2017 Star Wars Card Trader Adjustments: A Map for the Apps

Since last year, things have been looking up on SWCT for the first time in a long time. I have posted before that the way the app has changed its focus has made small strides with the community, something I honestly thought was impossible. For almost a full year, the focus of the app was driving direct purchased bundles and card acquisition through any way that involved cash changing hands. Variants were plentiful and hard to follow in many cases. It got to a point where the app seemed to be losing more people by the day, and the flood wasn’t stopping anytime in the near future.

Although many issues persist, things have changed. All that negative energy that once existed has calmed to a point of toleration, which is a victory in itself. To take a group of people with pitchforks and torches to a group of people that has changed to “well, at least I can live with this,” is pretty impressive all things considered. That’s not saying the Topps Digital team is farting rainbows and burping stardust, but its better than it was.

At the core of this transformation is a few specific things that the team has done, which I will go over, and how that might be applied to the other apps.

Similarly, my call for product development and feature development beyond the app’s current structure continue to be as loud as ever. The team will NEVER be able to get through their current woes without some sort of change to the platform on a wholesale level. Bunt may have added Batter Up, but at most, its just a new way to deliver daily coins in a fun mini game.

Star Wars needs to feel like Star Wars. It cant feel like a reskinned version of Bunt. Similarly, Star Wars needs features that bring the rabid and dynamic fandom of the remaining community to light, with a holistic reimagining of the way a user engages with the app. This is a non-negotiable.

Additionally, this app is not all the way fixed. Its hard to take a pile of burning rubble and construct a new way of doing things overnight. Im also not advocating that EVERYONE is happy right now. That being said, the turn in commentary has been significant from my vantage point, and that’s why I want to address this. Its clear the producers behind the strategy have recognized the issues of years past and tried to at least right the ship as much as possible in a short time. Hopefully that continues.

Content Development

topps-swct-rey-holoscreenFor a long time, it looked like the Star Wars team got a little too conservative on risks they were looking to take with content. Many cards looked like they were just another set that was put together with the same publicity shots and movie stills. Since last year, things have gotten a lot more interesting with released sets, and much of the design work is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was prior.

This could be a dual blame game with responsibility placed on both LucasFilms and Topps, but whatever the issue was, it has gotten much better. Things like switching the signature design, adding more behind the scenes, and choosing more untraditional characters to highlight was really interesting. SWCT needed a facelift in content, and it looks like that went well.

Map for the Apps: Content drives everything. Content for sets, content for gameplay elements, content for the entire Topps Digital Universe. If content isn’t compelling, the users will be bored. Its a process, and reuse and recycling of certain tropes never works out well. Fresh perspectives and designs are insanely important, and no one is going to hit the bundle button unless they MUST have the cards in the article. Topps needs to keep that in mind all over the place.

Increasing Coin Economy Stock

As mentioned before, there was a time where coin packs had almost gone extinct in SWCT, which meant that FTP users were never able to participate in the way they were before. It led to widespread abandonment of the coin economy, which is one of the main factors that drives stability in the app. Coins are almost 100% responsible for new user participation as well, and without a stable economy, onboarding was basically “spend or leave.” Horrible idea for long term sustainable growth.

Right now, direct purchase is still used in a lot of ways, but it is almost 100% used in conjunction with coin packs. There are still special cards that can only be obtained with bundle buys, but I don’t think that is a horrible approach as long as it isn’t the ONLY way to acquire nice cards.

Map for the Apps: Coins are important, and as a whole, Topps has balanced the weight on bundle cards pretty nicely across all their apps. Its fine to use that strategy once in a while, but it should be the exception, not the rule.

Open Edition Inserts Strategy

I hate open edition. Its a crutch, and a poorly constructed one at that. I have been no less than 10 reasons why it was used, and I don’t think any of those 10 are actually accurate reasons why it should be considered. Card counts need to be displayed and cards need to sell out – PERIOD.

Over the last few months, I have seen the use of NEW open edition inserts drop considerably, and I could not be more happy. There is no reason for the team to use OE as a way to stretch production of content, and even less reason to use it as a buying strategy.

I have been very vocal about the way cards are perceived in the market and diluting the pool with this junk is a terrible thing. You want new users to be in awe of what they can have, not have a cheap patronizing knock off to keep a dead set at the table. If something is dead, bury it. Don’t prop it up at the table and try to have a dinner party.

