I’ve Seen This Before

I was just starting my freelance writing career when Magic: The Gathering came out of nowhere and invented the collectible card game. WotC went from a small RPG company to a giant practically overnight. The game industry hadn’t seen that kind of money for a long time, so soon everyone was chasing the dragon. Two years after Magic’s launch there were a huge number of CCGs that had been pushed out. Many succeeded in making some money initially but then petered out (usually at about the point they released a “standard set”). Most of the Class of ‘95 games were dead by ‘98. Who remembers games like Battlelords, Heresy, OverPower, Red Zone, or Towers in Time. 

The costs to make a CCG are huge. You need hundreds of pieces of art and to make the game collectible you need to print way more cards than you’d have in a non-collectible game (those common cards have to come from somewhere). Releasing any CCG is a big roll of the dice and taking that chance wrecked a lot of companies. Still, new companies continue to launch new CCGs. WotC itself launched a long series of failed games until they struck gold again with Pokemon (which they didn’t design, ironically enough). Sometimes I forget that CCGs like C23, Looney Tunes, and MLB Showdown even happened. Then after Pokemon there was Star Wars, Xiaolin Showdown, and Hecatomb, and more. But Magic always made up for those sins, and indeed Magic is doing better now than ever before. Its competitors? Not so much. Sure, there are some successes. Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!  have shown surprisingly longevity. A handful of old guard games like L5R and Shadowfist soldier on. It’s been clear for a long time though that trying to launch a new CCG was a sucker’s game. 

MMOs are like CCGs but writ even larger. To make a AAA game, you need to spend tens of millions of dollars and years in development. And for all that money and effort, you get to roll the dice…once. The odds, as always, are with the house. And guess what? You are not the house.