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Wide Beta Update: Lights, Camera, Action

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The letter G!reetings Magic Online players!

I wanted to give a quick update on the Wide Beta, including initial Spotlight results, and share some more information regarding Leagues.

First, however, I want to thank all the players who have taken the time to provide feedback about the Wide Beta. We're still reviewing the responses and will be using them to continue to shape the upcoming releases, but as we've said all along, this interaction is crucial for delivering a product that everyone is happy with. This also means that we'll continue to ask for your feedback all throughout the process.

In the meantime, we've collected and reviewed the first batch of responses from the feedback form and, as can expected for a major change like this, the general Spotlight feedback was certainly mixed, but it provided two major takeaways. First, players who have embraced the Wide Beta have supplied a lot of positive feedback about what works for them, even if they may have specific changes they’d like to see. The next step is building on those positive experiences and refining them to meet the needs of the players who have not yet converted, while fixing the outstanding issues that are currently preventing players from switching to the Wide Beta. Second, and more importantly, the Spotlight feedback didn’t expose any major issues we are not aware of, which means that we can successfully create a roadmap to address those features that cause the most concern and build that premier experience that our players deserve.

Obviously, being aware of problems is not the same as fixing them, so let's look at some of the feedback, the upcoming Wide Beta updates, and how we are tackling some of the biggest player issues in the future.

In the Spotlight

Spotlights are great at driving conversation and spurring players to provide feedback. These events generate more responses in our feedback form in a single week than we normally get in a month. We also expect to see a high participation rate in the Spotlight survey that just closed today, and we'll start examining the results this week.

While reviewing your responses, however, we unfortunately get many blanket "It's awesome" or "It's terrible" statements that don't provide a lot of value. I would like to remind you that when providing feedback, taking a few extra moments to include why you think a feature is great or awful gives us direction for investigation, design review, or even validation in the case of features you like. This can be as simple as "It's awesome BECAUSE it was easier to understand" or "It's terrible BECAUSE it was harder to use," which will at least point us in the right direction. The more specific you are, however, the more useful your feedback is, so remember to add that "because" with as much detail as you can.

I would like to remind you that when providing feedback, taking a few extra moments to include why you think a feature is great or awful gives us direction for investigation, design review, or even validation in the case of features you like.

As for the feedback that we have received, it can be bucketed into a three major categories of increasing difficulty: refinements, major design updates, and system level changes.

Refinements include fixing bugs, making minor tweaks to designs, and delivering other changes that are relatively low effort but improve program quality. Typically these things can be done as one-offs and are included regularly in our deployments.

Major design updates require much more thought and planning to address. This includes significantly adjusting the Collection layout or Duel Scene. These types of changes are not off the table, but they are often going to require more effort and time, and typically involve a lot of moving parts. This means that most changes of this scale will be after we disable the current client.

Finally, system level changes, such as changing the nature of trade or adding leagues, are completely out of scope as part updating the game client. This isn't to say that these won't happen (Leagues, for instance, is coming later this year), it just means they will be a separate project with its own development team and own schedule.

When looking at player concerns, we see several major areas that need further refinement, with, Trade, Collection, and Play Lobby all at the top of the list. While some of the negative comments we've received revolve around making sure we show players how to use new or changed features, others will need to be a tackled with major design updates. The good news is we already have some changes for these areas planned (see the Coming Attractions section below) and will be looking to address other areas of player concern in the weeks leading up to disabling the current client, as well as what will follow thereafter. Again, with where our stability is and with our development partner, we're confident we'll be able to make changes and launch new features faster than ever.

Coming Attractions

In the upcoming release, Trade is the star and includes lots of new changes. First among them will be updating trades to open in their own window. This change matches the convention for how we deal with the Duel Scene and gives players more control over how they view the client, especially if they're using a multiple-monitor set up. It also allows players to view their collection or view other classified posts while in an active trade.

In addition, we're updating how wishlists work in the Wide Beta to better match player expectations. This includes the ability to compare any deck files to a trade partner's binder and automatically add missing cards to the trade using a new search tool.

