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Author Topic: My love and hate for Magic video games  (Read 3306 times)
Xilren's Twin
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on: June 22, 2011, 08:39:40 AM

About once every year or two I feel the need to vent my spleen regarding MtG and it's apparent goal to make it as hard as possible to keep me as a paying customer.  The recent release of the new Duels of the Planeswalkers Magic game just brings it all back.  Magic is a great game, but it's pricing and marketing strategy seems bound and determined to only keep one small segment of potential players as customers, which drives me nuts.  Magic has been around for ~20 years and yet if you were to somehow do a census of former and current players, I'd be willing to bet that former players outnumber current players by a some huge factor.  Just from a business perspective alone, why isn't WotC doing everything they can to try and recapture those former customers who have already shown willingness to spend money on their products rather than constantly trying to find brand new customers who may or may not stick around?  Duels is going in the other direction - trying to hook new users into the real magic drug.

A big part of this is the frustration with the video game aspect of magic.  Ironically, I first heard about Magic from reading an article in the old Computer Gaming World magazine about an upcoming computer game based on the "incredibly popular collectable card game".  The article made the game sound interesting, so I checked it out and was hooked (btw, that game was released a few years later as the original Microprose Shandalar MtG game - which i still have).  Course, the expansion I got started with was Fallen Empires (which sucked in retrospect) but the game itself was so fun I started the typical path of buying more and more cards, making decks, playing others, losing a lot, learning more formats and strategies, getting better, buying more cards, start going to local tournaments, reading online about it, trading, attending state championships and sanctioned events, etc, etc.  After a couple of years, I had thousands of cards including dual lands and other extended staples, a great appreciation for the game, but it kept getting harder and harder to stay with it.

The two biggest things a magic player needs is time and money.  16 years ago, I had plenty of time, and while maybe not a ton of money, my regular expenses were pretty low so spending some money on cards wasn't too challenging.  Being able to spend an entire weekend playing tourney magic was at least possible, but that swiftly started to draw to a close once you are working full time let alone getting married/starting a family.  200 people Swiss round tourneys with top 8s take a long freaking time at an hour a round.  Beyond actual playing in tourneys, deck design, play testing and even travel time could potentially add up to a significant chunk if you wanted to play in "serious" circles.  Playing MTGO does eliminate a lot of these time issues; not all, but most.

But the money part is what really drives me nuts though.  I realize the paper card market is what made WotC successful, and profitable enough to do things like buy D&D, and become attractive enough financially to get bought by Hasbro, but the blatant cash grab that Magic is has become a giant obstacle. I shudder to think how much money I spent on pieces of cardboard over my magic life, but eventually the never ending press of 4 sets/expansions a year, chase rares, and the introduction of dumb crap like foil cards and Mythic rares, just made me say "the hell with it".  I sold most of my good paper cards at one of the last paper magic events i went to (release of Kamigawa - where i met Schild in the flesh btw) for a good chunk of change, and that was the last cardboard I've bought. 

When Magic Online was in development, the most fun I had by far was testing drafting during the beta.  Being able to draft every day and play the 3 rounds out was quite fun.  I couldn't care less if I kept the cards after the draft rounds.  When it went live with the same pricing as paper magic, I howled just like everyone else, but over the years I played leagues (which they still haven't brought back) and the occasional draft, trading and casual play to get my fix, but only in spurts, and only with very tightly controlled spending habits.  A single draft basically costing $15 is too much when a bad draft or even bad game with mana draws can mean you're done.  Yes, if you have some skill and are willing to trade away your high value cards after drafting, you potentially can keep playing for free or low cost but eventually, luck catches up to you and you have to pull out your wallet again.  Compare that $15 to a monthly sub to an all you can play MMO, or the prevlence of low cost full games you can buy on Steam and such, and the MTGO price to entertainment value/hours ratio is just awful.

So I'll drop $10 on cripple magic like the Duels of the Planeswalker game to my fix, all the while lamenting that if Wotc would just design a market driven recurring cost magic option, they could have me for life.  $15 a month for all I can draft (or even limited number of drafts a month) with no keeping the cards, no earned ranking points, no prized awarded, even with old sets, I'd be all over that.  Or a MMO with magic as the combat engine where you start with a small card pool and win cards (ala the old Microprose game) vs other people would be money hats.  The popularity of the cripple magic games just reinforces to me just how many former magic players would like to still play if it wasn't insane to do so.

