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Decipher’s Fight Klub Part 1: Marketing

March 20, 2009 2 comments

Note: I am not trying to sell you on Decipher’s Fight Klub game. The reason I have to give you this disclaimer is stated later. You can find part two of this review here.

So, it finally came down to this: I didn’t know how to approach this review.

On one hand, I’m excited that a studio that has produced some of my favorite games has produced another game. On the other, aside from the way said studio has handled their previous ventures from a business side, I’m pretty leery. But in the end, I’ve decided to split this into two parts. For now, part one.

Yes, Decipher has produced a new trading card game. Decipher, as you may know, produced the original Star Wars Customizable Card Game, the Star Trek game, and the Lord of the Rings. They’re intellectual property fiends. Star Wars was widely considered the best non-Magic: The Gathering trading card game ever made. With Star Trek they created a game well-suited to its universe–kind of bland, but full of strategy deep down. (The second edition of the game seemed an attempt to combat its naysayers more than expand upon the game.) Lord of the Rings was, quite possibly, the most original card game I’ve played since the original CCG/TCG boom in the early 1990s.

But, oh, for those properties and licenses. Without the Lucasfilm blessing, the Star Wars game morphed into Wars, with the same mechanics. (Wizards of the Coast, the recipient of the new Lucasfilm license, squandered it and ultimately put out a game that was organized die-rolling, and removed any complexity and strategy. I consider it a flop, despite how many cards they may have printed and/or sold.) Star Trek had a good, long run, both in the first edition and second. But a lot of the problems of the show filtered down into the game: once you get past the sexy fun action, there’s not much to latch onto in a game setting. In the end, both versions seem to be more like board games than card games. And Lord of the Rings… well… with licensing for the movies, there’s not much you can do when you run out of movie to make into cardboard.

Now, however, Decipher introduces Fight Klub. Aside from having the stupidest name ever (changed to avoid legal issues relating to the movie, as well as the book) the game suffers, in my mind, from a lack of focus. This, of course, is inherent in the premise of the game. That premise? If you could have any two characters fight each other, who would win? Who would win in a fight between Magneto and Rambo? Jack Ryan and Doc Brown? MechaGodzilla and Pippi Longstocking? Ad nauseam.

The problem is the aforementioned lack of focus. The game tries to juggle many, many properties, balance them, make them cool, and make an interesting, affordable game. But… well… let’s look at the list of properties optioned so far:

  • Rambo
  • Tank Girl
  • Fargo
  • Species
  • Terminator 2
  • The Devil’s Rejects
  • Crank
  • Army of Darkness
  • Friday the 13th
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Saw II
  • The Lost Boys
  • The Delta Force*
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Platoon
  • Robocop

What does this look like? A mess of B-movies that no one really cares about enough to give their own games, let alone actually buy product from. Now, I love a lot of those movies. Do I want games featuring their characters? Not so much. The fact that Army of Darkness is on this list is probably the kiss of death. I’ve never once played a game with Ash in it that was actually fun, balanced, or interesting.

But let’s skip all that. Maybe they can make an interesting game out of so very many disparate parts.

But before we get to a gameplay review, I have to talk about the so-called revolutionary aspects of the game.

I had to give that disclaimer at the beginning because of the way the game is marketed. To put it generally, the game is being sold in a pyramid, or at the very least multi-level, scheme. The game is only available from Decipher. That cuts out the “middleman” at the game store. You can only gain access to the site through someone who already plays the game. Once you’re in and you buy product, 10% of that price goes to whomever let you in. This is so subversive to the game that, in the nearly six hours I spent researching the game outside of Decipher’s site (which, again, I had to use someone else’s word to get into), I found maybe three sites that had reviews or message board threads that weren’t rife with people shilling the game. This is not a good face to put on a game. In fact, I was tempted to not even write this because I was so turned off by the marketing. Furthermore, Decipher is attempting a viral campaign with the game, encouraging people to use whatever means they have to get more people running into the site.

In short, the marketing is the single biggest thing the game has going against it. As soon as someone finds out you’ll be getting 10% of their purchases, they’re going to get a little annoyed. A lot annoyed, in fact.

After that plank, the main marketing platform Decipher is banking on is that it is, in theory, significantly cheaper than other CCG/TCGs to play. Magic is constantly pushing the boundaries of affordability, and Star Wars, back in the day, could fetch some pretty ridiculous sums. A lot of this is due to, in Decipher’s eyes, as the four-per-deck rule that the former has, and the unlimited-number rule that the latter had. So for Fight Klub, Decipher introduced a 1-3-3 rule: one of any given rare, three of any given uncommon, three of any common. Cards are not sold in traditional randomized boosters, but in what they’re calling “kilos”, 120-card packs for each set, consisting of ten random rares, one of each uncommon, and two of every common.

