The Allure of the 1/1 and its Impact on Topps Digital

Ah yes. The ever growing appeal of adding something to your collection that no one else can have. Just you. The way those cards look on your sheet is something of a myth for most people in the Topps apps, but for some, its the only thing they want. The 1/1 designation has been applied to cards in Bunt, Huddle and Kick for a while now, but recently SWCT also got their first taste.

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As someone who has collected physical cards for the majority of my life, the 1/1 is a concept that was born in trading cards over 15 years ago. Since that time, physical 1/1s have become a part of almost every single set released, with the number of examples reaching into the tens of thousands. These cards remain some of the most coveted examples of trading cards in existence, with some selling for the price of a car.

In 2010, when Stephen Strasburg was fireballing his way to the top of the Nationals’ rotation, his Bowman Chrome superfractor 1/1 sold for over $20,000. Im not kidding, that is the real final auction price. It made national news.

Personally, I own about 10 cards in my own physical collection that bear a 1/1 serial number, and yes, they are some of the most valuable things I own. Even when non-collectors see cards like that, their reaction is pretty priceless.

Now, you might ask what this might mean for the digital side of things, and what the impact might be. Here are some of my thoughts.

Background

Since 2013, when Bunt ran its first playoff contest, the 1/1 has been a part of the game. My good friend LeeObrien won the 2013 Bunt Championship, and was granted his own card in the game. At the time, there was nothing else like it. There were also no locks yet, so you can imagine how that went down in his trade inbox. During the 2013 Huddle Bowl, 1/1s also were granted for the champion, and thus began a tradition.

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In 2014, the VIP program was introduced for users who spent real money on the games they played. For the top echelon of users, the Diamond Level VIPs, each was granted a 1/1 card featuring a player of their choice. These were monthly give outs, so you can see where the amount of 1/1s in the games expanded exponentially. To this day, both Bunt and Kick continue to offer this, with Huddle discontinuing their VIP program earlier this year.

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As for pack pulled 1/1 cards, that is where things get interesting. All of the apps have offered some promotion that features a 1/1 that can be pulled from packs, including special “golden tickets” where users can choose their own player. In Huddle this year, the 1/1 is the most sought after type of card, with a select group of users doing everything in their power to hoard as many as possible. It has created an enormous market for the cards, with some selling for as much as 500 dollars on eBay.

This week, the first 1/1 in SWCT history was offered for collecting the most of the original sketch art series ink card. KASHTAN accumulated 232 of the cards to win the prize, which Im sure was no easy task. This will be far from the last 1/1 released, as we have been inching towards a 1/1 base variant for the last few months. After that, I expect the floodgates to open much like they have in Bunt, Huddle and Kick.

To boil this down to the simplest explanation, 1/1s are ingrained in each of the apps. I would not be surprised if eventually we get to where we are on the physical side, but hopefully not for a long time.

Examining Impact of 1/1s

I love the idea that you can have the only copy of anything in your collection. I own 2 total 1/1s, and both are some of my favorite cards I have. The first is a Joe Mauer 1990 draft pick sig 1/1 from the recent Bunt promotion, and the second is a Teddy Bridgewater Golden Helmet from last year’s Huddle. Neither will ever be traded.

This is why 1/1s remain special. For some, they exist as a bargaining chip or trade bait of the highest order. For others, player and team collectors like myself, they remain the ultimate chase. Because the “gotta catch em all” mentality is inherently part of the apps in every sense, the 1/1 is a way to keep people on their toes, while also generating excitement that can be a fickle ghost to chase.

When a 1/1 hits the sheet, people take notice, especially because they are still special. Even with all the aforementioned background usage, only a few users own 1/1s in the game. Because supply is so low, even the slightest bit of demand can incite a feeding frenzy. Even now, when someone in Huddle posts a 1/1 on the fan feed, it can generate tons of interest. Just leaving a 1/1 unlocked in any game will bring out the blind traders who see that the card is available for trade.

For a game where everyone collects something, 1/1s are a situation that only exists to create buzz for the people who love them, and prestige for the people that own them. They serve as a badge of honor and garner instant clout when your sheet shows the best of the best.

 Protecting the Future

Right now, Topps has a history of exploiting a concept that generates a lot of purchases. Its clear that because the demand and trade value remains high on these cards, people will open packs until their fingers hurt. That type of reaction is rare these days, especially as the user base becomes complacent with the way cards are being generated in each app.

