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Wizards of the Coast and Profit September 13, 2009

Posted by James in : all, random, theory , trackback

The bottom line of Magic: the Gathering is profit. It could have existed “just for fun” as a game you play on index cards, but that’s not what happened. This can be a good thing in the sense that it motivates stores to provide us with a place to play, it assures us that the cards look professional, it makes it possible for the cards to use original artwork and keep artists employed, it helps motivate people to provide us with tournaments, and it encourages the game developers to make us a great game. But being for profit can also come with baggage: There are certain tricks that can be played against us in order to encourage us to buy cards. I will discuss the fact that Wizards of the Coast seems more concerned about profit than usual, the positive consequences of the motivation for profit, and the negative consequences of the motivation for profit.

Collector’s Items

From the Vault: Exiled, the foil Sliver Deck, Angels vs Demons, and Planechase also provide us with evidence that Wizards of the Coast is even more interested in making money now than ever. These collector’s items seem to be easy money, so you have to wonder why so many collector’s items are being offered all of a sudden. There were around 13 years with very few special collectors items of this sort, and now they seem to be released all the time.

Although these collector’s items are not objectionable in themselves, I would have liked Planechase to be cheaper. I want to buy my Plane cards in booster packs like everything else.

Positive Consequences

Increasing the value of Magic cards in general is a great way to get us to buy more cards. I have already mentioned some simple strategies that Wizards of the Coast can use increase the value of Magic cards. For example, it can use good pictures, make sure the game is fun, give us powerful cards, provide us with tournaments, and provide us with large prizes. These are all simple enough and there’s nothing objectionable about them.

Wizards of the Coast needs to keep the game fresh and exciting in order to keep profits up. This can be done by doing a better job at designing sets in general, but it can also be done with simple tricks: For example, Making powerful cards or inventing a gimmick. We already know why we want powerful cards, so there’s no need to talk about it. Gimmicks are new elements of the game, such as hybrid mana or flip cards. Powerful cards and gimmicks can be fun, so there’s nothing really objectionable about them either.

Negative Consequences

Here are four of the objectionable tricks that can help WoTC make money at our expense: (1) Make new cards powerful enough to make our older cards obsolete, (2) replace important rares with identical rares of different names, (3) print important cards as mythic rares, and (4) raise the price of cards.

Make cards obselete

Making powerful cards can be essential to making sure that the game is fun. A game of nothing but Grizzly Bears, Giant Growths, and Shocks doesn’t sound so great. Making powerful cards can lead to a power creep, where each set is a little more powerful than the last, and one card can become strictly better than an older version of a similar card. However, there is such thing as making a set too powerful. If the cards are too powerful, then you have to buy them or you can’t compete against anyone using the new cards. This is a fairly coercive way to force people to buy new cards who want to play the game, but don’t want to spend a lot of money on newer cards.

Replace cards with identical cards

If a card everyone already has and needs is replaced with an identical card with a new name, then you have to buy the cards all over again. Someone out there had their four foil Remove Souls, and now they want four foil Essence Scatter cards just to play the card that they already own. Imagine if Wizards of the Coast did that to every card we own. Wouldn’t be so fun, would it?

Print important cards as mythics

Mythic Rares are already annoying to the extent that we want them, but they are harder to get. That in and of itself seems like it can be a little disrespectful to us. But the real problem is when a card everyone needs is a mythic rare. Expect that to make the card worth twice as much money.

Raise the price

Raising the price of booster packs has never been a fan-favorite. Wizards of the Coast has raised the price of booster packs a few times. Lucky for us, you can always buy them for less than retail value. If you can’t do it at your local store, you can always buy them on the Internet.
Considering how many card games there are despite relatively low popularity (and the fact that they didn’t expect Magic to be very popular), raising the price can’t be required to stay in business. It is a business decision to increase profit. (It’s insulting that they never admit it as such.)

Conclusion

Making money is mostly a good motivating force. Without it, we wouldn’t have Magic the Gathering. However, there are some fairly disrespectful decisions that can be made to make money as well. Some Magic players don’t want us to complain about any decision made against us, but there’s nothing wrong about complaining. Your opinion does matter to Wizards of the Coast and we can help keep the game fun.

