted to get in on the Marvel fun. And we have this colorist, who’s just absolutely amazing. Ryan Kinnaird, who basically colored all of our base card art and he really helped sell this style of art. Finally, there was this moment in development where Kyle, our tech art director, built this system to like, 3D-ify the cards. We all just gathered around his computer and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh this is it, this is gonna be the best-looking card game.’”
Brode paused for a bit at this point, then added somewhat sheepishly: “And we realized the amount of work it would take to make this happen went way up, but it was worth it. It was just beautiful.”
With how well-received the base art and variants have been received by the Marvel Snap player base, it’s certainly safe to say that all that effort paid off. And Second Dinner certainly knows they’ve really hit something special here. After the Nexus Events monetization debacle, the team scrapped them entirely and reaffirmed that their monetization strategy would be heavily focused on cosmetics and the season pass instead. As a sign of goodwill, the new card that released during the Nexus Event –Jane Foster– was also given out to all existing players for free, and all Gold spent on the event was refunded.
By shifting away from the lootbox-riddled Nexus Events to cosmetic sales and the season pass, I had mild concerns that this could eventually open the door to potential price increases for the pass, which offered the best monetary value in the game for any player by far. I asked Brode if there had been any talk at all about possible price increases, and he was quick to reassure me that, no, they have not talked about price increases, and things are smooth-sailing for now.
Brode went on to expand a little on how progression is going to work in Marvel Snap, especially for beta players who have already unlocked a full card collection. He emphasized that it was important to constantly create new goals for players to hit, and that would mostly come in the form of new cards.
“There’s not too much pressure to invent anything even remotely close to Nexus Events. We’ll continue to make new cards and we wanna make sure there are goals for players who have reached the end of the Collection road,” Brode says. “They’re getting all the cards, so we wanna make sure that doesn’t end. It’s consistent goals forever on that road. We’re gonna be adding new card series at some point, so I think that’ll help create goals for players, and you can of course speed up your progress by buying extra Credits. But that’s how we’re already doing things and it’s working great, so we don’t feel the need to shake things up too much.”
When asked about what the mysterious mythic variants listed on the development roadmap were going to look like, however, Brode was tight-lipped about it. With the crazy cosmetic combinations you can get now with existing variants, borders, splits, and effects, it was difficult to imagine just how much more over-the-top mythic variants were going to be in Marvel Snap.
I expressed this to Brode, who let out a laugh and said: “Yeah, right?! It’s something we’re still working on. I know the team’s got some dreams, but I don’t have any details right now.”
In-game cosmetics have also become a key part of Marvel Snap’s ranked rewards, and it’s often brought up as a point of contention on Reddit and in the game’s official Discord server. The cosmetics introduced in each season of Marvel Snap are exclusive to that season, which means there’s no way of getting them again once the season has ended. Unfortunately, this also applies to the highly sought-after card backs that have been offered as Infinite rank rewards in the past two seasons.
During the beta days, Second Dinner had previously stated that they were still evaluating whether card backs were an appropriate reward for Infinite rank. When I asked Brode where the team had landed on that discussion, he mentioned that the team was still experimenting, and nothing was set in stone just yet. However, he was firm about keeping things like card backs exclusive to that season, even the ones locked behind Infinite rank.
“We do want to have rewards that are compelling and encourage people to play, and push themselves to reach new heights,” Brode explained. “Having goals is a very motivating thing in game design. It’s important to have some goals that are aspirational. Our thinking is that these card backs are not like the cards themselves; you’re not meant to be able to get all of them. These are cosmetics that are not critical for gameplay. We just wanna give you a bunch of cosmetic options for texture, so that’s kind of our strategy right now.”
That being said, he certainly wasn’t opposed to the idea of changing the Infinite rank reward to other forms of cosmetics. “I think we’re gonna continue to add more cosmetic types to the game to just give more texture to the season pass and ranked rewards. I think it’s really fun to do cosmetic rewards, and we’re gonna continue to experiment. I’m sure this is not, like, the last version of our ranked rewards system so we’ll definitely consider other stuff.”
With the core gameplay and monetization plans for Marvel Snap now set on a solid foundation, Second Dinner is ready to start working on other game modes to flesh it out even further. The team has previously talked about a casual mode, where players can test new decks and complete missions without having to worry about battling for cubes. There’s also Battle Mode, which will allow friends to play against each other with their chosen decks, and each player starts with 10 health. The idea here is to keep going back and forth until one player’s health is completely depleted, so there’s a clear winner and a clear loser.
With all these new modes in the pipeline, I asked Brode if there were any plans to change how the current iteration of how ladder mode works. After all, if you browse the Marvel Snap subreddit, it won’t take long before you stumble on a post complaining about RNG-dependent locations like Ego, Subterranea, and District X. These are locations that actively mess with your deck and your entire game plan. Were there any plans to filter these polarizing locations out of ladder mode while players were trying to rank up?
Brode didn’t actually say no, but his response to this question made it pretty clear that the team had no intention of removing that element of variance in the game.
“It’s the concept of rough edges. We can over-polish, and then everything feels the same.”
He pondered the question further for just a second before saying, “It’s interesting. There’s this philosophy in game design my old boss taught me, which I like. It’s the concept of rough edges. And the philosophy goes like this: as designers, we have a desire to have a really polished experience where everything feels really good. That’s important. But we can go too far. We can over-polish and then everything feels the same, right?
And locations like Ego, District X, and Subterranea add a huge amount of texture to the game, but they don’t come up that often. It’s not like every game’s got weird locations, but it does change the experience and adds some emotional variance to playing the game, and I think that matters.”
Brode also emphasized the importance of variance in locations, especially in how it affects card balancing in Marvel Snap: “In some ways, Marvel Snap is the least affected by imbalance in cards because locations will continue to give you new experiences and new problems to solve even if you’re playing against the same deck over and over again. It’s nice. The Hot and Featured Locations also reduce this feeling of facing the same thing over and over again because they create new metas in a little pocket.”
With all of these different elements coming together to create a truly fresh and exciting card game in Marvel Snap, I asked Brode what the team’s hopes and aspirations were for a competitive scene.
He smiled and said, “It was not our intention to build an eSport. We wanted to build a really fun card game, and I think we accidentally made a game that has the potential to be a really fun eSport. It’s so much fun to watch people play Marvel Snap, so yeah, our Battle Mode is integral to that. And then it’s kinda up to the community, and what the community wants, right? If people are like hey, somebody ran a tournament and people loved watching it and people love playing it, then that opens the door for more competitive stuff.”
Finally, I asked Brode what his least favorite card in the game was. His response? A lot of thinking and a lot of self-checking to make sure he didn’t accidentally talk about unreleased cards before finally landing on an answer: Elektra.
“My least favorite card…,” he checks his computer to make sure he doesn’t let anything slip. “Elektra. She just keeps killing my stuff! I play a lot of Ebony Maw, so Elektra is like, the bane of my existence.”
Marvel Snap is now available on PC and mobile devices.