The Trouble With Magic Online

(Author’s Note: If you agree with this post and feel strongly about these issues, don’t hesitate to repost this to your friends. Definitely feel free to write your own articles about what is wrong with the Magic Online program. Also make sure to send emails to Wizards of the Coast and frustrated tweets to @mtgonline in particular. In short, take action.)

I unleashed a series of tweets yesterday detailing my recent frustrations with Magic Online, with special regard to Online Prereleases and PTQ prize support. Needless to say, many of you had similar feelings and unleashed a wave of support for what I had to say. Tweets disappear quickly though, so today I figured I’d some up a number of action points we, the Magic community, would like to see addressed on Magic Online.

First off, and this one is simple, get rid of the arbitrary dead zone after online prereleases and before the release events kick off (usually from Monday until downtime occurs on Wednesday). There is no sensible reason for this to occur. You told us “playing Magic is good. Playing more Magic is better.” So why do we still have an artificial dead zone after prereleases where we can’t play the new set? Many of us prefer to use Magic Online because it means we’re not constrained by real world deadlines – we have busy lives, and time to play comes at odd hours and sometimes unexpectedly. Making it to FNM can be difficult, but thankfully we have Magic Online. Except when we don’t.  Some of us have time to play at point X and then that time is gone, and with that time goes a portion of our business. It doesn’t come back later–it disappears into thin air along with dollars you could have made from us using the service, and it builds up negative feelings toward the product in general and prereleases in specific.

Stop the arbitrary dead time after prereleases and accept the money we are trying to give you. #LetUsPlay

Prize Support
Your online PTQ prize support is now way past bad and resides somewhere between Chip and Dale and beyond terrible. It’s the exact same whether a PTQ has 128 players or caps at 768 like the first Innistrad PTQ did. This is absolutely ridiculous. We have heard vague rumors that you can’t scale prize support because you might run afoul of online gambling laws, but the fact of the matter is a) nearly every TO in the entire world already does this making you out of sync and b) you have to be clever enough to figure out an alternative that works (promos? Point systems for redemption?), especially with the amount of time you have had to do so. By not doing so, players can only come to the conclusion that you are using a potential legal issue as an excuse to justify your greed.

To give a brief (if slightly skewed) comparison, Grand Prix Brisbane had 389 players (which is big for Australia) and you paid out 30,000 in prize money. Your first Magic Online PTQ had 768 players and you paid $2922 in prizes. Both events were run directly by Wizards of the Coast. The PTQ had twice the number of players and one tenth the prize support. If I were trying to interpret your intent via incentives, I would conclude that you want me to attend your Grand Prix and don’t want me to play in your Magic Online PTQs.

This is weird, since you seem to earn a ton more money from the PTQs. (Up to 320K per season – at that rate you may want to add a Pro Tour back, just so you can run more online PTQs…) It’s clear that there is a lot of interest in playing online PTQs, but it is also clear that there is a mounting backlash against your inability to increase prize support with more players, which will eventually hurt online PTQ attendance.

Fix it soon, please.

Online Prerelease Price Gouging #MTGNO
Somehow, despite the fact that a new set has already appeared in the real world and we’ve likely had 3-4 weeks of chances to play with it, you still think you can attach a premium to playing in online prereleases, including paying $20 to play a Swiss Draft. The justification for the incredible draft prices (43% more than a normal draft!)  has been that you also get a promo version of a card for playing in these, which goes toward offsetting the cost, but not a single one of those cards has had enough value to make up for what is pretty clear price gouging.

Some of us have gone so far as to boycott prereleases since you started doing this as a form of protest. Despite repeated complaints and pleas from the community, you have failed to change your behaviour, so now instead of merely boycotting Online Prereleases, we will start reminding others that Wizards of the Coast is trying to dick them with surcharges and encourage others to boycott as well.

Every online prerelease will come with any number of reminders via Twitter and Facebook that the extra money you are charging for drafts is bullshit and people should just not play until the release events start.

Competition for $$$ is Higher Than Ever Before
Magic has gradually become more and more expensive to play over the years, and yet you have actually lowered prize support on Magic Online. There is more competition than ever before competing for entertainment dollars and yet, in the current economy there are fewer of those dollars to go around. Somehow, Magic: The Gathering as an institution has continually cut what they give back to the consumer in search of greater profits.

