Magic Online League Play Still Down After 1 Year
I’ve been an avid Magic: The Gathering player almost the entire life of the game. Over the years it has become harder and harder to find players for matches with physical cards. Enter Magic Online. In theory, it is a perfect solution. With thousands of people online at once you will almost always be able to find a match.
It is important to understand that the draw to Magic Online is the gameplay. For the physical card game you have the draw of collecting cards and meeting with friends, whereas MTGO simply can’t offer the same experience in this area. Collectors cannot realistically redeem digital cards with physical cards (it is possible, but not easy, cheap, or realistic). The digital cards also could potentially become completely worthless if the card collection system were to collapse, either through bankruptcy or software bugs.
So, now that we’ve established there is relatively little point to using Magic Online for collection purposes, we move onto the only other reason to spend your time and money with Magic Online… gameplay. There are basically two types of gameplay in Magic Online.
Casual or constructed matches where players use the cards they have purchased for their digital collection to build a deck then match up to play against other players who have done the same. However, since we have already determined the collection aspect of the digital only Magic Online is relatively pointless, spending hundreds of dollars to collect the cards to build a deck seems rather ridiculous for all but the most hardcore magic players. This also means newcomers to Magic Online must spend hundreds of dollars to collect cards to compete legitimately on the same level as other players in this gametype.
Sealed and draft gameplay offers a reasonable solution. Sealed and draft gameplay allows all players to be on an even playing field. All players open the same amount of booster packs and are locked into using only those cards during these events. For example one player will not have the advantage of having spent $100 for 4 of a new powerful card.
Unfortunately, currently the only options for sealed and draft gameplay are also quite expensive, especially when compared to entertainment via other computer games. A typical computer or console video game costs around $50. Most games offer roughly 40 or 50 hours of entertainment. Entering a single draft in Magic Online will cost you $15. This buys you 1 hour of entertainment, up to about 3 (only if you keep winning, which is not likely for newcomers). $15 for 1 hour. By these numbers it is over 10 times more expensive to play Magic Online.
League Play. In the past however, M:TG Online did offer an acceptable solution. League play. Basically, this was a sealed event (everyone entered with x amount of booster packs, then made a deck from only those cards). The difference here is that these leagues stayed active and kept rankings over a period of a full month. Typically you would have around 250 players in the league, all on an even playing field. For $25 you would have bought a full month of fair, fun gameplay.
In a baffling turn of events however, MTGO removed the League play feature over 1 year ago. Sometime in March 2008, during the process to upgrade the software from v2.5 to v3.0, League play was shut down. Ever since, players visiting the League section of the software are greeted with the message:
“We will be introducing leagues sometime in the near future. We are sorry for the inconvenience.”
So basically, the only affordable option for casual or new players to compete on an even playing field has been completely absent for over a year. The MTGO staff has been strangely quiet about the issue except to comment that they still plan to bring the feature back and that they are considering outsourcing the project.
According to data gathered by users of the Magic Online official forum, Wizards of the Coast–the parent company–had been raking in $200,000 per month from league play alone. This adds up to $2,400,000 annually (yes that is 2.4 million!) in lost revenue. Not only are they alienating potential new customers by offering little to no option to play for a reasonable amount, they seem to think $200,000 / month profit is not a priority project. Many have speculated the real reason leagues have not been re-introduced and possible answers have ranged from profits (not likely considering the above numbers) to the incompetence and inability of the programming team. Based on the constant bugs, crashes, and general poor functioning of the software and GUI, I lean toward the incompetence reason