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一炮而紅的後遺症?魔法風雲會的危機與轉機

「魔法風雲會」是一個紙牌遊戲,玩家利用卡片來施放法術、召喚角色來打擊對手。遊戲在90年代中期推出之後就一炮而紅,然而卻對公司內部造成了一個危機,是什麼呢?請待我娓娓道來。





魔法風雲會卡片,是將卡牌隨機放入一個卡包內來進行銷售,就像棒球卡的蒐集一樣。然而比起棒球卡,部分魔法牌比起棒球卡還要更昂貴,讓消費者會更想得到。當對戰比賽開始大規模舉辦後,有些功能特別厲害的卡片,甚至會賣到幾百元美金。



對許多人來說,成為威世智(魔法風雲會出版商)的卡牌設計師是個夢想。「很多人聚集在這裡去推動魔法牌」,喬治「斯卡夫」埃利亞斯─一位魔法風雲會早期的遊戲設計師─這麼說,「我們設計很多卡牌,設計很多稀有的卡牌,試著讓卡牌保持稀有和限量。」


對於埃利亞斯和他的許多設計師同事來說,有一個問題:昂貴且稀有的卡牌會使遊戲的樂趣流失。這是紙牌遊戲的一個缺陷,如果你有足夠的錢,你可以更有效地買到所有的王牌卡。埃利亞斯和他的朋友們說服他公司的同事,使卡片的價格泡沫化,這讓遊戲的樂趣再次回來了。固然在短期內利潤會降低,但是如果魔法風雲會能夠繼續流行多年,而不只是一種狂熱,這將有利於企業的長遠經營。


公司所要做的第一件事,就是使卡片的價格降低。他們透過大量的增加印量,讓一般人可以購買。「我們印刷了更多套數的卡片,」埃利亞斯說,「我們告訴消費者,我們要這樣做之後,立刻就有投機者不再接觸新的卡牌了。」


他們讓每個卡包的價格,下修調整到約3美元。他們還調整了規則,限制較強較稀有的卡片較少出現。很多玩家都不喜歡這些改變,「我們從非常多的人口中聽到,我們正在摧毀這個遊戲。」埃利亞斯說,「像是說,魔法風雲會完了,你們已經搞砸一切。」


然而這款遊戲卻變得更加具有競爭力,最重要的是,新的玩家不停地前來遊玩。如今,20多年過去了,當一組新的魔法卡系列被公布時,人們還是會排隊去購買。在今年的一個星期五晚上,玩家們擠在一間位在布魯克林區的遊戲店。因為最新的魔法卡系列已公開發行,每位玩家都希望能夠抽到一張令人興奮的新牌─靈龍烏金。隨著玩家打開他們的新卡包,有人喊道:「我們抽到了一張靈龍烏金!」

「OK,你打算賣掉他嗎?」我們問他。

「這是獨一無二的。我會自己拿去玩。」


這一刻正是魔法風雲會的製作者所希望聽見的。有名玩家發現一張罕見的卡片,並且選擇使用它來玩一局遊戲,而不是把它放入收藏盒或是出售給卡牌商人。


Listen to the Story:All Things Considered




以下檢附對談逐文稿 :


About 20 years ago on this program, we reported on a fad.(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Americans by the millions are discovering a new card game. It's called Magic the Gathering. It's one of the fastest-growing games in the country.


SIEGEL: The game consists of a elaborately illustrated cards with dragons and wizards. Back in the 1990s, everyone expected Magic the Gathering to go the way of Beanie Babies, super hot, then not. But as Robert Smith of our Planet Money team reports, the makers of Magic figured out how to make a fad that wouldn't fade.


ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: The game of Magic was a lot like Dungeons & Dragons, only you played with a deck of cards. You bought them in random packs like baseball cards, and if you were lucky, you got a rare card - a fiery monster, a particularly powerful spell.


SKAFF ELIAS: So that anticipation of, did I get the best one of those hundred rare cards, is - yeah. That's super exciting for people.


SMITH: Skaff Elias was an early designer of the game - worked for the company Wizards of the Coast. And back in the 1990s, they knew they had a hit. They were selling packs of cards as fast as they could make them. And the rarest of the cards were being bought and resold by collectors.


ELIAS: Some of these cards that nominally are $3 a piece - eventually those become $10 cards and $15 cards and then hundred-dollar cards and then $500 cards, and this all happened in the first year.


SMITH: This is the dream, right? You print up worthless bits of cardboard with pictures of orcs on them, and they become worth a fortune. There was this one legendary car, the Black Lotus, that when used in a certain way in the game was super powerful. It was being resold for thousands of dollars. There's a great video going around recently of a kid who discovers one of these Black Lotus cards in a random pack.



(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Laughter) That's a freaking Black Lotus. That's an Alpha freaking Lotus. That should - holy - oh, my God (laughter).


SMITH: All of the sudden, Magic had the makings of a classic fad - a flash in the pan. There is a very logical thing to do when this happens to you. Make as much money as you possibly can before it goes away.


ELIAS: People at the company - a lot of them wanted to push that side of it - produce more cards, produce rarer cards, keep the print runs limited.


SMITH: But if the company had gone in this direction, there is a chance that you would never have heard of Magic ever again because whenever there's a bubble - in Beanie Babies, in comic books, in collectible wizard cards, the bubble peaks quickly and then it crashes. Skaff and the early makers of the cards were former math graduate students, and they knew this. And Skaff was telling his colleagues, if we don't do something to deflate this bubble, this game won't be around in two years.


ELIAS: The more that these cards got bought up by speculators, the less that people could play.


SMITH: So what do you do when your product is way too popular - when you have a scarce resource and speculators are taking advantage of it? Well, you make more of the product.


ELIAS: And so we just blew them out. I mean, we just printed so many cards of the new sets coming out. We warned people that we were going to do that. We basically printed enough that we thought we could drive the price down.


SMITH: It was like an economic battle. Skaff says they would print the new cards and then go out to the resale market to check the prices, and if the cards were reselling for, say, a hundred bucks, they would come back and print more and more until the packs were back down to $3. And as for the rare cards out there - the Black Lotus, those sort of things, they didn't reprint those, but they did tweak the rules to make them at least a little less desirable.


ELIAS: We heard from so many people that we were destroying the game over and over again. Like it's - this is the end. You guys have screwed everything up, in much more colorful language.


SMITH: But it worked. Magic, the collectible card game, became primarily Magic, a fun game you play with your friends. You didn't need hundreds of dollars or rare cards to play. The company probably made a lot less money in the short-term, but the game stuck around longer than anyone thought. They still print Magic cards, and people still line up to buy them.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please wait to the back of the line, and we will take care of you at the end.


(CHEERING)


SMITH: This place is called the Twenty Sided Store in Brooklyn. Twenty-two years after the beginning of the Magic bubble, people still come out to get the newest cards and play them against each other. There are still some cards that are cooler than others. In this pack, everyone wants a card with the Ugin. It's a large dragon surrounded by this blue mist.




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