A sit-down chat with a stand-up chap
Magic: The Gathering, the granddaddy of all collectible card games, first debuted in 1993. Surviving twenty years in the gaming industry is no mean feat; being stronger today than it ever has been before is just plain showing off.
Modern Magic players have more options than ever before, too, with loads of ways to play the venerable title, including - of course - videogames (the most recent, Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014, is rather good, in case you missed our review.)
I was lucky enough to sit down with Aaron Forsythe - the Senior Director of Magic R&D at Wizards of the Coast - at PAX in Melbourne earlier this month. Don't know much about Magic? Don't worry; he's an interesting and engaging guy to talk to, and he had loads to say about all aspects of the game. By the end of our chat, I was convinced that there was much more to MTG than I had previously thought . . .
If you are a hardcore Magic player, look out for our full run-down of Aaron's PAX presentation and new details about the upcoming Theros set for the CCG itself next week.
Tell us about your day; what do you get up to?
I sit in an office; most of the time I'm in meetings, with the brand team, my organized play department, and all my various design and development teams that are working to have their products in flight. As well as upper management - keeping them abreast of what we're doing.
I review card files a lot, meet with the creative team about directions that they want to take the game - visually, and story-wise - and every so often I get to actually make some cards myself! I make sure to carve out time where I get to play, and I get to sit down and type up some new cards and get them into a set. I wouldn't want the job if I just had to manage all the time!
We all love the game, and it's super fun to watch all those guys that work for me do their stuff and come up with all the material that's got this room full of gamers!
In your presentation, you talked a lot about the story behind the upcoming sets; how does this narrative element come across in the game itself?
When you're playing, it's eye candy basically. It's just there to give some context to some of the artwork, card names, and what not. But Magic's had an on-going backstory since the very early days. It's a good way to allow players to continue to immerse themselves in the brand even when they're not in the middle of the game, and it makes our settings that much more rich and deep.
For a while, we were publishing physical novels (every time a set came out) that would explain the world and walk the main characters through the happenings that you're seeing on the cards. We're doing that now digitally; we have ebooks that come out for our sets. For last year's sets, Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon's Maze, we have a three-part ebook that followed the exploits of our main Planeswalker, Jace, through the story of Ravnica.
Plus, we have our "branded play", where we try to - at certain events throughout the year - bring the story to life for players. Just typically playing Magic, you're doing your own thing; you're using whatever cards you want to tell your own story, basically. We can immerse people more and show them the breadth of our intellectual property and our brand by having certain events each year - like the Hero's Path for Theros, or for Dragon's Maze (the last set of the Ravnica "block" last year) we had a maze that we hung up on the wall and as you won your matches, you could advance your team through the maze - and that's what was happening in the story of the set: the ten guilds of Ravnica were racing through a maze to try and the secret that the dragon had uncovered.
So it's cool that, every so often, we can take it out of the competitive mindspace and put it more in the fantasy / narrative space that's so successful for so many other games and just makes it feel that much more rich and deep.
In addition to the bulk of your audience, who buy the cards to play the game, there's also a significant number who are fans of the brand for other reasons. Do you specifically cater for them when designing new material?
The speculators and the arbitrage people, we don't. We know that we make a great game; first and foremost, we try to make a great game. We work very hard on our game balance and our fun and our new mechanics and what-not to make sure everyone's having a good time playing it.
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