There is still a great debate regarding spending real money within Topps Bunt and the apps all together. Let me start by saying that apps are freaking expensive to create – especially one with the kind of functionality that Bunt has. To maintain them is similarly expensive, even more so with staff to assist the gameplay. All that you should take away from this is that money is important.
I have spoken many times regarding how much money flows through the app each month. When you factor in that the diamond VIPs are all spending in the thousands of dollars (likely) to achieve that status, it becomes very easy to imagine what that type of money means to the game’s content. Im guessing there are anywhere between 5000 to 10000 users that spend ANY money each month, and maybe 1500 that spend a good deal of money based on VIP counts.
All that being said, the people who spend a good deal money (myself included), are gaining more access to the way the game is being played, and that for the most part is a good thing. You want the people who invest to be happy, and feel challenged enough to keep on playing. If your best customers feel appreciated, they will continue being your best customers.
What if your best customers arent actually who you think they are? What if those customers instead are using their status as a method to carve out their own living based on the value of the product on the secondary market? Are they really the right people to give further influence to? Im not sure, actually, but that is the situation we are starting to encounter.
High value and new rare cards in the game sell for A LOT of money. Dont believe me, check out this auction, or to a lesser extent, this auction as well. The point I am making is that these cards have become very hot commodities as more users see how difficult it is to build a great collection from scratch.
The question now becomes, where is the best place to buy your cards? Is it from the packs you can gamble on within the Bunt store at 9.99 per 20k coins, or is it the hundreds of eBay auctions where you can buy the best cards without a gamble? Is Topps even that concerned that their store is likely not the best option?
When you consider the widening gap between so called “rich” collectors who own a collection score above 85 and the new players, there is a very big dilemma that Topps is smack dab in the middle of dealing with. Do you curb selling, all while potentially killing off a huge stream of revenue that is resulting from eBay sellers who spend thousands to stock their stores? Does this come at the gain of thousands of new users who will now feel like they have a better shot at getting the new cards? I have no idea.
In fact, I think the people who do well selling on eBay are quite the entrepreneurs, as they definitely found a venue to make some money. Most of them do a very good job with it as well, knowing how to price and sell cards to recoup their large investments. I havent had an issue with any of them so far. Ebay is actually a pretty safe venue with all the buyer protection in place.
On the other hand, it all begs the question of whether or not this should be allowed to continue, as I believe selling cards is against the rules. As I mentioned in a previous article, Topps may not be wanting to step in quite yet without truly understanding the impact.
More and more users are falling into attrition because it has become a second job for some to stay up to date on the app. The bunt team isnt without fault as well, as its clear that they are doing what they can to garner more revenue as well. Splitting packs and offering more releases has been done in real cards as well, and it should come as no surprise that the bottom line was the largest consideration in doing so.
Im not sure if Topps deliberately makes it easier for the ebay sellers to roam free, but the way they have set up the game is very comforting to that type of user. All they really have to do is buy the biggest coin bundle at 99 bucks, open a bunch of packs, and make 120 sales at 1 dollar each to break even (with fees). Considering most packs have five cards, and if opened at the right time can produce a lot of 1 dollar cards, its not hard if you have the time to dedicate to make the auctions work. If you manage to pull the big hit, and they usually do, it could mean an extra 50-100 dollars worth of profit per bundle bought.
This doesnt even take into consideration the free benefits they receive as Black and Diamond VIPs. Each of those benefits can mean extra revenue and profit that doesnt cost anything to receive.
Access Can Be An Issue
Over the last few months, VIP access has increased exponentially. As I mentioned above, that can be a very good thing. It can also be detrimental as its clear that many of the diamond and black VIPs are important enough to potentially influence decisions. Not make decisions, but potentially influence with their spending. Cutting off funds spent is a huge voice, and Topps will not take that likely – or at least I wouldnt if I were them.
Now that Black and Diamond VIPs also have open lines of communication to the top people on the bunt team without interference from the thousands of other people that clog the lines, its easier for their voice to be heard.
It should be obvious that the Bunt team does listen. Recent decisions on scoring, award cards, and other elements of the app have come from user feedback. They send out surveys and are constantly looking to improve. They may seem distant at times, but I feel as though its only because of how many things they are responsible for, and how many users they have to please. They deserve a medal, and I am not kidding about that. They dont deserve the flack they get for lack of response.
However, these VIPs will now have a fast lane based on the money they spend. The question now becomes, how will they use that influence and how will the Topps team react? If many of these individuals arent actually “losing” anything by spending money on the game, those individual’s user bias will reflect that situation. I say they arent losing anything, because when I spend money on the game, its gone. I get what I get out of it on the app, but I am not getting any of that money back. For all the sellers, they usually can recoup all investments plus some.
Can and How Do They Fix It?
There are a lot of ways to fix the way users interact, but most of it will require heavy programming that can take a long time. Taking an overt stance against selling offline is free, and should likely be done, but again, they are likely still looking to understand what may be at stake if that happens.
I think the best way to prevent selling is to bring it in game. Allow users to auction off their cards for coins in a setting similar to eBay. I put up my sig and people bid coins they have to see if they can be the winner. Now, it will likely be to the detriment of trading at first, as more coins mean more reasons to sell than trade. Yet, it may actually inspire more spending in the way users purchase coins for auctions as well as for opening packs. You cant have cards to auction without opening packs.
Other ways are to make the cards more available to everyone, thus reducing rarity and value, but that will likely do more harm than good, and make older cards that much more valuable. They can also block bunt auctions from being added to eBay, which is always a possibility that has been done in the past with other volatile consumer goods. Increasing daily and weekly bonuses is a way to give more riches to people who wouldnt have had them normally, meaning more packs will be opened and the cards will be harder for the sellers to get a ton of. All of these things come at a price against spending and trading in the game, which is already a prime target for improvement.
Is It Truly a Problem?
Selling itself is not the problem, as anything that has virtual value has potential to have real value. I actually dont have issue with spending real money to get specific cards. However, the regular user has to be able to have access as well. In real life, there are people who open packs for profit, and perks are similar to VIP. The difference is that the regular fans also have a good chance to obtain the cards too, as there is enough of a print run to make everyone happy. Digital is much more of a captive audience with one singular retail store.
Topps does need to do something for the sake of new users and the Bunt middle class, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to trade, play and exist in game without feeling the effects of what the Diamond VIP ebay sellers are capable of.
These individuals do fund the game in some respect, and this money means Bunt will have more money to expand and get better. Indirectly, we need to support these people, but maybe in a more responsible fashion.
I really have no idea what might happen, but this article will hopefully provide some sort of a starting point for people to talk through their ideas.