Yesterday, I wrote a piece questioning why Cube is not available more often on Magic Online. A comment on that piece, particularly one part of that comment, stood out to me:
The part that stood out to me was this: “MTGO stands in stark contrast to how the rest of the company is run.” How spot-on is this statement?
Paper Magic has a staff full of individuals that are generally well-regarded in the community. Aaron Forsythe actively engages fans on Twitter and writes straightforward articles that helps the community feel involved in the process of making Magic. Mark Rosewater has an extracurricular blog and a podcast specifically designed to provide two-way communication with Magic fans, and if there’s one thing apparent in all of his work, it’s enthusiasm. Helene Bergeot has shown her willingness to quickly respond to community concerns and complaints. The game itself is designed and developed by a team of dedicated staff who interact with fans through articles, Twitter, blogs, and other means. The creative team has been on point for the last several years, and the flavor and unifying story elements of the game are at peak quality. Del Laugel and her editorial team do a great job keeping the game error-free and aesthetically pleasing. Though I’m not a fan of every business decision the company makes, it’s hard to point out any huge problems with how this game is designed, marketed, and produced.
In short, Wizards of the Coast is a company that has its shit together.
Then we have Magic Online. With Magic Online, we have broken promises, metagame-breaking bugs, tournament-ruining crashes, lack of availability of in-demand events, a broken economy with no relief in sight, and a willful ignorance of modern pricing models. Marshall Sutcliffe’s interview with Jon Loucks about leaving WOTC really highlighted the broken systems in place at Magic Online HQ.
Worth Wollpert, the executive producer of Magic Online, gets a lot of hate, and who knows if that’s fair or not? I don’t know him personally—he could be the nicest guy in the world. He could also be a great leader with a clear vision for Magic Online. We don’t really know if he’s the problem or just a scapegoat for Hasbro’s lack of support for MTGO. I’m not a fan of unwarranted vitriol or blame, and I think Wollpert gets a lot of it.
However, I do know that Magic Online has not gotten better in quite some time, Wollpert’s articles are evasive and opaque, and his tweets are defensive and blame-deflecting. It’s not uncommon to see Wollpert refer a tweeted complaint to Chris Kiritz or Mike Turian, as if it’s not his problem. I don’t know if it’s a lack of tact or what, but Wollpert is in charge, period. If he wants to refer things to his staff internally, fine, but doing it publicly just implies that he’s washing his hands of the issue. It doesn’t look good. You don’t see Aaron Forsythe pulling stuff like that.
My perception, which I believe reflects the general playerbase’s perception, is that paper Magic is made up of the “good guys” and that MTGO is made up of, if not the “bad guys,” at least the “incompetent guys.” All of the good feelings I have for people like Mark Rosewater and Aaron Forsythe do not extend to the staff of MTGO, whether that’s fair to them or not. It’s so extreme that I didn’t even bother applying for a job on the Magic Online team a few months back, despite the fact that the job listing read like a verbatim list of my skills and experience. Working at WOTC would be pretty cool, but after hearing Loucks’s interview, it was clear to me that getting a job on the digital team would be extremely frustrating at best.
Magic has experienced unprecedented growth the last few years, but how much longer can an analog game like paper Magic last? Sure, maybe it has another 20 or 30 years, but lesser digital games with better software, like Hearthstone and SolForge, are going to start encroaching on Magic Online’s market share in a big way over the next few years. If Magic is going to outlive Mark Rosewater, as he regularly says he believes, WOTC needs to get its digital products in line with its physical ones. Magic Online can’t continue to act like it’s 2002.