Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why "TCGs As Toys" Is Destroying The Industry.

Ah, Trading Card Games. I've been playing them for about half my life; the thrills of collecting and trading, and of course winning, which has caused me to be a fan of Trading Card Games for so long. However, since I have aspirations to join the market, I am equally fascinated by the failures and boy, are there a lot of failures.

But why are there so many failures? Despite hundreds of Trading Card Games , or "TCGs", having been made, only three: Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh, have had broad success and define the industry. Many card games are naturally pale imitations of those three and crumble within their first two years.

But who can blame people for wanting to make a TCG? The Chaor card (from the game "Chaotic" no less) which I show off in my video overview of trading card games likely cost a penny to print, but if I had obtained it while the game was still big, I could have sold it for about a hundred bucks. Producing something for a penny and selling it for a hundred dollars is the dream of every manufacturer ever; It's why the illegal drug market is so big, and why so many Trading Card Games have been produced.

 But lately, the industry has been laying some real stinkers. Expensive, colossal stinkers.

Take Redakai by Spin Master, a recent game that I have been harping on non-stop since I noticed the warning signs(and which has been officially cancelled, by the way). Redakai was poorly made, had inflated prices compared to other TCGs, required bulky, expensive, and defective peripherals to be played, and had a Television show which cost me a few brain cells to watch.

The result was store shelves engulfed with immobile Redakai merchandise that could not sell even when marked down by seventy-five percent and a "Buy one, get two free" incentive at the same time.

However, I have developed a hypothesis as to why Redakai was so bad. I also believe that other companies such as Jakks Pacific and their property Monsuno as well as Hasbro with Kaijudo have been caught by this pitfall.

They had the wrong mindset from the very beginning. They thought of Trading Card Games as Toys.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Why not think of TCGs as toys? They're put in the toy section and they're sold in toy stores, right?

Right, but I believe the problem is that when a typical company hears the word "Toy", they think "ages five to twelve".

Now, the Bread and Butter of a Trading Card Game is Organized Play, where gamers get together, trade, battle, and often buy large numbers of cards to stimulate the game. The Bread and Butter of Organized Play is teenage and adult men. These are people with big allowances and jobs who can afford such a hobby.

By labeling Trading Card Games as "Toys", companies with little experience at making them lock-on to the wrong demographic; If you pander your game only to kids five to twelve, you might sell some cards, but teens and adults not only have more money to spend on cards, but care more about getting the latest and greatest so that they can stay on top of the metagame, the constantly-evolving tiers of power within the game's universe.; You won't get very far if you target five-year-old kids who have no money and barely know how to read.

Kids are a periphery demographic. This even applies to merchandise-driven card games; If your supporting material is unappealing to older gamers, you don't stand a chance. Give your tie-in TV show some pathos and an interesting plot line that teens and adults can get into.

Yu-Gi-Oh, despite being a guilty party in this notion of TCGs as Toys, the darker and more intriguing seasons of it tend to be the most popular and attract those who are drawn in by its engaging story, despite what 4kids Entertainment does to it. When the game attempted a more light-hearted and kid-pandering approach with Yu-Gi-Oh GX, the fans revolted and the game entered a Dark Age.

Having a smart, well written show not only draws in older viewers, but makes kids feel older and smarter, too, and kids love that feeling. Batman The Animated Series and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, despite not being related to TCGs, have these qualities.

The first step that large corporations have to make is to stop thinking about TCGs as toys, then we can form the proper mindset.

But you should still have a sense of taste. Remember, I defined kids as a periphery demographic, not something to be ruled out. A periphery demographic is a group of people who you don't specifically target, but end up liking your creation anyway. Kids are the most common periphery demographic for trading card games, the other most common one is women, and both deserve to be given attention.

Yes, your main targets are teen and adult males, but don't forget that you're asking them to play your game in public. Keep your game clean and don't overdo the sexiness or violence. The occasional cute idol is fine, like Yu-Gi-Oh's "Dark Magician Girl" demonstrates, but don't go overboard. Having too much gore and…excitement in your games dulls it down and drives people away who are offended by your excessive content, mostly women and the parents of those kids you were targeting. Unless you are aiming for a very specific and very narrow demographic, and thus don't mind not making much money, you won't be able to get away with stuff like, well, the image you're looking at... Seriously, it makes TCG players look bad.

The proper mindset to have is to make something that appeals to teenage and adult men, but keeps the child and female demographics on the table, so that your retain your sense of decency. The bottom of your target age range should be about ten years old (I started TCGs when I was twelve); young enough that you need to keep it clean and affordable, but old enough that you can make decently complex strategy and throw in some tantalizing bits on occasion while writing smart supporting media. The movies Star Wars and Marvel's The Avengers are fantastic examples of this done right.

And, of course, it has to be smooth-playing and fun. Gimmicks or a connection to other media is not a crutch you can use to prop up a badly-designed card game. The game needs to be fun to play on its own in order for it to work with the tie-in making sense and strengthening an already good game. I'll cover some good ways to do this in my next article. Games that list a gimmick that has no effect on game play as a selling point such as lenticular images should be eyed warily.

If you do this right, you can make a franchise that appeals to teenage and adult men, but is safe enough that stores and networks would be willing to carry it for you, since it's still acceptable for kids. You might not think of TCG's as Toys anymore, but a large part of the retail side still does.

Let's take a look at the mindset used when creating Redakai. First of all, Redakai was developed as a "toy", mistake number one. As a result, their supporting TV shows and other media such as toys and gimmicks were aimed at young children who lacked the money to actually buy the cards and drove away older fans who were turned-off by such pandering. Their "TCG as Toy" mindset, caused them to aim too low. They also relied on the "Blast 3-D" lenticular gimmick and the transparent cards, which had consequences of their own, and we will get into in this article about some basics of TCG development:

Until then, this is Kohdok signing off.


  1. There's a lot of cognitive dissonance here.

    "Producing something for a penny and selling it for a hundred dollars is the dream of every manufacturer ever; It's why the illegal drug market is so big, and why so many Trading Card Games have been produced."

    a) The trading card companies themselves don't make any money off the secondary market, and they aren't selling these cards at these inflated prices. So, that analogy is kinda nonsensical.

    b) The illegal drug market isn't big because of a low cost of manufacture and distribution and high profit margin; it's an element of every single product in history, because that's Economics 1201. Drugs have nothing to do with this, and the socioeconomic effects of them can't even be remotely compared to trading cards.

    A game is a toy. It's not "TCGs as toys' that's the problem - it's the American perception of the idea of 'toy' in a far broader sense, just as it is with 'cartoon', and other forms of entertainment which have evolved.

    1. I get where you're coming from, and perhaps I need to elaborate a little.

      a) While it is true that the companies make nothing off of the secondary market, the possible profit margin for trading cards is still pretty huge. "Made for $0.15 and sold for $4.00" is still fairly impressive, and the notion that people will keep coming back in search of those $100-valued cards is certainly a draw. The secondary market has to come from somewhere.

      b) It costs 2 cents to make $1000 worth of cocaine. Yes, astronomical profit margin is an incentive of the illegal drug trade.

      As for whether one thinks of TCG's as toys or not, do yo at least agree that the low-aimed perception of toys when applied to TCGs is detrimental to the industry? That is the point I was hoping to make.

  2. As for item b - I never said that profit margin wasn't a factor, I said that it was a factor in every material item for sale, and that it's far, far more complex than a simple comparison to card games. You don't need to mule and distribute cards while evading the law, or pay taxes towards an ailing healthcare system to babysit addicts, among other fairly significant ramifications.

    If anything, it's got to be an apples-to-apples thing - maybe the comic book boom-and-deflation of the '90s? Overproduction, drop in quality, geared towards an audience that didn't exactly garner societal respect. TCGs have definitely gone through that in recent years. Until someone creates a card game that wins an award outside of the gaming world, they're not going to really rise above.

    I'm a Heroclix guy. And as long as the game I enjoy continues (and it didn't for a while), let the other companies make their mistakes.

    1. I hadn't considered the Dark Age of Comics as a comparison, but the theoretical huge secondary market is certainly there, though it was later proven false.

      Either way, the only point of comparison I was making was that the possible profits for TCGs and Illegal Drugs are both far higher than usual. A good profit margin is an item produced for 1/6th its eventual selling price. For both items I mentioned, the ratio is much wider. The wider the potential profits, the more incentive to take a crack at it; That, too, is Business 101.

  3. How the absolute hell is Kaijudo a "TCG a Toy"?