Maybe it just as simple as WotC management still looking at Magic as nothing more than a product, and so all marketing efforts are focused merely on moving more cardboard/virtual cardboard.  Hmm, what can we do to drive more sales? I've got it, Ultra Mythic Chase Foil Rares now with Scratch and Sniff!  Blech.  Why wouldn't a business want to morph that sales uncertanty into offering a service with regular, dependable, re-occuring revenue if they could?  Which is better: irregular purchases in random large amounts from a small, ever changing pool of customers vs a dependable fixed monthly income stream from a huge group?

Nevermind me, I'm sure I'll repeat this rant yearly til I die. For now, I'm tapped out.

"..but I'm by no means normal." - Schild
Azuredream
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Reply #1 on: June 22, 2011, 08:53:04 AM

I went through a brief CCG phase. Eventually after you spend enough money on it and you're faced with the prospect of spending even more money you just say fuck this and go to more affordable entertainment. I wish there was an online game like Elements but with a bigger budget behind it.

The Lord of the Land approaches..
Malakili
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Reply #2 on: June 22, 2011, 09:04:41 AM

The problem is that its really hard to offer something that simultaneously satisfies people AND doesn't gut their revenue from selling cards (online or in stores). Something like what you suggested would surely get a lot of people to sign up that are currently paying them nothing, or not much.  But if it would give their biggest customers a way around spending a huge amount, they are going to be in trouble.  Seems like a pretty hard order to meet. 

pxib
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Reply #3 on: June 22, 2011, 11:33:53 AM

MtG, Warhammer, and MMOs depend to a large extent upon on the sunk cost fallacy. You have to keep spending in order to keep playing, and one of the only things that justifies that continued expense is that expense you've made before. Not just in terms of money, but in terms of time. Walking away from all that expense is hard because you have to accept that it's really gone. It wasn't some investment in a future you could be proud of, it was just disposable fun.

Now they also have to keep improving the game, and MtG is undeniably fun. It's just that the real drive to keep playing is the gambling impulse: Will the amount I'm spending now feel worthwhile a month from now?

“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” - Pascal
Ingmar
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Reply #4 on: June 22, 2011, 03:53:13 PM

Customers you used to have are actually the least important customers in this kind of situation, IMO.

- Existing customers are already giving you money, so you don't want to do things that will drive them away.
- Customers who have never bought your products before are a blank slate so attracting them is just a matter of designing a product that will attract them and act as a gateway to your main product.
- FORMER customers are the hardest to make happy, because they often are former customers because of something they didn't like. They're also the most likely of all groups to quit using your product, I'd guess, since they already have a demonstrated history of doing so. You probably can't attract them back without changing your product in a way that satisfies their initial reason for leaving, but doing that runs the risk of alienating the customers you already have hooked that are paying you right now (see: NGE).


If I only have X development dollars to spend, former customers are going to be at the bottom of my list of people to spend them on for sure if I'm WotC.

The Transcendent One: AH... THE ROGUE CONSTRUCT.
Nordom: Sense of closure: imminent.
Malakili
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Reply #5 on: June 22, 2011, 04:06:03 PM

Customers you used to have are actually the least important customers in this kind of situation, IMO.

- Existing customers are already giving you money, so you don't want to do things that will drive them away.
- Customers who have never bought your products before are a blank slate so attracting them is just a matter of designing a product that will attract them and act as a gateway to your main product.
- FORMER customers are the hardest to make happy, because they often are former customers because of something they didn't like. They're also the most likely of all groups to quit using your product, I'd guess, since they already have a demonstrated history of doing so. You probably can't attract them back without changing your product in a way that satisfies their initial reason for leaving, but doing that runs the risk of alienating the customers you already have hooked that are paying you right now (see: NGE).


If I only have X development dollars to spend, former customers are going to be at the bottom of my list of people to spend them on for sure if I'm WotC.

I guess that begs the question, who is Duels of the Planeswalkers aimed at?  I guess the answer is "new" customers, but as a former customer I like it as well.