We keep hearing about how Magic is doing better than ever. Sales are up. Profits are way up. Well outside of the corporate world, disposable income is way down. While you have been squeezing every dime you can out of the Magic Online system, forcing us to pay more and more for less and less, our ability to keep paying to play this game has gradually deteriorated. You make more money from your customers than ever before and are failing to give a single fucking thing back.

In fact, in the real world, your Organized Play changes have actually made it harder for most of us to play. When we can find local prereleases, we can’t get in to them because there isn’t enough space to hold the demand. When we can get in to them, they run out of product because someone neglected to account for the fact that we kind of want to play and play a lot. Most of the highly populated areas in Europe lost Friday Night Magic support when you attached that support exclusively to stores (that don’t exist because of property costs) and exclusively to Friday nights. You even stopped sending us cards in the mail as rewards for playing the game a lot. Oh, and it seems like you are on the cusp of radically changing the Pro Tour (again) just like you did with Planeswalker Points, but no one has been clear on what is going to happen, and if change does happen, there is little expectation that these changes will be positive for the players.

So yeah, the game is pretty great – except maybe for those six months this year we had to deal with CawBlade because you screwed up with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic…

But how you treat your customers lately? That is anything but great. In fact, it’s awful.

Stop trying to squeeze every single extra penny out of us that you can and just be happy that we’re happy paying to play the game. Meanwhile, realize that it is not a privilege to do so, it is a hard choice and one that we can change at any time. The obvious cash grabs have become so annoying and overwhelming that you will cause many of us who have been in the game for years to leave eventually, and it will hurt your business in the long-run.

To put it another way, stop mugging me for the money left in my wallet, especially when the platform your program runs on has been (and continues to be) a steaming pile of shit for the last decade.

Fix your shit, increase prize support, let us play when we want to, and let players be happy about playing your game instead of grimacing every time they have to reach for their wallets to pay for Magic.

Magic Players

Appendix 1 – Other Things We Hate About Magic Online
I’m going to say up front that this section won’t even discuss the Magic Online User Interface, which has been publically ridiculed for the last decade and is so bad you could use it as a case study for what not to do in a university UI class. It’s terrible, everyone knows it’s terrible, and supposedly some day in the far distant future (which is rumoured to be not so far as it was in the past) the User Interface will change to… something better. We’ll see about that. For now, we’re going to give you a pass here and discuss other things that irk us.

“ Why do we even have 4-3-2-2s again? Is this a commemorative missing pack formation for a format that died? Couldn’t we setup a memorial burial ground somewhere that people can visit, and have our pack back instead? ” 4-3-2-2 = Subtle Price Gouge

” I hate how it makes you close the program to log into a different account.  Or if you get disconnected you have to close and reopen.  I’m not sure if this is a measure against people using multiple accounts or just an accident of shitty programming.  Either way, I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to be constantly closing and reopening MTGO. ” LogOff != Close Program

“ Has anyone at Wizards of the Coast actually used their deckbuilding program or tried to make trades? Do they have any idea how terrible every facet of the program is in this area? I’ve had better deckbuilding experiences on freeware programs – how the hell has it been like this forever and no one has made it better? ”    Chinese prison camps believe trading cards on Magic Online is a punishment more severe than death.

64-man drafts should be a regular event/queue.

4322 sucks – 3 ticket 6422 would be sweet.   That way you could come out ahead but still win something if you windiest round.  (note I most play classic drafts where this is only option)

The DE schedule has lots of events that do not fire… Change them. Personally I want a 6pm classic friday nights but that is just me. Meanwhile, schedule MORE 64-man drags during releases. DEs aren’t firing, but these I can never sign up for because they are always full. Is anyone remotely intelligent paying attention? 

” If I had to pick one thing about MODO I don’t like (and this is a completely different direction from the current conversation,) it would be the entire trading experience. They make it too difficult to find cards you want, especially if it’s not something hot that people will list in their classified ad. 

” The trading interface is hideous, and I really hate the fact I can’t just throw away cards I don’t want, I wish I could just delete anything over 4 copies.

And I wish there was a decklist browser, where I could actually manage the decklists properly, having them all stored as text files is ridiculous, what is this 1998? I want to be able to browse my decks, delete the ones I don’t want and then tell the client to make all cards (over 4 as a sub option) tradeable except the ones in these decks. There’s just too much pointless inventory management in the current client, it’s like a really shitty mini-game all of its own.

Why they haven’t opened up the API to programmers for proper store management rather than these crappy bots is beyond me. “

The standings keep scrolling so I can never see my tiebreakers during PTQs. I don’t care how small a deal this seems like, it is infuriating.

