Wizards of the Coast Entering The Custom Digital Alter Market?
It's time to take off the satirical gloves for a moment and be super cereal. Paul Perjuns-Tart, here, armed with a headline followed by a strategic question mark just in case I'm totally off-kilter about everything I'm about to say.
Are the recent actions of Wizards of the Coast evidence of an entrance into the custom card, print-at-home market? Is this an untapped revenue stream about to be absorbed by Hasbro in order to meet its profit goals they promised to shareholders? If you're thinking there's no way that would ever happen, read on and grab your tinfoil because you're going to need a hat for this one.
There have been signs. No, not from a horoscope or images of MaRo burned into toast. Recent actions show Wizards of the Coast has been on a path to monetizing every aspect of the game, including game pieces players can't even use in the game. Is the fan-made, custom card, or "digital alter" market going to be reigned in by Wizards of the Coast? The answer is definitely a maybe.
The Proxy Market: Magic 30 "Collectors Edition"
While Magic 30th Anniversary boosters wasn't the first time Wizards of the Coast sold tournament-illegal cards, it was the first time it was done at a premium price. The perceived value and robust marketing exists as proof that Wizards of the Coast sees high value in products that may not be legal for tournaments, or even officially sanctioned events at your local game store. If they're willing to heavily monetize their own non-game products, is it that far off to imagine a world where they would be monetizing players' own custom card creations they're printing at home?
The Singles Market: Secret Lair
What does Secret Lair have to do with this? Interesting question ... uh, me. If you asked me whether or not Wizards of the Coast would enter the singles market 10 years ago, I would have told you you're crazy. And while yes, Secret Lair isn't exactly selling singles, it's participating in the secondary market at arms length by selling cards in sets of 4-5 at around their total secondary market value. In the end, you're buying the singles you want directly from WotC instead of a vendor opening up sealed product.
The Digital Market: MTG Arena
I always viewed MTG Arena as Wizards' way of reigning in the secondary market that popped up around the products and "currency" on MTG Online. The F2P client essentially turned the game from a TCG into a CCG by making every item, card, cosmetic, and currency account-bound. Though the client has a ways to go before it's able to eclipse MTGO in terms of formats and features, the roadmap to new formats has been paved, and releases are well on their way to a single-revenue channel for the digital space. The eventual demise of MTGO, its secondary market, and the businesses that support it crumbling isn't exactly a conspiracy theory.
The Custom Card Market - ????
If you haven't already, check out Sheep Wave's deep dive into the shutdown of Card Conjurer, which goes into detail about what it was and how it ceased to be. While the official reasons for the shutdown aren't exactly invalid, it does begin to make one ask questions. Why this site? Why now? Why not others?
Some stated that it was because Kyle Burton, the creator of Card Conjurer, was profiting off it through a Patreon. Not exactly "selling the MTG IP", which is a big no-no, but is still profiting indirectly. That being said, custom card website MTG Cardsmith offers a $5 per month subscription for more custom card customization options and they're, so far, untouched.
Others said it was due to the ease with which custom cards could import official text and be formatted for at-home printing. MTG Print has been doing this for years, allowing players to format entire decks, or even cubes, for at-home printing by just pasting a list of cards into the site. Wizards doesn't seem to mind.
So the question is, like the creator of Card Conjurer said, if other sites have been doing all the things CC is guilt of, why them? Why now? Occam's Razor would suggest that it got shut down because CC was the most popular. Subjective, to be sure, but many people lauded the site for having robust customization options that allowed truly breathtaking digital alters.
With so many ways to print cards at home, it's silly to think that this was done to prevent proxying or even slow it down. Unless Wizards is about to embark on a game of proxy-printing whack-a-mole, players will just use one of the other many tools available, so then why shut down a fan favorite? Is WotC just getting off from pissing off fans? Maybe, and certainly an article for another day. However, remember how I mentioned you need to get your tin foil out? Well strap it on your heads, folks, WotC may be listening.
They'll Do It... Themselves
What if the reason for Card Conjurer's shutdown is because Wizards of the Coast are planning to implement their own feature-rich portal for fans to upload custom art for their own print-at-home digital alters? Is it so crazy to think Wizards of the Coast is beyond channeling Ticketmaster by charging folks a convenience free for printing their creations at home?
Is it too outlandish to think that Wizards wouldn't corner the digital alter market by allowing folks to legally use MTG assets for their creations? What if the shutdown of CC isn't about legality, but getting rid of the competition to make way for an entirely new way for players to empty their wallets on Magic: the Gathering? What if Wizards wanted the same level of customization options and ease of use that Card Conjurer offered but wanted to charge customers for it? Why would players pay to create and print custom cards when they can do it for free next door?
What do you think? Could you imagine Wizards of the Coast charging players to make custom digital alters? Would you pay a "convenience fee" if there were no other opportunities other than doing all the work yourself in Photoshop? Am I a big dumb-dumb for giving WotC this absolutely awful idea? Let me know!