A few days ago, I wrote about being a new user and how overwhelming the experience could be. Today I want to take it from the other end and talk about the challenges the existing users face in staying active within the community. Although I think the challenge is much less difficult than the challenge of starting from scratch, it is still worth the conversation.
I think that engagement within the apps themselves is dependent on the value presented in each aspect of the app. Packs, trading and competition are the largest contributions to the ways people stay active, as they represent so much of daily activity. If any of those legs are kicked out for an individual, I would have to say participation and engagement fall dramatically. Obviously these three things are broad topics, but as a whole they boil down to simple concepts.
- Packs – Is there a desire to open packs and acquire more content
- Trading – Is there a desire to acquire new collection pieces through trading with others?
- Competition – Does the user have a desire to improve standing in their app presence?
To be honest, the first one is really a measure of content quality and interesting mechanics within the app. On a user level, this is 100% driven by Topps and only a portion of the desire to keep opening depends on user to user diagnosis of the “cool factor” of a card. It can also play into competition, and the desire to spend money or coins to stay ahead of other users with a similar collection. If you are hoarding Rey, there is some level of user or personal competition with maintaining a top collection. It can also provide a source of pride to own the rare card or a set that was difficult to collect. That competitive element has to flourish for this leg to remain strong, and if users dont feel the need to keep ripping packs, weak foundations can crumble on activity.
The question becomes a statement on whether or not users find it fulfilling to stay a part of the app. Existing users, who have seen the cycles for years may be used to the ups and downs, but I have seen more and more people feel like the fun they had experienced previously in their app campaigns just isnt there anymore. It could be that there are too many options for apps, and they are feeling spread thin. Maybe the content isnt changing or evolving enough to continue interest in ripping packs. Maybe trading is getting too difficult with the way eBay has influenced overall value. Not only is ripping packs not interesting anymore, the trade value is severely undercut by farmers who spend nothing and sell for low return just to turn over inventory.
There are many apps out there that find this trajectory to be a struggle. Look at what happened with Pokemon since the explosion earlier this year. They have struggled to keep users engaged, and their desire for expansion had a large impact on existing users. Not enough time was dedicated to keeping things fresh and stability was such a huge issue that millions stopped playing. If nothing evolves, and nothing changes, the users get bored. Topps’ expansion of their portfolio has been welcome and fun, but have we seen a Pokemon effect as a result? Would the apps be further along and more engaging if they hadnt spent the time releasing 4 in the last year and 5 in the last two years? Its a good question to ask.
Cost to Participate
Topps is a business. Topps needs to make money to keep funding the games. If the money goes away, so do the games. They cant build their apps around free players other than in the sense that free players eventually become pay players. Its their job to entice people to spend money.
There are issues with this approach, because at some point the cost to participate overcomes the desire to engage with the app. When the cost of being competitive within the app itself overshoots a user’s concept of “disposable income” and doesnt allow for true value to be derived, then people give up.
What makes this even more complicated is the way digital has a huge presence on eBay, especially when cost to acquire new content via the Topps store is SO MUCH more expensive than buying it on eBay. Bunt is a great example of this, because their signatures have such ridiculous odds. I could spend 100 bucks ripping packs on Bunt, or literally buy the card for 25 bucks. That’s what the odds showcase.
The reason this is so skewed has to do with the perception of the app as a whole, and how people have chosen to exploit the system. Its a vicious circle, as coin farmers run programs that allow them to harvest coins for a small investment. Because the investment is so small, they dont need to sell for very much to make a huge profit. Then, because the market has been set so low, the rest of the sellers dont have a conscious value concept of how much the card SHOULD be worth if the odds held up.
If you think about it, the only real way to preserve value is to keep counts where they are, but make odds super easy. Make the releases more about being on when the cards hit, and less about having a ton of coins to throw at the packs. Starving coin farmers is a huge plus as well, as they wont be able to set the market either.
I mentioned in the previous post that changing the way new users are registered is a start. Closing the farmer loopholes are important to the overall health of the market. If the market value increases for cards, the cost to participate can be much more connected to what a user gets out of their participation.
This is a huge thing that has become a big factor of the community’s participation, as the last year and a half in Star Wars has bred negativity in an unprecedented way. If you remember back, the community in SWCT was literally the best of any app. Since the shift that happened around last summer, its become a place where criticism is the norm, and positive commentary is at a minimum. Most of it is warranted, dont get me wrong, but it is also a drain on the fun that the community used to represent.
Im not going to sit here and argue in the slightest that people dont have a right to be critical of the way things have happened over the last year. That would be about as worthwhile as trying to trade a base card for a Vintage Han. What is worthwhile is starting a discussion of the true impact this negativity has on the ways users want to stay engaged within the apps themselves. If all we all talk about is how bad things have gotten, at what point does that become reality? At what point do we all give up and leave?
For someone like me, if you have seen my twitter account, you know I feast on the negativity around Panini’s NFL physical card exclusive. Looking at the way I participate in the physical hobby, all that negativity has resulted in a severe decrease in my appreciation overall for the hobby. Im just not as active anymore. I think the same can be said here, if all we look for in things is the negative, it becomes more likely that the community will decrease. Granted, a change in the business plan utilized to fund the Topps apps might shift that negativity into a more positive fashion, but if it hasnt happened by now, what is it going to take? Right?