The tricks used by Wizards of the Coast are not seriously immoral, but it would be a mistake to dismiss the behavior as mere impoliteness. It is more serious than impoliteness because it has real life consequences. It makes the game less fun, costs us money, and/or disrespects us as human beings. This is a different moral category that doesn’t really have a name. It is certainly permissible in the moral sense, but it’s not a good idea to do it, like pinching your brother or yelling loudly in someone’s ear. You could call it “discouraged behavior.”
wrath of bob god

Comments»

1. Robby - September 13, 2009

Sure, some of the things that Wizards does may look like money grabs but let’s look at what they’re doing:
1. Separate card sets besides expansions have always existed. From Beatdown to Garfield vs. Finkle to Collector’s Edition to the World’s decks to the Visions box. They are more prevalent now since they have more cards to choose from. They are providing different options for different people. You don’t have to have FtV: Exiled, or the Sliver decks to play, but some people do, and that’s why they’re there. If the cards being released were standard legal then yes, it’s a money grab.
2. Sure, it’s annoying to buy cards that are almost functional to what we have ala Day of Judgement instead of Wrath of God. It’s annoying now, but it looks like that this is the replacement in the long term. If no replacement was printed for a while, then a new one shows up, then it would be a money grab. But at the moment it seems like Wizards is saying, “You’ll have time to get these since it will be around for a while.” As for replacing commons, it only gets annoying when they release it as a promo a few months before they replace it.
3. Not every set is power creep. Sure, while there are some aspects of the game that it would seem like they keep getting better and better, but not all the time. If the Onslaught Goblins were released in Lorwyn, I’m sure it would’ve challenged Faeries as the best tribal deck.
4. Mythics actually work. For Zendikar, your chances of getting a Fetchland are much better then Onslaught. So far, you haven’t had to have a single mythic in all your decks (like Bitterblossom/Cryptic Command). They’re learning what is a mythic card, and in my opinion, they’re going about it the right way. If they wanted a money grab, Day of Justice and the Fetchlands would have been Mythic. But they aren’t.

Making Magic is a business, they have to do things to make money so we continue to buy and play. If they didn’t we would be playing on index cards like you said. If you don’t like anything they’re doing you have the most powerful voice of all: your money.

2. James - September 13, 2009

Robby,

Thank you for your comments.

I’m not against collector’s items. It’s merely evidence that they are doing something to make money that they didn’t do as often in the past.

I’m not sure what you are saying about Wrath of God, but having more time to get cards doesn’t make me feel much better. I still have to invest more money in cards.

I didn’t say every set is a power creep, and I never said the power creep was a bad thing anyway. I merely said making cards too powerful could be a bad idea.

The fact that fetchlands “could be a mythic” doesn’t prove much. I never said Wizards of the Coast does everything wrong. This isn’t a black and white issue. There is gray area. My point is that certain cards shouldn’t be mythic. It sounds like you agree.

“If you don’t like anything they’re doing you have the most powerful voice of all: your money. ”

Who said I don’t like anything they are doing? I already said I like most of what they are doing. I invest hundreds of dollars on the game every month, I go to tournaments every week, I have a Magic website, and I have an ebay store that sells Magic cards. Your choice isn’t: Either you like everything about Magic or you dislike everything about Magic. I have a third option: I like some things about Magic, but not everything. To give an honest opinion about the game requires both sides.

3. Shannon Medlock - January 11, 2010

On the issue of power creep, I think what Blizzard is doing is actually restoring balance among the card types. As someone who has been involved with Magic since 1993, I remember how spells dominated permanents for years in tournaments, especially blue ones. Artifacts, enchantments and creatures were too expensive and easily dominated by counters and removal spells. For a long time Serra Angel and Shivan Dragon were the best creatures available for example, but could be instantly killed by any Swords to Plowshares or Terror. Even as they started printing better creatures in sets like Saga and Invasion block, they were still too weak and rarely used. Now the creatures have gotten so strong and versatile that they compete effectively with control strategies.

I think Wizards has done good job with keeping Magic fresh. They have come a long way from making obscenely overpowered cards like Moxes and Ancestral Recall followed with ghastly Fallen Empires and Homelands a year later.

4. James - January 11, 2010

Shannon,

Thank you for your comments. I think Wizards of the Coast is doing a pretty good job overall, but there are dirty tricks that I don’t appreciate that can involve a power creep. (If not intentional money-making tricks, then unintentional ones.)

I don’t know if I agree that creatures were so terrible. By themselves creatures weren’t great, but I did very well using creature decks with Winter Orb to shut down the opponent. Anti-control deck cards were pretty great by then. Armageddon was also great for similar reasons.

5. Matt - July 28, 2011

I dont know where you learned about Magic, but I suggest you read wizards.com/Magic’s Daily MTG articles. It’s the nature of the game to be the way it is, and you can’t change it- even if you THINK you can, you can’t. Example: ‘Power Creep’-
There will always be powerful cards. Always Always Always Always Always. If have no rules about what’s allowed to be printed, then the gap between the most and least powerful is very large- if you make guidelines about what is the weakest or strongest you’re allowed to print, then the gap will be smaller, but there will be cards that are stronger than others. Period.

