The Magic Online Prerelease Price Gouge

As you may have read on Twitter (@mixedknuts or @NextLevelSpec) I’m again boycotting the Magic Online Prerelease. I’ve been doing this since I noticed the 20$ prerelease drafts. I think this is obvious price gouging and am making a statement, however small, not to play in these events because as I customer I disapprove of this practice. Aside from tilting at windmills via the internet (translation: writing blog posts like these and complaining to the people that run Magic Online directly) this is the only way I know of to have a direct impact on how Wizards of the Coast treats their customers. While you may think it won’t matter, we know from past experience that collective action on the part of MTG players can be very successful in changing policies that the customers don’t agree with.

Today @mtgonline made a brief statement on Twitter saying Wizards of the Coast still love all their customers – even those boycotting the PRs – and that they also have “a mountain of data” that says, “They [Prereleases] serve a huge (+growing) portion of our customers who clearly (again looking at behavioral data) enjoy the offering.”

Now aside from the tenuous causation argument (Magic is growing – 100% over the last three years! – therefore PR attendance on Magic Online is growing), what this basically translates to is, “You people keep paying an enormous premium to participate in our Prereleases – you have proven this time and again by flocking to them in droves – therefore we’re happy to keep charging you to do so.

Enormous premium? What do you mean?

Imagine a new movie is coming out this weekend and you are faced with the following choice: You can either a) be one of the first people to see the movie THIS weekend at a cost of $16. This cost will be fractionally offset by the fact that you get a shiny commemorative ticket stub, or b) wait until next week to see the movie and pay $10.

Now it will be exactly the same movie either way. You get an identical experience, the same theater setup, the same popcorn and drinks… the only difference is the cost (where you pay a premium for seeing it this week) and the shiny ticket stub.

Which do you choose?

On Magic Online, a normal draft costs you $2 fee to enter in addition to $12 of product  for a total of $14. To draft during Prerelease week, you have to pay an $8 fee + $12 product for a total of $20 per draft. This 8$ fee is 300% mark-up over the normal fee for the privilege of playing the set online as soon as possible. It might not seem like it, but that is a huuuuge price increase versus normal business, and one that you absolutely should not be happy to pay. The very fact that they try to charge that premium makes many of us angry.

While I’m here, it also deserves mentioning that the shiny ticket stubs they give you in return for your premium fee have also gone down in value. When they first started Online, PR Drafts gave you a mythic rare promo, as did Prerelease Sealed Deck flights. Now both of them give out rares, so you are getting even less value in exchange for increased fees.

The same thing is true of 4-3-2-2 (which I cover in more detail here). You are being charged an extra fee ($.50) per draft for choosing this queue for no particular reason other than that you keep choosing it – it is the most popular draft queue – so WotC can get away with subtly charging you for it. (Though I would guess that at least a few more people are playing Swiss since I wrote that article and made the choices you are faced with more explicit.)

Anyway, the point of all of this is that by playing in Prerelease Drafts, you are making an explicit statement of, “Yes, please charge me four times as much to play Magic as you would normally because the set is new and I can’t wait to draft.”

If this makes you happy, so be it. If not, boycott Magic Online during Prerelease week until Wizards of the Coast starts charging a fair premium (like saaaaay $2 – you can even keep the shitty promo rare) for the exciting experience of drafting the set a mere three weeks after it debuts in the real world.

Best of luck,
–Card Game

Post Script – Every time I write one of these consumer advocacy blog posts regarding Magic, the guys who are on the Magic team – friends of mine like Worth Wollpert and Aaron Forsythe – who are just doing their job of extracting as much money as possible from customers like you and me while keeping us happy end up hating me a little more. So there is a cost involved (much like in outing cheaters), but I keep doing it because I’m a customer and I care how we’re treated. You should too.

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19 responses to “The Magic Online Prerelease Price Gouge

  1. Even more brilliant of them is that these online prerelease drafts are now even more special because stores are no longer allowed to run drafts on prerelease weekends. If you want to draft a new set on the prerelease weekend, Online is now the only place to do so legally.

  2. Except the Modo pre-release is about 3 weeks after the paper pre-release for no real reason. I don’t know if there is a logical explanation of either the lack of drafts at pre-releases or the lag between paper and Modo releases.

