The Dreaded Marathon Replacement Conversation

Star Wars and the sports apps I play have used Marathons as a vehicle since 2014, and even before that point, there were aspects of the tactic used in Bunt and Huddle. The issue is that Im not sure its as vital a part of the app’s appeal, unlike previous years. The discussion becomes an inventory of whether or not marathons still make sense, and if no, what should be used to replace that weekly draw?

Marathon Viability

I would be shocked if the sports apps consider the weekly releases to be anything more than a formality these days, save maybe Limited and Signature Series in Bunt. Because Bunt still has such a huge contingent of users who will spend and want premium content, those releases still maintain a certain pull with the community. In Star Wars, people still look to acquire the marathons themselves, but the trade value and ebay value of the cards in a singular fashion is very low as a whole. Its not like it used to be, and it might just be a result of the downturn that has taken place for the last year plus.

For an app like Huddle or Skate, contests are much more of a focus than collecting, unless something is crazy low count, and I dont see many of the marathons fulfilling those requirements. They can boost the marathons to high hell, but in reality, there just isnt much reason to collect them like there was back in 2014.

The reason is the proliferation of low count cards as a method of driving buying habits, and even more so, a downturn in user traffic as a whole. Not as many people play, in part because the marathons and reasons to check in daily in the app havent changed for years.

Changing the Marathon Conversation

This is where things get dicey. Topps needs to deliver daily content to keep users engaged every single day of the year. Most times that is multiple tmies per day. They need to do this with 1-2 people per app, and maybe a dedicated designer if they are set up that way. That means sets and templates help, as does a standardized release calendar. Starting to be clear why these sets were chosen right?

Boxes have already shown to be an interesting venture, depending on how the content is created or digitized from a physical product. We have also seen the use of large sets released in waves that can be a good way for users to go nuts around content.

In all reality, it comes down to how the content is delivered in my opinion, not necessarily the length, size or duration of the release. If something looks cool, it will sell. If the functionality behind it is cool, it will sell. If it looks boring, or people lose interest, it will die on the vine.

Based on that, losing interest really tends to be a huge issue with the marathons, as the long set release structure can be a detriment to the value more than a help. It can keep users engaged long term too, but when new user onboarding is such a big issue, someone that joins the app mid season doesnt really have the same feeling as if they had been there from week 1. Its almost in Topps’ best interest to ensure that there are more starting points available on any given cycle, even outside of the normal weekly chase sets that are released.

What Does This All Mean?

All that being said, Marathons ARE fun. They ARE interesting. They just arent what they used to be to me, and that is kind of a reason why we need to continue moving onward and upward. At some undetermined point in the future, there will be some brand new tech feature that may make all of this discussion obsolete. We already saw some of this with the release of the new build, but it all comes down to more of what they do with that homegrown type of setup.

I want to see more ways to engage with the app as a whole, more stuff that isnt just coming in daily, collecting my bonus, ripping a few packs and doing a few trades. That hasnt changed in years, and frankly it needs to. Moving on from the shackles of a 30 week set might be a way to share that in a fresh way. I know there will be users who wont agree, but they also fear what the replacement might look like. If the way Marathons change is awesome, then no biggie right?

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Special Kris Bryant Redemptions Offered at Topps 65th Anniversary Party

If you are a physical card collector, you no doubt heard about Topps Transcendent Baseball, released this year as the most expensive baseball product ever released. It retailed for over $25,000 for a few hundred autographed cards, including the top names in the sport and entertainment. As part of the 65 boxes that were offered, each included an invitation to a special party, which took place this past weekend in Las Vegas.

As part of the event, attendees got to meet Kris Bryant himself, and walked away with some awesome giveaways, one of which was a digital redemption for Bunt, numbered to 65 and featuring the league MVP.

These cards are the first of their kind, offered as special giveaway, and when they are added to the sheet coming up, I have a feeling they might end up being some of the more sought after cards of the year.

Not only are they extremely rare, but they look awesome to boot, something that will add to the number of people who were already going to chase these cards. Bottom line, I hope this spells a longer plan to get more high end type cards out there into the physical world, as I think it provides a great incentive for digital users to start ripping physical packs.

With the release of Topps Series 1 coming soon, we may get more on the sheet sooner rather than later.