Here’s why Power Creep is unstoppable, and only just barely containable- The SAME rule applies to card interactions- eventually, if you keep making cards of all shapes and sizes, or only of specific shapes and sizes, then there will be gamers out there who min-max their deck until they find the fastest way to kill you. Reanimator and/or Dredge is pretty fast. So is RDW. So are many many other strategies.
Eventually, even cards that are completely innocuous out of context become ‘broken’ simply because you can combo. Three responses:
A)Make weaker sets, like Homelands-
player response: don’t buy, possibly quit game, Magic loses funds, Magic dies to index cards.
B)Make just more sets, at ‘equal’ power level-
player response: more and more cards = more and more interactions, and the power level of decks will still rise, even if the cards are ‘technically’ the same power level- they’ll just keep adding the best of each set, until they have so many of those they can stop playing the second-bests they used to need to fill out deck sizes.
C)Make more powerful sets
Player response: Get excited and ooh and ahh over powerful creatures. Most of them will die to either countering or exiling. Even when dead some will still be useful.
ooh and ahh over powerful lands- either ‘0-cost spells’, or very good mana fixing, LD is the least mined of the ‘answer’ design spaces, and very easy to add in if corrections are needed.
ooh and ahh over powerful spells- same as creatures.

In the end- if every individual card has an answer, then MOST (not all, but most) cards are inherently fair. If Planeswalkers begin to break the boundaries, we can expect to see more Stifles and Voidslimes.

Wizards really knows what they’re doing. Some of it doesn’t make sense the first time you think about it. Or even the first year. But really, if you read what they write on their site every day for a good 3-5 years, you begin to understand that some things just are the way things are, and the Power Creep or Rarity Creep of competitive Magic are in part forces that nothing can permanently be done about. Keep looking through articles on their site until you find reference to ‘the Pendulum’. The Pendulum is the allegory they use to describe the flux and flow of designing Magic cards, and its the only time-tested solution to Power Creep– LET certain kinds of cards be deliberately strong for a while, while other kinds deliberately weak. Then, in a few months, or a few years, SWING the pendulum back and have what used to be weak become strong, and vice versa. In otherwords, like landing an aircraft by flying in a spiral- you can reduce the speed of Power Creep by Creeping only parts of the game at a time, but never the whole thing in one set, or one block, or one Standard Rotation. The Rotation System itself, of Standard-Extended-Modern-Legacy/Vintage, is also a speed bump in Power Creep. But you can’t ever kill Power Creep, except by not making any new cards. No new cards= no more competitive Magic because the Formats will all dry out within a year or two. No more competitive Magic = no more stores selling Magic cards, and even your Zendikar and Alara cards will become ridiculously scarce and ridiculously expensive on eBay. except no one will care, because no one will play anymore. They’ll be like Action Comics #1, or the Inverted Jenny Stamp. Antiquities of a generation gone by……the Magic: the Gathering Generation will be over.
Or, you can accept Power Creep in sets, and think of it like leveling up in an RPG. (One thing they will NEVER do, however, is break the Reserved List in such a way as you suggest in your ‘Infinity’ Set articles. That would destroy many very large fortunes overnight. Power Creep will not make a noticeable splash in Vintage, ever. Vintage is as powerful as it can get without the game being on the verge of collapse.

6. James - July 28, 2011

Matt,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Here is what I think.

I dont know where you learned about Magic, but I suggest you read wizards.com/Magic’s Daily MTG articles. It’s the nature of the game to be the way it is, and you can’t change it- even if you THINK you can, you can’t. Example: ‘Power Creep’-

So, you are saying everything Wizards does is right and they can’t make any mistakes?

There will always be powerful cards. Always Always Always Always Always. If have no rules about what’s allowed to be printed, then the gap between the most and least powerful is very large- if you make guidelines about what is the weakest or strongest you’re allowed to print, then the gap will be smaller, but there will be cards that are stronger than others. Period.

I never said otherwise. You are agreeing with me, but you are acting like you are disagreeing for some reason.

Here’s why Power Creep is unstoppable, and only just barely containable- The SAME rule applies to card interactions- eventually, if you keep making cards of all shapes and sizes, or only of specific shapes and sizes, then there will be gamers out there who min-max their deck until they find the fastest way to kill you. Reanimator and/or Dredge is pretty fast. So is RDW. So are many many other strategies.

I never said the power creep is completely terrible and shouldn’t exist at all. Again, you agree with me and act like you aren’t agreeing.

Wizards really knows what they’re doing. Some of it doesn’t make sense the first time you think about it. Or even the first year. But really, if you read what they write on their site every day for a good 3-5 years, you begin to understand that some things just are the way things are, and the Power Creep or Rarity Creep of competitive Magic are in part forces that nothing can permanently be done about. Keep looking through articles on their site until you find reference to ‘the Pendulum’. The Pendulum is the allegory they use to describe the flux and flow of designing Magic cards, and its the only time-tested solution to Power Creep– LET certain kinds of cards be deliberately strong for a while, while other kinds deliberately weak.

The “pendulum” doesn’t really happen like they say it does. They make counterspell into cancel. The response was no one played cancel because it was too weak.

Additionally, some cards are simply more powerful than they’ve ever been before. The “pendulum” seems to be going further and further in each direction over time.