Thursday, June 22, 2006

Magic the Gathering Online Crap

Warning!!! Long Rambling Post!!! Warning!!!

So I decided to check out Magic the Gathering Online. They had their booth next to ours at E3 and were giving away copies of their retail box but by the time I was able to get over there they were all gone.

I found that I could just download the game from their site and didn’t need the box. Normally I like having a box because if I am going to shell out money I want something I can hold in my hands in return. But I’m slowly getting over that. It was the beginning of a lesson in how not to set up your game service.

Before I begin here is how their game works as far as money goes. You pay $9.99 for the account and then you can play for free but you have to buy the cards online. I believe once you are in the game you can buy the booster packs and pre-made decks from inside the client but since I haven’t gotten into the game I don’t know that for sure.

I also have to ask what kind of sign up system they were after when they designed this. I imagine what they wanted is a system where they can easily grab a casual player who is curious about the game and then hope to hook him into continue playing, pretty standard stuff. But what they have set up has way too many hoops. They aren’t really difficult hoops and you can’t expect a hoop free system, although that is possible if you design it right, but this one has annoyed me enough that I’ve decided to ramble on complaining about it. I hope your not bored enough to actually read this. Just so you know I probably won't be proof reading it either. You were warned...

First I downloaded the self extracting zip file. No problem there. I execute it and it unzips itself into its default directory and then launches the game. Now I don’t know what was in that zip file which was only 39mb in size but it wasn’t enough. The game spent over an hour patching. OVER AN HOUR!!! It might have even been two hours I didn't really pay attention to when I started.

Okay so now it has finally finished patching and the log in screen pops up. It does have an option for a free trial but I decide to just shell out the $9.99 and get an account. Now here is another big hoop: their online store. It isn’t built into the client it is a web page store. Now this is just a little thing, but remember we are trying to “grab a casual player”. I have to figure out what I’m buying which is the Magic the Gathering Account. Its kind of an esoteric concept that might lose Timmy’s dad who just bought little Timmy the game for his birthday.

But that isn’t it. I HAVE to fill out their little survey before I am allowed to buy this item. I am thinking okay this data is important to them I guess… but obviously not since it looks to have been several years since they update it. One of the final questions asks me what other online MMO games I play and none of the options are any game that has come out in the last two years. World of Warcraft isn’t mentioned, No Everquest II, etc.

Now I have bought an account. I don’t remember the exact steps here but I believe it sent me the account email at that point where I get my password. I am not sure though because when I look back at the text that I saved from the store it says:
Congratulations, you are now a registered player of Magic: The Gathering Online. Launch your Magic Online program, enter the user name and password you created at the beginning of this process and click "Log In" to begin playing!
I didn’t create a password at the beginning of the process. The password was sent to me in the email"

Thank you for requesting an account at the Magic Online Store. With
thousands of creatures, ever-evolving strategies, and 24/7 access to
opponents, Magic Online is the ultimate online competition.

Now that your Login Name and Password are created, we need to complete your account setup. Listed below is your Login name and a system-generated password. For full, step-by-step instructions on account creation, please visit
System generated password, not password I created. And do you see any problem with that link? The period is part of the link which brings you to a page not found.

Somewhere in the activation process I also had to detail how I got my account as either from a retail box, the online store purchase, or something else. I’m not sure why.

What ever it was I figured it out and tried to login to the game.
Cannot establish a connection to the server. Either the server is offline or you have lost your connection to the internet. If the server is offline, try again in a few minutes.
My internet connection is fine. But I am wondering if the server is down or it needs me to open a port on my router. Now there isn’t a help or website link on their launcher. So I navigate back through their maze of Wizard of the Coasts website to the Magic the Gathering Online site not to be confused with the Magic the Gathering normal website. I find their forum and see a sticky thread on the top of the general forum list. Here is the first post by the Moderator WizO Jabberwock who uses a picture of Chuck Noris as his avatar:
Title: The “Is the Server Up?” Status Thread

In an effort to help with the boards slow down and searching we have closed the old thread and starting a new one.
This thread is a running list to check and see if the server seems to be up or down.

Please remember that there is usually a planned downtime every Thursday and the server will be unavailable for a period of time.
Check the announcements forum for details on the planned downtimes.

Check this thread, usually the last couple of pages, and the dates of the posts to see if there are connection problems to the game server.

Also note that the online status checker on the Magic Online page seems to be contradictory in many cases. This is likely caused because it reports whether the server itself is up. Even if the server itself is up, it may not be accepting user logins. So rule of thumb:
The status thing says down = down for everyone
The status thing says up = may be up but you can't log in, give it time
You get that? There was another thread, one that I gather had somewhere around 4000 posts was closed and this new one was started. I don’t know how many posts this one has but it is up to 27 pages already. Notice too that their “online status checker” is often wrong. I’d say what’s the point of having one then but since I can’t find any such thing on their page I guess it’s a moot point. If you find it please feel free to tell me where it is.

So then there is a this post in the announcement forum which I probably should have gone to first.

It basically says there is a one hour downtime on Thursday at 8 AM PDT. It is Thursday for me… but I’m way ahead of PDT and I don’t’ think its 8 AM yet. It also said it would last only and hour and I have been trying to log in for several hours.