    • From an article of mine:

      “Every three months or so there’s a lull on MTGO between when a set is released in paper and when the same set is released on Magic Online. In this case, Dark Ascension is “released” on Magic Online on February 20th. A lot of people like to complain about this gap, and exclaim that the releases should be more in sync, but the reality of the situation is that there is a good reason for it: leaks.

      I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you that leaks have been a notable problem regarding set releases in the past. As soon as people (or rather the “players”) begin beta testing the next set on MTGO, well, it should come as no surprise to you that at that point all of the cards in that set are then known to those players. It should then also come as no surprise that if sets were planned to be released in sync, then that would mean the MTGO beta would start about two to three weeks earlier than the spoiler season for a given set.

      Therefore, some simple math tells us that all of the cards in a given set would be public knowledge to a select few chosen to participate in the beta a good month before the set is actually released.

      I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how this has the potential to pose an enormous issue if even one person, in a beta full of hundreds were to spoil the set, right?”

  3. Just because people “are willing” to pay extra for prerelease events doesn’t mean they are “happy to do it”. I’m sure if they did some surveys on it, with questions like “Did you participate in Dark Ascension Online prerelease events?” “How many did you enter?” “How did you feel about the DKA prerelease event entry fees?” “Would you have entered in more events if prices were lower?” “On a scale of 1-10 how satisfied are you with our prerelease event offerings/release event offerings”
    I like Worth, but his tweets didn’t seem like they were backed up by anything but $$$$ numbers, not people’s actual opinions. The entry differences are certainly something people notice.

    They already have people frothing for the new set, because of the still ridiculous 3 week lag in paper-modo for new sets…they don’t need to further milk it.

    It is really hard to boycott these events because of this. Even if they are overpriced and the EV isn’t so hot, people just can’t force themselves to wait the extra week. I’m currently considering doing a sealed, despite my repulsion to the practice. I will likely watch others do a queue instead, so I can do TWO sealeds (if I run ok) for the same price later.

  4. The lag is because they don’t want leaks and won’t pay for in-house testing to avoid them.

    Clearly we need online prerelease prices raised to Wizards can afford more QA staff…

    • We know that they used to send out godbooks to magazines. No leaks there until NPH. Why can’t they do the same thing here?

      (Admittedly, they’d have to vet the hell out of their participants, and enforce “no Constructed” more strictly than usual… but I’d be amazed if they hadn’t thought about it since Judgment)

      • Because Godbooks for in print publications went out to one, maybe two magazines? I can’t even think of another in print magazine other than Lotus Noir that would get one.

        With MTGO Betas you’re talking about HUNDREDS of random players, juvenile Magic players no less, who are arguably less professional. This has disaster written all over it. All one dude has to do is show his friend, or fire up the client when his friend is over the house… Bad. News.

      • @Frank (since apparently I can’t nested reply?)

        When I say “vet the hell out of”, that’s the understatement of the century. I’m thinking WotC employees, maybe Carta Mundi employees if any of them play Magic… ideally they’d all be people who are already under some sort of NDA or similar obligation to WotC. Family members might work too – prohibited from entering tournaments, and still close enough to someone at Wizards that it might matter.

        I definitely don’t want random players. Pretty sure it’s impossible to have a lower opinion of the random Magic player than I alreayd do.

  5. Nice work on an article that is obvious to those of us who have a feel for MTGO, but utterly necessary for those deceived into playing these ridiculous events. I’m not even going to consciously “boycott” these events, they are simply horribly overpriced and not something I’d ever waste money on.

    Worth’s comments on twitter are laughable regarding people enjoying the online prerelease experience. Guess what- I guarantee people would enjoy their experience even more if they didn’t get ripped off. Similarly, acting like the online prerelease experience is in any way analagous to a live prerelease in the real world is silly. The “prerelease experience” comes from seeing and playing with all the new cards for the first time with a group of people also doing the same. Online this sense of community is lost and the majority of people are certainly not experiencing these cards for the first time, they are just sick of waiting around for the MTGO lag to finally catch up.

    One aspect of these price gouges that really irks me is how WotC outright lies to us about it. JUST ADMIT that MTGO prereleases are a simple cash grab! JUST ADMIT the switching to non-mythics for promos is a simple cash grab! At least they’ve come clean regarding 4-3-2-2s. Being lied to in such a manner is very condescending and insulting. It’s already insulting to try to sell me on such an overpriced product, but you also need to lie to me about it?

