May 22, 2024

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Marvel Snap developer was inspired by friend's toilet gaming mishap

Marvel Snap developer was inspired by friend’s toilet gaming mishap

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Ben Brode, a co-founder of game development studio Second Dinner, recalls a moment that drove him to make a snappy Marvel card game: At least six years ago, his friend was playing the mobile game “Hearthstone” on the toilet with a control warrior deck. He matched up against another control warrior deck user, and the game took 40 minutes.

“At the end of the match, he stood up and his legs had fallen asleep. And he fell over and broke his leg in the bathroom,” Brode said during an interview with The Washington Post in Los Angeles while his Second Dinner co-founder Hamilton Chu guffawed. “And I felt somewhat responsible for this.”

Brode, who was a lead designer on “Hearthstone,” said that while matches are supposed to be more like seven minutes long, they occasionally drag out. And that’s why he and Chu wanted to explore even shorter card games, and eventually settled on making “Marvel Snap.” His control warrior friend yelled for help on the bathroom floor and ended up in a cast, Brode said.

Last week, “Marvel Snap” won best mobile game at the annual Game Awards, beating out popular titles like “Genshin Impact” and “Apex Legends.” The developers, formerly senior leadership at “Hearthstone” developer Activision Blizzard, started their own studio Second Dinner in 2018. “Marvel Snap” is their first game.

‘Marvel Snap’ devs’ first idea was so good they refused to believe it

Chu said that Marvel’s name lends credibility to a start-up like Second Dinner, and it makes the card game hold more excitement for players since the characters are instantly recognizable. A former Blizzard co-worker who is now an executive at Marvel Games helped make the collaboration happen.

“Marvel Snap” is easy on beginners, taking them through a tutorial where players slap down cards from a 12-card deck featuring characters like Iron Man, the Hulk and Hawkeye.

The developers hope to add the ability to play against friends to the mobile app by next month.

“It’s our biggest thing we’re working on right now,” Brode said. “But you know how things go sometimes, last minute bugs, things slip.”

When it comes to taking initiative with Marvel’s intellectual property, Chu talked about being able to skip the layers of bureaucracy that come standard when working for a large company like Blizzard.

“That game could not have been made if we were still inside Blizzard. Blizzard, why would they work with somebody else’s intellectual property? That’s just not strategically the right thing for Blizzard to do,” Chu said. “But we can do it because we don’t have to worry about stuff like that, and it does make sense for us.”

Chu said that if he had tried to pitch “Marvel Snap” to Blizzard, he would have had to clear approval with many people, including a business presentation and months of convincing.

When to snap in ‘Marvel Snap’

Brode and Chu left Blizzard in 2018, years before the company was hit with several lawsuits over allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and before Microsoft proposed to acquire it for $68.7 billion. When asked how Second Dinner can avoid the same corporate culture issues that Blizzard faces, Brode said, “It’s a really complicated answer.”

“Hiring is a really big piece. Doing that really well and making sure that we have opportunities to hire people from a ton of diverse backgrounds to help make sure that we’re not homogenous,” Brode said. “Making sure that people feel very empowered to come raise their hands when stuff does go wrong. And then creating policies and a company culture where there aren’t opportunities for things to go wrong in the first place.”

Second Dinner is one of several game studios started by ex-Blizzard employees. There’s also Notorious Studios, started by former “World of Warcraft” developers, making an untitled fantasy game. And Frost Giant, created by ex-StarCraft developers, plans to open up a new game “Stormgate” in a testing phase next year.

For Brode and Chu, starting their own company was risky and scary, but having a pedigree from Blizzard helped them have brand name recognition. Choosing a new name for the studio also proved to be a fun task.

“I have a really weird sleep schedule, and I’m a vampire, basically,” Chu said. “And so I have second dinner every night. It’s my favorite meal I have at around 3 a.m. by myself.

“And also, while we were thinking about what would become Second Dinner, what we would do is we’d work all day at Blizzard, and then we’d go home, take care of our families and be like ‘All right, meet up at 10.’ And we’d have second dinner and dream about the future.”

Since “Marvel Snap” came out in mid-October, players have asked a lot of questions about the game on social media. Some have tweeted that after rank 80, it feels like “Marvel Snap” gives more advantages to players who spent real money.

“If it was pay-to-win, then anybody should be able to win. And that’s just not the case, you have to be very good at the game,” Brode said.

He added that the competition heats up after rank 80, and that’s “just the nature of competition.”

The odds of getting a card from a collector cache is about one in four, he said, and other variants and cosmetics that fit into the cache are to “surprise and delight” the player. On the back end, players are matched up in duels based on their collection size, and as they play and get more advanced, they’ll be matched with players of similar skills.

Finally, the “Marvel Snap” developers reacted to The Post’s recent article about avoiding bathroom perils when playing games like “Marvel Snap” on the toilet.

“ ‘Snap’ saves you from hemorrhoids,” Chu said. “The Washington Post said so.”