What is wrong with the current state of Online Collectible Card Games?
Collectible Card Games (CCG),
By using Google Trends we can see, that the term “Online card game” is on a small but steady growth for the last 5 years, when it comes to online searches.
Yet, when we compare five of the biggest online CCGs on the market:
We can clearly see that the situation here is different. The biggest CCG, Hearthstone — lost a lot of web traffic in recent years and other games have even less web searches.
How is it possible, that online card games cannot meet the needs of players? This article will explain some of the problems in existing CCGs and explain why the rising demand for CCGs is not satisfied by the current market of available games.
1. You were supposed to bring balance…
Balancing a multiplayer game is close to impossible. Even in chess there is a slight first mover advantage. Games with more variables make balance even more challenging.
Surprisingly — it’s not really a bad thing, as long as developers can handle the ever changing environment of a game. Balance changes encourage players to try new strategies and bring a lot of freshness to the gameplay.
The problem is, collectible card games have a lot of variables, which grow as more cards are added to the game. Because of this, every card has to be well designed when implemented into the game. When done incorrectly or overlooked a card can completely change the meta in a few days period. Here are some videos, that explain this issue more:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFoMxPgutq0 — AustinMcConnell
Because of this issue, games like Hearthstone have many useless cards that nobody wants and many incredible ones that are necessary in a deck to remain competitive. This problem is even bigger in Pokémon TCG.
It wouldn’t be as big of a deal if you could simply get the cards you need without paying for them, for example through trading. Unfortunately, the biggest CCGs don’t allow card owners to do that. Players are forced to buy packs with cards that can be useless. This is really off-putting for new and casual players. Players will have to keep collecting more packs to create a deck which can compete.
2. Pros have cons?
Esports is growing fast. Prizes have been increasing exponentially for the last two decades. Successful games like Dota 2, League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive and many others attract large prize pools from teams and sponsors. Having an established Esports’ scene is valuable for a game, as it gives casual players a reason to stick to the game and additionally generates opportunities to create great content. However, the card game Esports’ scene is not seeing the same prize pool growth.
It is especially heartbreaking for Nias, founder of Star Sight Labs team, as he is a Hearthstone pro player himself. Some conclusions based on an interview with him, summed up below explain, why he thinks there is a change needed in Esport scene of online CCGs.
Nias has played many different card games since he was twelve years old (obviously many times being the youngest competitor at events he participated in). When he heard about Hearthstone, being both a Blizzard and CCG fan, it was a no brainer for him to pick this game up. He remembers his game against Reckful to get into legend for the first time and looks back with a smile on his career in games during beta. Nias was greatly focused on figuring out the optimal playstyle and analyzing different tactics to better understand all the mechanics, working with other top players and their communities.
The problem for many of his pro friends were really low paid sponsorships and small prize pools. This made it difficult for most of the players outside of top spots to focus just on the game. Earning a few hundred bucks for streaming basically 40 hours a week was not the best deal to say the least. Difficulty in making ends meet was, and still is a big problem for pro players or entertainers in general, when it comes to card games. It creates a spiral, where no initiative from developers puts off potential influencers, so games become more hermetic and niche.
Another great obstacle, this time connected strictly to game’s meta was randomness. Hearthstone for many years leaned more and more in the direction of casual play. Because of that many decks are focused on playing a luck dependent combo. This lack of constancy evens out the more games someone plays, and might give you greater emotions during the games it works out, but it is really painful and inefficient in ladders, where you try to limit the randomness factor as much as possible. This problem makes it hard to really show off players skills and define who is the best.
Nias still plays Hearthstone and other CCG’s from time to time, when he feels the meta is shifting in the right direction, but his vision in creating a competitive card game stays the same. That’s also why he keeps in touch with many pro players and trainers, to get their feedback on Aegir Tactics and get the gameplay aspect right.
3. One way ticket
You have to agree that for some reason people love to collect things, especially card players. There is something precious about those Pokémon that pleases players. People put them in sleeves, grade them, label or… use them in a way, that every scratch is a part of its story (or even bend some Phat Pikachus). And that’s great, because owners should be able to do whatever they want with their cards.
Unfortunately, the concept of ownership has changed in the digital era. People quietly agreed, that the company owns everything around services they provide. Blockchain technology can change that, but it is necessary for people to want that change.
For years companies pushed consumers in a direction where products are subscription based. Movies, games, and other programs are yours as long as you pay a small monthly fee. It often sounds like a great deal in the beginning, but later people get stuck with an app they don’t use that much and a subscription they are discouraged to stop, because that would cut them off completely from access to a good.
The same situation occurs in online card games, although it’s not so subscription related and rather ownership related. For now, if someone invests money into any game he gets just the agreement, that he owns an item. This system works as long as the company is willing to play fair. Unfortunately, there are many cases when platforms like Valve banned accounts with the equipment worth thousands of dollars with some shady reasoning or just by a mistake. It’s also worth noting, that Valve is not really keen on trading items outside of their ecosystem, and that is the only way to get real money for them.
The threat of losing “your” cards is even greater when there is no platform to use. Game studios create small systems in their games with no turning back. This means players are forced to trust the company and can’t get any money back after putting the game away. As an example, with an ongoing client change of Pokémon TCG players are allowed to export only a certain amount of the same card. If you collected some cards for trading, buying them earlier for money, they will be gone. No ability to get money back also discourages new players from investing into the game and leaves them with no full experience about the game. This creates a business model, where a small percent of long-term players spends the most and the game has to be oriented around their needs to be profitable.
4. Trade offer: you receive nothing
The controversial move from Nintendo to stop allowing trades between players in the new client of Pokémon Trading Card Game means that the title is now wrong and misleading! Harshness aside, physical CCGs thrive because of trading. Cutting of the ability to do so in online card games is hard to understand and really frustrating. Collecting all the cards player needs requires buying more and more packs. To get the full experience from top CCGs you have to spend a lot of money or… grind.
Trading is a powerful tool, although not every card game should have trading, allowing it could create an environment of loopholes and exploits, especially when cards have an impact on a gameplay. You can’t just pretend that disabling trading in a game where it worked already is a healthy move for the community. It should be in the developers interest to find a way of monetizing the game without limiting the players experience.
Leading multiplayer games, such as League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive or Fortnite let the player be the best if they have a skillset necessary to do so. There is no paywall stopping you from being good. Valve games are especially good at this, considering they also implement trading. Online CCGs seem to be outdated in that case, where you have to have necessary cards and combos in the deck to advance in higher ranks, but you can’t obtain them through trading, so microtransactions become one of the core mechanics of the game.
From my perspective card games should ideally strive to allow new players to stay competitive without becoming stale by giving them a few complete decks. This way gamers are encouraged to try to unlock other decks while simultaneously having fun with the decks they got for free. Games can than gain funding through cosmetics and additional content, like campaigns and expansions.
Demand for Online Card Games is rising and so is the market competition. Although we see many titles from big developers, most of them have similar problems connected to player exploiting economy and lack of Esport focus. Additionally CCGs are not treated with the same care as other online titles, and function rather like cash grabs that exist because of the bigger franchise (League of Legends, The Wither, World of Warcraft). It is yet to be seen, if blockchain games, like Aegir Tactics can change it, but we think our competitive approach to card games and carefully planned in-game economy will overcome all the problems mentioned in this article. Until then, good luck and have fun!
Sources and Related Content
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