I have to be ever-vigilant of the possibility that my clock might be ticking down even though it looks like my opponent’s clock is.

Bots are warping the economy and providing a continuous income stream to their owners in a fashion that is completely unregulated. The economy isn’t remotely efficient for customers, but no one really notices because it’s still better than what happens in the real world.

I have to close the program periodically so that it’s going at a “slow” pace rather than a “glacial” one. ”

You asked for examples of things WotC is doing w/MTGO that make people mad, well here’s mine:  The OUTRAGEOUS price of prerelease drafts.

I think Innistrad is amazing and I was pumped to give it a whirl online this weekend.  Logging in to discover that they wanted $20 for a Swiss really pissed me off.  I’m already paying $14 for a couple hours of entertainment plus digital objects in an 8-4…  not exactly a bad deal for Wizards.  $20 for a SWISS is a straight up fleecing of their customers.

It’s not a question of whether or not I can afford it, I can.  It was just a huge turnoff, it makes WotC look sleazy and at $20/pop I ultimately chose to boycott the drafts.  MtG is expensive enough as it is. 

Appendix 2 – Event Revenue and Payout
Let’s look at some examples of other tournaments run by Wizards of the Coast in the real world and compare them to the recent online PTQ. (I am going to factor out pack costs here because I don’t want to argue about the actual cost and I’m also factoring out tax paid to local authorities because we’re dealing with events in 3 different countries. If one of you is an overly pedantic international accountant who wants to do all the proper adjustments, let me know – it doesn’t change the conclusion.)

GP Brisbane – Worst Case Scenario
389 people played at Grand Prix: Brisbane, presumably resulting in something like $11,670 (389 * 30) in revenues for a prize payout of $30,000. (The amount of revenue taken in was in Australian dollars and varied based on prereg versus paying the day of, while the payout was definitely in USD but I’m trying to keep the math simple here.) There were also hosting costs involved as well as judge compensation/housing, coverage, all of which eat in to the bottom line

Net : -18330

Note: Wizards of the Coast took a substantial loss on the main event here, especially when you consider the cost of the space.

GP Milan – Potentially Best Case Scenario
1785 players paid $47.95 to play sealed. Revenues were 85590.75, prize payout was 30000. There were also substantial hosting costs involved (you have to rent a big space to fit in 1800 players) as well as judge compensation/housing (and you need lots of judges to make the event run properly), coverage… that’s a ton of extra expense that eats in to the bottom line

Net rev less payout: $55,591

Anyway, those are Grand Prix – enormous events that Wizards of the Coast uses for marketing the game and their Organized Play system. PTQs are run almost exclusively by local tournament organizers, and the only thing Wizards of the Coast likely gets from them is the resulting card sales, etc, which is still enough to make them run the events.

Except… when it comes to Magic Online, where they are now running sixteen PTQs a season. And they don’t have to split the profits with anyone.

ISD Online PTQ #1 – Probably Best Case Scenario
768 people played in the first Magic Online PTQ for Innistrad resulting in $23,040 (768 * 30) in revenues for a prize payout as follows:

$1848 in pack payouts
$1000 cash from Superdraft
$73.5 from pack payout from Superdraft divided by 8 (8 PTQs feed in to each draft)

Total PTQ Prize = $2921.5

There is ZERO hosting cost for this event, no one pays for judge housing or coverage costs. There is also no direct tax from this because that is paid up front, by the user when they purchase tickets. Programming and/or platform hosting as a cost is extremely marginal and you can’t possible spread R&D costs here because as we already know, they do their job whether Magic Online exists or not.

Net rev less payout: $20120


20 responses to “The Trouble With Magic Online

  1. Preaching to the choir. That is exactly why I have a group developing a game right now. Our goal is to make a great game that solves the problems that Wizards has ignored for a decade. There are a few possible “win” scenarios possible for us in this venture. 1.) The game is a hit and all of the players who are jaded by Wizards lack of response flock to us, increasing our revenue stream. 2.) The game is a hit and forces Wizards to actually make the changes that it should have done years ago, which makes for a better experience for everyone. 3.) The game is a hit and Wizards calls my phone and offers me a boatload of money to buy the game in order to save from paying a could of programmers a years wages to fix MTGO.

    Either way, I am with you. I am tired of the awful interface, the lack of human feeling, and sense of me being a bot in a bot world. At least going to the card store lets me get ripped off and I left with a smile. MTGO just rips me off leaves a sting that I can’t reach.