Map for the Apps: Bunt stupidly tried to institute a strategy that was built on many of the tenants I see present in open edition. It resulted in a community wide revolt and a reversal in course (thankfully the team listened!). Open Edition needs to go away and fast. Don’t extend old crap, get the new hotness blazing every day.

Variants and Pack Structure

Oh yes, this is where the controversy really cuts deep. For a long time, variants of all sorts were getting absolutely nuts. Only further complicated by pack structures that made no sense. Lately, its changed by a considerable margin.

Variants still exist, but not 20 at a time. Direct purchase variants on weekly chase sets are only used sparingly, instead of every god forsaken set, and it feels cleaner in just about every way.

Additionally, NO MORE SALES! What used to be a complete slap in the face to any early buyer, sales have stopped. Like most of 2016 SWCT, the strategy behind it was HORRENDOUS, and seems to have been corrected. The community isn’t as venomous with new variants now, as its clear that there wont be an 80% off sale the day of release.

Map for the Apps: The variants are still lacking content other than just a color change, and that is a problem that remains. I would like to see the team go the direction Bunt has gone with their signature series and change pictures or design with variant pulls. Although color changes are done all over trading cards and gaming cards everywhere, it feels wrong with the apps to use that as a way to sell more packs. Give us a reason to buy.

Mistakes Corrected

Man, there was a time where there was a SWCT team error every day. Someone forgot to add a card to packs, someone added the wrong card to the wrong pack, any number of things. Errors kill the way people perceive the release, and it happened way too often.

I don’t hear as much about that anymore, as the anal retentive nature of the team has made a commitment to being as close to mistake free as possible. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but man, its gotten better from my experience.

For a card to hit packs and work correctly does take a lot of work, believe it or not, and I have personally come to understand from my discussions with the team how taxing it can be. That being said, they are human and things will be missed. Hopefully its not a pattern anymore like it used to be.

Map for the Apps: Pretty simple, Topps needs to test things before release and spend the time to make sure new content is delivered in as seamless a way as possible. It might be difficult, but the ROI will be palpable.

Im sure I am missing a ton here, but I feel like this is a good start. I spent some time talking with different members of the community, and from what they said, these were definitely on their list of reasons as well. Sure, there is a lot of rope left to tighten slack on a community that was about as toxic as it could be, but it looks like the strategy side of things is catching up. Now we just need the features to come along too.

 

 

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Bunt Releases ‘Batter Up’ Mini Game

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For the first time since Kick’s failed update to a brand new format two years ago, Topps Digital has released a brand new feature to one of its apps. Instead of a visual update or an adjustment to the platform, Batter Up is completely new, and for the most part pretty fun. My criticism of late has been around a lack of focus around product development, and now that we have a new approach, should we be happy this type of thing has taken priority? Lets discuss.

Game Structure

Batter Up is a pretty simple mini game that has some nice potential to get fans some minor amounts of added coins with no extra spending. If you play the game right, you might be able to walk away with 10-15k in extra coins per day easy.

The game requires users to drag one of 5 cards from the field of play to the batter’s box, with each card representing a “play.” It can be a ball, a strike, a hit (Single, double, etc), a home run, a grand slam or a featured card.

Within each “inning” of the five cards, four will be positive, and one will be a strike. Three strikes ends the game and four balls resets the count. You can choose 3 of 5 of the cards before the next inning, and 27 plays means the game session ends.

Each player can have 33 tickets at a time, and there are two options for playing. The premium 10 ticket game, or the basic 5 ticket game. Tickets regenerate throughout the day, and each of the games has a different set of cards to chase. Right now they are heritage base cards.

Prizes are either coins, white base cards or featured base cards, and you can walk away with what you earn at any point. Strike out and you lose everything.

Thoughts on the Game

I think the game functionality is addicting and fun, but for a digital trading card game, the feel and look of the game just doesnt really fit for me. I could see Topps using Batter Up as a promotional tool for Bunt, housed on a website instead of an app, but taking up space in the app seems like a waste.

For those people who remember Kick’s failed 5 a side, this is a similar type Mini Game with less depth and less interest in a long term session with the app. I honestly think the time spend developing this feature would have been better used in any of the ways I discussed in my previous product development article, and that’s what is so frustrating about the way Topps Digital has approached their business so far for 2016 and 2017. Less focus on things that would ACTUALLY contribute to more users in the app, and more focus on inconsequential features that only add a thin layer of complexity to how users engage with the apps.

