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CCG Development and Questions

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ObiFett
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First, I just found this website and its amazing. I have read a couple posts and am excited to pick this forum's "brain" for more information. I just barely signed up because I would like to contribute and need some feedback on a project idea that has recently come to fruition.

A bit about why I am here: I have made a massive breakthrough in the development of my own collectible card game. I have made three major developments in what I think will set the game apart from every other CCG. I have mechanics in place. Card writing is just now taking off. I (like most game designers) think my game could be huge. Being a gamer myself, I know I would play this game and I know this has some serious long term appeal. I can't really give specifics because I really believe these ideas are genuinely a breakthrough.

I know this is a board game designer's forum, but I have seen CCG discussion here before so I thought I would shoot a couple questions at the bow and see if anyone would fire back. Here goes:

- I have read that strategic tradeable card games are actually patented by Wizards of the Coast and that they used to force CCGs to pay them royalties. To what extent is that true? How vigilant are WotC in pursuing other CCG/TCGs today to pay royalties/fees?

- Should I create an online version of my CCG first (to develop a fanbase) and then release in card format (retaining most of the control and profits for myself), or should I seek to go through publishers and lose control but gain the means to make the game available worldwide quicker?

- If you have developed a CCG before, what is the best way to playtest: card by card (meaning create some cards and then playtest, create more then playtest, repeat) or complete set (create all cards, then playtest and tweak)?

Thank you for the responses in advance. I look forward to hearing words of wisdom from those who have been in my situation before.

VeritasGames
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ObiFett wrote:I have made

ObiFett wrote:
I have made three major developments in what I think will set the game apart from every other CCG.

That major development should probably be deep pockets for marketing and a huge license, primarily aimed at kids instead of adults. We are in an economic downturn and many new CCGs are considered to be plague-ridden.

In the past couple of years, the only new one that I can remember doing quite well was Bella Sara and it wasn't really a typical CCG, and was more a set of collectible horse cards targeted at young girls to get them access to electronic horses online.

Most publishers aren't interested in buying rights to CCGs right now, and many consumers aren't interested in buying CCGs at all. Upper Deck had layoffs totalling 110 people. Other multi-million dollar companies that produced CCGs went bankrupt. Our company produced a non-random customizable card game that was lumped in with collectible games, causing our bottom line to suffer

Quote:
tradeable card games are actually patented by Wizards of the Coast and that they used to force CCGs to pay them royalties.

WotC has A patent. At least 2 other CCG companies have patents as well. Nominally, each of these patents extends to the specific mechanics of the games in question. WotC has for years claimed to have a patent on "customizable card games". WotC's patent could be invalidated by several key industry players because they revealed the content of their patentable products more than a year prior to filing. As a result, WotC occasionally fires off a cease & desist letter, but has not taken anyone to court (to my knowledge). They did have licensing agreements right after filing but only a few companies signed on.

Quote:
Should I create an online version of my CCG first (to develop a fanbase)

Do you mean as a PDF (print-and-play) game? Or as a play online video game platform?

If the former, it's a great idea, but the cost of art can be prohibitive for most PDF games.

If the latter, sounds possible, but expensive and time consuming. Join Gamasutra and read their article on Star Chamber. It talks about the development of Star Chamber pretty thoroughly. If possible, license one of several professional or fan-created card trading engines that have been implemented for a variety of online CCGs (I'm not talking about Apprentice, but stand-alone online CCGs).

Quote:
If you have developed a CCG before, what is the best way to playtest: card by card (meaning create some cards and then playtest, create more then playtest, repeat) or complete set (create all cards, then playtest and tweak)?

Design top-down. Envision your rules set thoroughly. Make sure that EVERY card you design fits within the rulebook without constantly padding it out. If you try to tweak your rules for every card you design, chances are your rulebook will break under the weight of any significant card combination.

Here's one majorly odd find we made when doing a core rulebook for our game. Fans like detailed games with replay value, and play games with hideously long rulebooks, but most gamers don't actually read those rulebooks. They want a short rules introduction to the game, even if it doesn't answer all questions. Then they want a rulebook that answers ALL their questions, but they don't want to read it -- they want one of their smart bored friends to read and memorize it.

You need playtest teams which you are a part of AND blind test groups which you do not directly play with, but who instead teach themselves. You need at least one group of rules lawyers who intentionally try to break the game by misconstruing all vague parts of every card.

Beyond that, how you playtest depends so much on your rules that it's not really worth talking about how you should playtest YOUR SPECIFIC CCG without info on it, since it may have specific play or deck building requirements that encourage or restrict card synergies in certain ways.

Lee Valentine
President
Veritas Games Company LLC

ObiFett
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VeritasGames wrote: That

VeritasGames wrote:

That major development should probably be deep pockets for marketing and a huge license, primarily aimed at kids instead of adults. We are in an economic downturn and many new CCGs are considered to be plague-ridden.

Yeah, I have come to that conclusion myself. To be honest, the actual submitting/release of the game would be at least a year or two away from now. Here's to hoping the economy can fix itself by then.

