You know that thing? The one where you’re driving and it seems that every last car is out to get you? People careen around corners. They run lights and nearly hit you. They nearly merge into you, and you have to reality check yourself. You turn to the person in the passengery seat, and ask, “Is it me? Am *I* driving like a lunatic? This is nuts today!”

You want to know. You’re trying to be responsible. You need to know if you need to ramp it back. Maybe you’re angry and you don’t know it and you’re driving overly aggressively. Or maybe... it’s just the opposite and you’re just letting yourself be pushed around.

I’ve been playing the online gotta-catch-em-all Marvel Comics based facebook game, ‘Marvel: Avengers Alliance’ for about a year and a half now. I’m up to level 253 with a respectable number of heroes collected. I’ll never have them all. I don’t want them all. I don’t give an 8th of a damn about a lot of them. (Looking at you Reed Richards. You’re a jerk. And you suck.)

I don’t get into the arms race of PvP. Much richer people than me will always have bought themselves an edge in that game. I’m a PvE player only. I PvP when forced by a special operation requirement or when I’m after a lockbox to some character I give a damn about. Otherwise, that’s a headache I don’t need. I’m a casual player. Maybe a more dedicated casual than usual, but a casual nonetheless. I figure if I’m not spending money on the game, I’m not their target audience anyway. Which I’m fine with. I feel good that I’ve been able to mostly enjoy a game for 253 levels without dropping a dime on it.

That’s the background. Now the bit that’s got me upset.

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Imagine, if you will, a 3 x 3 grid. In this grid, you have 8 bags of candy. And 1 bag of brussels sprouts. Some huckster with a loaded die under a cup says that if you do a chore for him, he’ll roll a die without letting you see the result. And if you get one of the eight numbers that go with that number’s bag of candy, you get the candy. However... if you’re unlucky enough to get a 1 on that oddly shaped 9 sided die, you get the sprouts.

Okay, you think. My odds must be pretty good. 8 chances out of 9 to get a bag of candy? You’d be a fool to not at least give it a shot. So you go and do the chore.

Precious time out of your life spent on the chore, you return. And the huckster rolls the die under his cup. “Awwww, sorry kid! You got the sprouts!”

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“Can I see what I rolled?” you ask, disappointed.

“Hell no, kid! What do you think this is? But I tell ya what. If you want to buy some imaginary money from me to pay for another chance right now, or if you go do that chore again, I’ll give you another shot at the candy!” he says, clearly dismissive of your chances. But with a flourish that gives you the thought, “Well it may have been a fluke. I surely couldn’t get the sprouts a second time. The odds against that would be pretty ridiculous. I’ll give it another shot.”

So you do the chore again. And you get the sprouts again.

If you had sense, you’d realize at this point, something is up. But now you’re invested. You want to see just how rigged this is. And while twice is pretty damn disappointing, three times would just be absurd. And always, there is the lure of the candy.

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So you do it again. Sprouts.

And again. Sprouts.

And again. Sprouts.

And again. Sprouts.

And again. Candy.

And by now, you’re both bored and pissed off. With a seeming eight out of nine chances to win, you’ve rolled the booby prize six times in a row; which on a 9-sided die is an insultingly ridiculous outcome. You’re not even sure you’re gonna enjoy it since you worked your ass off for it and got 6 bags of sprouts in the extremely suspect bargan.

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You’d be a fool to do that again.

But you come back the next day, thinking maybe you’ll have a better run of luck. Just once. You’re not going to waste your time like you did yesterday.

Sprouts again.

You’d think the kid was a little slow on the uptick there wouldn’t you? You’d think the huckster was a heartless bastard for what he put the kid through woudn’t you?

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This has been my experience of Marvel: Avengers Alliance for the last two weeks.

Maybe it’s me.

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There is a kind of roulette in M:AA when you beat the boss of a series of missions. Typically the odds are not as abyssmal as the loaded exercise in frustration I have just described. In the last month, the people at Playdom and Disney Interactive have introduced the facebook equivalent of daily missions. Which I suppose are supposed to be evocative of the dailies that high levels do in MMO’s when you’ve hit your level cap and have no-where to go.

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These daily missions are usually some investment of 10 to 20 minutes of your time to win through several matches of mooks / test subjects / escaped prisoners / Maggia / doom-bots / etc. For spice, you may only get to use Mutants one day. All female characters the next day. Only Infiltrators the next, and some other variation on the limited palette to fight with the next. And when you get to the boss and beat them, you get your shot at the 3x3 roulette.

