The State of the Game
By John Hornberg

* - This article by no means projects the views of the site or any other writer working for it but me.

It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. To see a game that once ruled the market, with millions of players worldwide, and tournaments everywhere filling to the brim with players. That, now, has all gone. Dead are the days of the 300 person local tournament. Gone are the days of the 100 person weekly Pokemon League.

Alas, gone could be the days of the card game itself.

Last year, Pokemon hit a kind of resurgence. Players were returning to a game they once loved after a medieval period that saw ridiculous limits on trainers, the banning of the 15+ players, and the muddling of
tournament play itself.

Wizards, though, had begun to get its act together. The ridiculous Prop 15, which limited the number of trainers to fifteen per deck, was lifted, and a new more enjoyable tournament format was created. New sets were translated, and released to the American players. The Professor  Program had been organized to accommodate for the 15+ aged players, and while it failed to meet certain standards for the vast majority of the players, it was welcoming for the same people who had been shut out of  the game a little over a year before.

Pokemon Worlds was held in Seattle just a few months ago. All were welcomed in, and the exposition was a huge success.

Now, almost three months after Pokemon s greatest card game event was held, Pokemon seems to be a lost cause to a lot of players. With the license that Wizards of the Coast holds on the game coming up in April, 2003, the rumor mill has put it, and with stunning accuracy no less, that Wizards might lose, if not even try to renew the Pokemon license.

The loss of the license could lead to a score of bad things for the players. Organized play would cease to exist in any real form, which would leave players out in the dust. Pokemon, which is the only competitor to ever popular Yu-Gi-Oh in the market for 6 to 13 year old card players, is still making money. It s not making the millions it was a year or two ago, but as implied by the Seattle Times, Pokemon s numbers are still respectable.

The issue here is not so much whether or not Wizards will be allowed to or even can renew there Pokemon license, it s more whether or not do they want to renew the license. While major Pokemon proponents with Wizards of the Coast continue to reassure a fidgeting group of 13 year old players that the game will not the die just yet, the sad truth is that it very well may.

The sales for Pokemon products outside of the card game have been on the decline, and have stood to only get worse. Hasbro, Inc. has blamed Pokemon for its downtrend in the past year that has sent its stock plummeting, which has fallen steadily over the past year, and only recently began an up trend with the Christmas shopping season on its way. Then again, it was foolish of Hasbro to flood the market with toys  and as they did in the first place, because it inflated a declining market, only ensuring the fall from there highs during the height Pokemon craze.

Hasbro s poor decision to flood the market reflected bad on Pokemon as a whole, as people became slowly disenchanted with the card game. While popularity took a nose dive in 2001 and 2002, the Collectable Card Game s fan base remained stable with a good amount of players still around. Unfortunately, organized play for the Pokemon Collectable Card Game has set out to sabotage any hope of the game reaching past its status as a fad by blocking certain player groups and instituting harsh
rules on decks that took a lot of the fun as well as the strategy out of the game.

Wizards of the Coast treated Pokemon organized play with less respect, and less organizational skills than any other game controlled by the DCI. Guinea Pig Rules were instituted, and Prop. 15 is a perfect example of this. While Prop 15 had the idea of fair play backing it, the road to failure is always paved with good intentions. Prop 15 was not received well by the players, most of which enjoyed the short intense matches decks of the time created. Prop 15 halted a lot of creative ideas from ever developing in tournament format. While the idea was scrapped for a more organized, intelligent and well thought out ideas, it demonstrated Wizards carelessness for tournament play, and how they were willing to
use Pokemon as a testing block for idiotic rules for possible test on other games.

Among other follies Wizards accomplished in since the formation of Organized Pokemon play was the alienation of 15+ age group. After the first WCSTS on the Queen Mary in 1999, which mostly teens and adults qualified for, Wizards placed a moratorium on players over the age of 15. While Organized Play began to hit it off with the younger age groups. The core of the players were excluded for almost a year and a half, until the formation of the Professor Program a little over a year ago.

Unfortunately, the Professor Program was not the success it should have been right off the bat. The program was marred by lack of a real purpose in the first months of its creation, and an impossible test that very few normal card players could actually do or actually cared to take the time to do. It hasn t been until fairly recently that Professors who endured a lot of waiting and hoping have actually gained a purpose outside of being an observer and an occasional low level judge in a

Many of these problems have hampered tournament play. The young children that started with Pokemon do not stay young forever, and as they grow older, they will grow out of the age group that was originally set by Wizards, even out of the game in general. For each player celebrating their 15th birthday, Wizards loses one more of a dying breed of Pokemon players. Pokemon is no longer selling with the impressionable little kids, as the recent popularity of Yu-Gi-Oh and Dragonball Z would
suggest, and to continuing to exclude the core of the players who have aged over 15 years old is suicide for the game.

The first thing that needs to be done to keep Pokemon alive is to get Wizards of the Coast to renew the license. Pokemon players need to drop the biding sarcasm and endless pessimism for that of smiles,
thankfulness, and optimism. If many of the players showed their gratitude instead of expressed their dissatisfaction in an endless chain of anger, Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro would see a need to renew the license for Pokemon, or at least to try. Hasbro is greedy, and as long as Pokemon is making money, they will make every attempt to keep it. Wizards of the Coast is desperate to not be the bad guy anymore, and while Hasbro has the final say, does not want to disappoint players, as well as potential players.

Pokemon of late has been on the right track. The professor program appears from the outside to be getting better, but needs to be more accessible to the older crowd who gave up on the game. Organized Play has to become more accessible as well. Tournaments need to spread too many more major cities than just a few. Places such as Sacramento, large cities in their own rights but not large enough to warrant a major tournament, need fair and equal attention. When Wizards concentrates on
holding major cities like San Diego, Seattle, and New York City for its big qualifiers and huge events, it alienates the young players in other places because these tournaments are not easily reached, and parents
aren t exactly thrilled to drive two hours to go to a convention just because their kid really wants to.

Thirdly, Wizards needs to give an actual answer to the future of the game, and keep the players informed. Wizards has always had a terrible track record when it came to keeping the public informed, leading to rumors from every which way. Much of this speculation is often not answered clearly, only causing more questions and concerns. Wizards of the Coast needs to step forward in the coming months and say what the situation is with the renewal of the license, and whether or not they are actually going to pursue it at all. On this matter, leaving the players high and dry is not a smart idea.