VeritasGames wrote:

WotC has A patent. At least 2 other CCG companies have patents as well. Nominally, each of these patents extends to the specific mechanics of the games in question. WotC has for years claimed to have a patent on "customizable card games". WotC's patent could be invalidated by several key industry players because they revealed the content of their patentable products more than a year prior to filing. As a result, WotC occasionally fires off a cease & desist letter, but has not taken anyone to court (to my knowledge). They did have licensing agreements right after filing but only a few companies signed on.

I ask because I have read that Pokemon got sued by WotC and it was partially based on patent infringement. I read the patent itself and it sounds like they do actually have a right to ALL "strategic trading card games" especially ones that require you to draw from the deck and make attack/summons to take away life points from the other player. But you seem to have more recent knowledge about how WotC handles this, so I'll just go with what you said, if not for any reason other than to help me not worry about it till I cross that bridge.

VeritasGames wrote:

Do you mean as a PDF (print-and-play) game? Or as a play online video game platform?

Nope, mainly because one of the main dynamics of the game wouldn't work as a print-and-play game. Sorry, wish I could go into details, but I honestly believe if someone from WotC or WOW:CCG saw it, they would implement that dynamic immediately.

VeritasGames wrote:

If the latter, sounds possible, but expensive and time consuming. Join Gamasutra and read their article on Star Chamber. It talks about the development of Star Chamber pretty thoroughly. If possible, license one of several professional or fan-created card trading engines that have been implemented for a variety of online CCGs (I'm not talking about Apprentice, but stand-alone online CCGs).

Online is how I would do it. I have a pretty decent programming background, so it shouldn't be too time consuming. The other positives are that it would allow some pretty extensive playtesting, I could have users agree to an NDA while they test so that my ideas/mechanics are kept safe, and it could develop and maintain a fanbase while waiting for the economy to be a little more "right" for the release of a new CCG.

VeritasGames wrote:

Design top-down. Envision your rules set thoroughly. Make sure that EVERY card you design fits within the rulebook without constantly padding it out. If you try to tweak your rules for every card you design, chances are your rulebook will break under the weight of any significant card combination.

Good point and one that I have just haphazardly stumbled upon doing. Everything has been done top-down so far. All mechanics are in place, card types and effects are decided, all that is left is to write the actual cards. Which I have just barely started to do.

Thank you for your advice about playtesting and rules theory. I had never thought about the best games usually having detailed rulebooks because I am usually the one who reads it and memorizes it. And now that I think about it, my friends have never really read rule books for WH40k, SW:CCG, or any other rule-heavy strategic game. I always just end up answering their questions. Hopefully an online version can strum up enough "powergamers" to stress the rules to the limits and show me any exploits that weren't necessarily covered in the beginning.

VeritasGames wrote:

Beyond that, how you playtest depends so much on your rules that it's not really worth talking about how you should playtest YOUR SPECIFIC CCG without info on it, since it may have specific play or deck building requirements that encourage or restrict card synergies in certain ways.

Lee Valentine
President
Veritas Games Company LLC

Again, thanks for the comments. I am sorry that I feel like I can't give out specific information on the game design behind my CCG. I am sure it would make you helping me easier for you, but I am pretty protective of these ideas. As a long-time gamer and basing my opinion on games I have played, I really think this will be huge if/when it hits the market.

apeloverage
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my advice would be

to create a free, browser version of the game, and use that as both marketing and playtesting.

ObiFett
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apeloverage wrote:to create a

apeloverage wrote:
to create a free, browser version of the game, and use that as both marketing and playtesting.

Yep, thats the plan right now. I will add sign-ups and NDA like an actual beta test, though. Hopefully that will keep some of the ideas safe.

Jeremiah_Lee
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apeloverage wrote:to create a

apeloverage wrote:
to create a free, browser version of the game, and use that as both marketing and playtesting.

Have you looked into LackeyCCG? Software for dev/sharing of CCGs, you could get players that way.

ObiFett
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Jeremiah_Lee wrote: Have you

Jeremiah_Lee wrote:

Have you looked into LackeyCCG? Software for dev/sharing of CCGs, you could get players that way.

Yep, that was my first thought but it won't allow me to implement one of my main ideas behind the CCG.

I have some background in programming and my wife has the entire Adobe collection, so it shouldn't be too hard to make a flash version of the game. Only thing that will cost money will be getting a website and possibly paying for the server use to run a multiplayer game and store user collection data on my end. Great idea though and I may pop it on there during the alpha testing phase in a very rough draft style format.

kiwasabi
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I work professionally as a

I work professionally as a Playtester for several online TCGs and so I'll offer some advice. Thoroughly research the competition and see what good ideas they've implemented and what big mistakes they've made. Look at both games that were successful and those that were failures and try and understand why they were failures. A game that really comes to mind that was a huge flop was Ophinian. Play tons of CCGs and try and think about the thinking behind the marketing (which could mean the complexity of the game mechanics, the universe chosen for the game, the art style, etc).