I want to see Topps really dive into the user experience and developing features that TRULY have major impact in the game’s overall footprint. I discussed what some of those would be, and how it could make things more accessible for new users. This seems like a cheap way to get existing users to pay attention for a split second while adding no real meat to improving the overall app.

Similarly, im not sure how the back end infrastructure will be able to support this new game, although it seems fine at the moment. Adding this type of minigame for other apps may complicate things, although they may have learned a sizing lesson when Kick crashed.

Addressing the Future

If Topps Digital is going to survive, they need to spend their time wisely. If users are on their way out, they need to look at the way their prod dev team is planning to address projects and hit with extreme force in getting the most impactful things done first. If all of those things were done, and Topps was in a better place with their digital community, this would have been a fun little thing. Instead, Im left questioning who made the call to spend time doing Batter Up instead of something more useful in the grand scheme of the app environment.

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Product Development: Must Have Features Planning

Time is money, we all know that. Im also guessing there isnt unlimited supplies of each available in the Topps Digital offices, and therefore the team likely has to pick and choose which features to work on for the product development road map, and how to invest time within each project. Some features are probably easier than others to change, so here is a suggestion box of how I would do it.

Showcase for User Cards

Give people a way to show their favorite cards in a way that is visible. This has been advocated here for years, this cant wait any longer.

Redo the Fan Feed

Trading is awesome in the apps, but soliciting trades is a nightmare. I would update the fan feed to a static list of online users. Build a wizard in the app where users can adjust FT and LF to be brought up when someone engages with their profile. No more constant scroll of nonsense. Make it simple.

Redo News Feed

Instead of a running batch of articles, create a live group chat to replace article comments, and a news feed that is much more simplified and less about commenting. This way, the barrage of trade requests can be replaced with more group chat that everyone loves.

Create Live Messaging

User to user private communication is a nightmare. I want toggle notifications for incoming replies and messages, and a better way to communicate user to user without doing a same card trade.

Create Live Trading

I dont want to keep refreshing to see when new trade requests come in. I want toggle notifications and live updates to make trading more accessible.

Improve Contest Capabilities

I want user created contests, prize pools, and all sorts of changes that make it more easy to make the Topps apps social friendly. Give me the ability to challenge my group of friends and use my coins/cards as a way to fund that as prizes.

VIP Program in All Apps

No more of this crap where VIP isnt a part of Huddle, SWCT or some of the other apps. Its a pain in the ass to manage, but figure it out. Thats what interns are for.

Webinar Based New User Onboarding

Host a weekly webinar where new users can come on and learn from the team about different things. Trading, contests, general app stuff. Give stuff away so people go.

Update Trade Elements

I mentioned that live trading is on the must have list, but this takes it a step further. Im not sure why some sort of auction house hasnt been put into play, such as buying specific cards with user coins. At the very least, would like to be able to add coins to any trade.

User Rankings / Recognition

Contests in the sports apps are the only thing that showcases competition within the apps themselves. This needs to change as soon as possible. We should be able to have visibility into all sorts of user rankings, including things like cards owned, collection rankings, and whatever else there might be.

Update Collection Score

Right now, makes no sense. Its a nebulous number that should have bearing in reality with a simple formula that EVERY user can understand easily.

There are other features on the list, but if Topps is looking to improve our devotion to actually spending money on the apps, these are the things that need to be a priority. I dont need a new minigame in Bunt, I need this stuff.

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Bunt 2017 is Here – Questions are Plentiful

Ladies and gents, Baseball season is upon us, and for the first time in a long time, my excitement on a new year is tempered by decisions made seemingly out of left field. As much as I want to be excited about 2017, I feel like recent revelations have made my own feelings on the new year a bit less about getting elbow deep in the new features to more focused on seeing how the general population reacts. So far, saying it hasnt been pretty is an understatement.

First, it looks like the app is getting a pretty big visual upgrade, and new look for 2017, even though the features are relatively flat. The overall structure of the game is relatively the same, but things definitely look more focused on interface for the users.

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We also see that there is a new feature of sorts coming soon, and it looks like a new form of a gameplay mode that may not be focused around contests. This is good news, but considering how much work still needs to be done on developing app features, im not sure this is the right direction to go.