Decipher claims that, spending $29.95 per kilo, buying three kilos of each set should net you a full playset of commons and uncommons from the set, plus a likelihood of getting a full playset of rares, thus minimizing both the amount you need to spend for each expansion, and the amount of trading you’ll need to do in order to remain competitive and up-to-date. So for about $100, you’ll get pretty much a whole expansion, in a fully-playable assortment, as opposed to, say, Magic, which will get you maybe a playset of commons, a set of uncommons, and about a third to a half of the rares in any given set (depending on size).

For this, Decipher is taking a big, big gamble. Since Magic is distributed in stores, they have a greater possibility of impulse buyers picking up the game. It also has the benefit of having chase rares (or other cards) in a completely randomized 15-card pack. The number of boosters you have to buy to get a given rare, especially in quantities, is staggering. Decipher says that, with Fight Klub, you have a reasonable shot to collect the total number of relevent cards fairly easily.

Furthermore, and the final part of the distribution, is that Decipher has claimed they will reprint any expansion set, given enough customer demand. Essentially, they have removed the collectability of the game and replaced it with “customer service”. This cuts down on the profitablity, I think, but does a lot for the image of being “service-oriented”.

And this seems to be what Decipher is aiming for. Rather than being focused on acceptance by the general public, they’re aiming to make a hardcore base. This seems to be the biggest place where they diverge from Wizards of the Coast, especially with WotC’s big push toward “acquisition” of new players. Unfortunately, I think the odd licensing decisions and pyramid-like marketing structure will hurt more than they help in the long run.

Of course, the other major thing that will make a difference will be how the game plays. I expect to have a gameplay review up early next week, as my wife and I will take this weekend to learn the (admittedly simplistic) rules, and play a couple games with the downloadable demo decks.

I’ll reserve my shilling until then.

*Chuck Norris is not enough to make me buy into this game. Sorry, Decipher.

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Oh, Is That All? (Part One)

July 10, 2008 Leave a comment

I’m lucky in that I can call a very creative group of people my friends. I know two web developers (one of which is a particularly lucid writer), a novelist that’s working in television, a theater technician, poets, and countless musicians. All of them have big hopes of becoming something Important. What I’m wondering, though, is what will ultimately push them over the edge into profitability and/or notoriety? And for that matter, what about any other random blogger in the world?

One problem with being a producer of a creative piece of work, be it fine art, writing, blogging, music, whatever, is that, ultimately, you’re trying to sell something to someone. Unfortunately, most of the time, that something is information. Images, ideas, or expressions that aren’t easily wrangled or tangibly owned the way, say, your couch is. Without being able to extract some sort of easy monetary benefit out of a product like a blog post, being creative is generally a pretty piss poor way of making a real living. So how do we fund ourselves, as bloggers, or writers, or photographers, as creators? Advertising.

Not our own, of course. Not advertising our own product with our product, but advertising someone else’s product with our product.

There’s countless websites out there telling you how to create traffic and therefore generate revenue for yourself through your blog. Most of them make the claim that the best way to create traffic is to have good content, and the rest will come naturally. But will it really? Most of these sites say that, in order to have good content that you need to do a few things to really get people to notice, most notably specialization and personal branding. Selling yourself to sell certain ads to certain people, essentially.

While I agree that there are advantages to specialization, what happens if you’re one of those people who simply can’t keep tied down to one subject type or beat? What happens if you have a really good idea that you just have to write about? Do you put it on the shelf for later, or for someone else to publish for you? Do you start multiple blogs and spread out your workload? I contend that you shouldn’t have to. Sure, market saturation and trends will tell you that that should get more people to your site, but will it really?

This is where my real point begins. In all that specialization, and pandering to your audience and advertisers, what’s to guarantee that you’ll get any traffic at all? Sure, there are people that blog or write or take pictures or paint solely for the joy of it, but anyone trying to make a living though creative arts generally have to jump through so many hoops just to get noticed that it’s enough to make any self-respecting writer jump ship and work as a day laborer for the rest of their lives (or until their bodies give out.)

Should we just write, put it out there, and hope to get noticed? You’ll be waiting a long time for that to happen, I think. You could pimp the hell out of your work to your friends and anyone that has an internet connection, but I still don’t think that will guarantee any staying power. Look at the webcomic industry. Is there really any rhyme or reason as to which comics are popular and profitable versus the flashes in the pan? What is it that makes Drudge one of the most popular websites in the world when all he does 90% of the time is simply repost stories, like just about any other schlub could do?

For an answer to questions like these, I’ll be using one of those generic “Get Traffic Quick” strategies. I’ll be sending out an e-mail interview/questionairre to some of my aforementioned creative people and see what is important to them in a blog, what gets them to come back, and finally, what they are doing to further their creative presence on the web. Hopefully I’ll have the project completed within the next couple weeks, so keep your eyes on this space.