Thursday, 1 March 2012

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom - Fun TCG or Collectable TCG??

After 4 years of development and a few months of play testing and soft openings, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom officially opened to the public this week.

Set in most lands of the Magic Kingdom, this is an interactive game that can be played by young and old as they make their way around the park, in a similar style to the Kim Possible game that has proven so popular in World Showcase at Epcot. However, while likely to appeal to the same or slightly wider audience, the game mechanics are very different between the games. Whereas in KP you were sent to locations and activated physical effects via a programmed mobile device (I’m sure anyone who has been in Showcase has heard the phone noise going off); in Sorcerers you are again sent to locations but instead of just activating an effect, now you actually interact with a screen portal which features animation of classic Disney characters; and you do this via the use of a magic card.

This is where the games becomes incredibly different, KP is basically a fun set of instructions of follow; Sorcerers is, on the surface, a Trading Card Game (TCG) and as such involves decisions, strategy and skill when deciding which card to use at which time. This not only makes it much more appealing to play for teens and adults, but will also increase repeatability as the game has levels of difficulty which are unlocked on completion of the previous level. What is also interesting is that, at the moment, few of the card details are actually involved in decision making and outcomes; thus the potential further development of the game mechanics is huge.

You can find out more about the game and see lots of pictures here.

You can also listen to an interview with Jonathan Ackley (creator of the game) on the latest Inside the Magic podcast.

However, having been an avid Yu-Gi-Oh! player and collector in the past as well as dabbling in Magic and Marvel VS I am wondering if this is going to be just a bit of fun that involves cards, or whether it is going to be a proper collectible TCG. My main concern on this is that from what I understand, there are currently 70 normal magic spell cards to collect; which is fine for the game itself; but if Disney wants to get collectors into this, there needs to be more depth in the collection. And I don’t just mean more cards because with TCG collectors it isn’t all about numbers, it’s about rarity; and the general acceptance that the rarer the card, the shinier it should be.

Currently the only card that would be classed as non normal is the cast member exclusive card, but from what I can tell, it looks exactly the same as the other 70 and thus its rarity is indistinguishable from others unless you know. Disney have done a pretty good job on LE pins and vinylmations in the past (although ended up flooding the market in both), so I would be surprised if they didn’t do this well on the rarity front; but TCGs are a little different because the product itself is pretty unsubstantial and just writing LE3000 on it isn’t likely to get over as well as on the back or bottom of a pin or vinylmation. Unfortunately, this reminds me of the last time I was given a game card from Disney for VMK and it was more of a voucher than anything so it was just thrown in a pocket and screwed up. If a card has rarity value, it has to seem special; even if it just looks prettier.

For instance, when Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG debuted in the early 90’s there were the following card differentiators (with several further levels added since the original 5 in later years):

Normal                Plan Print
Rare                      Silver lettering on title
Super Rare          Foil picture, normal lettering on title
Ultra Rare           Foil picture, gold lettering on title
Secret Rare         Sparkly foil picture, silver lettering

Thus it was very simple for anyone with even a basic knowledge to tell the difference between card rarities and straight away associated value to a collector. And for those without basic knowledge, whenever a card was given away in a magazine or such, it would make it clear “FREE ULTRA RARE CARD”.

Disney needs to create its own legend to differentiate card rarities and the sooner the better if they want to get TGC collectors on board from the start. At the moment, the collectable value side is missing from the cards in circulation; and while I have no doubt that people will be trying to get them all (me included); I also do very much doubt that people will be avidly collecting them like pins or vinylmations.

I should also point out that “rare” level cards on most TCGs aren’t actually that rare, they are usually quite widely available; just not as widely published as normal cards; it isn’t until the super/ultra rare card levels that real rarity is found; rare cards just look that little bit special because of the extra foil.

