appy holidays folks! I'm a big fan of Aaron Forsythe's yearly "From the Director's Chair" end-of-year wrap up on the Magic R&D side, so I wanted to start a similar tradition on the Magic Online side.
Thanks to you, we had an amazing 2012—Magic Online's best year ever, in fact. Magic Online tends to mirror the fortunes and success of Magic in general, and as you can read in Aaron's column early in the new year, things are going quite well on that front too. In the words ahead I will look back at some of the best things from 2012 and give you all a hint as to what is in store for 2013 and beyond.
2012—The Short Version
You all are awesome, because every metric we track and care about with Magic Online is up this year. Thank you.
2012—The Slightly Longer Version
This seems like an appropriate place to lead off with telling you all that new players are coming to the system faster than ever before. People are sticking around longer in the system and playing much more while they're there. Engagement with the program is way, way up. We've set all sorts of records this year, and as you might imagine, the release of Return to Ravnica came with a whole host of new broken records, including the most concurrent users on the system we've ever had at one time (for Return to Ravnica Prerelease weekend), and several others.
We made several changes to the program this year, too. The two biggest were the introductions of Cube and the new client UI. I'll talk about those two things more in a second, but MOCS, MOPR, and other programs got minor tweaks this year as well. For instance, in 2012 we'll be sending sixteen players, instead of twelve, to the MOCS championships. Details on that event will be coming tomorrow in Chris Kiritz's article about Magic Online OP (and other stuff), so I won't scoop him here.
One other big change that I am still excited about two months later is the adjustment to the launch window for Magic Online sets moving a week closer to the paper release. A nice side benefit of this was to let us rearrange the Pro Tour schedule to better support that plan. Activity on the system the week leading up to the Pro Tour was really high, and our decision to slightly shorten the Prerelease period to the weekend and follow up immediately with draft queues the Monday after that made lots of players very happy. This new plan was so successful that you can certainly expect to see more of the same type of thing going forward. Play remained especially high throughout the Pro Tour weekend, and we made a concerted effort to integrate Magic Online statistics and analysis into our ever-expanding online streaming coverage of the Pro Tour. There was a very positive reaction from the player community on this one, too.
Data sure has been a hot topic lately. This is especially true in light of our recent decisions to not post all the decklists from every Daily and Premier event, as well as doing away with in-event replays—although, importantly, all event replays are still available for a period of time after the event ends (the bug that currently allows Games 2 and 3 of a match to still be viewable will be addressed with the regular downtime this Wednesday, December 19). Regarding data and access to other information, there is a pretty fine line between data enhancing the overall experience and publishing a de facto sanctioned "Magic Online hint book on how to solve the metagame," but there is definitely still some room for more than we've done so far. Turns out,Magic players like data, math, and stats even more than we thought you would (not sure how that is possible!). Like every change we make in Magic, brand-wide, we are constantly evaluating the effects of those decisions. I suspect we're not yet in the end state on how we deal with this issue, but initial big-picture impressions (mostly anecdotal to this point, to be fair) do lean positive. In that same vein, we are constantly examining the entire product for places we can make the experience better.
Speaking of "room for more...." Cube made its debut on Magic Online early this year, and it's been a smashing success. To those of you who've participated so far, a special thank you. Like everything else we do, we've taken player behavior analysis and feedback into account throughout the year as we've made changes to the exact offering. I'm thrilled to see what happens on Wednesday this week after we come up from weekly maintenance, when a new "powered" Cube makes its way onto Magic Online, and for the first time ever players will be able to play with some of the most game-changing spells ever created, the Power Nine. Cube is one of the most fun formats in Magic, and if you have the time, I highly recommend trying it out.
The New Magic Online UI
The biggest event for me in 2012, from a technology side, was definitely opening up the new client to you in wide beta back in September. In the works for far too long, and sorely needed, the new client made its way to you all just a few short months ago but has already undergone many changes based on your feedback and survey comments. Our plan is to ship a major service pack (SP) every six weeks or so that focuses on a specific few areas within the client (you should see another one in late January that focuses on Trade, Chat, and Card Display).
