I will warn you ahead of time that this is going to be a discussion that people are very invested in. The direct purchase of specific cards through the app store is about as polarizing a topic in the apps right now as anything, and the feelings surrounding it are very….umm….. loud. I want to walk through a few of the discussion points and give some suggestions, and also make sure to try to capture some things you might not have thought about. Before getting fired up, really try to read through and think about the way it works. Then, you can comment as you please.
Background – What Are Bundle Cards?
As far back as 2014, the apps have offered Bundle Cards in many different formats. Huddle used this very frequently during the playoffs last year, mainly offering very valuable boost cards with the purchase of certain coin bundles.
If a user bought one of the top bundles, they would be given a card (like a boost or a sig) for free. This card would be delivered at a later date, and for as many bundles as were purchased, that many cards were delivered. It was an added incentive to spend and buy more, and from reading the comments in the articles, it resulted in a lot of bundle purchases that probably wouldnt have happened otherwise.
This year, with Star Wars Card Trader, the first cards were available without coins attached. Basically, instead of buying a bundle and getting a free card, you just bought the card directly. At first, things started small, but rapidly worked their way up to frequent programs with a $100 price tag attached.
As expected, the users who had played the app since the beginning flipped out. Within weeks, it was practically all the community could talk about. The funniest part was that even though the community was in a constant state of revolt, the cards were selling. Some sold faster than others, but they all sold.
Eventually, the bundle card model made its way to Huddle and Bunt, with Bunt even offering a new format of buying a “digital box,” where people purchased access to a special group of packs and cards.
Huddle has used it much like they did last year in the playoffs, offering VERY valuable cards and sets that many users want. They still have relied more heavily on coin based pack buying, something that Star Wars has very much moved away from.
Why Might Bundle Cards Be Used?
Right now, coins are still not all that hard to come by in any of the apps. Its easy to buy coins, easy to farm coins, and as a result, easy to spend coins. Buying coins is one thing, as Topps is a business, and they need us to buy to pay the bills. Very simple. They are not in this market to make friends, they are here to make money. As much as we think ToppsMike’s main job is sitting on Twitter responding to our questions of his manhood, he has a primary goal of setting up Bunt to do one thing only – make money.
Now, money is a byproduct of the freemium model, which if you want to study, is a fascinating phenomenon. Go check it out, there is even a South Park episode about it. Its also a byproduct of fun, which people will increase or decrease spending based on their perception of how much they enjoy the game. Its very clear that fun and spending can go hand in hand, but in other cases, spending happens regardless of how the community feels.
Outside of that, if the app is coin rich, as it frequently can be, purchases go down if the programs all use packs in the normal format. If more people have coins, they dont need to buy more to get enough to spend on new packs. I would guess this means that the revenue generated from the different releases might go down, and for a business that isnt good.
Tying a program to a bundle purchase directly is likely an assurance that money will be spent above and beyond the normal coin economy. I would guess this is why these cards are becoming more and more frequent in usage, as there is no other logical explanation. Whether there are other BETTER ways to achieve the same result, is actually up for debate among the vocal members of the community, but we really cant know for sure. The reason for bundle cards being released is a VERY common discussion on the forums and Reddit. The explanations and guesses change daily, as different people have different perspectives.
In reality, the huge daily bonus in many of the apps is ripe for gaming the system. Because every household in America has 18 different smart devices, its easy to have many accounts and get coins without buying. I remember one user complaining that he was banned for having 11 different accounts on 11 different devices. He went so far as buying used old Apple and Android devices SOLELY to get more coins from the daily bonus. That is why some are upset with the switch to bundle purchases. It all but nerfs this practice.
In the end, it all boils down to money. Many users have a personal connection and investment in the app, and rightfully so. This means that their bias is weighted towards personal satisfaction of the app’s business, rather than any understanding that any business needs money to function. Many times, they have legitimate gripes and complaints, but simply complaining that Topps is out to maximize profit isnt the way I would approach it.
Why Are Bundle Cards Good for the Apps?
I actually dont mind the bundle cards. I have long come to terms with the fact that I wont get every card in the app, and I only buy what I like. It takes away so much of the burden of trying to track down every last card, and my satisfaction and fun level has improved. The Pokemon mentality is one that left physical cards many years ago, but still lingers in digital. People just gotta catch em all!
One of the reasons I like the bundle cards is because it takes the chance of failure out of things. I cant even count the number of times where I have bought and bought and bought and still not hit the card I wanted. When Bunt 2015 launched, I remember spending upwards of 200 dollars trying to pull the Trout sig. If I could have bought that for 100 bucks instead, I would have. For me, taking away the fear is big. When that element is taken away, my experience and perception of investment versus value improves for me personally.
Secondly, it has an element of protection from scams involved. For the users that play the game the way it is meant to be played, they can feel confident that their “investment” isnt being diluted by people who game the system. For me, I love that this is the case. I dont want some guy with 20 ipads to have a better chance just because he has 20 accounts.
Lastly, bundle cards, depending on price are lower in count. Lower in count means higher value, and higher value means more of those competitive eyes upon the people that have them. I have often said that I want my spending to put me on a level completely separate from free users. I dont want them to have the same opportunity I have, because they arent spending what I do. My money should grant me a better presence in the app. With Bundle cards being rarer based on cost, I very much like those results.
For the user, this game is all about vanity and envy in a simple sense. Competition is built in the game around those two things. Users compete to look better on the card sheet than their counterparts, and Topps uses this to sell the programs. I dont blame them, because vanity and envy are powerful emotions.
Why Are Bundle Cards Bad for the Apps?
