i everyone, and happy holidays. In what's become a December tradition here at Wizards, I am happy to help kick off Magic Online Week on DailyMTG.com. For those of you who don't know me, I am the executive producer for Magic Online, and up until very recently I was in charge of all our Duels of the Planeswalkers efforts and some other unannounced digital Magic stuff. My role at Wizards has changed a bit recently; as we embraced the enormous opportunity to enhance Magic Online, it quickly became apparent that the product required a full-time executive producer who was dedicated just to Magic Online. We all know it needs as many dedicated resources as possible to be the great experience you all deserve.
A Quick Bit of Personal History
I started playing Magic in late 1993 while I was a freshman in college, and after finding some awesome friends and a great community on Magic's biggest stage of the Pro Tour, I saw the world and stayed on the tour right up until I joined Wizards in 2000 after completing year one of my MBA program.
I initially joined R&D to make Magic cards and work on our Showdown sports line of games (I am a big sports fan). In 2006, I left R&D for the Magic brand group, where I learned brand management on the job for about eighteen months, then transitioned to lead the business/customer experience side of things for Magic Online.
Along the way, I picked up a bunch of other digital Magic stuff (like Duels of the Planeswalkers) but, as I said before, very recently I was fortunate to be asked back to a world where Magic Online can be my sole focus.
Stability, performance, and collection integrity are of utmost importance to me as the steward of the customer experience, and as tempting as it is to be drawn into what "should" be there, feature-wise, regardless of how overdue it may be, we need to balance those calls against the construction of an infrastructure and foundation that will serve us not just next year but for many years to come. At the beginning of this year, we started making huge increases in the amount of money and resources we were putting against Magic Online, with a well-articulated four-year plan. Some of those efforts have been fruitful, but as we get to the end of the year we are realizing that we are going to need to reallocate most of the forward-facing 2014 investment toward backend efforts that will prevent service and event interruptions, like the ones we experienced several weeks ago but have been dealing with off and on for years.
In that vein, some of the places we are going to deliver on in 2014 are:
- A commitment to restoring paper-linked premier-level organized play to Magic Online as soon as we can. It is abundantly clear that you all love those types of events, and restoring that functionality is a very high priority for us as we strive to link Magic Online with the very highest level of paper play whenever we can. In fact, some of the infrastructure investments we are making are to allow us (at some future likely-not-2014 point) to hold events like Magic Online GPs, Magic Online PTs, and the like. Running all these events requires a level of stability and confidence, however, and they won't be back before we can feel much better about the chances the events finish as intended.
- An improved live operations process, which means a lot of things really. Higher quality card-set releases (fewer bugs, and less severe bugs). Closer integration to non-booster paper product dates (think Commander (2013 Edition) moving forward several weeks). Much faster iteration, bug-fixing, and light feature work on the client side of things. Speaking of...
- A more polished, more stable, and much more "performant" wide beta client, that will deliver a more contemporary user experience than the current client does. R&D, my business team, and I have worked together with our technology partners to establish strict stability/performance benchmarks on what the new client ultimately needs to deliver before we consider turning off the current client for good, and we will make sure the new client is meeting our goals before we say goodbye to the current client. And yes, before anyone asks, we will give as much notice as is possible before removing the current client as a login option. On the order of months—not days or weeks.
- Leagues. Work is well under way with this project and has been for some time. Leagues are being designed only for the wide beta client, which will become the client of record at some point in 2014 when we remove the "beta" moniker and sunset the current client. Leagues are a feature that I know many of you (and us, too) have missed since they departed many years ago. I can't wait to have them back.
- A more streamlined, tighter communication process around event and product offerings. The new client gives us more flexibility in this area, which will hopefully make it easier to plan as well as discover new events. There is a lot to do here beyond just the client area, of course, so look for improvements on www.mtgo.com throughout the year.
Vintage Masters on June 13, 2014. I've had a sneak peek at the set list that R&D has together for this release and it looks amazing, honestly. While I loathed having to move the release out of late 2013, I'm even more confident than ever that the reasons we did so were the right ones, which were almost solely to give R&D the time to design a fully draftable experience with these iconic cards.
