Why Leaks Hurt

Posted in Feature on December 16, 2015

By Trick Jarrett

Patrick "Trick" Jarrett oversees web content and social media for Magic, and acts as the publisher of DailyMTG.com and Magic content on the web. He's an ardent Commander player and lover of the game he's played since Ice Age.

Yeah.

This has been an interesting few weeks. Oath of the Gatewatch experienced some pretty unusual leaks, and I think it's time we had a chat about it.

A big part of my job is working with people around the company to develop the plan for how we unveil each new set. It's an enormously complex project getting the content laid out such that we can present the set to the Magic community. So when someone outside the company decides to have some fun by leaking something we hadn't planned, it causes a lot of people to have to change their plans.

There is a natural struggle between players and Wizards when it comes to knowing the game's future. Magic's entire premise is that of constant change, and this tantalizing premise creates a constant tension between our storytelling and players wanting to know what comes next.

As a person who used to run a fan site that would occasionally leak something, I know the lure for content creators. Leaks draw traffic and they give you something new to talk about. But let's get one thing straight: leaks aren't journalism. Publishing leaks is purely self-serving, looking out for the good of yourself and your ego.

Leaks aren't journalism because there is no cover-up. There's no secret exposé about the working conditions of goblins on Ravnica, or the water quality on Zendikar, or the climate change on Mirrodin (though that one might have something). Leaks are all things that the public will find out eventually. There's no conspiracy being unraveled, just something new revealed through the theft of intellectual property. That's right, theft. If we didn't give it to you and say "Show this," then you are stealing something from Wizards of the Coast and the Magic community.

Would you go on your friend's Facebook page and announce a pregnancy if you found a positive pregnancy test in their bathroom? No, that would make you a terrible human being! Because it's not your news to give, and when the world gets to know it is up to that person and their significant other.

Let me lay out the plan we had to reveal Kozilek and highlight how we had built the context around our previews, had he not leaked early. First, after weeks of telling the story of the Gatewatch's battles against Ulamog and his brood on Zendikar, we lined up the story in Uncharted Realms to officially reveal Kozilek and his mischief on Wednesday, December 9. This date would have given the community a few days to talk about him, take contextual clues from the story as to what his card might do, and try to guess what he was going to look like. Then, the following weekend at the World Magic Cup, we would have revealed the full card and explained the new colorless mana symbol. Once we explained Kozilek and the new colorless mana symbol, we would then have shown you, as we did, Ancient Tomb's new Zendikar Expedition printing, which prominently featured the colorless mana symbol.

As it turns out, this is exactly what we did. Unfortunately though, much of the community had already seen Kozilek. So his rising out of the ocean at Sea Gate? Not that exciting. Our revealing of him on stream? Boring. The presence of the colorless mana symbol? Confusing. Because it was done out of context and out of order, the entire plan suffered and our fans were cheated out of the best experience we could deliver.

Previewing a set is, as Rosewater said in an article years ago, very much like a movie trailer. It's how we can best introduce you to what's going on, who the characters are, and what a new set is all about.

Feldon of the Third Path | Art by Chase Stone

When it comes to hearing about an upcoming movie, which would you rather see: A prepared movie trailer crafted by artists and directors and marketers to most hype you about the film? Or would you prefer to read early drafts of the script that cover several key story moments? It might be tempting to go with the latter, but what you're getting there is not polished, not final, and quite likely to under-deliver on getting you excited for the movie. When leaks happen, the Magic community gets bits of information out of order instead of the experience we work so hard to create for you.

Our policy has and continues to be that we simply don't discuss leaks. Go read the article from then-Magic Marketing Director Kyle Murray to learn about the problem we were facing even back then, over thirteen years ago. Confirming or disproving a leak may solve the problem in the short term, but it creates a bigger problem in that it can force us to acknowledge each and every rumor. And then when we decide not to comment, it becomes an even bigger deal.

We've only commented on leaks a handful of times since I joined Wizards. And those times have been when something has forced us to take action.

Make no mistake, we take leaks very seriously. We always investigate leaks with our internal teams as well as external partners to figure out where and how the leaks happened. We have and will continue to not just ban leakers from the DCI and cancel their Planeswalker Points accounts, but pursue whatever criminal and civil actions necessary to protect our intellectual property and the Magic community.

Why?

  • There are literally hundreds of Wizards team members around the world working hard to create amazing gaming experiences for you, the Magic community. This is our passion. When leaks occur, it damages our hard work and robs the Magic community of these experiences.
  • Leaks create an unfair advantage as—because they do not go out over official channels—they are not as widely distributed to less-enfranchised players, thus creating an unfair advantage for some players.
  • Leaks often lead to bad first impressions. Not always. But it is unrealistic (and would be unhealthy for the game) for every card to be designed in such a way that it would be 100% exciting when viewed out of context and on its own. That would force power creep in design to levels that would surely ruin the game.

So if we can't design a game that is leak-proof, our only other option is to work hard to prevent leaks. Which we do. We follow rigorous security protocols to ensure assets don't sneak outside the building. So when you see a leak online, what you are seeing is theft, and we have an obligation to pursue and punish those engaged in that activity.

It is easy, given Oath of the Gatewatch's series of leaks, to forget just how successful we are in these protocols. Like reading a book and not actively noticing, "Huh, I haven't found a typo yet." Or riding a bus and not considering that "Wow, we got there on time!" The normal level of delivery is just the status quo; it's unremarkable.

Will this article halt all future leaks from happening? I can always hope so, but I know it won't. Will my words here leave a mark on the community? Perhaps, but I can't say for sure.

So what's next?

You'll just have to wait and see.

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