Rightfully so, Kris Bryant is the official cover athlete of 2017 Bunt, which I fully support. No one is better than the MVP and World Champ. I think that the base cards will follow suit as all the updates we have seen are really nice in visuals, but less so in functionality. The design team really is Topps’ best asset.

This is where things get quite hairy.

To start, card counts on inserts that are not LE will be removed from visibility, something that makes absolutely no sense. Not only was this structure reviled in Skate, but it will be even more so in Bunt. Card counts are not the enemy, and I warn against doing anything to piss off the users in a time where everyone is still wary of what happened with the app’s trajectory last year.

Bottom line, the primary goal should be bring more users to the Topps apps. The secondary market value on eBay has crashed for a number of reason around non-LE inserts as it is, but that is far from a reason to make such a trivial change on something that is bottom line functionality for users within the app. This wont bring new people to the app, and if anything, will further contribute to a lack of value in anything that isnt 10 count in the apps.

If the goal is to piss off loyal spenders, consider it achieved. If the goal was to piss off loyal spenders by making the dumbest possible small change that has sweeping consequences to a vital statistic used by all participants, that’s good to go as well.

Open edition cards, as it is, are a worthless trick to extend pack odds and take weight off the design team to build new cards. Its good for Topps, because it means they can pump packs full of junk while not really adding true valuable content or new features that bring the apps forward on a regular basis. Its time to find ways to make the apps more enjoyable to play, rather than continuing to add content in this fashion.

Removing the card counts only makes this worse in an app where ripping packs and collecting sets needs a value marker for both vets and rookies alike. There is an argument that not all cards are serially numbered on the physical side as well, but at the same point, more and more are being built that way to overcome the steep decline in hobby participation over the last two decades.

Let me put this simply:

  • This does not speak to priority number one which is growing the user base
  • This is a trivial decision that has massive ripple effects within the bunt economy
  • It was widely hated in the previous app where it was used
  • It makes things more difficult for new users to understand the game
  • It has no basis in data that shows it will have a positive result

If people hate it, and it doesnt have a reason in the technology that it has to exist, why does it exist? WHY PISS PEOPLE OFF MORE IF YOU DONT HAVE TO?

Overall, this season will be a true test of the resiliency of the Topps Digital team to overcome hurdles they have set up in previous years. All the primary statistics that show department health are on a decline per the public app statistics. Downloads are down, spend rankings are down, daily active users are down. If Topps doesnt see that developing the new product features is a primary driver to curbing this decline, they need to wake up and fast. They need to cherish their users, not deliberately make them upset. They also need to captivate our attention, and new sets and new cards dont have the massive ability they used to. This format has been going on for too many years for new content to a driver. It has to be new features. That is the answer to all that ails. Until that is ready, stay the course, dont rock the damn boat.

Again, ill wait and see how Topps addresses this, but it needs to be addressed. I would hate to see things continue to peter out instead of becoming the next big thing it deserves to be.

 

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Celebrating 2 Years of Star Wars Card Trader and Looking Forward

I remember getting the heads up that Topps was going to be releasing an app that had no gameplay component. It was quite jarring to think that a digital app could prevail without some sort of reason to come back every day, and I had no idea it would turn into what it did. In fact, I would go as far as saying Topps Digital may never have survived without SWCT’s boom in March 2015, but you never know.

Now that we have seen the roller coaster ride reach two years, I find myself continuing to look back on the beginning with a longing desire for a simpler time, but I know that I have similar feelings about physical cards in some ways too. Its a natural evolution in a lot of ways, and I can guarantee that these ups and downs are not going to stop any time soon.

I do have to give a lot of compliments to the staff, both on design and production this time for doing whatthey can to reclaim some of the glory that was lost during the dark times of 2016. We have seen a much more cohesive way that the app has come together, and the birthday celebration is a perfect example of how far things have come in a short amount of time. Although clear that the app still has a long, long way to go, I am confident that this bump in quality overall should eventually get back on a track where there is a future for the long term plan.

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I absolutely love that they brought back the original base design for Rogue One and that the favorite sets of the original run were highlighted too. It really served as a reminder of why the app was so much fun, and I hope that this isnt the last time we have an opportunity to celebrate in this fashion.

At some point we do have an overall question that needs answering, and it has to do with how the team plans to keep things interesting. We are now almost six months into Rogue One content, and its clear that Episode VIII will have a similarly long road map. It gets to be long in the tooth at this point, where people are just sick of another set.

