Thursday, August 20, 2015

Some Thoughts on Magic Online, Part Two

Last time, I wrote about the recent decision by Wizards of the Coast to replace tickets with Play Points as the primary way that players enter Constructed events on Magic Online. I discussed how the decision was obviously unpopular with most people who play the game, since this is essentially replacing cash prizes with, for lack of a better term, Monopoly money - a currency that only has value within the game itself rather than actual monetary value. I stressed that, in my opinion, this is part of a calculated move to eliminate the ability for players to "make money" by playing Magic Online. Today, I want to discuss why Wizards of the Coast might decide to make such a move.

For months now, people (including myself) have been lauding the success of Hearthstone as the premier example of what an online collectible card game should look like.  But what we seem to have perhaps overlooked is that in Hearthstone, real money only flows in one direction - into Blizzard's coffers. With money, the only things you can purchase are either card packs or adventure-style expansions. And because there is no secondary market and no trading, there's no way to later recoup any of that investment, save for performing well in high level tournaments. Outside of that avenue though, no matter how well you perform in either ranked play or in the Arena, your only rewards are dust (an in-game currency used to craft new cards), card packs, or gold (an in-game currency used to purchase card packs and/or adventure-style expansions). Again, money flows into the game - but it never flows out.

I suspect that Wizards of the Coast may be moving towards such a system. By eliminating tickets and replacing them with another currency that cannot be traded or otherwise sold, you eliminate the ability for players to ever get any money back out of the game. In fact, if Wizards takes the next step and eliminates tickets altogether, they will essentially wipe out the secondary market altogether, since tickets are the defacto way of buying and selling individual cards. Even if trading continues to be an option, without a currency to trade, I am uncertain if online dealers such as MTGOTraders could continue to exist, since their only business model would be to sell individual cards for real money through their website - cards that could only be obtained by purchasing large numbers of packs from Wizards themselves and cracking them all open to resell individually.

This would also, as it turns out, explain why Wizards decided back in early February of 2013 to raise the cost of redemption from $5 to $25. Prior to that, one could conceivably obtain all the cards from a set online, redeem them for physical copies, and then sell the paper cards for a small but decent profit, particularly if you could offset the online costs by skilled play. And while I haven't run the numbers, I suspect it is now much harder to make a profit on such a transaction. This would certainly fit the model of eliminating online play as a method of making money while still keeping their promise to allow players to redeem online cards for paper ones.

Honestly, I hope I am wrong. If this is the direction Wizards is actually going, this is bad news for many of the online vendors who make a living off the Magic Online economy. But it certainly would be following in the success of Hearthstone, and potentially could turn major profits for Wizards of the Coast in the longterm. We shall see.


  1. I like nothing about this but I can see your point.

  2. Boy am I glad I got out when I did. Honestly having to deal with the new client was bad enough. But let's face it, they have been trying to turn MTGO into nothing more than a kids game for a while, hence the reason they dumbed down the rules.

    The main reason I was okay with purchasing online cards, was because they held real market value. I could turn them into cash. Take that away, will the system even be able to exist?

    I play hearthstone, casually, very casually. I never put a dime of actual money in. Why? I knew I would never get it back out. I spent a couple thousand on MTGO over the years however. And when I walked away, I was able to cash out for near $10,000. Why? Because the cards had real value. There was people willing to put that much money into the system with the belief they could get it back at anytime.

    If Wizards kills this model, they do the very people that have supported them over the years a grave injustice.