Remove the XP cap, what is this
[Update: Wizards has responded to the backlash and will go back to a weekly XP system.]
We’ve seen “battle passes” before. Billed as “season passes” of a sort (which are themselves more oriented toward a collection of meaty DLCs), battle passes are literally ways for publishers to monetize “seasons” of a competitive game.
Every few months in games like Fortnite, Dauntless, Rocket League, or Apex Legends, players can plunk down a lump sum of cash for a battle pass that allows them to earn extra premium rewards on their own track if they level up and actually play the game a ton. DOTA sort of started the scheme as the progenitor, but Fortnite popularized it: now it’s everywhere.
That growing list includes Magic: The Gathering Arena as of this week, and boy howdy did they get it wrong.
Previously in Magic: Arena, players could win 15 games per week (Sunday to Sunday) and get three free card/booster packs out of it. You could grind them all out on Sunday or do it Saturday night: it didn’t matter. It was a pretty sweet system for everyone involved, whether it’s hardcore players or “weekend warriors” as some people call it, with busy weekday work schedules and family duties. You were showered with free packs due to gold earned from quests and the free weekly rewards.
The new system, which supplanted the old one, is demonstrably worse for everyone involved, whether you’re a free player or feel like ponying up $20 (3,400 gems) for the new premium battle pass rewards. Why? XP from wins is capped daily. While whoever is running the social media account tried to use mental gymnastics to justify it, the new system, which replaces the above 15 wins per week concept, caps the amount of XP you can earn per day to available quests (max three) and three wins each day. As you can see from the YouTube dislikes and the roaring response on Reddit, the reaction has been tepid at best so far.
I play both Fornite and Apex Legends regularly, and have seen the ups and downs of the battle passes of both. The latter was particularly contentious with its very slow-going XP rates in its first season (Respawn says it’s better this time around with season two), but at the very least, you could theoretically earn something from the premium pass at all times. The way Wizards of the Coast is proceeding with Arena is unprecedented and actually deters you from playing longer on a daily basis.
All the while, mind, Wizards fully intends for you to log in daily and get your fix so you don’t “waste your XP” caps (again, currently, XP is only earned through three daily wins and quests that repopulate once per day, but you cannot grind for XP, even at a lowered rate). This is a common tactic for publishers that run games with daily bonuses, typically in the mobile arena: the idea is to impose the fear of missing out (FOMO) on its playerbase so they don’t play other games and become overly invested.
To herald in the pass and soften the blow of caps, Wizards is telling players to enter free codes like “BroughtBack” (which works now) for extra XP (and contends that events will help push XP further), but this stopgap system is inherently flawed and extremely devious. Doling out free internet hits of XP for folks who happen to read Reddit (or the official Twitter account where it was posted once at the time of publication) is a very strange, yet deliberate way to ensure that only a fraction of your playerbase actually uses that promotion. While it’s a given that most people will not finish a full battle pass run, Wizards is being brazen about it. It not only disincentivizes folks from playing, it also introduces a dangerous precedent for battle passes in general. The math has been done: the rewards aren’t inherently bad on paper, but you need to make it a part time job (clocking in at regular intervals) to get them and the concept of requiring daily play is predatory.
This entire pass needs to be reworked: it was rushed and half-baked out of the gate, shoved into the current XP system as some sort of poor chimera instead of waiting to overhaul it all together to accommodate. Games much bigger than Arena have less predatory systems, and when you’re compared to the likes of EA and come out on the bottom, you have a problem. Magic: Arena already started heavily monetizing a few months back with tons of extra cosmetic additions like card backs and “styles,” but this is another layer on top of that while the game is still in “beta.” It has a fantastic base (basically 1:1 Magic with an amazing interface), but these monetization growing pains are coming to a head. Wizards could keep pushing players to the brink like EA did with Battlefront II (a decision that did irreparable damage to their reputation), or go for a different approach. The choice is theirs.