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Opinion: Why I Stay Away From Digital Collectible Card Games

by Mike Futter on Sep 09, 2013 at 11:45 AM

I'm trying hard not to become a stereotypical old guy. I've given up CDs for MP3s. I read ebooks. I don't mind purchasing games through digital distribution services. Why then can't I abandon paper collectible card games for the new digital titles that are so much fun to play?

I almost buried myself in Sony Online's PoxNora a few years ago. The title is a digital collectible miniatures game with units that level up across matches. The progression system is something that would be hard to integrate in a physical game. 

I've dabbled in a couple of newer games, and I've only barely escaped with my wallet intact. Ubisoft's Might and Magic Duel of Champions is a creative application of the turn-based strategy property. Stoneblade Entertainment's SolForge (created by the minds behind the popular Ascension deckbuilding game, with input from Magic: The Gathering's father, Richard Garfield) is a brilliant blend of deck-building game and CCG. Both of these titles incorporate systems that wouldn't be easy to implement at the table. So, what's my problem?

The answer is simple: I'm scared of my investment disappearing. I've spent a lot of money in Magic: The Gathering. I don't currently play regularly, but any time I want to pick it up or teach someone the game, I have my decks right here. No matter what happens with it, even if Wizards of the Coast were to pull the plug (something unlikely to happen any time soon) I will always have my cards.

The same isn't true of Duel of Champions, SolForge, or any other digital-only CCG. The publisher could shut off the game with minimal notice and no recourse for players. 

Sure, this isn't entirely unlike other free-to-play games or other microtransaction-based affairs. But something feels very different about building a collection that isn't really mine. Maybe it's the blind-buy aspect of opening booster packs. Perhaps its the emotional investment on top of the cash that goes into crafting the perfect the deck.

My feelings were cemented a few days ago when EA announced that Battleforge, its collection-based real-time strategy is being sunset. The game has been around for four years, but the player base has dwindled due to flagging support from EA. When the servers are turned off, all of the cards purchased by players disappear forever.

It's easier to look at an MMO subscription fee, a League of Legends skin, or even a power-up in a free-to-play game as a sunk cost. If Microsoft abandons the current avatar gear, I won't weep for the money I've spent dressing my mini-me as an Assassin or a Big Daddy. 

Collections are different. They are personal and, in many cases, unique. The way the pieces fit together to make an individually-tailored whole is deeply personal. CCG players pour themselves into their decks, and the idea that those can disappear on a whim is enough to put me off.

I know I might be missing out on some experiences because of my trepidation. I know that my approach is likely to be considered old fashioned. But until I know that my Hearthstone collection is as safe as my Magic: The Gathering decks, I'll be sitting on the sidelines.