Only with the daily mission, they give you a board FULL of good choices and one piece of vendor trash. In other words, a bunch of candy, and a bag of sprouts. Invariably, the first time you go through, you get the sprouts. Day after day, for the last 2 weeks. Several of those days I only went through the daily mission once. Cos I like to think I’m not stupid. I hear the voice of George Carlin in my head going, “What are you, fuckin’ stupid??”

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Apparently I am, Uncle George.

Invariably, I got the sprouts. I only went through once to do another goal for some other thing. But occsionally, the lure of the roulette was too much to ignore. GOOD gear and powerups for my characters that might make the occasionally forced PvP better. Or the gear that is clearly necessary to actually do some of the PvE they’ve introduced in the bevy of second season carnival huckster thrills.

Today was a day like that. Today the board was filled with ‘Empowered ISO-8'. Which is essentially power-ups that grant special effects to the attacks of those who have them slotted. Those of you that remember the materia system in Final Fantasy 7 know exactly what these socketable treats are. And how honked off you were when Yuffie made off with ALL of them at one point in the game. (FR*#$&* YUFFIE!!) So this was worth the effort I thought.

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I fought through the daily mission 7 times and got sprouts 6 out of 7 times. And when I did get the candy, it was an iso/materia crystal I already had. One I’d spent in-game gold on in the past.

Or as Lewis Black put it when he talked about the IRS letter a lot of poor folk got about how they woudn’t be getting any stimulus check, “A POKE IN THE EYE.”

Again... maybe it’s me.

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There’s a lengthy thread on the subject of the roulette being rigged. I know this because when I posted in the M:AA forums about how insultingly rigged it is, people did not agree. Or chime in with tales of similar experiences.

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What I got was apologists for the developers who immediately set upon me for being unoriginal in my complaints. Or that I was littering up the forum with duplicate subjects that would eventually be merged into the big, “IS THE ROULETTE RIGGED?” thread. Why was I complaining when the mods and the developers don’t even read these threads anyway?

It all sounded like the honked off rumbling of prisoners too abused to want to push their luck when their captors kicked them all too regularly.

I knew what big thread they were talking about. I knew about it cos I’d posted in it. I made the effort to look for and post in the appropriate thread once already. It didn’t help. It’s a thread that starts off with one long apologist explanation about how while it seems like you have an 8 in 9 chance of success, the roulette selection is actually weighted very heavily toward the sprouts. And here’s why we shouldn’t be angry about that.... etc... etc...

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No. Sorry. No. I’m angry. And some moderator creature for Disney Interactive doesn’t get to tell me not to be mad when he explains exactly how they’re cheating me of the minutes of my life I’m not going to get back playing Marvel: Sisyphus Simulator.

Playing Marvel: Avengers Alliance

Any good huckster worth his con game will tell you that he’s not selling the cheap trinkets or plush animals you likely will not win. The gunsight is fixed. The darts, basketballs and baseballs are weighted. The milkbottles are nailed down. In short, the game is fixed. The rubes know the game is fixed. What he’s selling is the illusion that the game can be won. That you’ve at least got a chance at the little prizes. You still come away from the booth feeling that your effort’s been rewarded. Even if you’ve spent an hour doing it for that little beanie-baby. There’s at least the feeling that you had a chance.

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And then you get back to the 3x3 roulette. That’s not even pretending you have a chance. That’s the game that makes you feel stupid for even spending time on it a second time. And angrier still each successive time. Angrier with them for dangling the candy at you like a schoolyard bully only to give you the sprouts every time you jump like a good dog. Angrier with yourself for jumping. Feeling like a fool and that you’ve had your time wasted. “Sorry, Kid. Wanna try again? Buy some imaginary money or do the chore. What do you think this is?”

Being angry like this and blaming myself for it is not what I call fun. It’s what I call Stockholm Syndrome. Hostage to the time I’ve already invested.

There’s no maybe about it. It’s me. But it’s not JUST me.

I think I’m done with this game for a while. If not for good. I’ve been kicked in the teeth once too often, I think. I got games during the Steam sale I haven’t gotten to yet cos I’ve been doing this for apparently no good reason. And I got better things to do than to feel this way. But I wanted to let as many people as I could know. This is how they treat their players. This is the ethic that Disney Interactive thinks is okay. Avoid this game. Don’t let it sucker you in. It is not free. You pay.

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You pay.

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ADDENDUM: I have now not played this game in 1.75 years nearly. I’m not feeling like I miss it. I’ve logged into it once or twice to see what marvel heroes they’ve added since the big universe reset in the books. I’m not moved to go back to it though. I’m waiting anxiously for No Man’s Sky to drop.