On monday, Topps released a set of special cards to commemorate the relaunch of one of their confectionery brands that has been around for decades. Bazooka gum has roots in many of our childhoods, and now that they are looking to relaunch the line with updates for 2015, Bunt saw an opportunity to partner up with a brand synonymous with Baseball. The set served two purposes – create cool cards for Bunt, and advertise their other ventures. Win win.
That’s not what is unique however, as partnerships of this sort have happened in the past. The unique element was the ease of putting the full set together, as the cards seemed to be popping out of packs in a way like we havent seen in Bunt for ages. There were many people who believed that this is the way it should be as a rule, rather than the exception, and I think its time to discuss the validity of that approach. Does this change the game, and is that change for the better?
First off, let me start off by saying that the point of EVERY release is to make money, not make friends. If making friends is a byproduct of making money, then so be it. Topps Bunt and Topps Digital is a BUSINESS first. Like every business, they need to keep the lights on before any other considerations are met. With that, many releases are structured so that Topps can generate the most possible revenue. If their company is anything like mine, each factor is built out in a model that showcases potential. Our models include user experience and perception, leading to attrition, so I would guess theirs do to. Based on historical data, I bet they have gotten pretty good at predicting what will happen with each release.
The Case For Easy Inserts
I mentioned yesterday in my variant article, no one likes getting skunked, especially when real money is involved. It is the most negative of any user experience, save maybe getting your cards stolen. Knowing that people hate coming up empty, easy insert sets to collect present a very positive user experience that has people walking away happy. That is good for business and likely good for revenue as a result. Happy customers keep people coming back. I saw a number of posts on twitter of people buying coins who wouldnt normally have bought coins for an insert in the past.
As we saw in the first weeks of Star Wars Card Trader, the more likely a user is to pull nice cards for a cheap price, the lower the attrition rate is likely going to be. Because the best cards could be pulled in the cheapest packs, the community built in Star Wars was strong. People found excitement in getting the best cards, and made each specific release into an event. I was known to schedule my conference calls around certain insert releases. When the inserts moved to a more difficult setting, some of that bond was lost. Although the community is still VERY strong compared to the other apps, its not where it was.
In all reality, providing easy access has one major plus, and that is growing your user base and keeping them around. It also can serve as a great conversion tool from FTP user to pay user, and I am sure data like that exists in spades over on Kick and SW.
The Case Against Easy Inserts
As mentioned above, the main goal of the Topps team is to create cards and releases that generate the most possible revenue. If a set is easy to collect, there is a gap in the POTENTIAL revenue that could be generated on the higher end side of the user base. Easy access means those big fish wont spend as much to complete the set. Because its a good possibility that they would have spent the money, that lost revenue is a big deal. The main question is whether or not that lost whale revenue is made up in revenue generated by onesie twosie users buying. Considering how much some of the whales are known to spend, Im going to say its likely a poor trade.
Additionally, part of every release is perceived value on the secondary market. I am of the group of people that believe that if I am going to spend the money, I want a chance at something that the free and low spenders are not likely going to have. Im not spending my cash on cards that the entire user base will get. Not only is there no trade value in those cards, but there is no vanity element either. No wow factor of “holy crap, I cant believe he has all those” when people pull up my sheet for trading. Is that shallow and vain? Of course it is, but its also reality!
There is a reason why most clubs have a VIP section, where big spenders get to have restricted access. Not only is it about the perks of that membership, but its also about BEING SEEN with the perks of that membership. In Bunt, its a very similar situation, and I am not referring to the actual VIP program. What I am saying is that people want something special, but they also want to be seen as possessing it.
The Case for Balance
I think this is really the strongest case, as that equilibrium between easy and hard can be the key to success. I would almost approach things on a spectrum – give each type of user as much opportunity to get a shot as possible. Some sets should remain hard and very hard to collect in order to preserve the red velvet rope. Others should be easy and very easy to create what we got with Bazooka.
The presence of this type of approach should be enough to keep more people happy and engaged. The Diamond VIPs will still have their special cards, and the casual spenders will have easier sets at their disposal. Both sides arent going to be totally happy, but there will not be this growing resentment that explodes into euphoria when a cheap set is released.
Although a ripple effect might be associated with devaluing the users that collect the cheap cards, its probably one that the free to play users would be fine with. People just want cool cards at their level, and they dont always care about the perception of their collection.
The opportunity cost could be high, especially if design resources are at a premium. Topps obviously wants to use their artists in the spots that will make them the most money, and creating all these extra sets will have a cost associated. That might be a large reason why the balance isnt available now.
Regardless of each type of set, the main thing people have to come to terms with is that the amount of money they spend will be directly proportional to the quality of their collection. You cant have every card unless you are going to spend a ton of money. There is no use trying if you arent ready to drop some cash. The quicker people realize it, the more fun they will have in the game.