Since Duels of the Planeswalkers launched a week ago, I’ve donated a few bucks and more than a few hours to Wizards of the Coast and Microsoft. Good friends and I joined in to play this latest digital incarnation of Magic: the Gathering. It’s not often that I take the chance to play CCGs anymore, despite the occasional work league or draft night. And just like I don’t have the focus to play an MMO like I once did, I lack the commitment to play enough card games or research the current metagame. Both steps would be required to become even an average player on Magic Online. (Interesting idea there: how much do Magic and MMOs, along with their communities, have in common? We’ve already seen the cross-overs.)
Anyway this “Magic-lite” is up my alley. It’s easy fun. But enough blatant advertising for my friend Worth Wollpert. I have a theory about Duels. First, let’s consider what this product isn’t:
- Despite the quotes in that article, I don’t believe that this product is targeted at new players. For one, m:tg is too damn complex and confusing for most of us to learn without someone to teach it. The tutorial for Duels is mediocre at best. The mentor feature seems a good idea that’s unlikely to see any use. And the complicated game board has to be off-putting to any Joe or Jane shopping for something just a little different on XBL. A few people will pick up Duels and learn the game straight up, but my bet is that we’re talking about a small audience.
- I also don’t believe the game is aimed at current players. Why would Wizards create competition for its profitable lineup? Duels will never have all the cards or complexity of the complete game. Consider the counterpoint of Magic Online, a game which by necessity mimics the incremental purchase business model of the card game. Duels may milk a little extra money, but it can’t rival what current players spend on either the physical card game or its digital re-creation.
- Duels isn’t a big cash-grab. At least, not in itself. Even if Duels does well, say two hundred thousand downloads, WotC’s cut of that would be pretty small once you factor in the cut for Microsoft and the software developer. Probably less than a million dollars dropping to the bottom line, all told.
So Duels isn’t a big moneymaker, and it isn’t targeted at new players or current players. What conclusion have I led you to? My take is that Wizards intended Duels to be a playable advertisement — a demo, if you will — aimed at lapsed players. Give these lost souls a taste of this Magic-lite game, and remind them of the fun they have playing the game. Some of them will want something more. Something deeper. More deck construction, more customization. And Wizards will welcome these people back with open arms.
Feel free to attribute this to my paranoid subjective bias.