As a discussion of the challenges existing users face, going into article comments and see people fighting over how much of a ridiculous situation this release represents, it has a lot of hidden impact.
Where Do We Go From Here?
If you look back at the last two articles, its clear that there are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. This is where I think the community has some great ideas, especially in creative situations that can work for both Topps and the users. I encourage you guys to really sit down and find ways to communicate them in as constructive a fashion as possible. Be more vocal about what you want, but dont be a jerk when you do it. Its as much about collaboration as it is anything else.
I have a few suggestions if Topps is listening. Some seem like common sense
1) Eliminate free coins and replace them with daily free packs. Make the packs base for days 1-7 and then a pack with the inserts that didn’t sell on day 7. This cuts way back on the coin farming and allows packs to actually have odds that reflect the card values
2) Deliver up to what is promised. The physical BUNT products, the VIP benefits (what happened to early access?), the contest structure (what happened to tiered contests?)
3) Treat existing customers like they matter. I sent a request that 13 Loot codes did not work (I had over 800 of them). After 3 weeks, someone responded that they can not fix this issue because they can’t make exceptions and replace these packs for one person because then they would have to do it for everyone that had the same problem. This was a horrible answer and would have cost Topps nothing to fix.
4) Test updates and packs before releasing them. The boxes had the same glitches over and over. Blaming the users for being greedy isn’t the correct course of action, testing the packs would have been better.
5) Better communication. Twitter feeds are updated more frequently than the news in the apps. The apps should be the go to place for information, not Twitter.
6) Make contests engaging and worth the cost and time. Having a prize of 5 white base cards for finishing in the top 50 isn’t much of an incentive when the white base cards don’t even help you in contests. I preferred the contests where you had 100 people to a group so everyone isn’t trying to beat one guy with deep pockets and a lot of free time. I would go with tickets here where you get a certain amount of tickets based on where you finish and tickets could be redeemed for physical Topps gift cards, special season-long boost packs or coins
7) Make ALL cards tradeable. What good is getting Silver, Golds, Boosts, etc if they sit in your collection and no one sees them or can trade for them. It’s a trading card app, not a hoarding card app
8) Merge all plaforms into 1 app. This encourages safe cross trading. Check out Quidd to see how they do it. This makes it so that when 1 app is doing poorly, it isn’t shut down and also allows Topps to better manage their products by focusing on their top performers
9) Change the blind trade structure. This doesn’t work. People with good collections get swamped with bad offs and new users get discouraged because no one will trade with them. Set up something like Quidd where users can post 5 items per 15 minutes – either cards they want or cards they are trading. The trades are sorted by set and users can more easily trade
10) Allow cards to sell out. The most fun I had in the app was getting announcements that a something was coming in 3 hours that everyone knew would sell out. People frantically pushed buy until it sold out and the cards were in demand immediately. If you want to have low count, cool cards, set a limit to the number and announce it ahead of time in a cheap pack (assuming the coin issue from #1 has been taken care of). Let users pull a maximum of 2 (one to keep and 1 to trade otherwise no one will be able to trade for one).
11) Put all of the marathons back into 1 pack. This is part of the new user confusion, there are too many packs. Put all of the marathons in 1 pack with the best pull odds for each card on the first day. By having the best odds on day one, people will still rush to buy the packs for better odds, but they still get something if they miss
12) Add “buyback” program. Just like the physical did for a while, have a window where a certain number of each base card would be bought back (all years). The original card counts would be reduced and the new “buyback” cards would have their own counts and would be put in a new pack for users to buy. This allows Topps to get revenue from existing products. By having brief 30 minute windows that are announced (along with limits on each card), users would scramble to redeem cards for coins and excitement would be generated. Announcing ahead of time what the caps for the year will be will create a demand for these cards among team / player collectors.
13) Solicit (and listen to) suggestions from users. Ask former big spenders why they left. ask users for contest ideas. Ask users to vote on the players to use in the next set. Ask. Ask. Interacting with and getting ideas from users will only make the app better and make users more engaged.
These are the ideas off the top of my head. I could probably rattle off hundreds if anyone listened, but I think suggestion #1 is the most important starting point.
IMO Bunt is in a death spiral. It was a ghost town on there throughout the playoffs, a time at which it should have been the most active. Topps has had too many mistakes along the way coupled with a shocking disregard of what people want. Either they don’t know what they’re doing or just don’t care.
I truly believe the “coin farmers” are really Topps selling their own cards on ebay. I feel like they’ve looked at the declining VIP and active user numbers and realized these boxes will never sell out for what they’re charging, so they open a few boxes with a bunch of dummy accounts to make it look like the product is moving and hot. They then sell the goods off at a lower price to make sure they move. In turn, this discourages normal people from selling their cards because Topps will under cut you and make it not worth it.
It seems crazy, but if you’ve spent any time on the app dealing with them, this feels very much like Bunt logic. I could be wrong, but with the way Bunt goes after people trading a few inserts from their main to their alt account, I refuse to believe they couldn’t stop a group of people who are opening 60%+ of a product and selling it on ebay for a profit, if it is just coin farmers. Something just seems off.