Topps Apps Introduce Diamond Based Secondary Currency


This was an interesting development, as its clear that we are in a timeframe where changes like this to app structure may be more frequent than ever before. With a bit of a slump taking place across the landscape of digital cards, its becoming clear that something needed to be done, as I have stated many times before.

My main desire was to see more product development take place, improving the user interface and making the games more accessible across the board. More importantly, without a major facelift since 2014, the apps are hurting for some new features that really havent come, period.

To be perfectly clear, the introduction of a secondary currency through real money purchases is NOT one of those features, but it might actually provide some interesting changes to the way users accumulate coins in the app. Some of those changes may be bad, but others may not be all that terrible. If you play any other digital freemium games, Topps is correct in saying that secondary in game currency is far from out of the ordinary.

In a more comparable sense, apps like Madden Mobile and the like have been immensely successful with the way they position their packs, and I dont think Topps plans to be much different in their approach. Madden offers regular packs for coins farmed within the auction house and mini games, but also uses Madden Cash to deliver better odds, better access and special deals for users that spend.

Using a secondary currency may, in fact, be more familiar to new users, who have complained in the past that top cards are not within their reach. It may be easier to understand how the trade value for these premium access offerings may be better than more regularly available inserts. This type of accessibility does present a positive outcome, but only if proper organic tutorial like education is coupled with the onboarding process. Go into an app like the new Angry Birds game, and look at the way that game onboards a new user, versus what happens when someone fires up Bunt or Huddle for the first time.

Additionally, it may slow down coin farmers, who have contributed significantly to the crash of the secondary market. Before, with in game currency presented without effort, it was easy to run emulators and code based farm programs to harvest millions of coins without fail. All they had to do was open the packs themselves, which can be done quite quickly. If premium currency access is required to open the packs, it will hopefully prevent a flood onto ebay with minutes of release. That isnt saying the flood wont come if access is eventually granted, but it could give spenders time to rip packs instead of trying to beat the clock.

As with every new feature, this new change will need to be executed with precision and not carelessly as we have seen in the past. That means everyone at Topps Digital has to understand the strategy, understand how to ensure users dont get so upset that they walk away, and how to message the change to both existing and new users appropriately. Without that in place, this will go the way we have seen so many things go in the past.

Im still holding out hope that major changes will come to reinvigorate the way Topps Digital is seen within the community. We have seen positive changes from both SWCT and Bunt, but the overall commitment to quality needs to remain intact. This is one of those things that could end up being good, but its too early to tell. Hopefully we get more communication in the coming days as Diamonds launch on Bunt.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Bunt Contest Changes – Good Sign of Things to Come?

If you have been on Bunt lately, there has been a significant change in the way that contest prizes are delivered to the masses. In the past, this is where I think the team has struggled significantly to keep people engaged, but this could be a step in the very right direction.

Basically, instead of packs or coins as a prize for winning a contest, you now receive a ticket that can be used in the card exchange. After a horrible downturn in marathon participation due to tickets last year, this is finally a tremendous use of the card exchange feature that can keep contests fresh all year long.

Bunt Contest Ticket

Even more than just regular season contests, this could pay enormous dividends when the playoffs start, as it gives a great outlet to generate tons of content without adjusting the contest formats themselves.

I understand that it can take a TON of time to generate contest formats that arent built from a template. More importantly, it can cause a ton of errors to pop up as well, most of which the users literally raise hell over. With tickets, the contest format can remain the same, while driving more content that can be delivered without giant investments from the producer team.

Its clear that this is almost 100% dependent on updating the exchange regularly with compelling cards. If that doesnt happen, this will fall as flat as we saw contests did last year when packs were stale and didnt include new base as they were released.

The true test of this as a vehicle is coming up as we approach the all star game, where the team usually kicks up a huge amount of new designs and compelling cards to drive revenue as the midsummer classic ramps up.

