By Dustin “Duster” O’Neil
Deadline's coming for your report, and you've got 24 hours to finalize your new ideas to be pitched to the company. Can you make the customers AND your boss happy? Tough situation. You had been planning on buying Jimmy a new bike for Christmas, but without the productivity bonus, you just won't be able to fit it in your budget. Crunch time, whatever you want to call it, now's the time to shine…or fade. Are you going to let Jimmy down?
Sounds pretty stressful eh? Bet you're feeling lucky you're in that position right? Your ideas could pave the way for new ground in this industry…or, you could let Jimmy down or even get fired! Feel pity for the person who does feel those shoes, they've got it pretty rough don't they?
Maybe not, but personally, I'm leaning towards thinking that IS a pretty rough job…personally.
I don't know for sure, but I have a gut feeling that something similar to this goes on regularly at Wizards of the Coast in the M:TG, R&D department. Imagine having a job so cool that you get to design Magic cards, but so stressful in that you have a very finicky market to please; If you can't please the customers, you're certainly not pleasing the bosses, in which case, you'll probably be pleasing the sidewalk when they kick you to the curb! It's certainly not an easy job, contrary to how it seems.
Like any job it has all sorts of stress factors, and I'm likened to believe the stress that's felt out there is much greater than anything I've ever felt. Think again: deadlines, brainstorming new concepts and ideas, pleasing thousands of different customers to please all at the same time… Whoa, hang on, there's a concept! PLEASING DIFFERENT CUSTOMERS AT THE SAME TIME!? Unfathomable! It's just not possible, but it's what R&D is faced with every time they sit down to produce a new stand-alone or expansion.
So…you know what that boils down to? Not everyone's going to like everything. It's just the way it is. They've learned to deal with it, so maybe we should too. There's nothing we can do if a crap card slips past, but we can take the great cards that make it through and be happy we have such a great game to play. But I digress….
And we come to another difficult concept to imagine…new concepts, abilities, stories and ideas. All these things have to come together to form a cohesive unit that acts together in many ways. Without one of these components, the entire design could fall through. Concepts…interesting, it seems pretty easy to think if new card concepts right? Right, but that's the easiest part of design. Then we have to name the card, possibly tie it into a story, add some quirky new mechanics to it, and we're done! A process that's easier said than done. I challenge you to try to conceptualize just a new storyline; one that will keep you and THOUSANDS OF DIFFERENT CUSTOMERS entertained. Not so easy eh? But again I digress…
Have you ever sat down and actually tried to think of what those crazy R&D guys out at Wizards actually do with their time? Some may be prone to believe that they drink a lot of Mountain Dew and watch BattleBots (I’m not saying they don’t). Obviously, I have come to find a new respect for these guys.
I work hard, I work 30 hours a week at my job and go to college more than full time, and I would bet the amount of work I do pales in comparison with the output of a single R&D employee. Year round, R&D’s job is to create new ideas for cards, visualize new artwork and create a new storyline for each set - basically from scratch! Can you imagine?
How much creativity do you have? Yeah, you, personally. Are you an artist? Do you write novels, hell short stories for that matter!? Are you pretty imaginative? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, please don’t apply for an R&D job! I’m not saying you have to be Picasso or a Shakespeare, but I’ll go out on a limb and say every employee at R&D has a basic understanding of what needs to be done in each of these areas.
For the little appreciation R&D seems to get after almost every set is released, these guys are working their collective butts off, regardless of how shabby a job you think they did. And yes, sometimes they make mistakes and things fall through the cracks. Everyone makes mistakes, execpt me (I mean “except”).
Let’s look at Urza’s Block. For every person that hated Urza’s Block for being so “broken,” there’s a person that wouldn’t be able to live without those cards in the tournament scene. Then let’s move on to Masques Block. For every person that loves Masques for slowing down the environment, there’s someone that hates it for not having any real “power”.
What the crap!? R&D are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. It seems there is no middle ground anymore; someone will always be upset. How to make a set that satisfies both ends of the spectrum? I think it’s nearly impossible. I believe there will NEVER be a set that every one is truly happy with. To paraphrase and modify an old adage:
You can make all of them like it some of the time,
And some of them like it all of the time,
But you can’t make all of them like it all of the time.
Invasion and Odyssey blocks are close to this happy medium, but there will still be the dissenters and protesters and harbingers of doom, shouting, “It’s the end of Magic!” from the rooftops. I say if those people want to leave the game, let them go, we don’t need them. We need a lot less people taking what they’re given for granted.
So why is it so hard for us to give credit where credit is due? Even if you’re not satisfied with the product, you should still respect the fact that someone tried extremely hard to make you… yes you! Happy.
Are you? That’s irrelevant; it’s the thought that counts.
All it takes is a few looks at the message boards to realize exactly how difficult it is to design a few cards, let alone an entire 350 card standalone tied in to 2 other expansions. I've tried doing it with a group and it proves much to time consuming to coordinate ideas, everyone has their own ideas and would much rather see them than someone else's. Rarely will you find a group of people who can work together so fluidly that no rifts form. One of R&D's jobs is to form such groups that can work together cohesively to produce a good product.
Which leads me to another point I've been itching to scratch. Magic is a product. If you're so naďve that you thought WoTC just made this game for our enjoyment, you probably shouldn't be playing the game. WoTC is out there to make some money, and developers do have families they have to care for. I feel we shouldn't stop to question how much they're charging us for cards. I know they're just pieces of cardboard, but they're pieces of cardboard that many of us couldn't live without. In my opinion, the prices aren't really that outrageous anyway. If you want to complain about prices, complain about the secondary market prices, now that's price gouging at it's finest. But, yet again, I digress…
So… for everyone that says that they could do a much better job if they were a staff at R&D, I suggest you reconsider. You might think it’s a cushy job, but trust me, no job is truly cushy, and I learned that a long time ago.
A cushy job does not entail being harassed by customers after each product you release. Don’t think that R&D employees don’t hear about it when a product review comes back with only negative ratings. Like I said, there is no middle ground to be found, and something will always fall through the cracks. If you had that job, you’d have that weighing on your head after every release.
What about Jimmy's bike?
Think about this the next time you say a set or even a single card sucks, and remember how hard someone worked to try to make YOU happy.