Bundle cards are bad because of the stigma they represent. People want the app to be low cost, because who wants to spend more money than they have to? They want to have an easy path to the top, and spending money is a roadblock that some refuse to circumvent. Putting a straight cost on a card says to people that their money is more important than their satisfaction, and you can imagine how that makes people feel.
For a free player, its a velvet rope, and much like real velvet ropes, no one likes to feel unimportant. Unfortunately, the bundle cards have become so frequent and so expensive that the velvet rope around the cards is getting tighter and tighter. That doesnt mean there arent other things that people can still afford, but no one likes to see that there are others who have superior access.
Think about it this way. Someone goes to a sporting event and buys nosebleed tickets. They are cheap, they get to experience the game, but they dont get the same perks as the luxury box. As the season progresses, the luxury boxes remain super exclusive, but soon the rest of the stadium is starting to creep into unaffordable territory. They can still buy the nosebleeds, but they dont get to see the game the same way a growing percentage of the crowd gets to see it. After a while many of the premium seats are unfilled, and it is clear that the stadium is now empty where it was full.
Resentment runs rampant, because they dont see the fact that nothing has really changed for their original situation, just that more and more people arent sitting in the seats they once had access to. To them, it becomes, why are those seats empty when I used buy them for cheaper? It just doesnt make sense. The seats do fill up eventually for bigger games, but for the regular days, not so much. It becomes a sore spot where the games used to be fun. For the people in the luxury boxes and those who can afford the premium seats, its not so big an issue. Some of the people in the premium seats arent happy that their once cheaper seats are now premium, but they still want to see the game, so they go.
From this analogy, which is overly simple at best, its easy to see where people’s feelings have shifted. This analogy doesnt take sales on the cards into account either, even though that would fit nicely into the context. When there are people who buy the bundle cards when they are first released, only to see prices slashed, it is taken as a slap in the face. Clearly, Topps is trying to sell as many cards as possible, not necessarily taking into account how the previous buyers might feel about their purchase. Based on the fact that the pissed off users seem to still buy the next time too, its a vicious circle that is rarely able to be broken.
The main pain point for many of the users who oppose the model is the frequency of the releases, and the lack of differentiation between the different cards. They feel it isnt fair to take advantage of the people who will buy just to stay in the stadium, but they cant keep their finger from pressing the button either. Its really a very curious conundrum, as people are shouting with their voices in anger, but the counts still go up day after day after day. This doesnt say that some users just stop and walk away, but its still very much shrouded in mystery if they are replaced by new users just as frequently. We do not know and will not know any of this info, so the goodbyes ring a lot louder than the new users that could be stepping up to replace every person who walks away.
Suggestions for the Future
Normally, I am full of suggestions on how to improve the way a certain feature or program works, but this was tougher than usual. I understand the business needs to make money, but I also very much identify with people who are up in arms over the shift in purchase preference.
Before I dive in, my only request would be clear communication. Clear communication about expectations, clear communication when problems pop up, and clear communication when we have questions. I understand that Topps Digital is not a company that has a wealth of employees at their disposal, but community communication has long been a lower priority than it should have been. Its not just about customer service, its about controlling the communication in a way that promotes a better community.
Here are my suggestions:
- Avoid unlimited card counts as much as possible – so much of the value in the community is about card count, and its easier for us to gauge value when things arent left to chance. If we have a top gauge on value, we know what we should spend and shouldnt spend. If done correctly, no revenue impact should be felt from clearly communicating what the counts will be.
- Avoid slashing prices – instead of starting high and working downwards, better planning can easily substitute for sales. When a sale has to occur, it not only gives a perception that no one is buying, but it shows that something was out of whack in the way the program was rolled out.
- Research comparative values – Charging 99.99 for a card with a higher count, or less attractive format than one that hits all the right notes isnt the best way to go about things. All of the producers know what sells in their respective apps, and that means that comparative value should have more footing in designing a program. Setting a high price just because its available is only going to make people question the reason why this card is more/less valuable than the many others that came before it.
- Keep secondary market pricing in mind – Although Topps Digital has refused to publicly acknowledge ebay as a pricing method for their cards, it has to be on their mind at some point. If a card has sold or predictably will sell for very little, adding a huge bundle price to it wont help.
- Reward frequent spenders – It doesnt have to be a VIP program, but some sort of bone should be thrown to those who spend and spend and spend. Huddle recently has made better sales available to people who have purchased prior, and that is a start, but there has to be a frequent consideration to those who are among the top buyers. Casinos comp their whales on a lot of stuff, maybe they have the right idea.
- Reward early spenders – nothing is more frustrating than paying full price for a top card, only to have prices slashed and value scuttled due to a sale. Rewarding the people who buy early at full price should become something worth considering.
- Offer more chance spending – Instead of buying a card at 49.99, make more options available that dont have a guaranteed payout of the top prize. Basically, put the top card in an expensive bundle, but make it available in a chance pack with a lower prize guaranteed at higher odds for the nice prize.
- Keep bundle sets smaller – Im not saying kill a 40 card set to 10 cards, but dont expect people to drop 4 grand to finish a set. Waves of 5-10 with a reward card will entice more people to get involved, in my opinion. The 40 card set can still exist, but this way, its perceived a lot differently.
Keep in mind, many of these suggestions are crafted without consideration for capacity, time or cost, and might be a reason why they cant happen. I understand that 100%. What I dont want to happen is that no discussion had around the way the bundle cards exist. Something should be in play to give users the forum to voice their concerns and get a response from the team. It might be like ripping off a band aid, but it could garner some good will that is needed more than ever.
Bundle cards are here to stay, and we have to accept that. Topps has to accept that they are likely going to have growing resentment if the users continue to speak out to an abyss of no response. Hopefully we can reach some sort of peace accord along the way.