I guess at the end of the day people like me are REALLY just saying "I want to play magic, but since its digital I shouldn't have to pay 3 bucks per pack, or whatever it costs these days" and in that case were just priced out of the "real" game, and fair enough I guess.
Xilren's Twin
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Reply #6 on: June 22, 2011, 09:08:23 PM

- FORMER customers are the hardest to make happy, because they often are former customers because of something they didn't like. They're also the most likely of all groups to quit using your product, I'd guess, since they already have a demonstrated history of doing so. You probably can't attract them back without changing your product in a way that satisfies their initial reason for leaving, but doing that runs the risk of alienating the customers you already have hooked that are paying you right now (see: NGE).

But in this case, the reason for their dislike is pretty well known.  The game itself is fine, it's the pricing of it which drove most people away.  So the question is, is it worth figuring out a digital version of magic that can recapture former players that doesnt cannibalize existing paper or digital card sales?  Of course, I think it is.  There dont seem to be many "casual" MtG or MTGO players because the pricing structure forces them out of any sort of organized or competitive play very quickly.  FNM events general either transition new folks to "serious" player who get on the Mr suitcase plan, or extreme casual players who buy a handful of packs and the occasional 1-3 packs here and there.  MtG's core audience seems to be serious players who buy heavy to stay competitive.  MTGO seems to be the same; play seriously or dont bother.  Competitive players chasing the pro tour wont be interested in my middle ground magic game if it doesnt help them pursue ranking points, prize wins,or pro tour invites; drafting with 3 year old sets would not be of interest to the current high spending players.  This attempts to bridge the gap with products like Duels just fall so far short of what it COULD be, it has to be intentional choice not to pursue any sort of middle ground. Not bringing back the only low cost option in MTGO of leagues re-inforces this notion.  Smacks of lost oppoturnity.

"..but I'm by no means normal." - Schild
Malakili
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Reply #7 on: June 22, 2011, 10:26:19 PM

play seriously or dont bother. 

Yeah, this is the problem for me.  Especially with regards to deck building.  Something like Duels of the Planeswalkers IS fun, but it misses the deckbuilding, which is like half the game.   If I want to spend an hour or two a week tinkering with decks, I (currently) have to invest way more money than is worth a couple hours a week of entertainment in order to have the card count to actually do that.   

Oh well, this isn't the end of the world to me, but I can definitely relate to what you are saying.  At the end of the day, Duels will probably satisfy me, and I'll just not be paying Wizards very much money - which all in all can definitely be seen as a win.
Johny Cee
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Reply #8 on: July 11, 2011, 03:04:38 PM

- FORMER customers are the hardest to make happy, because they often are former customers because of something they didn't like. They're also the most likely of all groups to quit using your product, I'd guess, since they already have a demonstrated history of doing so. You probably can't attract them back without changing your product in a way that satisfies their initial reason for leaving, but doing that runs the risk of alienating the customers you already have hooked that are paying you right now (see: NGE).

But in this case, the reason for their dislike is pretty well known.  The game itself is fine, it's the pricing of it which drove most people away.  So the question is, is it worth figuring out a digital version of magic that can recapture former players that doesnt cannibalize existing paper or digital card sales?  Of course, I think it is.  There dont seem to be many "casual" MtG or MTGO players because the pricing structure forces them out of any sort of organized or competitive play very quickly.  FNM events general either transition new folks to "serious" player who get on the Mr suitcase plan, or extreme casual players who buy a handful of packs and the occasional 1-3 packs here and there.  MtG's core audience seems to be serious players who buy heavy to stay competitive.  MTGO seems to be the same; play seriously or dont bother.  Competitive players chasing the pro tour wont be interested in my middle ground magic game if it doesnt help them pursue ranking points, prize wins,or pro tour invites; drafting with 3 year old sets would not be of interest to the current high spending players.  This attempts to bridge the gap with products like Duels just fall so far short of what it COULD be, it has to be intentional choice not to pursue any sort of middle ground. Not bringing back the only low cost option in MTGO of leagues re-inforces this notion.  Smacks of lost oppoturnity.

I think your ideas are based on a false premise:  Casual MtG is actually alive and thriving, and is one of the major areas that sets and "special/theme" product are designed for.  In fact, up until the last six months that were under the shadow of Jace, The Mind Sculpter/Stoneforge Mystic the Zen, M1X, and Alara blocks broke all sales records and attendance records for MtG.

