Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 16, 2017

I have been playing Magic Duels for two years, nearly every day, and on two accounts: One on my iPad, and one on the PC. During that time I bought or earned over 5,000 cards (both accounts together), which is about $600 value in cards. Yes, the bigger half of that was earned by playing, but even if you just consider I spent something like $200, it still is a good amount of money for a computer game. The way Magic Duels, and in fact all online versions of Magic the Gathering, are presented is that you don't buy a game, you "buy cards", just like the physical card version of the game. But the latest development kind of removed that illusion. Wizards of the Coast is stopping support for Magic Duels and is launching a new online platform, currently knows as Magic Digital Next. And I feel expropriated, as if WotC just took my virtual cards away from me.

Legally of course I have no rights here. They haven't even announced whether and when they will be shutting down Magic Duels, they just said they won't add any new expansions to it. But expansions were basically the game of Magic Duels: You played one expansion enough to get the gold to buy the next expansion, and then the circle started over. At every expansion the AI was using decks built around that expansion, which renewed interest in the AI opponent. If they just stop adding expansions, the AI (and the players) will just use the same set of decks over and over, until the game gets too boring and everybody stops playing.

The best case scenario is that Magic Digital Next offers me the same entertainment, just minus my existing collection, forcing me to start over from zero. In Magic that usually means having to pay money, because the starting cards you get for free aren't enough to build a variety of reasonable decks. All the cards I have in Magic Duels, and all the gold I earned there is lost.

The worst case scenario is that I won't have any good platform any more to play Magic against an AI. Game developers have become increasingly lazy over the last years. They just don't *do* AIs any more. It is far cheaper to make games that are PvP only, and basically sell your existing customers as "content" to other customers. But real players are a lot less patient that artificial intelligence players: You can't just interrupt your game on your mobile device because of some event in real life, and then continue that same game later, when you have time again. If a game is PvP only, you lose the advantage of playing on a mobile platform, where otherwise you might want to play on the bus or metro until your stop, or in similar situations. Furthermore in Magic it is very possible that one player has a stronger start than another, due to a variety of random factors. Real players tend to quit in that situation. In Magic Duels the AI takes over if you play against a quitter, but what if the new version of Magic Digital Next won't have an AI?

So right now I am not happy at all over the announcement. They are killing Magic Duels off before we even get to see the first demo of the replacement (which will be in September). And they are doing it in the middle of an expansion block, instead of at least finishing that block. And as WotC has repeatedly messed up digital conversions of both Magic and D&D, I am not at all confident for the future of playing Magic on my iPad.

Well, this goes back to my F2P paying rule: "pay for the fun you ALREADY had, and not for the fun you plan having". Because the second one may never materialize, as the game will likely shut down.
The whole F2P model is based on the approach of "create new game, hype it up, cash on new players, cut running costs to near-zero by dropping customer service, bug fixes and development, shut game down and move to the next". Paying for the future in this scenario is a waste of money.
Imagine when World of Warcraft will be shut down and people will be forced to say the last goodbye to their toons.
Let this be a lesson to you. Give your money to "game as a service"-model bandits only when you're ready to lose it all.
"If they just stop adding expansions, the AI (and the players) will just use the same set of decks over and over, until the game gets too boring and everybody stops playing."

Couldn't the same be said of classic single-player games?
Some people champion the new payment models, but I am not one of them. I still long to pay a set price for a game and be done with it. I do think it's funny how the people that championed F2P as the "great equalizer" between the "time rich" and the "money rich" are now having second thoughts much like Tobold is having. This is a classic case of buyers remorse in that regard.

This goes back to a comment I made several years ago regarding the F2P concept, in that you can never know how much the game is going to cost you over time. With up-front pricing and subscriptions, I can at least forward project how much the game will cost me over "X" amount of time. You simply cannot do that within the majority of F2P implementations.

If I break down the costs involved with my 12+ year run with WoW, I'm about $2500 into the game counting sub costs and initial purchase costs of all of the expansions. Never in my life have I ever spent so little on a hobby and gotten this much enjoyment out of it over such a span of time...roughly $208 a year.
I played it for a few months after launch, it's a pretty good game. They should at least foster some goodwill for this move by offering those invested into large Duels collections some sort of free card transfer program, whatever is plausible. I hope they keep the AI opponents, but wouldn't hold my breath there.
Maybe it stings a little extra when you think you have converted your time into money... and it suddenly gets converted back into wasted time!
My suspicion is that the exact thing you liked about Magic Duels (that players can play for free or at least cheaply) is exactly why WotC is getting rid of it. They just aren't cashing in on the pay2win crowd like other online card games such as Hearthstone. If I were to guess, Magic Digital Next will have only superficial changes outside of reducing the ease of earning, and utility of, in-game currency.
Yeah, it doesn't makes sense to throw out all the work they're already done on UI, AI, networking code. etc to start from scratch. Obviously they can carry over the card art & text. I'd say it's more like they're working on a sequel using the same engine.
Give Elder Scrolls Legends a try if you are into these games. It's pretty fun, and fair to free players.
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