In reading Jeremy Hallís article ďWhat do the care aboutĒ, I wanted to respond, but quickly realized that a simple response could in no way encompass everything that I felt I needed to say on the matter, so I decided that I would do something I havenít done in quite a while Ė I would write a small article myself in an attempt to give another perspective to what Jeremy is trying to accomplish.
First off, I must agree with his underlying assertion. What does WotC want? Ultimately, they want to make money. I think that is something very important for everyone to realize. There are some huge costs involved in creating card games and if the game doesnít sell, no one makes a profit, nobody gets paid, and another set doesnít get made. Getting beyond that, however, there are a number statements made by Jeremy that, while I may or may not agree with the statement in general, deserve to be seen in a different perspective.
1. Friday Night Magic focuses on Standard, Block, Sealed, and Draft because thatís what sells new card.
Contrary to popular belief, even Magic players grow up. Aaron Forsyth has written articles about why people stop playing Magic. Most of them donít just tire of the game and move on. In general, other time commitments become priorities and playing Magic just sort of fades into the background. In the ultimate scheme of things, Magic is not as important as courtship, employment, or family. Sure, there are plenty of Magic players in their 20ís. Myself, Iím well into my 30ís and I still play, but I donít have near as much time to devote to the game as I used to. And I currently live in an area where tournament access isnít convenient, so I donít even judge as much as I used to.
So, what does this have to do with Friday Night Magic? Put quite simply, Friday Night Magic is about ďFresh BloodĒ. If there were never any new players, the game would eventually die on attrition. Game stores are the lowest barrier of entry for new players, so the programs designed for game stores are intentionally geared towards players who might not have too many cards. Sealed and Draft in particular can be played without any cards at all and put all players on a perceived equal footing.
2. The tournament system is not to test and reward skill, but to make money by offering rewards disproportionate to what you can get otherwise.
I have to admit, I donít think I fully understood the point that Jeremy was trying to make here. However, I have a few comments, that I can make from my perspective that may or may not be in agreement with the point he was trying to make.
First, does the tournament system test and reward skill? If there were no luck involved, the ďbestĒ player would always win. People would quickly realize where they fall and wouldnít bother showing up unless they were confident that they could make a good enough showing for it to be worth their time.
The truth is that there must be an element of luck so that ever player feels like they have a chance to make day 2Ö However, having said that, the same players rise to the top often enough that I think itís apparent that skill does play an important role.
Next, is the point of the Pro Tour to make money? Thatís a more interesting question. Yes, WotC takes in a lot more money than they pay out at the Pro Tour. If they didnít, then they couldnít afford to have a Pro Tour. Letís not forget that there are a lot of expenses involved in creating a card game. I know from experience that the purse money offered is only the tip of the iceberg for what it costs to run a large tournament.
The real question isnít whether the Pro Tour costs less than WotC makes. The real question is whether the Pro Tour costs less than the difference between what WotC makes and what they would make if they didnít have the Pro Tour.
I donít have an answer to the question. However, with as many games as are currently on the market, I can say that there is a lot of competition out there for a gamerís dollar. The Pro Tour is one way to demonstrate to players that WotC understands that there needs to be opportunities to play. Without the Pro Tour, there is a decent chance that the number of players sitting around a shop playing on a Saturday afternoon might decrease also.
The truth is that the Pro Tour is a marketing expense. Itís another way of advertising the game and giving players something to aspire to so that they will keep playing.
You may not have any aspirations for the Pro Tour, but what if 5 of the 10 players in your store do? If those 5 players stopped playing, would that make it harder for you to find an opponent? How many of the remaining 5 stop playing because they just canít get a decent game whenever they want?
3. WotC hires pro players to dangle a carrot.
4. WotC doesnít care about the game as a whole, but only about improving the standard format.
I think I can address both of these assertions at the same time because I think the underlying concern expressed is actually linked. It is my opinion that the casual player is much more forgiving than the tournament player. What does that mean? That means that if a card intended for a casual player doesnít do what itís supposed to do, then the casual player will self-correct. How many times have you heard someone say, ďIíll play you, but donít use that deck because itís no fun.Ē?
On the other hand, if a card turns out to be too good as a tournament card, the implications are fairly significant. Iím guessing that Skull Clamp was originally considered a casual card. It probably received a last-minute change, but no one had really considered it seriously before, so they didnít worry about it. Thus, it slips through the cracks. Perhaps had one more professional level player looked at that card, they would have realized its potential and called it out.
Part of the issue is in understanding the difference between design and development. The design team comes up with the card ideas. Richard Garfield and Mark Rosewater are designers. They arenít necessarily good players and donít really care. The Development team, on the other hand, is responsible for making sure that the cards are balanced. Who better to do that job than people who have trained themselves to identify over efficient sets of cards. Their motives go from exploiting to correcting, but the skill set is often the same.
The real issue here, in my mind, is whether or not they can accurately identify the pros who are actually building the decks instead of just those who play decks designed by others.
Of course WotC cares about the health of the game. But there are a limited number of hours in which to design a new set. Just because they design them 2 years in advance doesnít really mean they have more time to focus. They have to prioritize where they put their efforts.
In summary, is it about money? Of course itís about money. But WotC is experienced enough to know that you have to look out for the long term. Its entirely possible that they occasionally get wrapped up in the moment and do things that might not be good for the short-term, but I think there is a lot more thought and effort that goes into this than many people realize.
I could tell you stories about successes and failures, as well as misconceptions about how the industry works from within the industry. But that, like Magic Online, is a subject for another day.