It looks like 2018 is going to be a significant year for Magic: The Gathering in the video game sector. We already know that Magic: The Gathering — Arena collectible card game is in the works for PC, and tonight, Wizards of the Coast and South Korean mobile giant Netmarble announced they’re working on “Project M,” the codename for a new game for smartphones coming sometime in 2018.
Wizards and Netmarble didn’t release many details. They’re calling Project M a “multiplayer battling game” in which “players show off their creativity and strategy as they battle across the planes of the Magic: The Gathering Multiverse,” and “game avatars will be fully animated as they race across the battlefield to defeat their opponent.” So it doesn’t sound like a collectible card game. The video and images sure look like a multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA. The Netmarble Monster studio is developing Project M, and its previous work includes Star Wars: Force Arena, a MOBA for mobile.
“Magic: The Gathering Project M is a strategic, multiplayer battler featuring fan-favorite Planeswalkers, creatures, and spells from Magic: The Gathering. It’s still early in the process, but we’ll be working closely with Netmarble to roll out specific details about the game as we get closer to release,” said Wizards exec David Schwartz. “We are pleased to announce an all-new thrilling Magic: The Gathering game through our partnership with Netmarble , who has such an extensive track record of success and we are impressed with their progress on the game thus far.”
If so, we got a lesson last week about the saturated MOBA market. Epic shut down Paragon, and this comes in the wake of others of its ilk shutting down development of their games (as 2K did with Gearbox’s Battleborn). We’re left with the two top-tier games — League of Legends and Dota 2 — and second tier of Smite and Heroes of the Storm. Below that are smaller games, like Battlerite, with smaller communities.
We don’t know if we’ve hit the MOBA saturation point on mobile yet. Last week, Tencent announced that Arena of Valor (the Western version of its Chinese blockbuster, Honor of Kings) is getting a new esports championship. Vainglory has a thriving scene as well on mobile, and it recently added 5-on-5 battles (just as you’d get with PC MOBAs). Netmarble also has a MOBA in South Korea, Penta Storm.
Cleo Sardelis of market research firm Newzoo said that they estimate mobile MOBA revenues were $3.6 billion in 2017, a 291 percent increase from the year before. “The majority of this revenue was generated in China, with Honor of Kings being the most widely played game,” she said.
Whatever Project M is, it’s a sign that Wizards of the Coast is ready to be more aggressive with Magic: The Gathering in gaming for 2018.
Update at 9:08 a.m. Pacific: Added quotes from Wizards of the Coast and market research firm Newzoo, along with context on the mobile MOBA market from Newzoo.