Perhaps one of the most exciting things for me, though, is what the vision of the future looks like from an experience perspective. What should it mean to play Magic digitally? Does it need to be a true simulation of the paper card game in every expression? (I think it doesn't). What does "five minutes of digital Magic" look like? What can I do to have an awesome experience and engage with the brand while standing in line at Starbucks or riding the bus? Note that while these are not Magic Online–specific, the entire digital ecosystem should ultimately be a shared experience that culminates in something like Magic Online, rather than forcing people into disparate expressions that feel isolated. Since my job is now Magic Online–focused, I obviously see all this through a Magic Online lens first, but my vision for what digital Magic is doesn't begin and end with Magic Online.
Time Walk | Art by Chris Rahn
On more of a Magic Online level, I am sad that we don't have a better way to share decklists, for example. There is a ton of stuff we could do to better support streaming, which I wholly believe is a big part of the future for games like Magic Online.
- Additional Limited formats like Winston Draft/Pack Wars.
- Try-before-you-buy Event Decks or Duel Decks.
- DCI number integration across all our systems and single sign-on logins for our digital experiences.
- Even something like further integrating Magic Online into PT/GP coverage, where everyone on the system could play Top 8 decks from late Saturday night to Sunday morning for free, with phantom cards and the matchup data could be integrated into the coverage on Sunday.
The ideas are endless here (and believe me, we have a ton of them), but we come back to the fact that none of it matters without a solid foundation to build them on top of. Ideas are super and are truly the lifeblood of this great company, but as far as Magic Online is concerned, we have to get serious and real about addressing our execution problems before chasing the shiny ball. I believe we've taken some great steps on that front, several of which are listed above, and we will continue to make huge investments in this area going forward.
So, with all that, despite some setbacks on our four-year plan (mostly in the features area), I really think 2014 is poised to be one of the best years yet for Magic Online. While 2013 was rockier than anyone would have liked, as I said, we've taken some very concrete steps to address some of the biggest issues and are making progress. By far the most common complaint I get in the survey open-ended responses on the new client is that it is too sluggish and performance just isn't there. On some machines and in some configurations, that is definitely true. The new client has a lot going for it, though, and the most recent builds of the new client are significantly ahead of where the current wide beta is on a performance/stability level, even at the lower end of machine specifications. You all should get to see that with a couple of videos coming in Chris Kiritz's article later this week, as well as firsthand early next year, when we ship the latest update to the wide beta. For those of you in the closed beta right now, you have already seen a bit of this in action, and I wanted to add my sincere thanks for helping us improve your experience.
Magic is a wonderful, transcendent game and I am under no illusions about why we have been successful to this point. At least in its current incarnation, the best thing I could possibly do is deliver a program that mostly just got out of the way and let users enjoy a digitally replicated version of the face-to-face Magic experience (with a few notable exceptions, like Momir, etc.). We're trying our best to provide that as well as anticipate where the world of gaming is headed so that, several years from now, we're not still playing catch-up and people on tablets, phones, Macs, and any other relevant platforms have a way to enjoy the best strategy game of all time, on their terms.
In closing, I wanted to say thanks again for sticking with us and that I try to read all the feedback I can, so if you have some, feel free to let me know. I can be found on Twitter as @mtgworth, on reddit as /u/WotC_Worth, our forums as WotC_WorthW, and at many other places around the web. There is also a dedicated Magic Online feedback/survey that I check on regularly.
Executive Producer, Magic Online
Wizards of the Coast
Worth is the Executive Producer for Magic at Wizards, which means he gets to run cool things like Magic Online and Duels of the Planeswalkers (along with some other stuff that may or may not ever see the light of day). He dashed his own dreams of being a sports agent by quitting business school and taking a job with R&D back in 2000 after a few years of traveling the world playing on the Pro Tour as a part of Team Deadguy.