From tabletop to digital: Why people are paying $500 for a game that’s not out yet

SolForge Sentries - card evolution

Above: When you use or cull cards in SolForge, they evolve into a higher-level form for later use.

… on how a competitor like Thunderstone can have similar ratings on BoardGameGeek and be successful as a physical card game yet languish in the digital space:

Gary: There are a couple of factors. One of them is a pretty big one that you already mentioned [Editor's note: that Thunderstone requires many more stacks of cards displayed on the table for players to choose from]. Ascension is designed so that you have a lot less information that you have to process and handle all at once. It makes it much easier to display on a phone.

The speed of play is another factor. You can play a game of Ascension very quickly and then go into another one. We’ve built it so that you can have asynchronous turns much more easily. You don’t have to make decisions and be aware of things during your opponent’s turns. There’s no defending component. We have a lot fewer numbers on every card. It’s a lot more accessible to someone who’s never played a core hobby game before.

It’s about understanding the mobile space. You have to work with smaller screen real estate. You have to work with shorter attention spans, shorter timelines. You have to be able to understand how your game meshes with asynchronous play.

Part of that is intentional on our part, and part of that was a little bit of luck. I purposefully built a game that would be fast and accessible in the physical space, and when the mobile started growing during that timeline, it was like, “Wow, this is perfect.”

… on gamers spending up to $500 for preorders on new card packs for SolForge:

Gary: It’s interesting to see how many people have committed a fair about of money toward SolForge. Many people gave us $500 dollars, $1,000 dollars, or more to be part of this process.

One of the problems with trading-card games, traditionally, is that it costs so much money to play. If you’re serious about a trading-card game, you’re spending hundreds of dollars a year, at best, to keep up. SolForge is not going to be like that. SolForge is … totally free to play. If you don’t have enough money to play a normal collectible game, you can play this game and earn access to all the competitive-level cards that you want.

Some people, rather than spending the time to unlock those cards and play through that content, will choose to spend money and make it happen faster — or spend money on cool upgrades like animated cards or lots of other neat little features that we unlock.

I’m most excited that we have a revenue model that works. You don’t have to commit to spending hundreds of dollars. In my mind, it’s one of the most important revolutions of the last few years. It’s this thing we call a freemium business model, where we can make it so if you want to spend $5, if you want to spend $500, if you want to spend zero dollars, there’s a place for you on the spectrum. Everyone can participate, and everyone can be on the same competitive level.

We’re able to give away so much more for free because of the way that this model is built.

SolForge field

… on people willing to pay so much money for cards that aren’t “real”:

Gary: I take this responsibility very seriously. People put that money down because they believe in me. They believe in Richard. They believe in my team. We have Magic Hall of Famers — Brian Kibler, Rob Dougherty — on the team. We have Patrick Sullivan. We have a ton of really influential people, people who have been in the industry for a while. People believe in us.

People are putting their hard-earned money down. It’s no joke. So we’re going to deliver the best trading-card game experience anybody has ever seen in this space. You can already start to see it. We put the demo out on iPad back in December, ahead of schedule.

To follow up, there is a little bit of weirdness, right? You and I grew up in a time where the idea of paying for something that’s only a digital object was kind of silly. Nowadays we pay for digital content when it comes to music and movies. We pay for digital content here. You’re going to get an experience that’s arguably better in most ways than when we had our physical collection back home.

… on the value of playing a card game through a digital medium:

I have boxes of Magic cards sitting at my place that are not sorted, that are hard to get together. If I want to play with somebody, I have to find a friend who also has a deck for the same format. If we have different cards, we have to set up to play. Right now, if I want to play Ascension, I can just play online. If I want to play SolForge, once it’s up and running, I can always find an opponent. I can play for five minutes. I have my collection already sorted and organized. There are a lot of benefits that you get from being in this space.

While it’s a little bit weird for us to make that transition to a world where digital objects are valuable items, what we’re providing is entertainment. The beauty is, you don’t have to pay to check it out. To try out a game like Magic, you had to buy a starter deck or two and ideally have somebody there that can teach you because trying to read a rulebook is pretty tough. Now you can download the game for free, play through the tutorial, play through some of the campaign, get some stuff for free, and see if you like it. If you like it enough and you keep playing, you can spend money to get more stuff, or you can just play to unlock stuff. It’s a transition that’s been a long time in coming.

I don’t expect the joy of the physical space — the value of shuffling a deck of cards or having a board and sitting around a table — to go away any time soon. There are undeniable advantages to the mobile and online gaming space, though. We’re looking to take advantage of both.

… on work life in 2013:

Gary: It’s going to be a busy year. I rarely leave the office these days.

Click below for a sampling of SolForge’s cards and stunning artwork.

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