Ascension Online Kickstarter: Shut Up and Take My Money

As any long time reader of this blog will know: I really wish more board games were available on the PC/Kindle Fire/Android Device and as a general rule of thumb I’d consider myself a fan of Stone Blade Entertainment, the guys behind Ascension and Solforge. Now part of what made Ascension such a big hit was that it had a really good IOS version, and they’ve started a Kickstarter to finally bring it to other platforms. I highly recommend you check it out and pledge money; it is well on its way to hitting its goal but the rewards are all worth taking a look at regardless.

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Economics, how does it work?: Yet another thing about MTGO

Last week I wrote about how changes to the redemption policy on MTGO would most likely adversely affect the market. I touched upon the issue of 4 packed sealed but didn’t really think about its implications.  It is far more innocuous in its effects but they are already being seen and could be far more problematic, far sooner.

4 packed sealed was exactly what it sounds like: sealed but with 4 packs, people liked it cause it was a decent price and if you were good it was a good way to approach going infinite. Even if it was more luck dependent and milling was really good, it wasn’t inherently evil. One of the biggest points about Magic is that it is many games under one umbrella so more formats isn’t a bad thing. It was discontinued last December cause of the aforementioned play issues; most people actually saw it is a matter of WotC trying to make more money. In its place they were replaced by Phantom Sealed events.  To their credit they quickly fixed the payout of these events to actually be a fairly good deal.  The problem is what they take in, specifically only tickets.

The problem arises in that they pay out in packs, but there aren’t as many limited events firing now that require packs. Meaning that supply is steadily increasing while demand is at best staying the same. The problem being that all events pay out in packs; tickets are gold and packs are individual currency tied to it. The problem being that since all prizes are in the form of packs it means that the value of constructed events is decreasing.  Which in turn means that the cost of cards will decrease. Adding this to what I outlined last week creates an additional layer to consider. It could help in creating a new market that is sustainable and avoids the pitfall that I outlined last week or it could have no effect on the larger trends happening here.

This could be fixed by allowing packs to be used as entry fee, but that’s unlikely to happen since Wizards isn’t actually gaining anything from that.

Regardless it is something to keep an eye on as it will have an effect going forward.

Why I’m wary of MTGO of late

By any metric MTGO is a hugely successful program, the appeal of being able to play 24/7 with automated rules enforcement is an understandable one. Along side that are 1. being able to do Constructed for cheaper than in paper and 2. Being able to do limited events and grind out as much value as possible by winning and then selling any valuable cards. Said valuable cards had value because of bots who determined the market price in large part due to set redemption. WotC has announced that they are raising the price of set redemption by 400% from 5 dollars to 25 dollars starting with Gatecrash.

So what does this mean? As my friend Charlie, who blogs over at the Time Stream, gave me the proper economic term for this as a neoliberal market shock. In simple English this means that an unexpected factor has emerged which is going to shake up the market. It’s also not that hard to figure out how roughly this is going to play out. Given how important set redemption is to the MTGO economy as there are a number of people who redeem sets and use this supply to run their small or medium sized business(also known as not SCG is my understanding) means that set redemption isn’t going to be a dead letter, instead it just means that prices are going to drop in order to reflect this 20 dollar increase. This is going to create two effects to start with: 1. EV conscious drafters are going to draft less and 2. Constructed, specifically Standard might see an uptick in popularity as depressed card prices will cause more people to buy cards.  However these in turn will have their own effects and can effect each other.

The central assumption here is that set redemption by vendors is still going to happen in comparable numbers, or at the very least it will be attempted. The reason for this is that people do this for a living and aren’t going to close shop when it looks like they can continue to do business. While this will have problems for the MTGO economy, the way I see it the real doomsday scenario is if set redemption ends or if these big scale redeemers pull out, which effectively means the same thing.