So, if I were trying to promote the game and get some levels of cards rarity into circulation I would do the following.
  • Give a rare card to each family that stays at a moderate level hotel
  • Give a super rare card to each family that stays in a luxury level hotel
  • Give a rare card to each family that eat at certain table service restaurants
  • Give a super rare card to each family that eat at certain signature restaurants
  • Arm WDW transportation operators with rare cards to give to people at their discretion. These should include bus drivers, monorail and boat staff.
  • Give a rare card to all participants in the Jedi Training Academy
  • Give an ultra rare card to the family of the day in each park
  • Include a super rare card in an editon of D23 Magazine
  • Include a rare card with every entry to Mickey’s Not So Scary and Merry Christmas Parties

Imagine getting a Jedi Mickey card as the Jedi Training reward and being able to have the mouse attack Hades with a lightsaber.

However this is where we hit a snag. Unlike with most TCGs, Disney can’t just go creating new cards at will; its not just a case of marrying a picture, a name and some stats. Each card needs programming into the game system, which probably isn’t too bad; but from what I understand, the effect of the card is animated into the game, therefore that is going to create a lot of work if another 100 cards are added.

The Answer…Variants

Variants are a very powerful thing in TCG collecting and should be fully utilised by Disney in Sorcerers as a quick and easy way to bring rare cards into the game and collecting with minimal effort. Essentially they are the same card, with the same name and same stats, same interactive qualities so there is absolutely no programming to be done to the system to include them; the only difference is the picture on the card. So say 40 of the cards already in existence are adopted by a place, transport or activity as I have already suggested above; from that point on, apart from the normal version which is given out in starter packs, all rarity versions of the card should be synonymous with that adopter. The artwork is then changed from the original to something new, obviously still maintaining the character the card is named after but also including the adopter’s logo to highlight its origin; and of course it should be shiny.

The result of this is that the card selection is hugely increased to almost double with a good percentage having a level of rarity; and all without any work having to be done other than designing new pictures (of which there are probably plenty already in existence from the design process). Most importantly, these artworks should then be changed seasonally. After just a year, there would be 160 rare variants in existence and now we are in the TCG collectors zone. There will be some who want to have every variant from the Summer 2013, there will be some who want to have every Le Cellier or Polynesian hotel variant of their cards, there will be some who want every card they can get their hands on; either way, due to the circumstances to get them and the limited time span for each artwork; the cards themselves will become collectable as pieces of the TCG whether played with or not.

Probably the real issue with everything I have suggested so far is that while it makes the TCG collectable and may help popularise the game in the parks; none of what I have suggested makes money for Disney; and any money that will be circulating will be heavily on the secondary eBay market between collectors. Sure, there is the chance that having the cards at locations will incentivise collectors into staying on property or eating at certain restaurants; but there aren’t exactly capacity issues in either of those to rectify.

However, as there isn’t any money being made at launch, Disney may be treating the cost of card and map production as more of an attraction running cost than a profit source; and this can only be good for the game and its growth. In my opinion, if Disney is smart they will keep things this way because it makes the entire game completely free of barriers to entry and thus will always have the chance to pull new people in.

Besides, there is plenty of money to be made on the accessories market; because if Disney gives you all these free cards including limited editions and rare ones; well, you are going to need a special folder to keep them in; especially if it comes with an ultra rare version of a card that you can only get with the folder. And when the folder is too big and heavy to carry around, well, you are going to need a travel wallet for them; not to mention sleeves to put the cards in to keep them in good condition when being played with. And when you then add the tshirts etc etc; well, then you have a profit making franchise built around a free game with plenty of collectable fun and rarity value for those who really get into it.

Unfortunately, I will not get the chance to experience Sorceres of the Magic Kingdom until Oct/Nov, but I am already looking forward to trying it out and thinking about whether I go empty handed or go with a deck of cards already in hand and ready to go. I promise you all this though, if rare cards are being given out at restaurants of the like and you leave it there, it wont be there 20 seconds later if I am at an adjacent table and see it laying there for grabbing.

If you’ve played the game or are a TCG card collector and have a view on whether this has the ability to become a collectable TCG or is just a bit of fun with cards; please post your thoughts and let me know. And of course, please feel free to shamelessly plug this blog as much as you like to twitter, facebook or anywhere else; I won’t complain.

Speak Soon :)

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