Magic on the XBox

How will they seperate me from my money this time?

This has to be a devi­ous plot, right?

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.


  • Thanks for the plug, good sir. 🙂 We’re cer­tain­ly thrilled with how it’s done so far. Glad you’re enjoy­ing it, and it sounds like many at your work have been lured back into the fray…everybody’s doin it, first one’s free (or $10), won’t hurt you the first time…lol

  • After unlock­ing three full decks, I do not see this any­thing more then a nos­tal­gic peruse down mem­o­ry lane. Con­stant­ly I’m think­ing “Lanowar Elves rock!” or “Why did they stop Coun­ter­spells, WhY?!?”. Although things might have changed from a few years ago, both Marc and I have, at least once, thought about pick­ing up a few decks.

    Some of their fea­tures choic­es are inter­est­ing though — like the inabil­i­ty to full con­struct a deck, and only manip­u­late a ‘side board’ of unlocked cards. M:tG (360) feels like it should nod towards the casu­al gamer, but not with the first time play­er in mind. So far though this game has been the best dig­i­tal emu­la­tion of the CCG I have yet played. Nev­er tired M:tG online, but then I can’t see myself buy­ing indi­vid­ual dig­i­tal cards — or hav­ing the per­sis­tence to col­lect an entire dig­i­tal set.

    Almost every night for the past week Marc and I play a few coop­er­a­tive games. Worth the pur­chase? For us, def­i­nite­ly.

  • Yeah, I agree with the idea that it’s an adver­tise­ment. For those of you that have played, the lack of deck con­struc­tion, is the frus­trat­ing bit. I’m okay with unlock­ing cards based on play, but then not being able to set up com­bos that I want to play, lets me down.

    It also remind­ed me how streaky M:TG is, when I’m draw­ing 4–5 lands in a row.

  • […] months ago I post­ed that Mag­ic on Xbox Live was a Tro­jan Horse of sorts: an online ad call­ing on lapsed play­ers to come […]

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