    Thanks for the marketing study. I appreciate it. 🙂

    • I loved leagues too, and they’re great if you have limited time to play, but there’s no way they were profitable on the same level as other activities. A league brings in less money over the month it runs than one draft a week and provides significantly more playing time, so if some of the people who would have played leagues draft instead, Wizards is ahead overall.

  2. MODO PTQs suck because there are a million people. Increasing prize support won’t help. Increasing slots will, which is a direct problem of the way Pro Tour invites are structured. It’s a MODO problem that is really an Organized Play problem.

  3. RE dead time between packs available and release events: I agree. The several day gap was implemented years ago due to store delivery issues (it would sometimes take hours to get your purchase) and to allow for one last bug patch if something critical was broken. Both of these issues have long since gone away, there is no need for the gap anymore.

    RE pre-release prizes: I’ve never had a problem with the PR prizes. They are identical to many paper pre-releases, which few complain about. Sure, paper has had the cards for several weeks, but many don’t play paper (or play paper sparingly). If you think it is such a gouge, it’s less than a week before release events.

    RE recent paper OP changes: these really piss me off, as they are pissing everyone off and preventing people from actually playing Magic in order to pander to the stores. I get that WotC needs to prop up the stores they have, but WotC needs to realize there are plenty of places without a quality store where university clubs or other similar organizations have towed the line for years in player encouragement. And in other areas, the stores just don’t have the capacity for everyone who wants to play on pre-release day. Eliminating regional PRs was dumb.

    RE rewards elimination: this one didn’t bother me as much. Seems like a very expensive process to tabulate all that data and then send individual player mailings out every quarter. I do wish it had been balanced by some increase in promos for other events.

    RE PTQ prize support: unfortunately stuck with the 16 PT spots OP allocates to MTGO. But, these events always top 500 when they are a limited format. The prizes really need to be adjusted to compensate at least that level of participation.

    RE 4-3-2-2: yeah, there should be another pack in there.

    Several of the UI issues mentioned in Appendix 1 *are* addressed in the new client. I can’t say more and I can’t guarantee the improvements will satisfy everyone (I’m sure they won’t), but they are a big step in the right direction.

  4. The part that resonates strongest with me is that MTGO makes playing Magic convenient for busy people. I’m thankful for MTGO because of this. My reality is that I never have time to grub for games at a card shop on weekdays. It’s easy to fire up MTGO and play. So far, so good.

    Which is why the problems cited are so maddening. They broadly fit under the umbrella of “impediments to me playing or spending money when I want to,” in direct opposition to what I see as the best feature of MTGO. Instead of playing/spending I am disappointed by logging in during a dead zone. I am wasting time on the demented hoky-poky of bot trading. I am casting a forlorn eye at the queue I can’t bring myself to join because I know it will be substantially cheaper next week.

    So, you know, these are first-world problems, but I have faith that WotC cares about players so I believe it’s beneficial to shine a spotlight on problems in the customer experience.

  5. Have you ever played WoW?

    It’s a blast, especially because Blizzard goes to great pains when it comes to UI and customer support. Patch after patch there were improvements – the LUA API makes community-programmed addons possible, and many addons already found their way into the main client.
    I’ve seen WoW grow for over 5 years now, and the user experience regarding the UI grew better with every patch. Things just got more convenient.

    Every time I log into MtGO, I want to shoot myself for that shitty interface. Wizards: It can’t be that hard.

    I want an auction house system.
    I want the best possible deck building experience.
    I want easy collection management that doesn’t necessitate a second account, a bot, or hours of inventory management.

      • I think a lot of WOW players are leaving for games like Rift, DCUO, GW2 and other things. WoW has really failed to match what new MMOs can do. Rift is a good example of great customer support. They put out new content about every 2-4 weeks, constantly are doing hotfixes and addressing game imbalance issues. They listen to their userbase and act accordingly when it’s reasonable.

        Most subscribers actually ‘feel’ like they are getting their moneys worth and ‘feel’ like Rift devs actually care about their customers. I’ve seen a surprising lack of that from MODO over the years (I’ve been on since the initial launch of beta). Constantly have had things taken a way (Leagues anyone?), prize support dwindle and userbase explode. The economy is overrun by bots and there’s no real way for regular joe to make a buck anymore. The trading economy is nonexistant. Slowly and surely MODO has taken away every edge that their customers have had to play without buying in constantly.

