Magic Online is the newest hot topic – but before I continue, a short refresher on the subject. A few months ago, Wizards announced it was going to release a new platform to play Magic: the Gathering. This platform is Magic Online, an Internet-based and used program that would allow you to play against anyone in the world and participate in Drafts, Sealed tourneys, or even Standard and casual play. Sounds great right? A beautiful interface, rules included in the game so you never have to fear a misclick or a misplay, and hey, the concept kicked other programs out of the water.
Magic Online’s only direct competition comes from Apprentice – a program full of bugs but also full of advantages. On the plus side, Apprentice is free, gives you access to all the cards, and supports sealed, booster draft, Rochester draft, Chaos magic, and is widely supported on IRC channels through a bunch of amiable folks in #mtgonline, #apprentice and #e-tourney to name a few. On the minus side, Apprentice has virtually no graphic interface. While I have said in the past that what’s important on the card is the text box, many players have grown accustomed to seeing the cards make bad plays when all they see is the card title, disconnects are frequent, and there is a cheating script out there called Backwash that you shouldn’t use but may encounter.
A firestorm erupted when the news about Magic Online hit the streets. Many people became alpha and beta testers, loved it and wanted to keep playing it. Others, myself included, derided the program and decided to stick with Apprentice. Many people on IRC took the same road I did… But after talking to a friend doing Alpha testing, I decided to give Magic Online a whirl when it came out, just to see what it was all about.
In the past week, the pricing structure of Magic Online was announced. While most people assumed (or hoped) that it would cost around one or two bucks a booster, and about double that for a theme deck or starter deck, imagine out shock when we saw this announced as the price:
$3.29 US per booster pack.
Wow, I guess Wizards must think we’re newborns with Platinum cards, eh? So to build a collection, you will have to participate in a number of drafts. Since we all know that those chase rares are as hard to find as blue Hurricanes, this will involve, say fifteen to twenty drafts to get a good base of cards.
15 x $3.29 = $148.05 US… That’s a lot of real cash for a lot of imaginary cards. But hey, I guess Wizards knows what they are doing, right?
This so infuriated beta-testers that they planned a day of striking for the 19th of January, wherein they would meet in the testing rooms and not play, just chat and do the sit-in thing. Vehement protests were launched from MTGnews.com, testers, and even here on beloved Star City. Wizards got wind of this and released a short statement confirming what the greatest minds of our time had long suspected:
Wizards are chowderheads.
But that’s okay, ’cause the players are obviously even worse.
Here is an analysis of their response:
“While each platform has its strengths, face-to-face competition and high-level organized play for the physical game, constant access to players, tournaments, and trading for the Online game, the majority of features that make Magic a compelling game can be found on both platforms.
“These includes important features such as, collecting, trading, the random aspect of booster packs, secondary industries supporting the cards, as well as play variants and organized play programs. These similarities establish a strong connection between the two platforms. So strong that there is a danger of Online sales cannibalizing physical card sales and damaging the value of physical collections and the important network of game retailers and organized play programs.”
The last part is especially important, since it is the basis of Wizards’ argument as to why the boosters should cost as much on an electronic platform as in real life. You know real life?
Where you can pull a foil Donate, leap over the tables when you lose, get pictures taken with Friggin’ Rizzo that will drive Ferrett into an agonizing, slow insanity? Well, what kills this argument in the bud is that, well… Apprentice and Microprose Magic the Gathering have not caused the cannibilization phenomenon to happen. In fact, despite the fact Apprentice gives you all the cards, boosters are still sold, online retailing is still in full swing and tournaments are still attended.
Thus, we can see that this argument simply does not hold water. Oh yes, games such as Everquest and Ultima Online have items that have sold through eBay for real cash, but this is a different beast. As long as sanctioned Magic tournaments require players to have in their possession physical cards, then there will always be a market for them. The existence of Magic Online complements Magic the Gathering’s cardboard form, but cannot destroy it.
While I understand that making this product costs money and that this money must be recouped in some manner, this will not happen by charging full price for a product that many players get discounted in its concrete form.
As for what you can do about it, it’s simple. Don’t buy, don’t beta-test, and don’t give in to Magic Online. It’s the only way to tell Wizards that they have misjudged us, and to make them understand they are, in fact, making a mistake of cosmic proportions.