For a game to win, it needs players and community.
This will likely be a three parter before I get back to the finance stuff. I know, some of you want that Grimm Cluster analysis. But it isn’t going anywhere, and I feel as though knowing about the stability of a game and having confidence in its long-term existence is more important than the value of anything. Since that stability is the most basic factor in any kind of value.
What do I mean about community? The basics are offering incentives for the players of your game to play. This could be as simple as promos for any LGS that runs events, all the way up to some kind of championship. These are usually the basics. Most games that have at least the store thing. And in some cases, this is good enough. Larger games though, or ones that want to get bigger need to offer more.
Some companies think this just means throwing a lot of cash prizes at people. Let’s just say that the Epic TCG tried this when it first came out (not the Kickstarter LGS one). They had $5000 events for almost a year, and by the end 30 people were showing up if that. So, though cash can be a good incentive, it’s not good business to start off that way. It’s better to build up to it.
Force did it one of the right ways when they started. All the demo decks, that I covered in Ravings #2, were a way to introduce the game on a budget. This mimicked what other games had done in the past and has been effective. They followed it up by offering promos out of the gate and a World Championship along with the Grand Prixes that got you there. A nice simple arc that checked all the boxes.
When Baha Blast dominated, they even started a banned list. They were slow at times to add to it, but this will be covered later when I do a history of Force and the various owners along with mistakes, good decisions, and so forth. I will be totally honest here, some of these articles are just a way for me to dump a lot of my TCG industry history on you too. That can be valuable though, for the players, retailers, and the company itself. Knowing what others have done in the past and if it worked or not can save a lot of heartache in the future for everyone.
One of the big boosts to Force was its addition to the ARG Circuit Series and their running of State and National events for the game. They even managed to get World invites for their National winner, they were unpaid, but it showed a retailer/event organizer and game company working together for the betterment of the game. That eventually stopped when ARG went the way of the dodo, that is another tale for another time though.
This time out will be something different though, it will showcase a couple of examples of companies that had such community outreach I doubt ANY company could ever top them. I will also critique a couple of other businesses that used to do more than they do now, and though it hasn’t really hurt them, it kind of shows how their mindset has shifted. Let’s start with some good news, shall we?
In a previous article I talked about Decipher and their licensing issues with Star Wars and Star Trek. What if I told you though, that despite losing the ability to make the game in 2001, that the Star Wars game is still going on? And still has a good following. What? Yes, they just had their 2020 world championships and almost 100 people made day 2. It was online of course because of the pandemic, but last year in Germany 70 played in person at worlds. 18 years after the game stopped being printed.
How you may ask? Because while Decipher did lose the license to the game, it went to Wizards of the Coast, whose version flopped, then to Fantasy Flight, whose version died, the company made a deal where a committee was formed that would continue making cards virtually. This committee is ran by fans, and no money can be made from it. Lucasfilm agreed and even lets them use frames from Star Wars shows and movies. Players use their old real cards and print out the new cards, then build decks and play. Almost 20 years later and the game is still being made and played.
Therefore, I said it was “kind of dead” in my first article. This kind of community outreach is what makes Decipher one of the more beloved gaming companies. They negotiated the terms to allow the fans to keep playing, even though there was no money to be made from it for them, well aside from back stock of cards they already had. You can go to https://www.starwarsccg.org/ and see that it is still active. They just dropped a new set last November.
How’s that for supporting your fans? In the end it didn’t really pay off for Decipher, but I chalk that up to them taking over 3 years to launch their replacement game “Wars”, that used the same mechanics as the Star Wars game. That might sound like I am taking a dig at them, but I’m not. Because in 2007 they kind of did it again with their Star Trek CCG. The license was lost.
This time the fans took the initiative and started their own committee but Decipher backed them up and Paramount (the owners of the IP at the time) allowed it. But, again, no money could be made from it. This one is a bit more impressive as they still make sets for all three of the old Decipher games, Star Trek 1st ed, Star Trek 2nd ed (they aren’t really compatible), and the Tribbles game. See the Magic they continue at https://www.trekcc.org/. They are having their World Championships in Chicago this coming summer.
This goes to show how much outreach a company can do to help its fans and customers. I am not saying this should be the standard, that’s just silly. The point is that community and companies that show they care can go a long way to making a game last, even beyond its “death”.
The final example is one where the “Vampire: The Eternal Struggle” game got a second life 10 years after it ceased production. This one is a bit odder, as the former maker of the game, White Wolf, went out of business and its properties were picked up by others. But a fan group sought out the rights and got them in 2018. They are making new sets and cards up to today. There isn’t much information available on the deal, but it looks like they are able to make money off the products they produce.
This might just be a simple case of someone had no intention of making a TCG for the IP and let someone else do it at a stela of a price, or really good terms. But the fact is, that even in this case, a company worked with fans to fulfill their desire to keep playing the game. It’s not as nice a thing as Decipher had done, but it’s more than 99% of games that die.
There are also companies like Wizards that have degenerated in their community support. Some of you may have come from that game and know what I am talking about. When I played in the late 90’s and through the 2000’s, their support was pretty good. Player’s rewards (you got cards quarterly based on how many events you played in), 5-7 Pro tours a year that paid out at least $250,000 each, and LGS promos that were really good. They even offered State Tournaments in Standard, Draft, and Two Headed Giant, not to mention nationals for over 50 countries.
This was the heyday of player support in my mind for MTG. Not so much the cash events, but the rewards and FNM prizes were pretty good. Then they started to cut things. When I made it to Worlds in 2008, there were over 400 players there. Now less than 50 compete in the event and getting there is harder than getting a Nobel Prize. To me, having a higher level of competition is something not all games need, but if you’re going to have it, it needs to be accessible by the masses, or at least appear like anyone can make it there.
It might come across as being hard on Wizards, but they did some things right as well. Adding PPTQs and LGS prereleases. Before those the similar events were ran by large regional organizers and you had to travels, sometimes hours, just for a prerelease. Those changes also helped many stores. But then Wizards went off and kind of screwed LGSs at the same time. When you were a Premiere store there were certain perks you were supposed to get, like exclusive products.
That has become less and less true in the last few years. The things that made being an MTG store special started to slip away. This shows a deterioration in both player support and store support. Don’t get me wrong, Wizards is a great business. With the variations on all their new products, even regular standard sets, like collector’s editions, VIP editions, etc, and selling direct with Secret Lairs, which accounted for over 5% of their revenue last year, they are showing they know business. And remember that 5% is for a biz that has MTG, DnD, and Avalon Hill games.
So, yes, they know business and are good at it. But they are a crappy game company. Profits drive them, and that is it. They do what they have to, to get by. Here is a good example of what I mean: https://www.wired.com/story/dungeons-dragons-diversity.
I’m not saying they need to go back to the days of old, but when FNM promos are now tokens instead of actual cards, you know someone made the choice to lower the standards that players expected. You can also see this in the way they have either canceled or handed off events. Their Grand Prixes are run by third parties now. Companies like Star City games have stepped in to offer events that are a huge hit to players but are similar to old events Wizards actually ran.
If one were to dig through the graveyard of failed TCGs one would see a lot of them had little to no player support or Organized Play support. This is not a real reason that games fail but is hurts their life span if it’s missing or lacking. Even if a game has a good start there needs to be a way to sustain it, and these two are key to it, as traditional advertising doesn’t work with hobby games like ours.
I think that will conclude this venture into TCG history. If you have any additional insight or comments feel free to comment.
Once more unto the breach!!!. #8 will cover more about community some game history itself. Until then have fun slinging. Yes, I will get to Grimm Cluster finance in #10 or I will owe everyone a playmat or something.