The developers at Marvel Snap have done their job a little too well. In an interview with The Verge, the developers spoke about how, when designing Marvel Snap, they wanted to create a game that could “fit into your life.” Well, it seems like I and millions of others have not only managed to fit the game into our lives but have shaped our lives around it. That’s why I play a few quick rounds first thing in the morning, reward my productivity at work with a midday Snap break, and why I must end the day on a dub before I can sleep.
Marvel Snap is the debut game of Second Dinner, an indie studio founded by ex-Blizzard developers, and from the start, they knew they wanted to create a mobile card game. “Marvel Snap is about continuing our passion for sharing our love for collectible card games with as many people in the world as possible,” said Yong Woo, Snap’s chief production officer and co-founder at Second Dinner.
“We felt like mobile is absolutely a great starting point,” he continued. “We’re thinking about a game that can fit into your lifestyle, where everybody can enjoy it regardless of how much time they may have in their lives.”
One of Marvel Snap’s biggest draws is that it’s a game that can be fully experienced in minutes at a time. While gamers still greatly enjoy the 60-plus-hour, full narrative experiences from developers like Sony, Ubisoft, and EA, as the core age demographic of gamers slowly creeps upward, the idea of “appointment gaming” is starting to increase in popularity.
Yong said that, like most developers, the folks at Second Dinner want to make games they themselves are passionate about and would want to play. And in designing Snap, they wanted a game that wouldn’t interfere too much with people’s busy lives where oftentimes, a trip to the toilet is one of the day’s only moments of peace and solitude.
“They’re are games out there where you could play around, and it’s like five minutes,” Yong said. “But then, if you get into a crazy situation, you could be sitting on a toilet for like 20 minutes, you know?”
Yong continued, “When we were thinking how we wanted to forge [Marvel Snap], [we thought] ‘Hey, what if a game could be super strategically deep, and what if we could also somehow make it, like, three minutes long?’”
“What if a game could be super strategically deep, and what if we could also somehow make it, like, three minutes long?”
A typical Marvel Snap match lasts around three to six minutes. While that short time doesn’t sound like it lends itself well to the kind of deep-thinking play CCGs are known for, Snap’s card design, unique field-of-play, and “snap” mechanic makes for matches that are like neutron stars of competitive drama. Imagine if you could get all the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the high-octane emotion of wild “swing for the fences” plays in six minutes or less. Now imagine that 70 percent of your games are like that: that’s Marvel Snap.
The amount of love the developers have invested in Marvel Snap is shared by their partners at Marvel Entertainment. According to Second Dinner co-founder and chief development officer Ben Brode, it was Marvel Games’ EVP Jay Ong who approached them about making a game, confident that Second Dinner would deliver the same quality experiences found in games like Spider-Man, Miles Morales, and the criminally underrated Guardians of the Galaxy.
“He hit up Hamilton, our CEO, and said, ‘Hey, look, I’d love to work with you guys. I know you guys can make something great, so I’d love for Marvel to be a part of that,’” Brode said. “Working with [Marvel] has just been unbelievably fun because they’re not a normal licensor who’s just doing it for the dollars. These are folks who are from the games industry who’ve been working at Marvel for a really long time, who really, really care.”
According to Brode, the titular “snap” — whereby a player can increase the stakes of the game with a “doubling cube” — was an idea that came from the company’s CEO Hamilton Chu.
“So we actually just played Hearthstone with a doubling cube,” Brode said. “So Hamilton sat behind me and said, ‘Would you double the stakes this turn? Would you retreat if your opponents doubled the stakes?’ And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I think I would double the stakes right now.’ And we felt like it made the game more fun. It added this extra level of deep strategy.”
I find that the cards are more compelling strategy devices, and with absolutely unheard-of mechanics (like cards that play the game for you), there is no shortage of ways to frustrate and delight your opponent. In fact, one of the best things about Marvel Snap is that it encourages wacky play. I will make the most bone-headed “yolo” plays just for the hell of it, and the best thing is it often works. “The ideal situation is where people can have fun and try things, and there isn’t this immense pressure for you to find the right way to play the game,” said Woo.
“There isn’t this immense pressure for you to find the right way to play the game”
Live service CCGs like Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering Arena are typically dominated by cycles of content releases. Every time a new set comes out, more powerful cards are released, and decks tend to feature the same handful of cards. With Snap, and particularly its unique location mechanic, it’s harder for a singular strategy to take hold. That, according to Woo, is where a lot of the creativity and innovation of cards and players tend to shine.
“I think it really helps mix things up,” Woo said. “Day by day, week by week, you’re not supposed to use that one deck that somebody said was the right deck a month ago. It’s like every day, we’re hoping to create a situation where you’re like, ‘Hey, what’s the new puzzle that I got to solve?’”
I’m so torn between locations or cards as my favorite singular element of the game. On the one hand, having a Bar Sinister pop-up — a location that duplicates whatever card you play there until the space is full — is my favorite. Fill it with the Scorpion card that reduces the attack power of every card in your opponent’s hand by one, and you can ruin someone’s day. I’m also really fond of when opponents commit errors against themselves. The developers laughed, delighted when I told them of how opponents would immediately concede the match when they realized that adding an Iron Man — a card that doubles a location’s score — to a space that already has a negative value only makes the value even more negative. (See, those basic math lessons really did come in handy.)
“What? You played Yondu on Bar Sinister on turn one? I am out of there,” said Kent-Erik Hagman, associate design director at Second Dinner. He’s the person who handles all the design elements of Marvel Snap, from new locations to new cards, and is, therefore, the one responsible for all your Bar Sinister-related frustrations. “And then you Killmonger it to clear your Bar Sinister. And then you play Cable on Bar Sinister. And then they have no deck!” (Writer’s note: this is an extremely situational play and should not be attempted regularly.)
Trading stories about your Marvel Snap shenanigans is one of the ways the game has spread like wildfire. According to mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower, over 3.4 million people have downloaded the game in its first week, and the developers are working on social features to make playing Snap against your friends possible.
“We are very eager to have some form of friendly match or friendly battle where you can play against your friend or someone streaming,” said Hagman. “It’s coming soon, hopefully.”
While Marvel Snap was not designed with esports in mind, the developers hope that with the launch of matchmaking, community tournaments will soon follow. They also shared that they are tracking stats and hope that further down the line, they can add a profile feature where players can take a look at their win records and other useful tidbits of information. A way for players to craft the cards they want but don’t yet have is also being kicked around.
“I’m really excited about that,” Yong said. “And global launch has been really successful, so this is just a beginning.”
Marvel Snap’s current success was not guaranteed, and Brode shared he was nervous when this endeavor began. “We were going to spend four-plus years spending money and time and energy on this thing, and I was like, ‘I hope people like it,’” he said. “So it’s a little bit like letting go of a breath I’ve been holding for four years.”
With excellent design and lightning-quick matches that encourage creativity and risk, Marvel Snap does not merely fit into my life — it is my life, and I’m thrilled to continue to let the game have it as long as it wants.