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"I think that will help you a lot," said a representative from a Magic retail store that was also heavily involved with Magic the Gathering Online. "Because with Magic Online before, there wasn't a lot of trading because an event ticket was one dollar. So no transaction could take place that was less than a dollar. If you just have an auction house system, you're going to need a currency below that amount, otherwise so much stuff gets lost."
The problem with that is that a draft tournament that costs two dollars or 200 tickets to join, then the idea that one ticket gets you access to something is lost. "Is ticket the wrong word?" asked Tuttle, wondering if the currency should be called something else like "credit." And here's the thing, the lead designer of Magic wanted to know what we thought. He implored us to give him feedback and listened to the answers with genuine interest. This wasn't a press junket, I realized. This was a beta test.
After playing for hours, we all communed in another conference room and told Tuttle and Smedley what we thought about the game. Chris Tremblay, owner of MTGFanatic, couldn't tell what had just happened in the matches he played. "I don't play as much as these guys, I guarantee it, and so some of the spells they were casting I was like, 'I have no idea what it does. I know that it just killed all my creatures but I have no idea what it does,'" he said. It soon became clear that most of the problems that we had with the game had to do with funneling information to the player.
The developers soaked up all of this feedback like a Duskdale Wurm soaks up damage. John Smedley, in particular, was incredibly engaged in asking follow-up questions and explaining why they did certain things. "The good news is that the stuff you guys are complaining about, and that you are absolutely right to complain about, is actually fairly easy to fix," Smedley said. "It's cleanup. It's not like, 'Oh shit, that's totally different than how we designed it.' What other stuff annoys you?"
And we told him. For more than forty minutes, we told him everything we could think of to make the game better. Then, over dinner, we kept talking about the possibilities of Magic the Gathering Tactics and where SOE Denver could take the game. Smedley and Tuttle weren't actually sure where the playerbase would spend their time. If the single-player campaigns proved popular, they would write more of them. If the audience clamored for peer-to-peer trading or some other feature that the devs couldn't anticipate, they would consider adding it. A lot of game designers say things like that for online games, expressing platitudes of supporting a game long after launch, but I believe it this time. They proved something by bringing out a bunch of Magic players to get their feedback on a game, and then implementing those changes in the beta I played a week later. Gone were the problems with the interface and inconsistent language. In its place was an elegant strategy game that solved many of the problems we had with our first few hours with Magic the Gathering Tactics. John Smedley and Mark Tuttle's team at SOE Denver know how to listen to the experts that can give them the most precise constructive criticism on the game. The Protection from Feedback spell blocking communication between developers, players and press was effectively Counterspelled.
Greg Tito was as impressed with John Smedley's karaoke rendition of James Taylor's Steamroller Blues as he was with Smed's Magic deck-building skills.