Magic Online is going to be launching soon, with much fanfare. I have something to say that you need to hear if you’re thinking of playing Magic Online on a regular basis. As you may or may not know, I played an online game for over a year. Asheron’s Call. Along with Ultima Online and Everquest, it was one of the”big three.”
And yes, it’s the game that”you-know-who” plays.
Yes, I did play with him. For a long time, actually – don’t ask about it.
Now, when I say I played, I mean I played. Like”twelve hours per day, hook up a coffee IV and let it drip” played. That type of played. I know how addictive it can be… So I understand how many of you are hooked on Magic Online. I also know many others will be trying it for the first time when it goes gold in the upcoming months.
Having played an online game for over a year, I have a perspective on these things that you might not have heard before. Before you decide to spend massive amounts of time and money on an online game, like I did, you need to hear it. To break out the tired old book of metaphors, we’ll say that right now I’m Morpheus from”The Matrix,” and you can take the red pill or the blue pill.
I think [author name="Bennie Smith"]Bennie Smith[/author] did this”red pill, blue pill” crap already, but I’m sure you can live with it. I’m offering you a choice, and the chance to get out while you still can. You can take the red pill, and try your luck… Or you can take the blue pill, and get the hell out before the terrible realization dawns – Magic: Online is nothing like Magic: The Gathering.
The first change is a social one, and I can sum it up in few words.
90% of people online are complete and utter choads. Penny Arcade said it first, and it still holds true.
Impunity breeds bad attitude. Magic Online, socially, is not Magic: The Gathering. When you play Magic at your local card store, you’re playing against people you know and respect. More than that, you’re playing in person, against a living, breathing human being that you can interact with via flesh and sound. You can feel the warmth of that handshake.
People in online games do things that would get them beaten to death if they did them in real life. I am serious. They will cheat. They will lie. They will call you terrible names, not just in fun but the type of stuff that would get a man killed in what online gamers like to call”RL.” To the hardcore online gamer,”RL” (or”real life”) is a faraway place where standards of behaviour actually exist. Online, though, these standards are a paper tiger. The authorities in online gaming are like the guys who come after you if you ignore the FBI warning on videotapes and show them to other people without express written consent.
People with online alter-egos have a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on where they leave their morals at the door. If there is a bug or an exploit in Magic: Online, people will find it and abuse it in any way they can. If you can stall out a match you are winning by using a Seeker of Skybreak to continuously untap itself and reset the game clock, then you can bet people will in fact do that. If there is a way to”dupe” cards (“duping”, or the duplication of items, especially those with real-world value, is a major problem in many online games) then some jackass will find it and dupe a big stack of foil Call Of The Herd, trade you one, and when the crack team from Leaping Lizard tracks down all the duped cards, your account will get banned.
Alternatively, Leaping Lizard will wipe all accounts to get rid of the four hundred Calls of the Herd that people are trying to redeem for real life foil Calls, and you will get screwed because some other jerk was duping cards.
These are my own hamfisted attempts at possible trouble scenarios, but you get the idea. Those more familiar with how Magic Online works can probably think of even worse horrors that would result from duping.
First, don’t say it’s not possible. The r33t h4XX0rs haven’t even started to go to work on Magic: Online full tilt. If there is a security hole, they will find it and abuse it, and the great white father who sits near the servers will have to do a rollback, and all of your work will be undone for days or weeks.
Just like in any popular online game, there will be money involved, and money talks. When I played Asheron’s Call, my account was at one point worth close to $1,000 or more. Because of the daring card redemption policy of Wizards of the Coast, Magic Online accounts are going to be worth thousands as well. Don’t forget: People online are complete and utter choads. They will hack you, scam you, do anything to take you for everything you’ve got. If you catch them in the act, you can’t punch them in the face like you would in good ol'”RL”, because they’re actually sitting in a cybercafe somewhere in France.