I did get another email from them giving me a $9.99 credit in their store that can be used to buy cards.

Okay so now here is the how I would do it differently part.

The zip file should be updated. As long as it is under 1 gig that is fine for somebody who wants to download it. It would really piss me off if I had started to download before going to bed or something thinking when I got back to it I could just install and run it only to have to wait another 2 hours for it to update.

At best I would build the purchase of the account into the client at worse I would at least remove it from the web store. It could still be a web store behind the scenes but hide that part from the user. Just have a special page where he can enter his billing information and click for the one time purchase of the account. The selecting of the item to buy from the store and being force to take useless survey are just hurdles to them getting my money and getting me addicted to the game. Remember currently you can play the trial game without buying an account so having it set up so that I can be playing the trial and instantly click the "buy a full account" link inside the client would be the easist for the user.

When I create my account, THAT is when you send me the survey in email and tell me that if I fill it out you will give me the store credit.

The launcher needs lots of work. First you need a link to your website which should have an actual working server status display right there on the main page. Second a “help” link that takes you to the customer service web page. It should also have a little news announcement section that has links to the latest news and happenings. These are all the standard things you find on the current MMO launchers.

I would also update their title and launcher artwork as it is looking a little early 90’s.

Okay I am done rambling. Its 11:30 and I still can’t log into the game… well let me try… nope still can’t get in.


Joseph the Fourth said...

I have found that I do indeed need to open ports on my router to connect to the Magic the Gathering Online server.

I have also installed the game at work from the CD and it too took forever to update. I timed it this time and it too 1 hour and 20 minutes. Yesterday when I was installing it at home it looked like it sat at “99% complete” forever but I thought I must just be imagining that. I confirmed that is indeed the case though. I tabbed back to it 30 minutes into the patching process and found it at 99% done only to still have 50 more minutes to go.

I still haven’t gotten to play but I did watch my friend Paul play during lunch. He confirmed that you CAN NOT buy your decks, booster packs and game tickets inside the client. It pops you out of the game and opens the store web page.

Watching him play the game I really get the impression that it is a really good job done by complete amateurs. The mistakes they have made are ones of inexperience. Their interface in the game is functional but by no means intuitive or polished. The artwork kind of sucks too and a lot of it looks like it was stuff that was poorly scanned in.

Joseph the Fourth said...

If you install from the CD you have the option of installing tutorials which I did. Its a seperate program. When I ran it however the card graphics were corrupt. Turns out this is just a tutorial for Magic the Gathering not for MtG Online.

Then I loaded up the online game and clicked on the tutorial link in their main menu.

"You do not have the Magic: The Gathering Online Tutorial installed. Would you like to download it now?"

Its 93 meg download full of .wav files. Okay so I can see this not being in the zip file, but there is no excuse for this not being on the damn CD. It looks like the CD is just the zip file (installing from the CD had the unzip dialog just like when I installed from the self extracting zip file) and both had the long patch process.

It is also outside the client. Its a file I have to download, run, and go through the install process.

Joseph the Fourth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joseph the Fourth said...

Okay so I run the MtG Online Tutorial program and one of the options on the main menu is "Check for Updates"

Guess what happened when I pressed it. Go on... Guess.


"There is an update available for the Magic Online tutorial program.

When you click "Begin Patch Process..." you will be prompted to Save an UpdateCheck.exe file to your computer."

There is no excuse for this! I just downloaded it from them!

Joseph the Fourth said...

The download took no time. I ran the updater and it tells me my version is already up to date. But clicking on the "Check for Updates" still tells me it is out of date.

You know after all of this you can still say they are doing just fine despite all this. Yes, they are doing fine; they have plenty of customers, loads of people playing online. But I have to ask how many MORE people would they have playing if they DIDN'T have all these poorly designed and maintained systems causing me all these headaches?!

Joseph the Fourth said...

So I have been playing the MtG tutorial a bit now inbetween WoW sessions and finally got brave enough to venture into the Casual room where I can play against other news and people on trial accounts. I saw a player named Flyingnimbus start a game. I clicked on his game and then clicked on "join"

A little window opened up showing me sitting across from Flyingnimbus. And then nothing else. I had a cancle and help button. After a few second I clicked on help and it said the person who started the game needed to hit okay. I tabbed back in and wait a few more seconds and then a chat box opened up with spam of somebody wanting me to visit a website where they were selling cards and deck and another chat box from Flyingnimbus:

flyingnimbus: press ok.
joseph4th: I only have cancle and help button
flyingnimbus: hmm.
flyingnimbus: I have no idea then.
flyingnimbus: =/
flyingnimbus: try to cancle it.
joseph4th: and having pressed the help button it says the person who started the game should have the okay button
flyingnimbus: Yeah.
flyingnimbus: I am clicking ok.

flyingnimbus: but its not doing anything.
joseph4th: clicking cancle not doing anything either
flyingnimbus: nope.
flyingnimbus: this is my first time, lol.
joseph4th: well my first game against another person is going just great
flyingnimbus: haha.

I clicked the close X window and exited the program. When I got back in he had managed to start a game with somebody else. After a few minutes somebody else started a game which I joined and it worked. I played the guy twice and got beat both times.