The future of profitable CCGs is in digital CCGs. Players like digital CCGs because they don't ever have to worry about having someone to play against. Even if it's 4am they can pop online and play someone from Sweden. Digital CCGs are a great business model because you cut out all of the manufacturing and distribution. There is such a bigger profit margin that you really don't need as big of a player base as you would need with a paper TCG (research Lord of the Rings TCG and its digital equivalent to get an idea of this; the digital version had probably 2-5% the size of the player base of the paper version, yet was still profitable).

As far as writing cards, play testing, etc, it was mentioned earlier that you want to work from top to bottom. First of all, get your game mechanics firmed up before you get yourself certain on anything on a more micro level. Once you have the game mechanics in a nearly final form, start to make a complete card set. You do this by starting with high level ideas for a group of cards (i.e. I want 10 cards that feature aliens who shoot acid spit), then break those up into smaller groups (i.e. 5 of those aliens will shoot their acid spit close-range while the other 5 will do it long-range) and then just keep breaking it down like this until you finally have the idea for each card laid out. Then continue to tweak and tweak and tweak until you've got something you like. Have as many eyes laid upon your game as possible and pay attention to everybody's reactions. It's a long process but it's definitely doable. I hope that this helps.

-Adam

VeritasGames
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ObiFett wrote:Nope, mainly

ObiFett wrote:
Nope, mainly because one of the main dynamics of the game wouldn't work as a print-and-play game. Sorry, wish I could go into details, but I honestly believe if someone from WotC or WOW:CCG saw it, they would implement that dynamic immediately.

Honestly, unless you have the tens of thousands of dollars to both file a patent and to potentially sue Upper Deck and Hasbro in defense of that patent if they infringe, then chances are either that they will never use your game methods in their games, or that they will instantly adopt them if they are such great ideas and you won't be able to do anything about it. Either way, I wouldn't concern yourself in the long run about that issue. Wizards of the Coast has a multi-year playtest process, and they already have things in the can far before their release date. I doubt that they will revise entire sets just to adopt a handful of new mechanics.

Re: the Pokemon lawsuit, according to this article it focused on breaches of contract surrounding distribution rights and manufacturing trade secrets. If there was any patent infringement, it was probably because the games were similar and because Nintendo doesn't have access to the documents necessary to invalidate the patent. Moreover, in licensing arrangements it's possible to get documents signed saying things like "I agree not to contest your rights to the patented materials in exchange for X, Y, and Z."

http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/stories/2003/10/13/story2.html

I know a couple of other companies in the industry do have the necessary docs to undo Wizards patent filings, and at least two other companies have CCG patents that actually list WotC's patent in their patent filings. That means a patent examiner stared at the WotC patent and determined that Decipher's patent, for example, was significantly different from WotC's patent and was therefore new, patentable material.

I think you are worried about the wrong thing. Most CCG designers are. A non-disclosure agreement may be useful, but beyond that, I think you are worried about entirely the wrong things. Worry about not going bankrupt producing a commodity which is strongly on the outs unless you have a licensed property hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.

In two years Tenacious Games went under with a CCG that was backed by millions of dollars of marketing and development budget.

We made our game non-random, but used foil in our packaging. Mistake. You should go VERY much non-random and VERY non-collectible if you ever plan on printing a single card. Honestly, at this point I wouldn't even advertise that my game was "expandable" or "customizable".

Lee Valentine
President
Veritas Games Company LLC

apeloverage
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I'd look at

doing a non-flash version: much quicker load times.

Also I'd make playable turn-by-turn, and/or have the option to play a 'bot', to help with the problem of insufficient players being on at one time.

InvisibleJon
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VeritasGames wrote:You should

VeritasGames wrote:
You should go VERY much non-random and VERY non-collectible if you ever plan on printing a single card. Honestly, at this point I wouldn't even advertise that my game was "expandable" or "customizable".
Current example: Dominion. Very much an expandable, customizable card game, but it doesn't use either of those words in the official web site (even though everyone I've met uses one of those two words when describing it), and I suspect that it doesn't say them on the box or in the rules, either.

ObiFett
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InvisibleJon

InvisibleJon wrote:
VeritasGames wrote:
You should go VERY much non-random and VERY non-collectible if you ever plan on printing a single card. Honestly, at this point I wouldn't even advertise that my game was "expandable" or "customizable".
Current example: Dominion. Very much an expandable, customizable card game, but it doesn't use either of those words in the official web site (even though everyone I've met uses one of those two words when describing it), and I suspect that it doesn't say them on the box or in the rules, either.

I really appreciate all the down to earth advice. It does kind of help temper my expectations. If I ever am going to print a card, it will have to be through a publisher. Like all of you said, there is just no way to plan on distributing and marketing an actual printed CCG.

Which is why my plan currently is to have it online first, show the success (hopefully) to a publisher, and then have them market and distribute it.

I really don't want the game to be like Killer Bunnies or Dominion. Each player needs their OWN deck because of the way the game plays. A common draw deck just doesn't work.

Again, thanks for the real world advice, it really is helping.

Tom day
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