Wizards of the Coast
Back in early 1990, a tiny game company called
Wizards of the Coast (WotC) appeared
on the role-playing gaming (RPG) scene. One small publisher amongst
many, Wizards of the Coast produced a couple interesting
products including something called The Primal Order. An
RPG supplement designed to enhance the role and detail
of fantasy mythos, it was well received by the gaming community
and seemed to indicate that WotC would probably do okay as a tier-three
company living off the markets dominated by the TSRs and Chaosiums.
Boy, were we all wrong.
In 1993, Wizards of the Coast asked a part-time game-designer by the name of Richard Garfield to design a card game that was quick, fun and playable in under an hour. The result was Magic: The Gathering®
I'll bet that most readers have probably at least heard of Magic: The Gathering, if not played it. But, for those of you that haven't played, the concept is pretty simple. Each player has a deck of cards that consist of various spells, monsters and land. Land provides mana to power the spells that summon the monsters that you use to attack your opponent. The object: defeat your opponent. Naturally, the game is more complex than this and there are numerous subtleties, but that's not the real killer.
Magic: The Gathering is a collectable card game. A basic deck doesn't contain all the cards. In fact, it contains a mere fraction of the cards. Players are encouraged to buy booster decks to collect more and more of the total array of cards. Better still, the cards are graded by their frequency of appearance. There are common cards, uncommon, rare and very rare cards. Naturally, the very rare cards tend to be better, more powerful, etc.
The phenomenon was likened to gaming crack. People spent a fortune collecting cards and playing Magic: the Gathering and Wizards of the Coast found themselves hanging onto the tail of a monster. The Collectable Trading Card Game industry was born. WotC quickly found themselves devoting all their time and energy to coming up with new supplements to release to a seemingly endless stream of customers.
Now don't get me wrong. I have nothing against it.
Magic: The Gathering is actually quite a good game. But,
that's not the point. The fact that they virtually single
handily created an entire industry isn't either. That
Magic outsells Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit
is interesting but not the point either.
So, what is my point ?
Well, Richard Garfield and Wizards of the Coast applied for and received a US patent for Magic: The Gathering. The patent was granted for something called Trading Card Game Method of Play. This is significant because it's generally very hard to get a patent on anything other than game mechanics. This patent is specifically for trading cards as method of playing a game.
So, what does all this have the least bit to do with Fantasy or Science Fiction literature ?
Well, as is common in the gaming industry, WotC now publishes novels based on the world of Magic: The Gathering. Naturally, these novels are quite popular with Magic players.
But, more importantly, the success of Magic: the Gathering, has enabled Wizards of the Coast to purchase several financially troubled gaming companies including TSR. TSR is the grand-daddy of the RPG gaming industry and, at one point, was the single largest publisher of fantasy literature in the world. From their stable sprang authors such as R.A. Salvatore, Ed Greenwood, Margaret Weis and tracy Hickman. While many critics, myself included at times, have been very harsh when reviewing some of the material published by TSR, the fact remains that it sells. And it sells well.
It is important to have successes in our industry. It is important to have lots of new, if often rough, new authors getting a chance to be published. Therefore, it is important that somebody saved TSR and has committed to those product lines, including the line of fiction.
So, with that, I offer up a hearty congratulations and thanks to Wizards of the Coast. Congratulations on being innovative enough to come up with a truly original idea and for having that originality recognized with a patent. Thanks for saving TSR. I might not like everything they published but I've liked a lot of it.
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