Im constantly curious how the entire scope of digital cards continues to evolve and improve, because it isnt going to be infinitely fun to chase the same cards, with the same set formats, in the same app. There has to be a change on the horizon or this long term plan cannot be as long term. I have to believe the team has had a ton of conversations over where to go next, but we havent really seen much product development during the last year. Smuggler’s Den is now a distant memory, and there has really been no commitment to making that type of feature work.

Right now, I get they are in the middle of a reclamation project, but I cant continue to call for new game features and updates without feeling like they arent listening. Something as simple as adding a showcase has been promised for almost 18 months, and yet, here we are. I get that Topps needs to deliver content regularly to keep the lights on, but the team needs to dedicate resources to improving both user experience and features, and not just for SWCT.

Things have gotten better since Rogue One really started ramping up, and the change in direction has felt very good overall. I just want this celebration of a huge landmark to renew the commitment to making things better over the next two years as well.

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Parallax Arrives in SWCT

Its been almost 2 years, but we have something new today that a lot of users have been waiting for a long time to see in SWCT. The release of the Holoscreen marathon signals the first Parallax card in the app, and the first Parallax card in a long time for any Topps Digital App. I really think this is an underused technology when so many users have iPhones, and Im glad to see it make its debut.

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This isnt the first time Parallax has been rumored for release, as a mine of the back end code for the app revealed a potential Parallax version of the Kylo Ren Episode VII preview cards as something that never really made its debut.

I am curious to see if this is used more often going forward, outside of the 15 cards that will be available in this chase. I reached out to Topps and they werent ready to share plans just yet, but I can assume this isnt the last time we will see the effect in use.

The usage of Parallax highlights even more of a need for a user showcase in the app, something I have been campaigning for over the last few years. As it stands, this marathon will be buried and underappreciated, especially with as many cards that are released every day. Users need a way to show off their favorite cards, and right now, that doesnt exist.

So far, I think this is one of the better rounds of Marathon chases in a while, even though Im still not 100% sold that marathons are the best way to go.

 

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What Sets Should Huddle Do for the Offseason?

Ahh yes. The time of the year where nothing is happening in football and the draft is still 2 months away. Then, after the draft, there is another few months until the rookie premiere. It all is a barren wasteland of football-less boredom, and Huddle needs to find a way to fill the void. Luckily, last offseason, in between events, the physical sets were there to save the day. Hopefully that happens in 2017 as well.

We already got the announcement today that Stadium Club will be making its football debut, which means there should be others to follow. Which physical sets are ripe for Huddle? Here are my thoughts.

Definitive Collection

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This was the final physical premium set Topps did before losing its license, and it was a BEAST. Not only were the cards ornate and incredible looking, but the checklist was stacked with some of the craziest dual autos available. I could see this being amazing for a digital format, especially if the super premium nature of the set is upheld.

Topps Platinum

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I loved the jumbo patch autos that Platinum was known for, and if they can capture the refractor color patterns and parallel structure correctly, this will be a great set to highlight the technology that Topps used for this set.

Topps Chrome

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For whatever reason, I dont think Chrome has ever worked out in Huddle, and that is a HUGE disappointment for my favorite Topps set. Its pretty simple in the way its built, and the refractors and signatures are the reason it produced the most valuable physical card of the year. Superfractors finally made their way to Huddle around thanksgiving, and now we need the set that birthed them too.

Supreme

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At the end of the offseason last year, Topps Supreme was released as an afterthought, almost. I think it needs to be brought back, and it needs the attention it deserves. Since 2010, it has been one of Topps’ fan favorite products, and I would like to see it get another shot. The cards have always looked great, and with a digital friendly design, it could be even better. Great spot for booklets too!

Strata

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In Bunt, the team found a way to make the shadowboxes work, and I think Corey could make these cards even better now that he has the opportunity to start from scratch. If there was a way to incorporate the Parallax effect that seems to be lost on the apps lately, it would be a great opportunity to get some quality and fun content into the app.

Museum Collection

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Again, another set that hit the sheet as the offseason came to a close, and I think a fresh look at this set would be awesome. Framed autographs and jumbo patch autos would be really nice to see again, and hopefully the multisigned cards can be a focus as well.

As mentioned before, there are so many ways to incorporate the redesigned physical sets that worked so well with Inception this year. I would love to see a big focus as things play out leading up to the draft.

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