Wizards of the Coast and Experimentation

Wizards of the Coast issued this statement on Friday: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/news/experimentation-2018-09-21

They do have a lot of detractors on this, but I would like to commend their willingness to experiment. It’s largely how new business is developed these days. That’s a positive thing. Previously, you’d have a senior manager who made the decisions, because the possible negative repercussions of those decisions were so dire. Now, when technology is much cheaper, you can try things and the role of the CEO is now more about fostering an environment where innovation can happen then the actual innovation.

Let’s take a look at Steve Jobs, for example. He’s the modern model for this kind of leader, who lead the innovation. On the other hand, he had huge missteps as well. Apple wasn’t doing very well when he was pushed out in the first place, his next project, actually called NeXT, wasn’t a hit and is now quite obscure, and he’s attempt at taking part in revolutionizing transport as we know it was just a horrible mistake (what’s that thing called anyway? I can never remember). In the end, his hubris seems to have been partly responsible for his death, as he seems to have believed he could win a fight over cancer with basically homebrews. (I do have to note though, that he was also a huge part of Pixar.)

So, as there aren’t actual people, who we can trust to make these decisions, and we have the means to let everyone take part, we can do these experiments and find the innovations that way. It’s something a lot of businesses are doing. You test on the small scale to see what sticks, so you don’t have to bet the company on something that might be costly fail.

However, and you knew there would be a ‘however’, the key is learning. You can fail, but failing is not worth it, if you don’t learn. And, while I’m not in on these discussions, it would feel to me as if there isn’t that much learning done. Or the learned lessons don’t get communicated very well, which is possible if the organization as a whole hasn’t adopted this rapid experimentation attitude.

I know they can’t really acknowledge the secondary market, but at the same time, they must be fully aware of it. Now, in their article, they discuss how they are trying to make the customer experience better. If that’s what they are worried about (and they definitely should be), why are they fucking up mine?

Now, all customer paths are very personal. How I spend money on Magic is very different than how you spend money on it (in case you do). Now, Wizards definitely can’t satisfy all of us in the same way, but when they are doing their little experiments, they should be very aware of this.

For example, I collect Lilianas. I don’t do it very actively. I don’t have binders full of Lilianas or anything, but I try to get the special versions. I have all the SDCC-versions and I do own at least one version of each other art available, even if I don’t have each version. Now, before the announcement that the new art for [scryfall]Liliana, the Last Hope[/scryfall] would be available to me at GPs (more on that later), I would only be able to get it through the secondary market. Worse than that, it needs to go through at least two parties, both of which will want profit from it.

So, I know I can get the card. I also know I’ll have to pay quite a bit for it and I know WotC won’t be seeing much of that money. Majority of it will be going to someone in the US, who takes the opportunity to buy it in order to just sell the cards forwards, partly to some European seller, from whom I’ll buy it from.

To put it in other terms: I don’t mind spending money, but I do want my money spending experience to be good. I want to be happy about the money I’m spending. Now, I feel like WotC is giving away my money to speculators. Of course, I can choose not to buy the card, but that’s not in WotC’s interest either.

Part of the problem is that I want the feel of collectibility. Now, they are basically giving certain people these cards, that are supposed to be collectible. I don’t mind trading these cards from that guy in the LGS, who was lucky to open it. My experience in paying a speculator is much worse, even if it’s in many ways easier for me. It’s a question of making some kid happy about buying a booster versus paying some cynical investor (who probably doesn’t even understand what they are doing and if they would calculate their opportunity costs into it, they are probably even doing it at a loss). And you are pushing me to give money to these people.

Then there’s the GP-announcement. Well, let’s be clear about this: Fuck you.

Okay, I would probably have been fine if this was the original plan. Give a wide market access to the product by bringing it to everyone who can go to the events. Now, it feels like a quick fix that wasn’t thought out. The original idea of only selling these only through the Hasbro website felt so bad to me (even though I had no interest in buying the thing) that now basically any attempt at fixing it will just lead me to finding problems with the solution, because my overall feelings about the whole thing are so negative.

Now, instead of feeling like they are fixing the problem, I’m just finding all the other problems with the fix. And I can find many (such as the feeling that they are trying to make up for poor Standard by letting CFB have this little gift, the fact that I like to travel light and don’t really want to lug extra booster boxes around with me on flights, the fact that I still would actually need to go to a GP to get it).

The question is: What should have they done instead? I don’t really know. What I do know is, instead of rewarding speculators, who just happen to have access to the Hasbro website, they should try to understand the customer experience and customer paths better. Instead of trying to make quick buck, they should be working on the product in the long term. I know this latter one is somewhat against the original idea of experimentation, but they do also have 25 years of history and being experimental shouldn’t mean just forgetting about all that.

2 thoughts on “Wizards of the Coast and Experimentation

  1. Here’s a nice example of where they’ve clearly failed and didn’t really learn:

    I’ve now played six rounds of the Guilds of Ravnica Guilded Prerelease Sealed. I’ve played against six different Dimir-decks. Sure, they’ve all splashed for either red or green, but seems to me that the WotC is going to repeat the mistakes from Theros block, where certain prerelease packs are going to be much more popular than others, leading into feelbad moments, when you can’t get your favorite guild and when you get beaten by the guild you would have liked to be.

  2. Some stats on this (from one prerelease with 41 preregistered players. There are their preferences:

    Boros 5
    Dimir 10
    Golgari 12
    Izzet 5
    Selesnya 9

    In order to satisfy all the players, the LGS should know to order 12 sets (these have to be ordered months in advance), which would mean that they would be left with 19 kits on their hands.

    Other way around, let’s suppose they’ve ordered the minimum number to satisfy the need without concern for the player preferences, they would order nine sets, meaning that they would have 45 kits. Obviously, four would be left unused (they can be sold later), but more importantly, you would have four people, who don’t get the guild they want.

    It this worth it? Well, probably. I did try opening a sealed pool and it seemed very hard to make an actual two-colored deck because of all the gold cards, so the guild theme doesn’t really present itself unless it’s helped out quite a bit. Even with that help, quite a few people decided to go with a third color in my experience. The games have taken so long that you’ll usually find your sources.

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