Thursday, June 5, 2014

Should the Digital Experience of Magic Match the Physical One?

Earlier this week I wrote about my own experiences with Hearthstone and made some suggestions on what Magic Online could learn from Blizzard's approach to that game. I received a surprising amount of response on Twitter, and I am grateful to everyone who favorited and re-tweeted my link. Thanks!

Today I want to discuss my response to one tweet in particular:

Essentially his point was that the experience of playing Magic the Gathering online should, at least ideally, match the experience of playing with physical cards. However, if this concept is applied to the entire experience as a whole, such a rift already exists. Let me offer three quick examples:
  1. At least for the majority of Magic players, playing with physical cards is a social experience. You interact with other people face-to-face, often in ways that are only marginally related to the game itself. The online experience is exactly the opposite. While there may be some limited social interactions, for the most part playing online is purely about the game.
  2. When playing with physical cards, both players are responsible to have a fundamental understanding of the rules and to enforce them to the best of their ability. This is particularly true with any form of sanctioned play. Playing online, however, the players are freed from having to enforce any of these dynamics, and instead can focus exclusively on their own line of play.
  3. When dealing with physical cards, the economics of the game are much different. Cards are generally worth more, but it is harder as a seller to get full retail value. Trading cards becomes an effective way at times to get around this problem. Online, cards are generally less expensive, and you have immediate access to buy and sell just about anything in your collection.
So I think it is not controversial to say that there already exists a significant rift between digital play and physical play. And if that's the case, Wizards of the Coast ought to do everything they can to leverage those differences where doing so improves the overall experience of their player base.

However, I will add this caveat, and I believe this is the spirit in which the comment was made. Magic Online can be a great tool for pros and semi-pros to practice, playtest, and perhaps even earn some sweet prizes. Given the level of investment that Wizards has made in professional play, it makes sense that Magic Online should support those who wish to use it towards that end. There should always be the option to play Limited and Constructed in Sanctioned events such that the digital experience is as close as possible to the physical experience. But it also need not be the only option for playing online.

If you've got thoughts on this, I'd love to hear him in the comments below.


  1. I think there is another important point which validates everything you said in the previous post. Wizards seems to ignore MTGO potential to live by itself. They treat all new players as people who know the paper game and want to try it online. I think that if they treat it as a game that needs to attract both paper players and complete newbies, they would be forced to make much more newbie friendly than it is currently.

    The first three points you proposed should be no-brainers to a game like this, and the forth is very common in other kinds of competitive gaming. So the only reason I see for the lack of this things is that Wizards is happy with paper games joining MTGO, because they already know the game and they will spend money because they want to be competitive. But a complete newbie fall into a maze with so many option and no idea of what is important.

  2. Thanks for your comments. I agree that Wizards really needs to rethink their strategy with Magic Online. Using it merely as a way of supporting physical play is a very short-sighted strategy, and one that might ultimately lead people to abandon it for similar games designed with online play in mind.