By the time you read this, we'll have just shipped significant changes to the Duel scene and Play Lobby, for example, and we did work on the collection scene that went live in late October. As I mentioned, other areas of the client—like Trade, Chat, Multiplayer, Store, Help, Settings, Card Display, and Overall Tournament Experience— are still to come, one to three areas at a time over the coming months. Not to mention that work on the Duel scene and Collection scenes still continues. At some point, likely in the middle of 2013, the current client will be phased out and shut off, and the new client will be your only option. Until that happens, you are welcome to log in with whichever client you choose (both connect to the same games, have all your cards, etc.), but I'm asking for you all to at least take a look at the open beta every couple of months to see the recent changes and give us your feedback through the links above.
If I wasn't employed by Wizards of the Coast, I would be a customer of Magic Online and Wizards just like you all are, and I know I would want to make sure my voice was heard, so please help us make Magic Online the way you want it by giving us your thoughts. They're very much appreciated. Despite the time it took us to get here, I'm happy with the recent pace of progress, and although it's been serviceable, I certainly won't be sad to see the current client go.
Positive Feedback Loop
In regards to improvements and making strides since the launch of wide beta, our player survey came back last week with some very encouraging results on the new client. Since the launch of the wide beta client (which was the last time we took the survey) until now, our users' view of the beta has improved nicely.
We've also seen an increase in how likely our players are to recommend the beta client.
There are many things about the beta client that are really nice, such as being able to build a deck while you're actually drafting, and the recent changes to the Collection scene really make the cards look nice. We know there is a lot of optimization work yet to do, on top of all the feature stuff, but I'm confident in the plan we have to get us to a place where we're back to one client, allowing the teams currently pulling double duty on maintaining two clients right now to get back to other things and looking at future projects.
2013 and Beyond
That seems like a fine way to segue into what's on the docket for 2013 and beyond, feature-wise.
I'm happy to be able to tell you all that as of two months ago, pre-planning for Leagues is officially underway. My vision for how exactly Leagues will work is a conversation for a later date, and the scope of what we're doing with Leagues as a project is quite large, as it includes a few sizeable pieces of back end work, but I do get asked the question quite often, so I wanted to let you know that the process is getting underway and there's a shovel in the dirt. To temper the excitement and set expectations some, Leagues will not launch in production in 2013. What's left to do is big enough and reaches deep enough into the tournament code that we just can't do it all in 2013, but the plan I see has me hopeful for a mid-2014 deployment.
The reason you haven't heard much about it over the past couple years is that we've been working on several back-end complementary components behind the scenes. The modules that can't be done in parallel are now almost done, such that the front-facing Leagues program itself is now fully under construction. Leagues are a big key to addressing some of our "we need to be much friendlier to new players" concerns, which will also be partially addressed in 2013 by the addition of in-client tutorials and enhanced (particularly new-user) user pathing.
Without getting into too many details yet, we've also got some cool social media features planned for next year, some help for the long-suffering clans features, neat practice mode/solitaire improvements, and a lot of work on some behind-the-scenes modules that are pointed at stability and reducing errors when posting events/prizes/etc.
All this is on top of Priority #1 for the first half of 2013, which is polishing a new client we're proud of and that you love, moving it out of beta, and retiring the current client. And don't worry, we will give everyone lots of notice before we begin steps to phase out the current client. Keep in mind, until stuff is shipped on some level, everything is a work in progress, but I'm excited as I sit here looking over the plan for the next three or four years, as I see some of these projects down the line I wish I could tell you about right now!
Sometimes we're going to get stuff right, sometimes we'll get it wrong, but we love Magic just as much as you all do, so everything we do, we do with the best interest of the brand in mind. In the long run, this ensures that Magic and Magic Online will be around to enjoy for years to come. A couple things in particular we can still improve is our communication with you all (although hiring a dedicated community rep was a great start here—if you guys don't know Sean, he runs the official Magic Online twitter feed at @magiconline); the consolidation of information; and a single, error-free source for event schedules, prize schedules, and news. A common theme throughout this article is me asking for you all to give us your feedback. It's not just feedback on the new client I'm after! If there are things you think we can do better, please let us know!
Magic Online is a huge part of the future of Magic as a brand and of Wizards of the Coast as a whole. We recognize that and have calibrated the level of investment in the program accordingly. On a personal level, I owe Magic a debt far greater than I could ever hope to repay, and I am more committed than ever to making Magic Online what it deserves to be. None of this is possible without you all, our community and players, so my sincere thanks to every one of you.
Please be vocal and constructive with your feedback. I read every single post in the Magic Online General forums, and I regularly engage with people on twitter where I can be found at @mtgworth, so please hit me up whenever!
Onward and upward,