Cool Yer Angried-Up Blood, Folks, or: Why Wizards Thinks They Can Get Away With It

They want you to pay $3.29 when you can buy cards in bulk for $2.00 a pack. Can they get away with this? Well, I’m telling you; they just might.

So why do they think they can get away with it? Pricing Magic Online cards at the full retail price of $3.29 – when, considering that you can buy physical cards from us by the box for about $2.00 per pack, seems a ridiculous ripoff?

A ripoff that doesn’t even consider other problems – like, say, the fact that it’s ridiculously easy to get disconnected during a drafting session, rendering your $10.00 investment into a pile of Tireless Tribes and Kamahl’s desires? Or that if the server crashes, it might just take your entire investment with it?

Well, I’m telling you; they just might pull it off.

Clever bastards.

While we’re all angry, let’s look at it from a business angle: What do other online games cost? Everquest? $10.00 a month. Dark Age Of Camelot? $10.00 a month. Anarchy Online?

Well, I mean, is anyone playing Anarchy Online since their buggy test?

Anyway, Anarchy Online is $10.00 a month, too. The gold standard for online gaming is ten bucks every thirty days.

In other words, far more complex programs – graphically-intensive programs that require creating vast, three-dimensional dungeons, balancing various player character types to make sure no one’s overbalanced, creating hundreds of graphically-detailed monsters, adding on new features and storylines…

All of that only requires them to have an Alexander Hamilton a month to fund it.

And the successful ones are like printing money, man. Ultima Online was buggy as all hell at first, badly-designed thanks to player-killer issues, frustrating, and laggy… And yet at its zenith, it made $6 million a month for Electronic Arts.

Six million.

That’s a lot of cash flow, even if you take the server and update costs into account. In fact, that’s a cash river.

Now, let’s look at Magic Online. The initial investment is already done; creating a rather simple interface that enforces the rules of the game is nothing compared to creating the vast dungeons of Kunark.* Any future monsters or improvements? Well, they had to make the next expansion anyway – all that’s needed is some rules tweaking, scanning in art, and they’re done.

In short, they don’t need six million to be profitable. Once they recoup the initial investment, this could be one of the cheapest online games ever. Aside from server costs and initial creation issues, everything else comes for practically free.

And that’s why it could work.

Sure, at $3.29, they’ll take a huge hit. There will be very few people willing to play. But you know what? I might be tempted to draft on Magic Online once a month when I’m bored. And if I win, I get free cards to play in other drafts! Bitchin’.

That’s the critical ten bucks right there. If there’s no draft at my local store that night and I’m in one of my insomniac moods, I might well pay for Wizards’ entire investment right there.

Ten bucks a month.

And you know there are psychos who will pay more.

That’s what Wizards was looking at. They can make this work at full price (they keep all the profits) and clear a staggering profit with relatively few players. So what if we’re all outraged? As long as we plunk down for occasional play, we’re keeping ’em in green.

The real question is, can Wizards sustain a critical mass with this pricing structure? Frankly, one of the reasons I love the beta is because I can find people at any time. I’ve been cheerfully drafting every morning while I edit StarCity – but if the packs cost $3.29, will I be able to cobble together a draft before noon?

That’s the big question. That’s where the profitability lies. If there aren’t enough players, it forms a vicious cycle where people log on, they can’t find anyone to play with, and they don’t come back. Eventually, starved of traffic, Magic Online collapses underneath its own weight.

Will it work?

Well, it’s kind of up to all of us. Why not discuss it in our forums?

Signing off,

The Ferrett

[email protected]

The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy

* – It’s complex, sure, but comparatively trivial compared to setting two thousand players interacting with each other in a three-dimensional space.