All in the Cards

All in the Cards
Trading (Web) Cards

Allen Varney | 3 Oct 2006 12:00
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As that news article reports, Sony Online Entertainment bought Worlds Apart in August 2006 for an undisclosed sum. Renaming it SOE-Denver, Sony has set the studio to develop an online game based on WizKids' "collectible strategy game" Pirates of the Spanish Main. No word yet on the fate of the Auto Assault digital card game Worlds Apart designed as a tie-in to NCsoft's new MMOG.

Reshuffle and Deal
Sony's purchase shows its desire to get into the online card business. "We are going to be integrating what they do with what we do," said SOE spokesperson Chris Kramer in a Rocky Mountain News story about the purchase. "There may be a point in time in the future where not only is there an EverQuest II card game, but people playing in the (computer game version) of EverQuest II could go into a tavern, sit down and play the card game inside the computer game."

SOE has already moved into virtual asset sales with its Station Exchange, launched for EverQuest II in July 2006. Online card games are a natural extension of this idea, but a risky one, as designer Damion Schubert noted in his Zen of Design blog entry "SOE Buys CCG Company, Clearly Up To Something."

"[T]here will be a real temptation here to make a money game. Magic is a money game - they have a relatively small number of customers buying a lot of cards. This is a very different spending pattern than you see in a [World of Warcraft/EverQuest]-style monthly fee. The big danger with money games, if the history of all the Magic wannabes is any indication, is hitting critical mass - finding enough other players willing to invest into any given CCG [collectible card game]. The paper CCG industry averages one success every five years."

We'll see increasing convergence between online card games and MMOGs. This follows as part of the larger role that physical trading card games have assumed, as one more routine format for licensed media properties: lunchbox, videogame, trading card game. In fact, the first wave of physical card games based on MMOGs has already arrived: One based on City of Heroes appeared in January 2006, and World of Warcraft and EVE Online card games are due in late autumn. If any of these games sell well (the City of Heroes card game has so far roused little fanfare), we may see events in the online world reflected in the card game expansions, and vice versa. The companies may offer cross-promotions: Send in these three rare cards and get a prized virtual item for your online character; complete this quest and earn a coupon for a free booster.

Beyond that, I wouldn't care to speculate, having already proven myself a dimwit.

Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay and Looking Glass.

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