      • I know that they lost a ton of subscribers, but hell, that game is going since 2005? I think my point is still valid. Even if WoW is declining: It set the bar very high. There were a lot of games aimed at overtaking WoW, and they’re succeeding just recently. Remember Aion? Age of Conan? LotR: Online?
        MtGO is only successful because WotC has a monopoly on the game. If Blizzard were to code MtGO, nobody would ever play with the WotC client.

  6. Just logged on to do an Innistrad draft. No queues. Fail. I’m really excited about the new set, but WotC sure isn’t making it easy for me to give them my money.

    Also agree with all the other points.

  7. Pingback: Limited Resources #103 – Innistrad Initial Impressions | | MTGCastMTGCast

  8. “Why they haven’t opened up the API to programmers for proper store management rather than these crappy bots is beyond me.”

    It’s not that they don’t care, they are actively stomping down anyone who tries to circumvent the official client. Look up Millibot: a guy reverse-engineered MODO’s protocols and created a lightning-fast, lightweight bot to replace the shitty OCR-based ones that do their thing through the regular client and take ages to process anything. They shut him down.

  9. Nobody likes WotC’s sky rocket prices for lots of the modern cards. A simple (yet hard) solution is to do what I started doing just a while ago. When you want to make a deck, you do it all through trades. No buying, no selling, just trades. Works easy enough, all you need is a rare binder, some intelligence, and luck that other traders have a card or 2 that you need.

    • …all you need is a rare binder, some intelligence and hours and hours having people look through your collection, finding something and then you disagreeing in prices. I guess if you value your free time at around zero, go for it. I think I’d rather let that bot make 5% profit on my 5$ purchase.

  10. 4-3-2-2s have been around for a long, LONG, time. I tried to get people fired up about the stolen pack for months when they first did it. It was wrong for them to do and clearly a blatant money grab.

    What some people may not know is that 8-4s were the only drafts offered for much of the early life of MODO. What happened was, bad players lost. They lost a shit ton. Forget about getting better at drafting, they chose to focus their rage at wotc, and in a pretty brilliant move wotc massively increased their profit margins while at the same time duping terrible drafters into thinking they were getting a better deal. The sad part is they probably were getting a better deal. If a dude is just going to draft awful deck after awful deck and maybe squeak out a round 1 win here or there, then 4-3-2-2s are an insane bargain by comparison.

    So the masses were appeased, and any major outcry by people that can do simple addition was drowned out by all the praise they were getting for letting the scrubs at least win SOMETHING. It seemed fine as long as 8-4 drafting was still offered. Sure, it decreased the EV a little. If your draft has 3 to 4 semi competent drafters instead of 1 or 2 then you won’t win as much. What made it really terrible was when they started bringing back older sets. Then all of a sudden 4-3-2-2 is the only option for those.

    To think of all the money they’ve lined their pockets with, from every stolen pack, from every 4-3-2-2, for all this time…it’s a little sickening. Weekday PEs were taken out as well. Their excuse? “They weren’t firing enough.” What a gigantic lie. They were firing fine, I mean some didn’t fire but they fired regularly enough. The problem was they weren’t firing with more than the minimum amount of players.

    Now that PE prizes haven’t scaled by entrants since the dawn of MODO (another huge deal people should have raised a stink about), it’s all about maximizing dem profits. If regular tournament players are able to increase their EV significantly by choosing only those tourneys with the best EV offered due to low entrants, well that’s definitely frowned upon by wotc. They want as few people going infinite as possible, and as many suckers sinking their paychecks into the system as possible.

    That’s why weekday PEs were taken out. “They weren’t firing enough” my ass. That stupid Kaleidoscope format has been around for what seems like years and not a single tourney has fired ONCE for it, yet they still offer it. After all, what do they care that an event doesn’t fire? It costs them nothing to put an event on the tournament listings. The only cost they incur is when people win. And if I were to make an Occupy Wallstreet reference, winners are the 1%. That’s why nothing will ever be done about it, it’ll just keep getting worse and worse.

    I don’t know how much your recent SCG article touched upon these points Ted. I don’t have/want premium so I’ll probably get around to reading it in a month or so. Hopefully you made good use of your platform over there and tried to get people up in arms about 4-3-2-2s and other issues with MODO. I might also suggest you do a similar article and ask them to put it in the free section of the SCG content so more people can see it. Get the 99% riled up and ask them to appeal to wotc for some major change.

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