As something of an action figure dude, I usually see WizKids' HeroClix franchise as equal parts collectible and game. In terms of pure playing, however, the collector issue seems like it could be an issue. Chasing down rare pieces with high prices isn't playing -- it's paying, you know? NECA and developer Icarus Studios' new HeroClix Online Paid Beta could wind up circumventing some of that issue for those who don't mind dropping the collectible side of the experience, however, now that they've taken the franchise into virtual 3D on the PC for the introductory price of $1.95.From the official HeroClix Online Paid Beta press release:

"Many of our most loyal players are unable to get to the store to play for one reason or another, but still want to play the game they've come to know and enjoy on a platform that fits their lifestyle," said V.P. of Marketing at NECA, Justin Ziran. "Our ultimate goal is to re-engage players that don't play in stores any longer and cross pollinate the online world and in-store world via achievements and our event locator."

Currently players can download a few Marvel HeroClix maps and figure sets based on Thor and the Fantastic Four with more content planned throughout the rest of the year. All content amassed in the Beta will transfer to the full release when it goes live.

According to its official FAQ the HeroClix Online Paid Beta is essentially a virtual replica of the tabletop game using the same rules, miniatures and mechanics. What's more, if you're awful at HeroClixing or just haven't learned, the game features a virtual judge that enforces HeroClix rules and gameplay.

WizKids plans to reward fans who pay to play the HCO Paid Beta by July 5 with an unspecified exclusive Clix when the game launches in full down the road, so the notion of exclusivity is still somewhat retained in the digital game. Still, if Icarus and NECA can standardize pricing, it should keep digital Clix collecting on a more even keel than their plastic counterparts at some retailers. If you don't need physical keepsakes, HCO seems like an affordable introduction to the game.

See screens from HeroClix Online Paid Beta below: