Consumer-Creator Cooperation in Magic: The Gathering

Magic: The Gathering is at its core a mathematical game, ruled by statistics and the interactions of cards across fields of play within the game that enable a player to access lengthy decision trees during every turn of the game, each of which ideally contributes to the outcome of the game, win or lose. Because the game has a significant hidden-information element inherent within its rules, it is often impossible to determine if the player made the correct decision at every point during a match, and this is the depth of decision and control that motivates people to play the game competitively and even professionally.
How does a game that expands itself through new content four times a year maintain that level of ambiguity, while also keeping the game draped in the fantasy battle game experience that motivates the majority of its casual player base?
Competitive play of the game is the most marginal group of the game’s players, while also being the most vocal and focused in its requests for support in the game. This leads the competitive community to have a unique relationship with Wizards of the Coast, the company that creates and expands the game. Because Wizards has a precedent commitment to sanction and maintain a tournament circuit, they have an extrapolated commitment to keep the game developed at such a level that skill-intensive competitive play is possible. This is in direct competition with their largest financial incentive, the casual player base, who have oppositional desires for the shape of the game while also commanding the largest financial investment in the game’s physical and digital product. This has lead to a number of instances in the history of the game wherein changes have occurred to the competitive and tournament environment that aimed to lean the game more towards its heavily profitable casual audience, only to be forced to compromise due to the outcry of the competitive community.
The different demographics present within the same game are what drives a comparison between Magic’s subculture and Jenkins’ discussion of transmedia consumption in the chapter “Searching for the Oragami Unicorn.” Magic is a single game with a staggering spectrum of audiences, while The Matrix is a canon built across multiple media with a much narrower audience demographic. The Matrix responds to consumer analysis retroactively, or in the next installment of the series, while Magic is continually shaped by its audience, almost in real-time. Image

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