I know that I am late to the party, but I just heard this past weekend that the next Magic: The Gathering electronic game in the series is coming out in July of this year for most platforms, and PlayStation 4 sometime in the fall. The title is called Magic: Origins Duels (a take on the recently renamed M16 Core set), which chronicles key moments in the life of five key Planeswalkers, and how they became the characters we know and love of today.
A digital prequel to the game’s current time period, and allows both new and returning players a chance to see where the game is coming from. A key difference that this new version is unveiling is that that game is going free-to-play. With stiff competition from the likes of Hearthstone, failed monetary models of the past, few editions (specifically 2014’s Sealed Deck Slots, and 2015’s trouble of Premium Boosters and no 2HG mode), and the changing game landscape with mobile platforms, this was bound to happen.
So how will the game flow, and how can cards be obtained. The current explanation is a little sparse, but the gist is that players can download the client (base game), and start to earn cards, either by grinding (playing matches, winning, adding/subtracting cards) or by paying for content. They promise that ALL content can be accessed either way; the only difference is that the time invested for grinding versus just getting it right away for a money cost. While I do not as of yet, play Hearthstone, I understand a similar model is used by Blizzard for their CCG card game, as well.
In addition, there are rumors that this game will break away from annual releases, in favor of new content (cards, expansions, modes, etc.) that will release periodically. It is high time, in my opinion, and in many players, that this is well overdue and better reflects the game we have been playing for over twenty years. Some people may not know that is the reason that the card backs on actual cards have never been changed. So theoretically, you could play any card printed with any other card that is legal in a format (Standard, Extended, Modern, Legacy, etc.). In taking all of this in, and evaluating my experiences with this game series, playing with actual cards in person, and my expertise in being a long-time gamer (disabled and non-disabled), I do have some key thoughts.
First of all, this is a critical move to save the series. The player-base has become more disgruntled and jaded with how this series has been developed. They cite constant bugs that are never patched, lobby problems, cheaters finding ways to lagged the game, and so forth. By allowing the developers (who I assume will be Stainless Games) to develop one client, and iterate on that base, they can maybe systematically be able to squash these long-time bugs for good. This will help restore confidence in the product; not by itself but contribute.
Secondly, making the game free-to-play will better accomplish the goals of this series; namely getting new people/players interested in playing Magic. I know that if i did not ever play Magic prior to now, getting into this game with an upfront cost of around $20.00 (base game, expansion/boosters) might be off-putting. People are much more willing to spend that amount of money or more on something they are familiar with or at least know how to operate/play (DVD/Blu-ray, Video Game, Music). Allowing players to try the game, win some cards, see how the turn flow works, will encourage not discourage them from picking up the habit, and playing (in person, as well as digitally).
Thirdly, having the optioning of playing Magic without cost, in a digital format will allow people like myself (on a fixed income) to continue to play and be social. While I have been able to eek out the funds to keep playing the last, few years this will give me and this disable community the flexibility to play for free and grind stuff or if we are able to, on occasion, buy digital product. That alone has me open and encouraged to try this model for digital Magic.
There are some potential detractions that I should mention in good standing of fairness and balance. Many free-to-play games do suffer quality content issues and frequency of releases. I do not feel that Magic will suffer this fate, but I cannot say for certain that it will not. Developers take a risk that their product will be compelling enough to get people to shell out money for the game. That is the main reason that paywalls exist to force the player’s hands. I applaud WOTC and Stainless from staying away from this; risks are being taken none the less.
Another risk is that if the game does not perform well and generate revenue, then the product will be canceled, and no additional development will be forthcoming. The flip-side of that will be the risk this poses to Magic Online (the premier version of digital Magic, where prices fluctuate, based on demand, complex rules, and even digital-to-physical redemption is possible) . This has always been the flagship digital Magic product, and handled internally by WOTC, rather than outside developers. They treat it as their “sacred cow” and hold that is is the advanced way to play Magic. if this succeeds on a grand scale; what will happen to one or both products?
In closing, this idea is long overdue, much needed, and helps open Magic to more players. There may be rocky starts, new bugs, and unforeseen issues, but I am hopeful. Look for this in July for XBox One, PC (Steam), and iPad. PlayStation 4 is expected by the fall. Below is a link to the official YouTube Announcement Trailer: