The Soapbox: How Magic Legends went wrong with the Dimir Assassin class

    
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Cryptic and Perfect World Entertainment are known for their love of lockboxes as a monetization strategy. Therefore it was not wholly surprising when Magic: Legends open beta launched with a whole character class exclusive to its paid, randomized “booster packs” (lockboxes by another name). What was surprising was that the pushback was so intense that the studios ultimately backed down and decided to also grant the class, the Dimir Assassin, for completing all 50 levels of the current Battlepass.

I think this is an interesting situation, so I’d like to break down why (I think) Cryptic and PWE saw this as a good plan, and why it blew up in their faces so badly.

First of all I want to say again that I am largely OK with almost any mainstream monetization strategy for online games, as long as it’s not a mandatory sub fee or whatever Star Citizen is doing. I’m even nominally OK with lockboxes. I don’t like them, and I usually don’t spend money on them, but only because I don’t think they’re good value for my money. I don’t personally see them as unethical, and I’m not strongly opposed to their existence.

So it should say something that even I was annoyed at finding the Dimir Assassin exclusive to booster packs.

Why has this triggered such a strong reaction, even from me, in a way that Cryptic’s other lockbox shenanigans haven’t? It may not wholly be what you think. It is not — at least for me — an issue of balance concerns, or even necessarily opposition to the idea of exclusive, rare classes.

It’s important to understand that “class” in Magic: Legends doesn’t mean what it does in other RPGs. In most games, your class determines the overwhelming majority of what your character can do, but as I explained in my first impressions of the game, in ML class is much less important than your deck. I’d even say they probably shouldn’t have called them classes, as it sends the wrong impression. “Fighting style” or “mana attunement” might have been more accurate.

Essentially, another class here is more of a nice-to-have than a need-to-have, unlike classes in other games.

I also don’t think it’s necessarily an issue of ML‘s monetization being over the top in general. Dimir Assassin notwithstanding, I’d actually say it’s a relatively generous game, especially compared to Cryptic’s other titles. Even the booster packs are less obtrusive than the lockboxes in other Cryptic games; they don’t drop in-game to clutter you inventory, and the whole server isn’t spammed with a notification when someone gets something good from them.

So at least in theory, I don’t think the idea of a lockbox exclusive class is the worst thing. Obviously I’d rather not see it, but on paper, it’s not such a terrible thing.

The problem is rather the greater context of the game. When Cryptic came up with the idea of putting a class in the booster packs, I’m guessing it was inspired by Star Trek Online‘s practice of putting ships in lockboxes.

It’s not a bad idea — again, in theory, if not in practice. Selling ships seems to do pretty well for STO, and it’s not too bad a situation for players, either. A ship in STO is also fairly comparable to a class in ML. It’s important, but it’s not everything.

But here’s the difference: STO has a lot of ships. Magic: Legends does not have a lot of classes.

In STO, you can get access to a wide variety of ships for free just by playing, and even more are available for direct purchase from the cash shop. The ones that come from lockboxes are just one part of a much larger ecosystem.

By comparison, ML has just five starter classes. Putting one in a lockbox in that context sticks out like a sore thumb.

It also helps STO‘s case that most of Star Trek’s iconic ships are things you can earn or purchase directly. The lockbox ships — while often very flashy — are generally more odd, more niche.

If I’m your average Joe Trekkie rolling up to STO for the first time, I’m probably dreaming of flying a Galaxy class, a D’deridex, or the like, and you don’t need to buy lockboxes to fulfill that fantasy. The iconic ships are easier to get, whereas the lockbox ships feel more like luxuries. Sure, it’s a little frustrating I can’t fly one of those awesome Xindi Aquatic carriers without spending a small fortune on lockboxes, but I don’t feel that I’m missing out on the essential Star Trek experience by not having one.

Whereas Magic: Legends‘ starter classes don’t even cover all the core RPG archetypes. A rogue archetype like the Dimir Assassin is a really iconic playstyle that a lot of people are going to want off the bat. It was a poor choice to make something like that exclusive.

On that point, it’s also worth noting that the starter classes are, well, a little dull. Don’t get me wrong; they’re not terrible or anything. They all have clear identities and fairly enjoyable mechanics. They’re not weak, nor poorly designed. But they don’t feel super creative or dramatic. They’re not “sexy.” They’re just the most obvious interpretation of the five mana colors’ identities.

This is yet another way adding something flashy like the Dimir Assassin to lockboxes leaves a poor impression.

So yes, I think there is a scenario where having a lockbox-exclusive class could have worked, but for that to happen, Magic: Legends would have needed a lot more and better classes available outside of the booster packs.

Having only five basic free classes and really cool class you need to gamble for was just a recipe for disaster. At this point the well has been poisoned so much I’m not sure Cryptic will try again. I suspect future classes will be delivered as Battlepass rewards as well, either instead of or in addition to including them in booster packs.

For the most part this does seem to be a win, but I am a little concerned this may lead to other things becoming booster pack exclusives in an attempt to keep them a desirable option.

There’s also the question of whether this has permanently damaged the reputation of Magic: Legends. I’m sure for some people it has. Whether it’s a large enough group to really threaten the game’s future is another matter. For my part, I think the swift course correction has largely mollified my concerns on the matter, but I know many others are not so forgiving.

Even if the long term repercussions aren’t severe, this was definitely a poor note for the game to start on, and one that could have been avoided.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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Thomas Koren

the monetizing is definately the thing that turned me off from spending actual money.
The fact that the game engine is literal garbage and my pc sounds like an aircaft taking off in any base zone is what stopped me from playing all together.

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Andrew Mince

I disagree, I think the choice to stick it in the battlepass was entirely guided by revenue.

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Scorp Gang

Spent $328 on the game. Don’t waste your Money. I’m literally just using it to distract from the fact that my Mother is critically Ill. It’s just not that fun compared to every other ARPG but it lets me not think about what’s going on right now. I need to be distracted.

In addition to caps:
You can literally just run the simplest mission you want since nothing is really incentivized. I don’t do the 10 minute missions. Do them for what? I just pop my 2X token and ez mode story quests.

The busted Forbidden Vaults and Infinte Spawns in Certain Areas have killed progression for a lot of us. I’m already g2g at Mythic using my White/Green.

As far as balance is concerned:

They have Realm specific Dungeon Affixes(They are the same Everyday. They can’t be changed and do not rotate at all. LOL these morons are something else). These genuises decided to make one of the world specific Dungeon effects Reflect. Reflect damage is one of the absolute worst affixes in any ARPG period. Who on God’s earth thought it was a great idea to make it a Zone Dungeon Specific standard? No one is going to do those Dungeons on Mythic. It’s a LOSS OF CONTENT NOW!!! This needs to be fixed before the logical inclusion of LOGICAL matchmaking

They also have mobs with a Affix called “Death Touch” that will one shot the creatures in your carefully crafted pet deck regardless of your Creature HP. It sounds fake but this is a real Affix these idiots put in.

The bottomline is unless you are looking to escape the reality of the potentially imminent Death of a love one this game is not worth playing. Go play Outriders. I wish I was playing that instead but ML released at the start of my staycation.

P.S. This is from a player that has a 1029(soon to be higher at reset in 20 minutes) Loadout Score.

Andrew Ross
Staff
Andrew Ross

Good luck to you and your family during this difficult time, Scorp.

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Scorp Gang

Just saw this. Thank You.

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Kickstarter Donor
Greaterdivinity

I think the aggressive resource caps didn’t help things either. And honestly while it’s MUCH better that it’s part of the BP now…let’s not pretend that it’s still not a monetization tool at the end of the day.

With the way BP progression is structured, unless you’re doing your dailies/weeklies EVERY week, you may need to shell out for some level boosts to hit rank 50 for the Dimir Assassin. Which is further frustrated by the fact that BP progress was broken in week one and apparently remains often buggy and broken for a great many folks. They’ll need to grant another set of free BP XP for folks to stay caught up.

On its face I agree this is probably Cryptic’s least aggressively monetized game, and that was a pleasant surprise…except for how just about every part of in-game progression ties into the cash shop with RMT, aggressive caps, and other things that seem to really make the game seem like progress is often designed around spending money in the cash shop rather than playing.

ML’s reputation is in the dumps for me in a big way right now, and it’s not even due to the Dimir Assassin in any way. I don’t much care about that. But it is emblematic of the questionable design decisions nearly across the board for me. Like…HOW MUCH HEALTH DO I HAVE I STILL HAVE NO CLUE. WHY IS REFLECT A MECHANIC ON RANDOM MOBS AND WHY IS ZONEWIDE REFLECT A THING? HAVE WE NOT LEARNED THAT REFLECT IS A TERRIBLE MECHANIC EVERYONE HATES, ESPECIALLY IF IT’S NOT PREDICTABLE SO YOU CAN PLAN AROUND IT?!

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texyFX

the necessity of (legislative) regulation on microtransactions (IE lootboxes)

F2P monetisation saved many (not exclusive) MMOs as the subscription model became suffocating. users could just afford so much subs and playtime, that only a few survived the brutal competition on content, features and (also) niches, while the mainstreams attention already shifted to the next hype. (cuz how much WoW and WoW clones (ironically, WoW is a convienience EQ clone) can any sane person play?)

F2P first rose to popularity in Asia, mainly South Korea and China, as most users didnt yet (!) have the funds to purchase full-cost titles or the needed PCs.
the global success of lootboxes originated on this region-specific evolution of gaming culture, which in (Asias) 2000s first decade relied on Internet-cafes, PC bangs and the first smart-phones (although consoles for Japan and SK). text-based-, browser- and mobile-games were popular due to financial limits, even WoW (China) had an hour-based access model.

but still many titles were pirated or simply not sustainable, so microtransactions became another (, already proven, Maple Story Japan 2004,) layer on the F2P scheme – the premium one, the industry (and not the users btw) was hungry for.
within the first months revenues topped all expectations, Zynga and social network games (with MTX) catched the major companies attention. EA (FIFA09), Valve (TF2) and Cryptic (STO, LOTRO 2011) hi-jacked an asian poverty phenomena to exploit western customers – in fact, the first MTX schemes were intentionally designed for children and casuals and later adapted to more serious gaming.

there is also a major cultural difference in gaming culture to consider, as for Asians gaming is more a challenge of chance instead of skill, the focus is more on the collaborative than the competitive (even in competition) aspect.
MTX in the western hemisphere was (and still is) critically debated, and while the transition to shop based MTX F2P MMOs were successful for many titles like SWTOR, EQ and Neverwinter, gacha-style lootboxes became a mainstream surge a few years on with Overwatch, as those were purely cosmetic, while Magic, Hearthstone, Fifa etc. did offer player power (as does Genshin Impact) in low drop rates.

with increasing revenue, public debate on gaming compulsion and even scandals MTX, esp. lootboxes, gained many national authorities attention esp. due to health and exploitation concerns, summoning many parliamentary comitees and scientific studies.
in many countries lootboxes r now considered gambling and either prohibited or at least to a certain degree regulated, in which the probability has to be cleary announced.

but the most concerning issue (and argument) of this very global (btw) debate is the impact on game-design itself. pay-to-win (or pay-to-loot) initiated a semantic shift in overall/global game design via increasing RNG elements. while RNG was a factor long before Diablos immersive itemisation (loot/reward) design, RNG now became so incremental to post 2k game design, that it feels inherent.
RNG is everywhere, and by that gambling is everywhere. the better concepts still lock this excitement behind a skill barrier (like Raid bosses), but many offer this artificial “excitement” via direct payment.

a new dimension, as game design no longer focusses on the direct gameplay experience, but on the means to achieve the content (the story, the rankings etc). itemisation became maybe the major aspect not only of content but monetisation and therefore the gameplay experience itself. any other aspects of content became secondary to those RNG systems, a delivery systems for those: the means became the ends! (a semantic shift)

which impacts gaming cultures self-understanding massively, as users r exposed to (rigid) chance and complusionary exploitation systems instead of a social learning experience (what on an educational level games r supposed to be), the fun in games was re-defined by the industry s greed (for profit).
RNG is everywhere and is here to stay, no user cant escape RNG, as there simply rnt many (esp. MMO) titles without the hyperfocus on random reward and gameplay elements.
gaming culture stagnates into a Casino, where the user is supposed to gamble Russian Roulette with an Automatic – cuz users (and by that gaming culture) r conditioned to gambling schemes. instead of skill enhancing learning experiences, the industry now delivers the worst gaming history had to offer.

gambling is exploitative per se, as it relies on a low chance for the user to suceed and feeds into (or feasts upon) compulsionary neurological systems. its a cheat, a fraud and by that its no longer user-friendly, but exploitative.
but as over a decade of public discourse verifies, the influence of the (end)user is marginal at best and the industry always seeks ways to undermine national law (eg in China Blizzard declares lootboxes as gifts for the purchase of InGameCurrency).

the time has come to revolt, to make the industry rethink their exploitative schemes and respect its (ever-funding) userbase.

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Kevin Smith

They were just testing the waters to see how far they can go. Believe me they will get more predatory in a few months, it’s just how they run as a company.

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rayraycharlie

I feel that the roll-out and beta (and subsequent reversal on the class) is not a recipe for disaster but a recipe for a win. Cryptic/PWE would have caught flak for the state of the game regardless of putting a class behind a paywall. Therefore by quickly changing the way the class would be given out creates false-goodwill, and the gamblers among us think we have won…something.
My problem with the game is that it is just not fun. Too grindy and constrictive in the map design. Maybe it will become a better game but I doubt I will stick around to find out.