In addition, we're updating how wishlists work in the Wide Beta to better match player expectations. This includes the ability to compare any deck files to a trade partner's binder and automatically add missing cards to the trade using a new search tool.

Chat also gets some updates, including the long-awaited ability to close chat tabs without first dragging them out of the chat window. That is one of my long standing pet peeves, so I am glad to see this particular change. We're also updating how newly started chats are handled to make sure that players don't miss chat requests.

In further updates, before we disable the current client, we'll be adding an indicator in the Trade Scene that will display how many copies of a given card are already in your collection, which is another oft-requested feature. We also want to address both the event details display, as well as update how players withdraw from events. We plan on updating the Help section to be more robust, with more detailed information about each scene (this is also a good time to remind you that we have some video tutorials that walk through the basics of the Wide Beta). Finally, we have a team that will be looking at how to update the visuals in the client, including improving how cards look, though not all of this work will be done before the switch over.

Episodic Entertainment

Leagues are still on track for delivery later this year. We are currently in the middle of our internal alpha testing, which means the internal working team is currently playing through leagues and all the major development work is done. It's now time to work on fixing bugs and polishing up the experience. Look for an official release announcement later this year.

Leagues are still on track for delivery later this year. We are currently in the middle of our internal alpha testing, which means the internal working team is currently playing through leagues and all the major development work is done.

For those who are unfamiliar with leagues, they're essentially tournaments that let you play matches on your own schedule while the league is active. This lets players who can't commit to the three (or more) consecutive hours that most participate in competitive Magic with the chance to earn prizes. While we're still working out the exact launch details, we'll have the ability to run both Sealed Deck and Constructed leagues, although they will be slightly different.

For a Sealed league, you will get a number of boosters to build your deck from and then use that deck for the duration of the league. Because a league emphasizes playing at your pace, you can take as long as you like to craft and edit your deck; there is no deck-building timer. The league deck builder will have the same suite of options as the regular deck builder, and you'll be able to save multiple deck configurations. While you'll have to choose one to start a match with, you'll be able to load any permutations during sideboarding.

Once your deck is ready, you'll be able to join a league queue, where you'll be paired against other players who are at a similar point in the league. While we'll try to find an optimal match, we also want to get players paired as quickly as possible, so the queue will have a scale that it uses to find an opponent. The longer you wait, the looser the queue restrictions become, until you've been paired.

Of course, you'll be able to tinker all you want between matches as well. In addition, at certain points in the league, you'll have the opportunity to add booster packs to your card pool. These additions are always optional, so you'll have the chance to run the gauntlet with your initial cards, or strengthen your deck as you go.

Constructed leagues will be slightly different. You'll choose a deck as you join the league, and that's the deck you'll use for the duration. In addition, additional product will not be available in a Constructed league. Because of these differences, Constructed leagues will tend to be shorter than their Sealed Deck counterparts.

In either case, leagues can play out over the course of weeks, or even months, so we've also put in some safeguards to help ensure players have an enjoyable experience. Withdrawing from the league will require a little more thought than confirming a button click. Nothing is worse than being undefeated after four weeks of league play and then accidentally dropping out of the league because of an errant button press. In fact, we like this idea so much, we'll be incorporating it into regular tournaments in the future.

In a similar vein, we're adding some protection to the league matching queue. We know that, often, players will choose to be in a league due to their busy lifestyle, so when players are matched with an opponent in the queue, both players will have to confirm the pairing before the match starts. This prevents players from starting a match while they're away from their keyboard, preventing accidental match losses when life unexpectedly gets in the way of playing Magic Online.

The Magic Online team is excited for the return of leagues, and we hope you are too. We'll share more about leagues as we get closer to release later this year.

That's a Wrap

This is shaping up to be an incredibly busy year for Magic Online, with the release of Vintage Masters, the new client, and leagues back to back to back, not to mention Khans of Tarkir this fall. Tell us what you're most excited for by visiting the forums or hitting us up on Twitter (@MagicOnline for the general MTGO Twitter, @mturian for Mike Turian, @mtgworth for Worth Wollpert, and @ckiritz for myself).

Have fun and happy gaming,

Chris Kiritz
Digital Business Manager
Magic Online

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