SWCT is just starting to get their first taste of low numbered inserts available on a regular basis, and the user base has not reacted positively. Although cards like Pink base and Gold Elegant Weapons have been insanely rare in the past, they were part of greater programs. Asking users to buy in directly for their shot at a  rare card has been taken very poorly. As the base 1/1s eventually hit the sheet, im interested to see what happens.

At the same time, I think its clear that more pack pulled 1/1s will be coming to SWCT. Like we saw in physical, the notion that a user cannot own everything that is available, should be ringing pretty clearly already. That is just part of the game, and its not a bad thing. This is a universe of collecting where prestige and vanity are a huge part of what makes us tick. Having the biggest hoard, having the most rare inserts, having multiple full sets of a valuable program – all are what makes the game go ’round. Everyone wants to be the best, and to be the best, you have to have the best stuff on your sheet.

When you consider the clout mentioned above, it will only remain a big stick as long Topps maintains the novelty provided by the ultimate rarity. If 1/1s start flying out of packs, they wont be special anymore. On the physical side, we are already there, past the point of no return, and never looking back. Its so bad that people dont buy products without insane chase cards that are readily inserted. I hate it, only because the serial number has become more important than the card itself.

On the other hand, unlike what we are seeing in Huddle, cards with high availability and no numbering can still have value. Im worried that in the future for the games, value will be determined SOLELY by the card count in all the apps, instead of the cool factor as well. I hope we dont get to that point.

Best Ways to Keep Them Special

As with most of my content, im not going to sit here on my soapbox without offering some of what I might do to preserve the novelty. The games need to continue releasing cards to make money and keep the lights on, so the faucet cant be turned off. That means Topps will need to figure out ways to deliver the cards in a manner that wont make the users give up. Here is what I would do.

  • Carefully balance pack 1/1s with pay to purchase 1/1s – Because these cards can be so lucrative, they will no doubt want to tie them to purchases as much as they can. Whether its VIP programs or actual bundle buys, I hope the 1/1s pulled from packs continue to be balanced against the others. Too many bundle buys will eventually wear out the novelty, and do it faster than ever. If the balance is maintained, the programs will go further. Im not saying VIP programs should go away, just that they cant be the only way.
  • Increase display – This has been harped on since the beginning of 2014, but is now one of the more important features that I believe the game is missing. Give users a place to display the top cards in their collection, and make it impossible to gloss over. Topps needs to play to the competition aspect of collecting, and a prominent display of user cards is a huge gap that hasnt been closed since the release of the 2014 builds. Even something that organizes locked cards from all seasons at the top of anyone’s sheet would be a good solution. Give the SWCT hoarders a place to display their goods so that trading and showing off becomes as easy as possible. That’s what this is all about.
  • Avoid variants as a 1/1 delivery vehicle – Any time new art needs to be developed, it takes resources that are already thin. With up to 10-15 cards being released per day in the apps, the graphic artists can be swamped. That being said, ensuring that 1/1s have their own programs and are not based off of other cards will keep the users coming back for more. When its a variant, that still happens, but eventually it might not. Slapping a 1/1 on a card cant be the only reason someone wants to trade for it or buy it.
  • Keep Them Tough to Get – This is going to sound awful, but I really feel like this is a really difficult piece to manage. I dont want newbies or low yield users to get 1/1s. In cases where casual users have pulled readily available cards, they can be lost forever in abandoned accounts. Other times, existing whales can pillage these users because they just dont know any better. Its not an equitable situation in the slightest, and though everyone should have the chance to be Charlie Bucket, its actually better when that doesnt happen.

To put this all into the easiest to swallow format, its best to take an inventory of the way things have gone to this point. I like the direction that the apps are going a lot. People may hate how much money is sometimes required to get the best cards, but that isnt by coincidence. There needs to be continued incentive to invest one’s income in buying cards, and if no value is there, what is the point? The game’s free to play users might expect that Topps continues to cater to them, but as a pay to play user, that is not what I want. I want my money to mean I get something that free users cant have. If I spend my hard earned money on this game, I had better be getting something worthwhile. If a user that doesnt spend thinks that they should have the same access, Im sorry. We are just not going to see eye to eye.

In the end, the super premium parts of the game will continue to be developed, and I am praying to the card gods that things continue to work well. So far, I havent been disappointed.

 

 

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