Magic Online 3.0



  • You may have heard of a collectible card game called Magic: The Gathering.  It's sold in packs of 15 cards for $4.  Each card represents a creature, artifact, magic spell, or resource.  You choose sixty cards from your collection to build a deck and duel with another player, drawing from your deck to summon creatures and attack your opponent.

    Many of the cards alter the characteristics of cards in play or even change the rules of the game.  There are over 9,000 cards in the Magic universe with 200 more released every three months.  So the interactions quickly get complex.

    Magic was invented my Richard Garfield and is made by Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro.  Wizards hired Leaping Lizards to develop an online version of the game that was released in 2002.  It works the same as the paper version: you buy 15 cards for $4, sort and trade them with other players, then build decks and duel.  You can also redeem complete sets of digital cards for the paper versions.

    Magic Online was quite impressive and successful.  It handled all the collecting, trading, playing, tournaments, leagues, and chat for a faithful computer rendition of Magic.  But it suffered from too much success: if more than a couple thousand players were online simultaneously then the system would crash.

    Wizards learned this after taking over development from Leaping Lizards.  They coded up a new set of cards, added a few features, and released the new Magic Online 2.0 with a grand party of tournaments and special souvenir cards.  Thousands of players joined and the system crashed hard.  It took days of rollbacks and feature removal just to get it playable again

    Wizards said the architecture that Leaping Lizards designed just wasn't scalable.  It ran on a single server and the load couldn't be shared between more machines.  So in February 2004 they announced that they would be rewriting the game in a more expandable way.

    And they would be developing the software in-house.  And they had no experience with developing software, much less for a complex game like Magic.  And while they were changing the server software they would also completely redo the user interface, to make it 3-D and be sure not to waste any of the extra CPU cycles or memory available with modern gaming rigs.

    This took a while.  The original estimate was 18 months from February 2004.  But it wasn't quite ready and they wanted to get it right, so the release date moved back.  And back, and back, and back.

    In January of 2008 they finally started a countdown to launch.  Public betas of the interface were pretty gruesome: gloomy brown and black, blurry text over busy backgrounds, buttons that act like menus, custom window controls, vertical chat, wasted space.  They also removed many features like leagues, multiplayer formats, and card redemption.

    The old version was terminated and the new version went live in April 2008.  The reaction to Magic Online 3.0 has been loud and negative:

    The "I hate V3" thread

    UI Complaints, Questions, Suggestions

    An Open Letter to WOTC Management

    Is Wizards tanking MTGO on purpose?

    How much school is required to be a decent programmer?

    Money where your mouth is... (job openings)

    In summary, after four years of development Wizards of the Coast has released a new version of a successful game with fewer features, worse interface, higher system requirements, and unproven scalability.  And now that it's done they're looking (not very far) for somebody to do it right.



  • Yeah I heard of it. For years I had a freeware database program for the (actual physical card) players to track their inventory, build decks, etc. It was fairly popular for a crappy freeware application I basically built for my own use and decided to share.

    That's when I learned one should never, ever release their own blood and sweat as freeware.

    1) When copies of my free application began showing up on CD ROM for sale at various card shops

    2) When I got nasty e-mails demanding I "get my lazy ass off the couch" and make an update

    Then eventually I just stopped playing the game, and stopped caring, stopped supporting it altogether (somewhere along the line I also lost the source code when I reformatted a hard drive) but I've been jaded ever since. A few months ago, I didn't bother to renew my domain name and now my application from the 90s is hopefully dead and buried. Lesson learned.

    So um ... besides eliciting this response from me what was the purpose of posting this here?  



  • Haven't read the links, but I can join in the chorus of "WOTC fucked up."  Here are some details I remember from the upgrade to Magic Online 3.0.

    Text in chat windows, etc. would appear in random font sizes, seemingly placing emphasis on things certain people said for no reason.

    You had to explicitly enable a setting in order to actually win prizes from playing in tournaments because the setting defaulted to off.  Then, it might not catch and you wouldn't know until the end of the tournament when you win cards don't win cards because the app fucked it up.

    At release, the free version of the game where you play with preconstructed decks was unavailable for some reason.

    They had to take the server down for DAYS to migrate.  Weeks if you include the fact that ONLY the free version was available for a few weeks before they shut everything down for a couple days.

    600MB+ download.  Count on a couple hours to download and install.  

    When you sign up, it costs $15 but you get a $15 voucher to buy cards in game.  I put in the coupon code, but it didn't give me the discount when I bought my first few packs for a tournament.

    @AlpineR said:

    It works the same as the paper version: you buy 15 cards for $4, sort and trade them with other players, then build decks and duel.  You can also redeem complete sets of digital cards for the paper versions.
    I never understood this.  The digital cards are not nearly as valuable as the paper cards, as they're only useful within this broken digital world, with the obvious exception of getting a complete set.  They're certainly not as expensive to produce, so why charge the same price as the paper cards?

     

    Yes, WOTC, you have epic failed. 




  • The prize eligibility setting is some sort of legal requirement I beleive. When you first created an account in 2.0 it defaulted to off. They probably could have carried the setting over though.

    The reason the packs have the same cost online is to not devalue the worth of the real physical cards. Theres a genuine danger that if they sold online boosters for 50c each, droves of people would stop buying real packs for a $2 profit marin and instead buy online packs in the same amount (or even double the amount) for a 40c profit margin, and that doesn't work for them.



  • @Agentis said:

    Theres a genuine danger that if they sold online boosters for 50c each, droves of people would stop buying real packs for a $2 profit marin and instead buy online packs in the same amount (or even double the amount) for a 40c profit margin, and that doesn't work for them.
    I disagree, many people like to play Magic in person more-so than over a computer, it's a much more social thing when you can play in person.


    Also there are FOSS programs that allow you to play Magic with a computer without needing MO. I've yet to see one that's actually decent (the design practices in one left much to be desired), but they do exist and are fairly playable.



  • As an active player both ways, I know what you're saying, but theres no reason for Wizards as a company to risk it.

    Also, pretty much all those programs are terrible. They don't actually enforce the rules of the game, and theres no prize support, which is a big draw for plenty of people.



  • @Lingerance said:

    I disagree, many people like to play Magic in person more-so than over a computer, it's a much more social thing when you can play in person.
     

    Have you seen the people who play Magic The Gathering?  I'd say its far more anti-social, based on the mountain dew greaseballs who troll up in the back of comic shops.



  • they probably didn't even touch the back-end - the client change as described is probably sufficient solution to the problem. now with the much smaller number of people willing to subject themselves to the new client, the concurrency problem at the back-end will probably not be of any concern anymore.



  • @medialint said:

    2) When I got nasty e-mails demanding I "get my lazy ass off the couch" and make an update

     

    This is one thing that really bugs me about working on open source software.  It seems a peculiarly human disease that you can give somebody something, they say 'hey it's cool i want feature x', you say 'sorry no time now', and they turn into a raging, flaming lunatic in seconds, simultaneously insulting you, disparaging your work and pleading for new features.



  • @lanzz said:

    they probably didn't even touch the back-end - the client change as described is probably sufficient solution to the problem.
     

    My thoughts exactly. I mean why go through all the difficulty of making the thing scalable when you can just drive away users until you're down to the numbers your existing software can support? 



  • @arty said:

    It seems a peculiarly human disease that you can give somebody something, they say 'hey it's cool i want feature x', you say 'sorry no time now', and they turn into a raging, flaming lunatic in seconds, simultaneously insulting you, disparaging your work and pleading for new features.
    If they volunteer for a punching bag, I gladly use them. I help with FOSS for fun, and if somebody starts insulting me over it, I just use them as stress reliever. Works wonders.



  • @Soviut said:

    @Lingerance said:

    I disagree, many people like to play Magic in person more-so than over a computer, it's a much more social thing when you can play in person.
     

    Have you seen the people who play Magic The Gathering?  I'd say its far more anti-social, based on the mountain dew greaseballs who troll up in the back of comic shops.

    I had a response written, but it either never got posted or got deleted.  It went something like this:

    OMG Soviut you are so clever!  Using the age old boriging old stereotype of the unwashed geek.

     

    @agentis said:

    The reason the packs have the same cost online is to not devalue the
    worth of the real physical cards. Theres a genuine danger that if they
    sold online boosters for 50c each, droves of people would stop buying
    real packs for a $2 profit marin and instead buy online packs in the
    same amount (or even double the amount) for a 40c profit margin, and
    that doesn't work for them.
    They could keep their $2 profit margin by selling the virtual cards for about $2 a pack.  There are plenty of drawbacks to the virtual world that $2 packs would make up for.  I think the "we'll give you a full paper set if you get a full virtual set" is just an excuse to price the cards higher. 


Log in to reply
 

Looks like your connection to What the Daily WTF? was lost, please wait while we try to reconnect.