To put a bow on this, contests need love. A lot of love, mainly because its clear that the users will gravitate and spend to get the cards earned through top contest performance. Even better, tickets make it so that the top users playing in one contest can be on a level with mid range contest players who spread their attention over an entire week. Although there are still run and gun contests like Best of Bunt that play to everyone’s old school tendencies, but this is the start of a wonderful path. I hope it continues.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On Shelves Now: 2017 Topps Bunt Physical Product

Let me be the first to say that I am shocked this product is back, all things considered. I understand the business reasons why it would be brought to the table again, as it is a cheap product to make, and one that doesnt require a huge autograph budget to make it work. That being said, the coordination between the physical and digital team was quite poor last year, and it really killed the buzz on the initial release. Some awesome contests and fun adjustments brought the magic back, but it didnt look good for the first few days.

Similarly, the physical product itself was quite ‘blah’ in 2016. Autographs fell one per three to four cases, and the redemption cards were ten times as difficult to pull as they should have been. That being said, there wasnt much to lose, as the price per box reflected how valuable a kid friendly product with a digital tie in COULD be if done the right way.

Thankfully, I think we are getting closer to that with the Star Wars Card Trader physical product, and now with the Bunt product as well. This year looks to have brought more content, more redemptions and more autographs to the table, and as long as the loot cards contain some of the rare gems they did last year, I think 2017 will be infinitely better than 2016.

There is one main issue.

The loot cards in physical packs show that you can get 25 dollars in free coins, which I find to be relatively worthless to include in this product for existing Bunt users. Although the offer is attractive for new users, coins are easy to come by, especially with Batter Up now in the fold.

From what I understand, the code cards actually do not give any coins, but rightfully give access to a loot pack, similar to the format last year. This is the RIGHT call, but the curious misprint makes things weird. It might be the offer was meant to say “a chance at” or something like that, but giving loot packs is so much more important than anything else. If the goal is to get the digital users who dont buy physical cards to try ripping real packs, the loot cards need to deliver something worth chasing. Coins are not worth chasing in that way. They are helpful, but only if the other stuff is ALSO included.

As for the content, it looks like there are A LOT of cool looking cards to be had. Vapor, Splatter, and other Bunt sets from last year have been added to the product, and they look really cool. In fact, the signature cards in the physical packs look better than the signature series cards for Bunt this year, in my opinion. Its a great looking base set, and after checking out on this product early on, my mind might be changed all together.

There are also a few players that I have seen making their Bunt debut thanks to these cards, including a very important Yankee who I dont think has been in the app to date. I searched for Roger Maris on all cards, and didnt see any, so this might be the first card he has.

I do have a few suggestions for next year, and I would hope that they take a look if this does indeed make another run in 2018. First, there needs to be more crossover promotion. The physical world rarely ventures into Bunt territory, and for good reason. Many physical collectors hate that digital exists in their territory, and refuse to even check it out. “Why would I want photos of cards on my phone if I can have the real thing?” they say. Well, this is the opportunity to change the narrative a bit.

Additionally, its time to really make an investment in linking the cards to the app. Bring some super premium content to this product, in a way that doesnt add any cost. So, im not saying you need Kris Bryant physical MLB logo patches, but why not offer some of that type of content on the digital side? How about some tickets for live signatures that might be scheduled in the future? Why not some coin cards to supplement the loot packs? Hell, this is the opportunities to bring signature series variants that are unavailable anywhere else to the fold! Give us a reason to chase the digital side of this product, none of which adds any cost to the product. As soon as the physical team embraces the true “soul” of what this should represent as a product on the calendar. Content in the loot packs and the physical packs should have super high end versions of the digital cards in place. If printing costs are increased by adding additional short printed designs, fix with generic cards that “unlock” access to a pack containing a massive hit.

Either way, ill be ripping some later today, stay tuned to see a bit of what I pull.



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Bunt Releases ‘Batter Up’ Mini Game


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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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.

C8K6obzVYAAwC-FC8LbuKJUQAEhRn3 (1)Capture

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments