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What's hard to do is to balance all that comes with a trading card game on top of tactical gameplay with which many Magic fans may not be familiar. Tuttle accomplished the balance by having the rules of MTGT not mirror the card game exactly but rather feel inspired by them. "Familiarity is the key," Tuttle said. "In the card game, Lord of the Pit is a great card. Serra Angel is a great card, Shivan Dragon is a great card. As long as, in our game, those figures are also great and also help you win, I think that will really help the Magic players because they know this brand."
It's precisely because Magic players are so insular that we were brought to Denver in the first place. Tuttle's team had spent a long time perfecting and iterating MTGT, but his boss Smedley still had misgivings. "MTGT was supposed to launch quite a long time ago, and we held it," Smedley said. It was a lengthy process and Smedley and others kept saying things like, "It's not fun enough yet, it's not fun enough yet, this isn't cool, this isn't fun. Let's get it to the point where we're all super proud of it."
With a game like MTGT's built-in audience and the ability to make it better after it launches, why didn't he just pull the trigger? Well, the landscape for such decisions has changed at SOE. "We've released games too early," Smedley admitted. "We've simply learned from that mistake. We've learned that we don't see the same financial results as we do when we hold a game and build something that we're proud of." Such caution just makes sense in today's crowded videogame market, and Smedley certainly said that rival MMO company Blizzard's success was influential in teaching him that fact.
After Smedley's admission, the specific group of people invited to Denver suddenly made sense. I was there with about fifteen others, some of which came from major game outlets, but most of whom came from Magic fansites who know the game backwards and forwards. These guys not only knew how to use a Black Lotus to beat you on the first turn, they also knew about the economics and personalities of Magic players - from professional tournament players to those who just like to buy a few boosters to throw down with their friends. We were there not to report on this game to our audiences - although that would certainly be appreciated - we were there to report to the designers what we thought of MTGT.
To start, we were treated to a presentation by Mark Tuttle on the interface of the game. Once he showed us the general look and feel of the menu screen, he went over how the trading and store system would work. The Store (or Bazaar as it was called in the game then) would allow you to post your card for sale with a fixed price. Then if another player wanted to buy it, the card would be put in his inventory and you would get the Station Cash (Sony's currency) or "tickets," a closed currency for MTGT used to join tournaments and other events. That's when everyone around the table started speaking up.
"I'm interested to see how it goes, but I think you're going to find that the players want [peer-to-peer] trade," said Patrick Jarrett, editor of Mananation.com, and author of a few articles on The Escapist.
"This might be a stupid question, but how much do tickets cost?" asked John Stevens from TCGPlayer. Tuttle responded that they were thinking around 10 cents each.