Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Quality of the community

World of Warcraft is frequently accused of having a "bad" community; "bad" being defined as a few jerks behaving badly due to internet anonymity, and a general lack of a wider community spirit outside of guilds (If you don't believe that, just read last weeks comments on how strongly some people react even to a suggestion that they should do something for the wider community). But of course that "bad" is compared only to some utopian ideal, or to older, much smaller games, where a smaller community held together better. Cast your net wider, and you'll see that it is perfectly possible to create online game communities which are far worse than that of WoW. And the easiest way to get there is to have people play for money.

I checked out Magic the Gathering - Tactics some more, and all my experience with the old Magic the Gathering Online and various other online games tells me that MtGT is heading for the worst possible kind of community. And the reason for that is money. Not only do you have to pay to play, but the structure is set up in a way that a few players will be able to play "for free", by basically fleecing the less good players. Draft tournaments cost $2 entry fee plus $12 in boosters, handing out $12 in boosters for the winner. By selling some of the cards he drafted, the winner can get back the entry fee, and thus "go infinite", playing for free as long as he keeps winning. Pro tip for bad players: Rare draft! The most valuable cards in a booster are not necessarily those which the best players would pick. Thus if you find yourself in a draft with a lot of good players, they'll pick the cheap but good cards, and you can take the cards that'll make you lose the tournament but increase the value of your collection.

Constructed tournaments cost $3 entry fee, and even normal, ranked games cost $0.10 to participate. And the games aren't even fair with both sides having equal strength! Not only will spending a lot of money on cards get you a better deck and increase your chance of winning, but also paying for the single-player campaign will net you levels and talent points, which will make you stronger even against an opponent with an identical deck.

Experience shows that this sort of setup quickly leads to communities resembling pool halls, where the sharks prey upon the casual players. Playing Magic the Gathering - Tactics costs a lot of money, and by winning and going infinite the sharks end up playing for free, while their victims pay double.

Now other Free2Play games also have a minority pay for everybody. But the structure is usually different, the rich voluntarily pay the game company for various luxuries, while the others play for free, but without the advantages money can buy. In the MtGT structure the rich just get fleeced without getting any advantages for themselves, in fact they pay to suffer the humiliation of constantly losing. You don't need to be a brilliant social engineer to realize that this isn't sustainable: The people with money leave, and sharks stay, circling in the pool and waiting for another innocent victim to fleece.

So, unless you want to rare draft to pay $2 extra to increase the chance of finding useful cards for your collection in the 3 boosters you open, I can only advise everybody to stay well away from tournament play in Magic the Gathering - Tactics. You would most certainly regret trying.

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