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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

[Hearthstone] Of missed boats and headslaps

This topic has been kicking around in the back of my mind for a while, so I thought it a fitting choice for my return to blogging.

Some days I wonder if there is someone at Wizards of the Coast or Games Workshop that is smacking their forehead when they look at the state of their industries and how they utterly missed the boat on new technology. I look at their conduct and I see companies that for the most part have clung to outdated business models as if an adherence to strict tradition will keep them afloat.

Blizzard takes Wizards

The most obvious is how the king of collectable card games, Wizards of the Coast, is rapidly losing relevance in a modern market that is favoring the digital. The rise of the iPad and ubiquitous internet has moved CCGs to the intertubes and it doesn't look like it is ever going back. This is not to say that Wizards never made any attempt to inject themselves into digital card games, but their primary foray was a dismal failure and it has taken them until 2014 to return to the digital + booster-pack model. At the rate it's going, in a few years the card game everyone will be familiar with will be Hearthstone, not Magic.

You probably never even heard of the original Magic Online, which floundered around 300,000 accounts in 2007 and hasn't made a splash since. Meanwhile, in roughly 2012 the market began exploding with new online card games; Hex, Scrolls, and the yeti in the room, Hearthstone.

I have to wonder if someone at Wizards has flipped a table after watching other companies take over the online CCG world that could have been theirs. Many of the players of these new games were so eager to jump into them precisely because of nostalgia for collectable card games of their youth (myself included). Meanwhile, with the boat thoroughly missed, Wizards has phoned in it's Duels of the Planeswalker series to lukewarm reviews. The problem, as it appears, is that Wizards was highly skeptical and unsupportive of it's online incarnation from the get-go, leaving it to fend for itself.

This is not to say that the physical CCG is going to suddenly disappear, but the more wallet-friendly online variations are certainly stealing some of its customer base. But it's safe to say that the fortune that could have been Wizards' is now helping fund Overwatch.


In my youth I was a big fan of Warhammer 40k; what teenage nerd doesn't love the idea of getting to play tactical battles with sci-fi armies in a strange setting. It's an IP that has defined generations of gamers and nerds. If you are a Blizzard fan today, you have Warhammer to thank for many of the ideas.*

The problem is Gamesworkshop spent a lot of time as the only game in town, but that is changing. In a handful of years 3D printing will be easily accessible and already their competition is starting to examine how to best profit off that. Meanwhile, copyright-liberal fans are already plotting ways to scan and share the documents needed to make their own models for free. At the same time, several other games have managed to nudge their way into Gamesworkshop's territory.

GW products have always been expensive. Originally fans like myself chalked that up to production costs (making, molding, and casting intricate models does seem expensive) but in the early 2000's companies like Reaper Miniatures started putting out high quality minis for vastly lower costs, and it quickly became clear that GW was inflating its prices mainly because it could. To this day their products are still ridiculously expensive, though GW has improved the quality of its miniatures. Still, GW and it's competition need to pay attention to oncoming technology because their market dominance lies primarily in their existing manufacturing resources, which are soon to be rendered less potent.

*This is not to say that Blizzard "copied" ideas or ripped them off, but we all draw inspiration from what we love and it's clear that Blizzard loved Warhammer. The look of the Terran marines, the Zerg, and Protoss are all highly derivative of Warhammer 40k, while Orcs migrated from Warhammer fantasy.


  1. Not to mention that Nintendo, ever mindful of making software to sell their hardware, has let the digital version of the Pokemon CCG onto the iPad of all things. Times, they are a changin' when even ultra-conservative Nintendo has seen the light.

    1. Definitely! Even Nintendo is recognizing the changing market; they also have recently reversed their "no DLC" policy.