Three Things I Have Never Understood About Magic Online.
If you are reading this as a stand-alone article, then the week was even worse than expected, but got better at the last minute.
This was originally supposed to be the opinion section of this week’s article. Now I usually start working on my article on Tuesday, when I look over the previous week’s results and decklists. I download the week’s prices from MTGOTraders.com and start crunching numbers, usually late Tuesday or Wednesday. Sometime Thursday I review the news and finish the article.
This week was crunch time at work. I finished some major projects then had to travel to give a speech. I got home Thursday evening, and my Internet was out. Completely. I could not download prices, check websites, or even get the shells, macros and spreadsheets I use for the article, because those are all stored in the cloud. Worse yet, I did not have my laptop, so I could not hunt for public WiFi. (Our local Starbucks frown on bringing your own desktop machine…)
As of early Friday morning, my connection to the net is still toast. My ISP is working on it, but no estimate on when this might be fixed. Of course, if you are reading this, then it must have been fixed in time to upload this part.
Whatever – on the MTGO-related things that I have never figured out.
Why Can’t MTGO Attract More Players?
Back in the bad old days, MTGO (or MODO, as it was called at the time) was written to run off a single server. That design limited the program, and whenever the number of users approached that limit (early on 2k players, IIRC, later 4-5k. I think, no Internet so I can’t check.) Whatever the number, when player counts got high enough, the program started failing. Sometimes it just threw out interesting glitches, and sometimes it crashed. Repeatedly. If you were playing back then, you probably remember the “brown bar of death” - a program loading bar that sometimes never completed.
Anyway, back then it made no sense for Wizards to try to recruit more players, because the big problem was too many players. However, that’s a couple versions ago. Wizards fixed the single server issue. They also supposedly built a new collections server and did a bunch of other stuff to improve speed and reliability. Supposedly, too many players is not a potential problem. In any case, my impression is that the number of players is below historic levels, so even if there is a theoretical cap, we can’t be close to it, can we?
There are a ton of things Wizards could be doing to market MTGO – everything from giving out coupon codes for free drafts at live events to waiving the $10 new account creation fee for new players – but Wizards is not doing any of them. Right now it seems that Wizards is putting more effort into marketing the Magic Puzzle Quest than MTGO. Why? I don’t know. Maybe Wizards is so unhappy with the current interface that it won’t start really pushing MTGO until the next interface / Magic Digital Next. Possible – but I have said this before each previous version of MTGO was introduced.
Why No Daily Rewards?
My first point of confusion was why Wizards isn’t trying to recruit new players. I also don’t understand why Wizards doesn’t provide more incentive for players who already have accounts to play more. Why not provide some sort of reward for logging on and playing? Most other games do. Most successful games do. Even Magic Puzzle Quest has daily rewards.
A few years back, Wizards tried awarding MOPR points for just logging in, but they discontinued that. I don’t know why – maybe because they were counting log-ins, not matches.
Here’s a simple way of getting players to log on more often: weekly rewards. Each week, starting with the downtime, players earn rewards based on the number of consecutive days on which they log in and play at least one match to a conclusion (no insta-drops). If you log in for at least three days in the week, you get a common, chosen at random out of all the commons in the MTGO card pool. Four days gets you an uncommon, five days a rare, six days a rare or Mythic, and logging in all seven days gives you a random Mythic or bonus card. If you play sanctioned matches, you also get Play Points equal to the square of the number of days you played. (If someone plays sanctioned Magic every day for a week, 49 Play Points is not an unreasonable reward, is it?)
That’s just off the top of my head. I don’t know if those numbers work out, but I like the framework. If Wizards was to try something like this, it would need to tweak the payouts, because we gamers are definitely going to try to game the system. Even so, I think getting existing players to play more often would be worth it.
How Can Just One Version of a Card Be Bugged?
Here’s my biggest question: how can one version of a card be bugged, but other versions work fine. I have seen this issue on the big blog on occasion – a promo version of a card does not work, but a regular version does. Or vice versa.
Now I am not a big-time programmer: the bulk of my programming was done last century, and the most recent stuff has just been coding Arduinos, but I cannot imagine how you could get bugs like that. Rationally, wouldn’t you program the basic rules of the card once, and have things like artwork, version symbol, frame, foil/no foil, etc. be properties that associated / linked to that single programming. If you do it that way, then if you add a new version of the card, you just create the new art and link it to the existing rules for the card.
In effect, the rules text is a subroutine, and each version of the card would call that subroutine.
The alternative would be writing the rules text into each card itself. That appears to be what Wizards has done. That also makes sense, if cards are going to remain unchanged. But cards don’t stay the same. Wizards is tweaking card workings all the time, and those changes have to be replicated for all versions of the cards. Take Pacifism, for example: there are a couple dozen versions of Pacifism in the card pool. A couple years back, Wizards changed the wording of Pacifism to add the subtype “Aura.” If the rules text were a subroutine, or equivalent, Wizards could have just changed that subroutine and the changes would have automatically been applied to every version of the card. If, on the other hand, the rules are hard-coded into every individual version of Pacifism, then Wizards had to change the code in every single version of Pacifism (and check the changes, etc.) That seems inefficient, but the fact that we are seeing bugs in individual versions of the card, when other versions work correctly, makes me wonder. Maybe Wizards does code versions one at a time.
I just don’t get it.
Last minute addition: it’s noon, Eastern Time. My ISP has finally fixed things, so I am back online. It’s way too late to do the whole article, so I’ll just post this.
A full State of the Program next week. Promise.