Magic Online in 2015—A Look Back

Posted in Feature on November 9, 2015

By Worth Wollpert

Hi folks! I thought for 2015's end-of-year wrap-up article, I would split it into two parts: this article looking back at both the progress and the challenges we faced throughout the year, and another article a few months from now that looks forward to what the future holds for Magic Online.

In my executive summary from earlier this year, I told you all we'd be focused on a few key things in 2015: launching Leagues, fixing things faster, better transparency, and generally making Magic Online a more fun place to be. Here are some details about what we did this year (and how) to achieve those goals.

Leagues! Constructed Leagues opened to the general public in early September after a long and fruitful beta process (a special heartfelt thank you to all of our beta users!). Participation has been excellent and is exceeding our expectations. Players seem to almost universally love the events, and the things we need to tweak—such as the pairing algorithm and some prize structures—are already underway. Your feedback has been incredibly helpful on this front. Even though Leagues have just launched, already we have thousands of happy players and well over 200,000 completed matches. That said, I know Sealed Leagues are on everyone's mind. We are hard at work on polishing those up for launch, and you should get exciting news on those in the not-too-distant future, starting with an update from Chris Kiritz tomorrow. If you are interested in signing up to be part of the beta testing for Sealed Leagues, you can get more info here.

Coming into 2015, we knew we still had a good amount of performance work to do on the client itself. We still have work to do, but incrementally, all throughout the year, we have been making tweaks to the application. It's now generally smoother and requires less RAM. We've patched several memory leaks, fixed crashes, and addressed other annoyances that degrade usability. Most of that is back-end-type stuff that players can feel but never really see. What players have seen are several UI/UX improvements, though, including blue highlighting for active players, a revamped targeting system (especially for cards with multiple targets), watermarking and foil improvements, and smarter zone controls.

In 2015 we significantly ramped up the speed with which we can fix card issues that do slip through. For example, Brainstorm and Gifts Ungiven, each hugely impactful to multiple core formats, were fixed in less than two days when bugs arose with those cards. This process still isn't as streamlined as we'd like, and it's a bit rough on other items in the development pipeline to do fixes like this, but it's important to be able to pull that lever when it is needed. Critically, the initial card set deliverables this year have had the highest quality ever seen in the history of Magic Online, which is obviously a key goal of ours.

We've continued to up our development transparency through the process of maintaining the Bug Blog and updating with weekly articles, as well as staying reachable through social media. It's easier than ever to provide feedback to us through Reddit, Twitter, email, and the new Magic Online Tumblr. For those of you who've submitted feedback through any of these channels, we appreciate it and want you to know it all gets read, even if we can't personally reply to all of it!

Thopter Engineer | Art by Steve Prescott

On the content side, we have performed bigger and more frequent updates to our cubes (and I am looking forward to playing the new Legendary Cube that's coming on November 18!). We experimented by releasing Tempest Remastered earlier this year, which did not perform as well as we'd hoped. It is pretty clear to us that this type of "remastering" of older sets isn't the way most of our customers would like to experience Magic Online, so we're putting our efforts elsewhere in the future. That said, we're aware of the need to increase the quantity of certain cards in circulation and will continue to look for the best ways to do this going forward. Look for a few more details in my next article, when I'll talk about what's to come.

Lastly, we've taken some steps this year to streamline and consolidate our event offerings. We've pushed more of the focus to the types of formats that prove popular, and are removing a few that aren't seeing much play. We implemented a new economic model for Magic Online events, converting Phantom Points into the more general-use Play Points, and this has been successful as well. More players are now playing in events, from Leagues and two-player queues all the way up through MOCS events and PTQs. And finally, Vintage and several of our Cube offerings have gotten some well-deserved love this year.

So with 2015 almost in the books, we can look back at a year that saw a lot of improvements to Magic Online and the long-anticipated launch of a beloved old feature. As always, running a service-based game means our work to improve your experience is never done, and we have plenty of places we are still working to improve. Check back in a few months when I'll talk more about some of those plans. Until then, have a safe and happy holiday season, and a sincere thanks for being the loud, passionate, loyal customers that you all are.

—Worth Wollpert

Executive Producer, Magic Online

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