Free to Play, Pay to Win, and the Challenges of Collectible Games

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Magic’s answer to the problem of alienating existing players with rotation has been what they call Eternal formats, of which there are three – Vintage, Legacy, and Modern. Each of these formats includes a different subset of cards from Magic’s history, and each has its own distinct character as a result.

  • Vintage allows every card ever printed, including those from the game’s earliest days that are now understood to be much too powerful, like the vaunted Black Lotus.
  • Legacy allows almost every card, with the exception of a small subset deemed too powerful.
  • Modern is a relatively recent addition to the format pantheon, and it allows every card printed in an expansion set since the adoption of the new card frame – essentially, every card released since 2003.
  • Standard, the most commonly played format, is pretty much the last two years of cards, and which cards are legal rotates with new major releases.

The existence of these formats means that there is always a place with a relatively small card pool where new players can feel like they are able to jump in, as well as places for players with large collections dating back many years to use their cards.

Will this be the direction that digital collectible games take? I know it’s a discussion we have had for SolForge, and I have to imagine it’s on the minds of the Hearthstone team as well, especially with how focused they seem to be on the new player experience (Can we just get a couple more deck slots? Please?).

Striking the balance between releasing new content frequently enough to keep your hardcore fans engaged but not so quickly that you alienate newer or more casual players is difficult, and only gets harder as time goes on.

The issue of an ever-growing card pool is a problem that every collectible game has to address at some point, free-to-play or otherwise. While it may not make your game truly “Pay-to-Win”, the proliferation of new cards can make the cost to play far too high, and no one should have to take out a second mortgage to play a card game. You don’t want to get to the point that the only person who can have fun playing your game is Mr Suitcase.

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