Casual players, often called "Kitchen Table" players, are a huge demographic.  These are the people that buy "fat packs" (a selection of boosters bundled with some promo merch and a novel), that buy the theme decks, and buy the Constructed stuff like "Duel Decks" and the like.  Generally, these people show up for Release Events and a FNM or two, and buy the occasional booster/single.

Also, you have to look at the many (and very popular) alternative formats.  Prime amongst those are EDH (now supported under the "Commander" tag) and Legacy, but you have piles of others like Cube or various Singleton or homebrew formats.  EDH is (an admitted) focus of design now, with Wizards actively designing cards to go into EDH decks (which limits you to singleton copies, and tends to be a much less expensive format over time).

Legacy, while having a large barrier to entry, is actually fairly low cost over time due to the fact it doesn't rotate and the fact that many casual groups allow proxies.  Legacy has exploded the last few years as the preferred format for formerly serious players moving out of the Standard grinder.


While I agree that Leagues should be back, there are myriad low-cost ways to play MODO.  There are formats specifically designed for ease of entrance like Pauper and Momir basic.  Formats like Singleton, Prismatic, and Commander are great for long-time players that are phasing out of Standard/Limited.  In the New Players tab, you can play games based on the "Planeswalkers" format, that use special gold bordered cards (i.e. not tradeable) that are purchasable in large clumps of limited numbers of cards and most closely resemble the Duels of the Planeswalker decks.

Hell, if you're a decent to good drafter, you can play Swiss Drafts at a relatively low cost if you manage to win 2 matches a tourney and sell off your cards.
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Reply #9 on: July 11, 2011, 11:51:37 PM

Pricing the digital cards the same as real cardboard is an outrage but if they brought back league play I would be enticed to re-up.

Never played much MtG IRL and I am unwilling to part with too much money on the game. But the league hit a sweet spot where I could compete in the same quantity of cards to build a deck on. I reckon drafts are the same but I just never played enough to be comfortable in that format -- perhaps if I just dived in, maybe I would be OK.

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Xilren's Twin
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Reply #10 on: July 12, 2011, 06:45:12 AM

While I agree that Leagues should be back, there are myriad low-cost ways to play MODO.  There are formats specifically designed for ease of entrance like Pauper and Momir basic.  Formats like Singleton, Prismatic, and Commander are great for long-time players that are phasing out of Standard/Limited.  In the New Players tab, you can play games based on the "Planeswalkers" format, that use special gold bordered cards (i.e. not tradeable) that are purchasable in large clumps of limited numbers of cards and most closely resemble the Duels of the Planeswalker decks.

Hell, if you're a decent to good drafter, you can play Swiss Drafts at a relatively low cost if you manage to win 2 matches a tourney and sell off your cards.
Yeah, i've tried most of those and they just really dont seem to scratch the itch.  Leagues did, but my primary choice is definately drafting since it allows for deck building skill, play skill while the random cardpool eliminates having to spents hours staying current on the hottest decks in standard/block/whatever format.  The closest I've gotten to satifying the itch was definately attempting to draft in a no/low cost way, but eventually, you hit a bad luck patch after you've already dropped $15 or more for the month and it a straight choice of dropping more money to continue.  It like saying if you played an MMO, if your raid wipes, you have to pay another $15 to keep playing.  I just can't do that anymore - especially when comparing value to things like the recently completed steam summer sale: picked up 5 full games for all less than $6 a piece.
Actually, i'd like to see the sales trends you referenced about the fat packs and set sales - where are you finding those?

"..but I'm by no means normal." - Schild
Johny Cee
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Reply #11 on: July 12, 2011, 01:11:32 PM

Actually, i'd like to see the sales trends you referenced about the fat packs and set sales - where are you finding those?

Most of that information is generally from threads on MTG Salvation (and usually sourced back to Rosewater or Forsythe in interviews or articles). 

Here's some data for March 2009:  http://www.purplepawn.com/2009/04/movers-shakers-for-march-2009/
 (Conflux fatpack outsell 4th Ed D&D Players Guide and MTG boosters are 1 & 3)
May 2009: http://www.purplepawn.com/2009/06/movers-shakers-may-2009/
 (Reborn fatpack down to 15 from 6 the previous month)

Didn't find 2010 numbers as easily.


One of the big reasons that Jace and Stoneforge caught a ban was that attendance and sales had seen massive hits since the Caw-Blade deck started to dominate Standard.
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