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What brings you back to Magic?
By Ray "Monk" Powers

Lately, my articles have had a recurring theme to them. Sometimes its been pretty much to the forefront, and sometimes its not quite as out there, but it has been consistent. The theme is "coming back to Magic," and I'm hoping some of you have caught on to it. Its no secret that Magic is in a constant competition with other games to maintain its user base. First it was EverQuest and Diablo II, then the great God Poker, and now World of Warcraft, not to mention during this entire time they always had to fight other TCG's and games to keep their players.

A lot of people think when you're the big dog in an industry, like Coke or McDonald's, advertising is pretty useless. I mean, everyone knows what Coke is right, and everyone has heard of a Chicken McNugget. But the advertising keeps products fresh in your customer's minds, and allows you to advertise new promotions or products. When C2 came out, a drinker of coke would not have known if not for the advertising blitzes. Magic does not have the same benefit, however. How many Magic advertisements or commercials do you see everyday? Compare that to the amount of commercials you see for Console games like Fable or Final Fantasy, or for Poker. If you sit on ESPN, Bravo, Travel Channel or Fox Sports, you are bombarded with Poker commercials.

My guess is you answered that you have never seen a Magic commercial, but see the other commercials I mentioned at least once a day. From a marketing perspective to the mass market, Wizards has near nothing to keep the product fresh in their players minds, nor to bring in new players to the market.
Wizard's greatest strength is in word of mouth advertising from its current players.

But this begins to break down when the word of mouth from other players is "I'm leaving the game." I remember entire crews of players that simply stopped coming when EverQuest reared its ugly head. For those players that were under the illusion that they could make money playing Magic, some of them took a quick jump into Versus when the Pro Circuit there got announced, but even more of them jumped into Poker, because they could do it easily on line at any time of the day, and, to be honest, it was just plain easier to make money at it.

Not that these people are getting rich off of on line poker. Most of the players I know are simply making a couple hundred dollars a week/month, but it beats working in their eyes, and that's all that matters.

So, if you like Magic, but all of your friends are off playing Poker or Versus or World of Warcraft instead, what do you do? Most likely you go play with them.

But the beauty of Magic is that its play base is somewhat cyclical. As I told my good friend Jay found out what I was writing about today, his response was "yeah, but absence makes the heart grow fonder. The longer I stay away from Magic, the more eager I am to come back and play a few games."

It's true of most players. They tend to leave when they get interested in something else, like Diablo or Poker, but they tend to not stay away. I've been helping run prereleases for years now, and it becomes plainly apparent when you sit in my chair for a while. Every two years or so the same people come and go, in and out, losing interest because of a new game, or a dissatisfaction with something in Magic, but after a break catching the bug again and jumping back into Magic with both feet.

So, is Wizards really doing a bad job by not doing the mass marketing advertising we see for console games and such? Yes and no. I don't think they gain anything in terms of staying in the forefront of their current customer's minds, like Coke or McDonald's, but it does expose new players to the game, and that can't be a bad thing. Admittedly their big problem is HOW to expose people to their game, making it look like a game that a group of friends can play after dinner one evening a la Pictionary, rather than a geekier Dungeons and Dragons.

That, I admit I have no answer to.

What Wizards is doing, however, is actively advertising to their existing player base, trying to provide them with exciting new projects and ideas.

With any luck, not only will this excite current players, but it will "push the cycle" in their favor on a continual basis. Picture this - The one guy who stuck it out with Magic is hanging out on Wizard's web site and reads that the next set will have Ninjas! Ninjas I tell you! How cool is that. He goes into the other room where all of his buddies are playing poker on line, and tells them all about Ninjas in Magic! Some smirk, some ignore him, and some are genuinely interested. One of the interested players then brings up the web site, and they look at the new preview card. Now suddenly over half of them are interested in Magic again, and they decide to go to the prerelease to check out Magic again and see what its like, half out of seriousness, and half out of amusement's.

When they show up, some of them love the Ninja aspect. Some don't, but heck, last set had Legends and Samurai it turned out! They never knew that!
Suddenly, the one guy has brought five or fix people back into the game, courtesy of one simply promo article on a web site.

If you look closely, a lot of their marketing strategy leans towards this.
Friday Night Magic foils, Player Rewards programs, strategy articles on web sites, theirs or otherwise, Promotion cards, Arena league. Everything is geared towards keeping players who are already playing the game excited about it, in hopes that not only will they keep playing, but they will get other players (back) into the game.

In many ways, that's what my recent rash of articles have been about as well. I'm one of the victims of the Cool New Thing (tm) lately. I'm playing Poker a lot more, and I just started World of Warcraft. Most interestingly though, I never seem to lose sight of my favorite game, Magic. After I log out of a couple hours on World of Warcraft, I tend to pick up a deck and goldfish a few games. When Betrayers hits MODO, you can expect to see me there drafting my heart out, most likely WHILE playing in an on line Poker tournament. Its a weird thing to say, but every new game I play, I can normally relate back to Magic in some way, especially in relation to Poker.
Not a day goes by that I don't play a game of Poker and think of a strategy that can easily relate back to Magic. I even considered writing a series of articles on the subject, but it was shot down. Ah well.

But the point is that these cycles of interest/disinterest are very consistent in Magic, and it hasn't hurt magic yet. So, if you find yourself getting into World of Warcraft or something, and fading away from Magic, don't worry, we'll be here when you get back.

See you next week.



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