The Day Kibler Shut Down the World

Suspend
Get it? MTGO has gained suspend.

Editor’s Note: Since it’s MTGO week on DailyMTG.com, I decided to publish this unfinished piece since the point that I’m making still stands. You can tell right away it’s a little out of date.

If you didn’t know, a few weeks ago, my wife was admitted to the hospital with our baby’s life in danger. Our daughter was born a few days later (15 weeks ahead of her due date) at 1 pound 5 oz, was just over 12 inches long and is in the NICU. Our baby will be there until mid-March, her original due date. She’s trending in the right direction but it’s still a long battle for a few months.

Obviously, my main focus is now on family instead of Magic; that’s just the way it is. I don’t have the time/energy/focus to post/tweet about Magic like I usually do or was planning to do, especially with my idea of running 99 CMDR Problems again. I want to get this piece out; it’s not a finished/polished piece, but it is what it is. The point I was starting to make is near the end of the post, like my usual writings (I know I know, that’s a problem for me). I think for MTGO to be more successful, it does need to be treated as it’s own entity instead of just a thought after piece (as it seems from outside WotC). I was going to go into more detail and why it would be good, and maybe a followup is worth it in a little while. At the moment it stands as it is.

I do have two more pieces to write about two exciting projects I agreed to before the baby was born prematurely and when I get the go ahead to talk about them, I will. One, which I was partially involved in, before the end of the year and the second will be a few months down the road.

This doesn’t mean I’m stopping writing or playing Magic. You just have to give me some time to focus on the family first as it is emotionally draining to deal with the up and downs of my baby’s time in the NICU. You can still find me on Twitter (@mtgcolorpie) and email me (mtgcolorpie – Gmail), if you want to chat. If I don’t get back to you right away, don’t feel bad. It’s awkward being this disconnected to the daily life of Magic; checking the major Magic websites at “Magic Midnight” and reading twitter is no longer one of my daily habits currently.

Thanks for understanding, and thanks to everyone with their support and well wishes. – Robby

In case you haven’t heard, most competitive MTGO events are being shut down. Here’s the announcement, and here’s the link from Hall of Famer Brian Kibler talking about his experience with MTGO this past weekend. I fully believe that this is the final straw that made WotC finally come to the decision to “shut down” MTGO. This wasn’t the first complaint, but it was the loudest in a sea of people who have been frustrated for years.

Full disclosure: I don’t play too much MTGO. I play some, and I mess around every once in a while but I’ve never competed in one of these major events. So I’m no expert when it comes to the inter-workings of how “bad” it’s been. But I do have some general thoughts about the subject and I’m working on my “topical blogging” merit badge.

I’ve got a theory about what’s going on with the community’s take on MTGO. This “Fanboy Syndrome” (or Fangirl Syndrome if you rightfully prefer) states that the more someone loves a particular product, the more they will complain when it doesn’t meet their vision of what the product should be. Now, this doesn’t mean that fans don’t have the right to complain about when something goes wrong, but a majority of the time they’re being too critical without looking at the big picture.

Is MTGO perfect? No, obviously not. Is it the horrendous piece of garbage that I’ve been told by many Magic players? Nope, that’s the other extreme of this issue. It’s an ok working product that’s not working to it’s full potential. And it can be fixed.

Magic: The Gathering is one of Hasbro’s most successful brands it owns. Seriously. It’s beating Transformers and My Little Pony and Nerf. Why? It’s a fun game the people invest a ton of money into and it doesn’t just have the pre-teen demographic the most of Hasbro’s brands do (ignoring Bronies). Hasbro bought Wizards of the Coast in 1999 and for the most part has left them alone to do what they need to do. The game is growing, and it’s very, very successful. Magic Online has a huge part to do with it.

Here’s the problem: I don’t feel like Wizards of the Coast is operating like a big business.

Yes, I know that they are, and I know that there’s been a shift since the beginning to more of a corporate feeling, but I don’t think they’re there enough. It still seems like Wizards of the Coast is a business being run from a garage. This is not a bad thing. I feel this has helped out with what WotC wants to do for a majority of the time. They can try out new worlds for their blocks without going “Ravnica sold well, we’re going back there next year.” The employees are on Twitter and interact with the community and the fact that they don’t interfere with Star City Game’s Open Series (as far as I know), means they want the brand to grow.

Well, to an extent.

If you didn’t know, MTGO is programmed in their office. Their other digital Magic product Duels of the Planeswalkers which is farmed out to a third-party. Now, they both have different functions, one’s a limited card pool played with an AI and the other has to take all the cards ever with all of the rules and connect thousands of people to thousands of concurrent events. It’s a huge difference.

Magic’s history with digital games has had a sketchy history. The Microprose game was excellent, Acclaim’s “BattleMage” was a game I only played once for good reason, and Sony Online’s version was canned earlier this year after it was made a freeium game after no one played it. Because of mixture of success, WotC is very hesitant to hand out the Magic license to anyone. Duels of the Planeswalker works because I think Hasbro become involved, but Magic Online is their baby.

WotC wants to control as much of their property as possible (obviously). This is a huge reason why I believe we’ve seen a very slow roll out of Magic related merchandise and other possible branding possibilities. Almost everything has to be done within house or very limited interaction with third parties. WotC doesn’t have the personal to handle all of this so when they do, it’s done very slowly or very limited qualities. They have other brands such as D&D and Kaijudo. They’re a gaming company, not a merchandise factory. This applies to Magic Online as well.

Magic Online is programmed by Magic players instead of programmers who play Magic.

If MTGO was just a side project not intended to have much impact than just have a way players can go online and play Magic than this is fine. Or, if you were a small business and don’t have the resources to hire enough people to make MTGO a major aspect of your sales. Neither of these are the case. So what should WotC do? Have a third party program MTGO and give it up completely? No.

WotC needs to create Planeswalker Studios.

George Lucas created Lucasarts to create games from his Lucasfilms titles and beyond. This is what WotC should do with the Magic Online team. Keeping MTGO up to date and running various events is a full time job, yet from the outsider’s perspective it seems like it’s still a side project. There isn’t enough money/resources/labor devoted to MTGO to make it work like real life Magic. WotC still needs needs to be heavily involved to test out new sets, go over updated Oracle rulings, and implementing new ideas so sending MTGO to a third party is right out. MTGO is not like a Ticket to Ride version where you might have a new map or fix errors, it’s

Give MTGO the company it needs to be to run like the product that it should be. This isn’t a Fanboy Syndrome symptom here. If your program crashes during events, then there’s an issue here. It’s not like WotC doesn’t know these things exist, but there’s something obviously stopping them from being able to complete it.

I don’t think that people who work on MTGO need to be fired, or anything like that. There have been some cries for that on twitter, but I doubt that’s the case here. You want people who love Magic to work on MTGO.

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2 thoughts on “The Day Kibler Shut Down the World”

  1. I’m sorry to hear about the hardships you’re facing, Rob. My best wishes and utmost concern for your child and family in these hard times.

    A wonderful article as well, just like always. I think a followup piece would be great, especially taking into consideration the remarks and columns of MTGO Week, perhaps even reviewing them.

  2. I didn’t read the article yet, but I want to desire good luck to you and your family.

    My wife was born 31 years ago, 12-14 weeks ahead of her due date and she had a perfect normal life. I’m sure that 30 years of NICU technologies will do the miracle for your daughter.

    The waiting will be hard, but worth it. Believe me.
    Victor

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