5.25.00  This is a letter that Stephen Mumford sent to us a few weeks ago.  I went on vacation, and mis-filed it.  My apologies to Stephen.  This is a well written letter sent to WOTC, Hasbro, & Nintendo.  Stephen was kind enough to copy us on the letter so that you could read it.  - Pojo


An open letter to:

Wizards of the Coast,
The DCI,

Gentlemen and Ladies,

I wish to express my concern over recent decisions by WotC regarding the Pokemon Trading Card Game.

First off, let me start by saying that I am pleased with the game in general, and think WotC has done a satisfactory job in bringing it from Japan to mainstream America.  However, I am dismayed at the corporate handling of the game in recent months.

Before I begin, allow me to clarify things: I am fully aware that the game, as marketed, is oriented towards the younger players, and those just new to the world of Collectible Card Games.  I also am fully aware that the vast majority of the financial success of the TCG has come from this age group (or rather, from the parents of the children of this age group).  And I also realize that as a result of this, WotC is reluctant to introduce complications into the game that they feel might drive off this market.

However, there is a smaller, but growing market for the game that is not comprised of the younger kids, but instead is comprised of older kids, teenagers and adults (especially the parents of the aforementioned core demographic) who like the clean lines of the game but also can understand and appreciate the complex strategy and gameplay the TCG can provide.

As a representative member of this older group (I am a 30-year-old parent whose son is very much involved in the game), I can have fun playing a casual game with the kids and other parents at the League, but also wish to be able to play the game more competitively.

When I learned that the DCI sanctioned Pokemon games, I was pleased, because I had assumed that such a venue would provide for more consistent gameplay and insightful rules interpretations.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.

With the recent release of the Team Rocket release, there were many errors made.  It’s a simple fact, and in some cases the errors made were quite blatant and gameplay-effecting.  I don’t wish to complain about the errors, however, because I understand that errors do occur.  What I am displeased with is the handling of these errors.

Instead of correcting these gameplay-effecting errors (two in specific: an incorrect status effect associated with one card, and an incorrect weakness on certain print runs of another card), WotC has decided to let them remain as is.  When asked why they were going to do so, the response was that the Pokemon TCG is still oriented towards the younger kids, who will not understand or follow the concept of errata.

First off, how difficult are these concepts to understand?  Many of the “complicated” issues common to CCGs are in fact quite adequately understood by even the kids just recently introduced to the game:

Banning: “I’m sorry, but you can’t use that card.”  “Oh, okay.”

Restrictions: “I’m sorry, but you can only use two of those cards in your deck.”  “Oh, okay.”

errata: “I’m sorry, but that card was printed with a mistake on it.  When playing, pretend that it’s Fighting Weakness is really Fire Weakness.”  “Oh, okay.”

Are these really complicated issues?  I don’t think so, and to assume that just because a child is only ten years old he cannot understand them is a disservice to the average child involved in the game.  Also, to paraphrase a friend of mine regarding the situation, “They expect kids to understand all the ‘clarifications’ about Ditto and how it treats attached Energy, yet they don’t think they can understand a simple misprint?”

However, the issue goes beyond the simple reluctance to fix errors on the part of WotC.  I am having a hard time understanding why the DCI has bothered sanctioning Pokemon tournaments altogether.  It certainly doesn’t seem to be doing so to further the goals of the DCI.  While I could not find an explicit account of the DCI’s goals and raison d’etre, I think it’s pretty obvious that they include:

1)   A professional venue for tournaments that are consistent in design, execution and judging.

This is certainly not the case with regards to the Pokemon TCG.  Despite it being sanctioned by the DCI, WotC has apparently chosen to not utilize DCI tournament guidelines to operate the Super Trainer Showdown Tour, which is the first real US Tour of it’s kind for Pokemon.  Instead, placing and rankings are apparently based on a “Prizes left” system, as opposed to the standard Swiss or Single Elimination style that is a DCI staple.  As any serious player will tell you, a system that awards points based on the number of Prizes you have left (as opposed to number of matches won) will seriously affect the way many decks are played, and render other deck styles less competitive.

2)   A consistent and legitimate means of judging a tournament.

The DCI has a Judge Accreditization Program for Magic Tournaments.  This is a good thing, and it means that if I go to a Magic Tournament, I know that if an accredited Judge is presiding, he or she holds that title because they have demonstrated their knowledge of the game and of the rules.  And if there is a discrepancy, or if the Judge does something blatantly innapropriate with regards to the tournament, I also know there is a platform available to myself to voice a complaint and have the matter investigated.

Pokemon does not have this, sadly.  If I attend a tournament—any tournament, even the STS Tour tournaments—I have no guarantee that the people running it know what they are doing.  As a rather dramatic case in point, at the first STS Tour tournament in Aurora CO, reports have come back saying that the people running it were poorly organized, and had little knowledge of how to conduct a tournament.  If nothing else, this sort of returning feedback on Wizard’s first major tournament tour is upsetting at best, and should be embarrassing for the company at worst.

3)   A reliable means of distributing errata and rulings crucial to the tournament gaming environment.

