There’s a thread over on a gaming forum that I read where people are trying to talk about the successes and failures of Magic: The Gathering as a game. Unfortunately, the rabid fans of the game have arrived and are running around accusing anyone who finds anything to criticize in the game to be fanatical haters and they constantly attack those who dare point out any shortcomings in their game of choice.
Now I’ll be honest, I don’t play Magic, I have never played Magic and I never will play Magic. It’s a fine game, I suppose, but not one that has ever attracted me enough to give it a try, although I have played other CCG-style games. One of the things that drives me away from Magic though is the secondary market, where everyone is concerned about what their cards are worth, beyond the ability it gives them to play the game. I want to play, I don’t want to worry about resale value. None of the games I have are for sale under any circumstances and this is true of all of my hobbies. I don’t buy things to sell them again. I am not an investor. I am not a speculator. I am a player or a collector, depending on what hobby you’re talking about. This much, I’ve talked about in the past and in more detail.
But no, there are a lot of people who see the secondary market as part and parcel of their game play experience. In fact, they see the secondary market as one of the reasons for Magic’s success. If it wasn’t for the fact that an absurd number of cards are purchased from Wizards of the Coast, specifically for resale, they reason WoTC wouldn’t keep producing such an absurd number of cards every year. That may very well be true but I don’t think that’s a strength of the game but a weakness.
In economic terms, making a successful product over a long period of time requires that you make one that the mainstream will purchase. Once you’re talking about small niche products and hobbies, it means that you have to keep increasing your popularity so more and more people buy your stuff. Unfortunately for Magic and other such games, they don’t appeal to a very wide audience so they have to keep finding a way to sell more product to their existing audience and that’s exactly what the Magic business model is designed to do. It is specifically set up to encourage dedicated players to buy more and more and more packs in hopes that they get the rarer and more powerful cards. This translates directly into more money in Hasbro’s pocket (they own WoTC), which isn’t a bad thing but it does feel vaguely scummy to me. It capitalizes on the inability of many Magic players to control their spending, it’s a system set up to take advantage of those with poor impulse control.
One reason people buy so many cards is because they think those cards will be worth a ton of money in the secondary market. They justify buying hundreds or thousands of dollars in cards now by assuming that when they’re done playing Magic, they can sell their cards and make back all the money they spent or more. I don’t have a real problem with that kind of capitalism, I just think that it takes away from the game itself by adding a profit motive to the structure of the game. I’d never buy a board game with the intention of selling it for a profit down the road, I don’t see a point in buying into a card game and planning to dispose of it someday and buy a car with the profits.
And yes, my sister did exactly that when she sold her Magic cards, but she never looked for the profit motive when she was playing, she just took advantage of the gullible when she finally stopped. I just don’t see the point and I hate the idea that the guy with the biggest credit balance wins. I like a game where everyone is equal and skill really matters. I also like people who can deal with questions and criticisms rationally and intelligently. Unfortunately, there seem to be very few of those around and, keeping to my New Year’s Resolution, I could no longer continue with the debate, which had turned into little more than a whine at that point. It’s too bad, I like having intelligent discussions. Too bad there are so few to be had.