Nor can you prosecute them – the laws for stealing virtual property are so nonexistent that you might as well just kiss your stuff goodbye. Some guy could grab your password or other information, log on to your account, trade all of your stuff to his Magic Online account, and leave you with nothing. What are you going to do? Thieves in real life have things like”severe beatings” to deter them. Online, people can do pretty much anything they want.
Don’t even get me started on ratings fraud. I’m thinking that if rating becomes important in Magic: Online (I’m sure there might be some perks, like special online-only promotional cards for high ratings, and other perks), you can probably buy a high rating off of eBay. That might cause a few problems. If Magic: Online is anything like Asheron’s Call, they won’t have any secure way to transfer accounts between two people, and they won’t officially support the sale of accounts on eBay. When the original owner of the account calls Wizards support with his CD-Key and credit card number and gets the password for the account that you bought from him, screwing you out of all your cards and the $100 you shelled out on eBay, you won’t be able to do anything but bend over and take it up the tailpipe.
Then there’s the endless excuses, whining, and bitching.
Rest assured, if there is a way to cheat, any time you win, you can expect to get accused of it. When I played Asheron’s Call with you-know-who, he accused people of cheating all the time with pretty much no proof of any kind, simply because they were far better than him and he’d had his ass handed to him. (I go back to the Asheron’s Call message boards every so often – and sure enough, he’s still running his mouth about alleged”cheating.” Some people never change.)
The prideful, indignant players of the world can’t stomach the fact that they couldn’t get the job done, and their egos run crying to the first apologist available – the notion that everyone is cheating them. The same goes for the all the no-skill idiots. Trust me, there are many.
The point here (besides the fact that I’d like to punch Jankfield) is that people will have even more excuses than usual. If there is Ever, EVER any way to cheat in Magic: Online, any documented way at all, people who lose to you will accuse you of cheating. Even if the bug or exploit has since been fixed. Accusing people of cheating is the greatest tradition in all online games. You will never win fairly; you’ll be”hacking,” or”exploiting.” Hell, even if the game is completely bug-free (HA!), people will accuse you of cheating, using bugs that haven’t yet been discovered.
Think I’m lying? Wait a few months.
It’s the same in any online game. Try being good at Counterstrike without getting accused of having wallhack or an aimbot. It’s impossible. Of course, in”RL,” anyone who played against you and accused you (wrongfully) would get skull punches. What can you do online? Type angrily at the guy?
If you play Magic Online, you’re trading convenience for a whole new set of problems. You get the ability to play against people from all over the world, right in the comfort of your own home. That’s a plus. In return though, you are completely impotent to do anything about the flaming jackasses of the online community. Teenage punk kids will lose to you, accuse you of cheating, and then tell you what they did to your mom last night, using the most explicit terms in their miniscule, pre-pubescent vocabularies. Guys will buy whole online identities (and thus, online DCI ratings) off of eBay, rendering your online rating, earned by long nights of hard work, meaningless. The low men of online play will not scruple to stall and cheat, and you will be powerless to stop it. You think there will be online judges? Only for the big events, if at all.
Best case scenario, the game is bug free. Totally bug free. In that case, you still have to deal with idiots and the eBay problem, but otherwise it will be okay. Are you willing, though, to bet your entire online collection on this? If there is one duping bug in Magic Online – just one – the whole economy will be royally screwed, and your collection will go from godly to worthless overnight.
Counterfeiting money in reality is hard. It requires equipment and you can go to jail for a long time. Counterfeiting cards online, by crashing the server or giving it strange instructions, or by some other means, perhaps an unseen bug with the trading system? It’s free and easy; you just need the expertise. With a real-life card redemption policy, it’s a license to print money. Wizards isn’t going to let that go on – and if it does happen, your account is going to bite it. They will wipe the accounts so fast your head will spin.
I think I’m all ranted out. Anything else? Oh yeah. Don’t ever give out your account information, if applicable. They will find your virtual body being defiled by virtual bums in a virtual alley.
Good luck with Magic Online. It has a lot going for it, and if they can pull it off, I take my hat off to them. Personally, though, I think it’s in for some rocky beginnings once it finally goes live. I’ll watch this one from a distance.