Again, this is also not the case with Pokemon.  I would ask you, if WotC released a Magic card that accidentally had an “Island” symbol where a “Swamp” symbol was supposed to be, would there not be a correction made in later printings, and a notice of errata announced?  I feel certain there would.  Yet a mistake of similar magnitude in Pokemon is given a shoulder shrug by the company, with the hollow excuse that “the kids playing the game won’t understand the concept of errata.”  As explained before, this is simply incorrect—virtually any child can understand the rulebook in the first place will understand the concept of fixing mistakes.

Which brings me to a further point in regards to the DCI and Pokemon.  Who will be hurt by the issuing of this sort of simple errata?  Certainly not the kids who, in WotC’s mind, cannot understand such concepts to begin with.  Those kids will, first off, not be playing by the rulebook anyway—like Magic, there are a number of ‘house rules’ for the game.  And if they are not playing by the rulebook, they will not be using the errata.

The kids that DO understand the rulebook and who like to play by the rules (the majority, I may add) WILL understand the concepts involved here.  WotC has also gone on record saying that they don’t want to head down that “dark road of errata” that Magic has.  I am all for that, and will agree that such a statement is a good goal to keep in mind.  However, we are not talking about any sort of wild reversal of game mechanics.  What we are talking about here are simple misprints.  A graphical typo in one case, and a literal one in the other.

What this hurts is those players that prefer a consistent, logical basis for their games.  It hurts the core players, the serious players who support the DCI by going to and organizing DCI-sanctioned tournaments.  It is at tournaments that errata and corrections like this are important, and by ignoring the situation, WotC is giving a direct kick in the teeth to those players that are the heart and soul of the DCI.  I personally “bit the bullet” and became a DCI tournament organizer for Pokemon because there were none in my area.  I also defended the DCI against those that would decry it.  However, if this situation continues, I know I shall not be running further DCI tournaments.  What would be the point?

This reluctance to correct these sorts of mistakes reflects poorly on the company, and sets a bad precedent.  What if, in the next expansion, a typo is made that causes the damage done to be 200, as opposed to the intended 20?  By the precedent set now, in which “Our policy states that we do not change card readings that would change game play, unless the card is unplayable as it stands,” WotC will NOT make a correction on that theoretical card.  And that is very unprofessional, indeed.

You may say that such a mistake is not “unplayable,” and to a point you are correct.  However, and especially on such a game-defining card as Dark Vileplume, a mistaken Weakness is very game-impacting.  Beyond that, at what point is a mistake termed “unplayable”?  In my earlier theoretical example, what would happen if it were a typo of 30 instead of 20?  What about 40, or 50?  At what point does a card cross that threshold and become “unplayable”?

What if Nightly Garbage Run had accidentally allowed you to choose “Basic Pokemon, Trainer Cards and Basic Energy” as opposed to “Basic Pokemon, Evolution Cards and Basic Energy”?  Would that have been an “unplayable” mistake?  WotC might very well rule that it is not, but any serious player will tell you with just a few moments thought that such a wording would allow for repeating loops within the game, and would virtually remove one of the three means of achieving a win in the game of Pokemon.  In earlier months, I would have had confidence that WotC would have realized the far-reaching implications of such letting such a theoretical mistake stand, but now I no longer have that sort of faith.

To sum up, I am now questioning Wizard’s involvement in the game, as well as the DCI sanctioning of it.  Many people have looked at Wizards recently as some sort of money-grubbing corporation, who merely latched onto the Pokemon TCG game for three reasons: to ensure that no one else did, and thus retain their position as the leading CCG manufacturer; to provide a source of cheap and easy profit for the company; and to artificially swell the member list of the DCI tenfold overnight with the adopting of the Pokemon TCG as a sanctioned entity.

I realize that corporations and companies must make profit to exist, and I also know that all three of the above reasons are legitimate to some degree, even if not voiced by the company in public.  But I dearly wish to believe that those three were in fact NOT the primary reasons why the Pokemon TCG contract was obtained by Wizards of the Coast.

I ask of you, please prove me wrong.  It may be too late to correct these mistakes, but I ask you to please take the game more seriously, and to treat it with the same level of respect that you do with your other products.  You will not somehow “drive off” the kids who are the staple of the genre.  You will not overshadow Magic as the dominant CCG out there.  You will not do anything deleterious to the company or the CCG environment.  But you will please a large number of gamers, and help to reinforce the image that Wizards of the Coast does, in fact, care about its consumers.

And isn’t that alone worth the small amount of effort it would take to issue a correction to the mistakes made?  Reverse the company policy that the Pokemon TCG is only suitable for eight-year-olds.  Because it is not.

But if you continue in this matter, it will be.  And the attention span of preteens is only so much.  The attention span, the disposable income, and the brand loyalty of a satisfied serious gamer is so much more conducive to business in the long run.

I thank you for your time,

Stephen Mumford

A parent who has spent an estimated $1000 or more on various Pokemon-related merchandise over the last year for both him and his son, and has never regretted it until lately.