  6. I cannot agree with the boycott.

    I think it’s quite possible that the high price of pre release events turns off all players who know what EV means. As Steve says, he doesn’t need to boycott the event, because it’s just not worth playing. So, what the price is doing is filtering out players who don’t see value in terms of tix/boosters etc, and leaving players who enjoy the experience. If you are in a tournament with like minded players who have limited exposure to the new cards, then there will be a process of discovery that all players are going through. I can imagine that such a tournament, for such a player, would be more enjoyable then getting paired up with players that know the best interactions and how to build their deck optimally. The high price might cause the exact circumstances why these players enjoy playing in online pre releases! Because it filters out players who are want value for their money. This kind of price discrimination is often employed irl to identify different types of customers, and it seems like a reasonable practice here too.

  7. In regards to your Movie Theater analogy; It shouldn’t be forgotten that paying these exorbitant costs also means you get the cards earlier. The prerelease prices of the commons/uncommons….and oftentimes the rares/mythics, far exceeds the prices that they will be post-prerelease. This can easily recoup a significant portion of the increased entry cost.

    It may not be the largest impact, but it is definitely something to note.

  8. I wouldn’t mind the price so much if the payout wasn’t so bad. You say it’s the same movie, but in reality its like paying extra to watch it early and have the sound cut out for the last 20 min.

  9. After reading your post about the robbery that is 4-3-2-2 queues, I switched almost exclusively to Swiss for low-effort, low-risk MODO drafting.

    My mind was made up to never play in MODO prerelease events (until the price becomes more reasonable) before reading this post, but you have certainly solidified my position. There is no “prerelease experience” that warrants the additional cost to players.

    The people at Wizards SHOULD care more about making a profit than their player base if they want the game to continue its existence. The key is balancing these competing interests.

    Extra profits from price-gouged MODO prereleases cannot make up a significant portion of yearly MODO revenue, yet they stands as a slap in the face to all of Wizards customers who knowingly acknowledge that they pay way too much for cardboard as it is.

    • Quote: “The people at Wizards SHOULD care more about making a profit than their player base if they want the game to continue its existence.”

      Given the amount of momentum the game has, there is no way that any decision at Wizards is based on the threat of extinction, other than “Do we want to make another set?”

  10. It´´s true that 30$ is a scam but think on those ppl who have to test for a GP this week or next week, actually pay 30 bucks per prelease is our only way to test(unless you want to pay 25 irl, where you cant sell the bulk at high prizes)

  11. To be honest I was pretty surprised by the tweets; I thought they were almost shocking in their bluntness. I think it’s pretty easy to read between the lines of the tweets, and Worth was saying two things:

    1) We charge more for prereleases because we can

    Can you imagine another company that was making monopoly rents saying to their customers that the reason they are charging that much was solely to increase profits? Think about Ticketmaster or Disney saying that. It would be crazy! We all know the reason why some companies charge more for their services, but they don’t usually SAY it. Almost all companies in this position try to justify why they have high prices (with reference to their costs or the quality of the product), or more commonly just ignore the issue. To have someone come out and say “yep, we’re charging more because you chumps will pay it” is pretty crazy.

    2) As soon as people stop being willing to pay higher prices, we’ll lower the prices

    The tweets stressed over and over how closely they are monitoring this, and how they will know right away when it stops being profitable. Isn’t this a pretty crazy message for a company charging monopoly rents to be sending? The point of any boycott would be to forgo fun now in order to possibly lower prices in the future. Giving a credible signal that they WILL lower proces if people boycott will just encourage boycotts. They should actually be acting tone deaf, so that anyone who thinks about boycotting is unsure if their actions will change future pricing strategy (in game theory, usually the guy that can convince everyone else he’s crazy comes out on top). It’s almost as if they are saying “look, we really WANT to charge you a regular price, and we will do so, just STOP PAYING MORE FOR IT!”

    I think this is the best possible response us as players could expect from WOTC on the issue, short of “okay we’ll lower prices and make our shareholders less money because you asked us to (and not even nicely),” which was never going to happen.

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