The point of EV conscious drafters drafting less assumes that there are enough drafters who are this EV sensitive to affect the supply of cards that is being created from limited events immediately. What is more likely to happen is that those who aren’t as EV sensitive will be that they are still money sensitive and can’t draft as much since they’re making less to let them keep drafting.  Now this only extends to the preexisiting player base, new players will come into the system and could keep the supply going. The problem being that this isn’t sustainable and doesn’t generate good word of mouth.

While depressed card prices could result in an uptick of popularity for Constructed, I don’t think this is all that likely on the grounds of barrier of entry is only one thing that keeps people from playing Constructed.The other big one being that they just don’t see the appeal in it. While there will be an uptick, it may not be significant.  The other big problem is that Constructed will lose value as the prize payout is in packs, which are consumed in limited events, which will fire less since they have less appeal.

The result of this is that card prices at first will climb back up to some extent as supply will shrink while demand isn’t moving. The result is that vendors will either increase their prices in order to compensate or the supply of paper cards will decrease, causing prices to rise.  If redemption are cut down then the supply will increase, or to be more specific never decrease. Players will adjust to the new reality and assuming no mass exodus, or at least a mass exodus that is counter acted by an influx of new players, which is possible; the value of cards will decrease as the supply continuously increases but isn’t really decreasing. Since players never need more than 4 of any card and only a percentage of players will want 4 to begin with(limited players and singleton format players, specifically commander aren’t going to care) the value of cards is going to increasingly approach zero.

The easiest fix that would keep everyone happy would be to revise redemption policy so that Wizards is making more money bu it doesn’t completely destroy the economy.

Gatecrash will be the first set under this new policy and while the prices of cards from there will be indicative of how trends will play out, the full effects won’t be seen until next October with a new Standard season and RTR only under the old policy. Of course the fun part of all of this is that it also just screws over people who use redemption on a small scale in order to get cards for paper play or to just cash out.

In short this is going to be highly problematic in the future and the stated reason is that the increase in redemption costs are due to accounting for the costs involved have increased. This is probably true to a certain extent, as 5 dollars seems like a bargain, but it honestly seems more likely that it was done to increase profits. Which is to be expected, but in increasing profits it seems to have horrible repercussions in store that will create long term problems. I don’t see this ending well except for the casual constructed players and even then there could be problems.

Now the reason why this post is titled “Why I’m Wary” instead of something more along the lines of “DOOM AND GLOOM FOR MTGO” is because this set redemption is only the latest issue designed to generate more profit at the expense of the players in a way that only works because it is a de facto monopoly. While there are other games out there, what MTG has makes it hard to challenge and is effectively a monopoly. The other big issues being: the new client, cube tickets, and axing 4 pack sealed.

While V3 of the client is god awful objectively, its still better than v4. While WotC keeps pushing V4 it needs serous work to be functional and not just prettier. Cube tickets are a scam. 4 pack sealed had lots of problems, it wasn’t a real format, milling was super strong and the EV was good. The stated reason was that it wasn’t a real format, which while true, should have stopped them from doing this in the first place. The real reason was that the EV was really good and WotC was probably losing money on them.  At the very least phantom sealed came out of this, which satisfies my price demand for phantom and is fun. They could make all the events phantom and have a reasonable payout based on that and derive value of cards from cracking packs.* On the other hand they have made prereleases not usurious so there’s that.

So to conclude, the direction of MTGO as a whole passed upon its high profile actions lately makes me cautious about the future of mtgo. I would highly recommend that you don’t do Gatecrash prerelease if you expect value and if you’re thinking about getting an MTGO account I wouldn’t.  Instead I’d wait to see how things are playing out and then decide from there.  For my part I’m going to be severely cutting down on the money I put into mtgo until its clear how the market is going to shake out.

*Note, please don’t actually do this

House of Cards is a Peak into the Future

Netflix has just released the first season of the American remake of House of Cards on their site all at once and given the early success that it has combined with news that it already has been greenlit for a second season. It is a peak into the future and that is a future that I look forward to.

Taking a step back for a moment, DVDs are a relatively recent phenomenon which have allowed the ability to effortlessly rewatch television shows in a manner that wasn’t possible before. In conjunction with this development was the growth of serial programming on television. The best example of that to date is Babylon Five, which was plotted out as a book, and while it had some hiccups in that original plan*, by and large it all worked out. While few other shows have been on the same level, Arrested Development is the closest, many shows have moved towards a more serial format instead of episodic format with a reset button at the end of every episode.

What comes with this serial structure is borrowing things from the literary medium such as foreshadowing, further reinforcing the idea of literary model. However outside of DVDs or instant streaming all at once there is still one big hurdle when it comes to new way of television. That being the fact that these episodes still need to be broadcasted. The CEO of Netflix made a strong argument that people don’t accept bits and pieces of books at predesignated times so why should they accept tv?

House of Cards however shows that this model isn’t gong to last forever and it shows what will come in the future. All of a season, all at once. In many ways this isn’t all that new. Considering that a growing percent of people no longer even watch television as it airs at all; instead opting to rely upon instant streaming sites, both legal and illegal in order to watch what they want to watch instead. So why not cut out the middle man entirely?

By moving towards this kind of release model it has several advantages. It appeals to a growing demographic who don’t even buy into traditional ideas of watching tv. It disincentives the usage of illegal streaming as it is already out there and easily accessible on the web. Not to mention that as we move along a path of greater computerization and more widespread internet access it alienates fewer and fewer people.

What makes House of Cards different then say Hulu is that in this case that the streaming service is what creates the content as well. Of course the biggest flaw in Hulu is making their content time sensitive before it goes behind their paywall. Which raises the question of how effective conventional advertisement is anymore but that is much harder to answer. The problem being that it makes ascertaining the future more difficult.

With more places producing tv shows and with the general quality of televison on the rise in certain regards**. The possibility for more and better tv is a very real possibility.

The problem being that if each place has a paywall then access to individual shows is going to be harder which is going to create a new host of problems in entertainment consumption. It would fragment the market in a way that consumers don’t really care for and will cause problems. In many ways its a similar problem to Steam and digital distribution of games.

House of Cards is a peak into the future, while the future it gives a peak into perfect, it does have enough to get hopeful about.

*Some of these worked for the better while others were making due with a problematic situation.

**Scifi as a genre has fallen from its heyday of shows such as DS9, Babylon Five and nuBSG

Gatecrash Set Overview Part II

Here we are for the second part of my gatecrash overview, this isn’t anything in depth but rather my own personal thoughts on what the new set brings.

As always when it comes to limited go read Ars Arcanum and listen to Limited Resources, they won’t steer you wrong.

Limited 

So it seems Simic is horrible in sealed but could be the closest thing to Selesnya in terms of smooth progressive game plan.

Orhoz makes suicide deck seem like a bad idea and extort is really freaking powerful.

Otherwise out of the gate all of the guild seems balanced.

Tempo is the name of the game, if you stumble you’re going to die.

Standard Pauper

The hexproof aura deck got worse as we now have an edict effect again. But that really didn’t stop it before, it just seems less dumb now that there’s an answer beyond race them or get lucky.

Conversely Mono Black got better with the addition of said edict as well as some other cards, mainly things with extort prinied on them.

Small Evolve creatures plus the stuff that Green and Blue already have is a deck that’s just asking to be made, it might not be good but the deck is there.

Prophetic Prism seems like a good way to do color fixing and will probably replace Transguild Promenade.

Boros Humans is also a deck that is asking to be made and I will probably run that regardless of how good it is.

By and by none of the cards really jump at me in a wow sort of way, but rather as a sort of topping to the format as it is now.

The reason for this post being so short is that unlike the last time I did this, mainly because I feel like I was lot more thorough this time around and I haven’t gotten a chance to play with the cards yet.