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The Super Bowl is Coming – Are You Ready?

There are two or three events every year that I get excited for in Huddle, the first is the Draft, the second is the Rookie Premiere, and the third and probably most important is the Super Bowl. Although Thanksgiving has become a purchasing event, the atomsphere isnt as electric as it is for the biggest game of the year. Now that we are in year two of Topps’ NFL license, we again get to experience the amazing history, circumstance and competitive nature of the weeks leading up to Houston. Here are some ways to get ready and what to expect.

Super Bowl Sets Are Going to Be BIG

Each year since Huddle began, the team has used this week to drive some of the best looking content that is available. Whether its historical retrospectives and celebrations of the event, or big boosts to use in the contests, these next two weeks will be a great representation of the firepower at Topps’ disposal. The design team is pushed to their limits in building new sets, but so far they have passed with flying colors.

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Expect signatures, dual signatures, triple signatures, physical product digitizations, and all sorts of history coming – and that’s just the start. Things seem to get bigger every year, and I still remember when the big card was the “gold foil” Russell Wilson back in the day.

If you arent going to spend real money, its going to be hard to keep up – but that doesnt mean it cant be fun. There are lots of Patriots and Falcons fans out there, and others who will want to cash in on the fury. Be strategic and use your coins where there are the best odds. Trade what you can, as set chasers will be out in full force. If you get lucky, try to maximize trade bait and get as much as you can. This is the last two weeks of the big crowd still being in the app, and you only have a short timeframe before the offseason takes hold.

If you are a spender, this is your time to let loose. One good thing to realize is that there is always going to be something bigger and better, and variants released separately are always a factor. If a big drop happens and content doesnt seem to be too limited, it doesnt mean its time to dive in – wait a bit and see if they release limited variants, as that has happened way too many times for me to keep falling for it. See Gypsy Queen, Ginter, Inception etc.

Contests Are Going to Be At Their Height

Although playoff participation has been down this year, I still fully expect the Super Bowl to be insane. It always is. Due to increased costs, odd contest card prize structures, and lack of explanation of physical prizes and how they will be awarded, the community has been a bit wishy washy on how they are responding to the playoff challenge.

At the same time, the Super Bowl is always a time when the points chasers come out of the woodwork and try to get going at the last possible moment. With 50x boosts being available last year, its a necessity to play if you want to be competitive in whatever physical prizes are in the mix. Everyone is already watching, so why not get some Huddle in while you do?

Right now, everyone is looking for Brady and Ryan, with Julio Jones and Julian Edelman as a secondary focus. My advice is WAIT. There will be a ton of heavily boosted cards on the way, and its not worth your time to try to stock up on 9x and 10x crap when Super Bowl content will be much higher. Try to stock up on guys that wont get the treatment. The Tevin Coleman and Martellus Bennett like players. These guys will be heavily reliant on their playoff cards, because they arent going to see the type of insert action others will.

Enjoy the Last Two Weeks of Action

Im guessing there will be a lot of Pro Bowl content and possibly a contest if available, but all in all, this is the last hurrah for 2016 Huddle. After this, the playing public will dwindle for the offseason, and it will rely on content to drive additional traffic once the 2016 content is truly finshed. Its going to be harder to trade, harder to communicate, and harder to stay involved, because all the incentives and marathons will be over.

Basically, this is a great time to be in the app, because so much of what happens over these next two weeks will set a tone for how the offseason will start. I actually think the offseason has been quite good the last two years, but with a shift in focus we have seen since October, its yet to be seen if that will continue the way it has.

Even if you arent actively cheering for either of the teams involved in the Super Bowl, this is the best time of year. Look for ways to make the most of it, however that may be enjoyable for you.

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What Value Do Eliminated Playoff Boosts Have?

2016-huddle-playoffs-dak-prescott-2017Its a sad day when your best stacked team gets eliminated, something that many of us likely experienced yesterday when the Packers pulled a miracle out of their nether regions to beat the popularly collected Cowboys. With that, it becomes a huge question for many new and existing users of what to do with all the boosts that no longer have any real contest value.

This isnt actually a very easy question to answer, and with many of the cards, they may be pretty low count in nature. That being said, there are a lot of reasons why value to non-team based collections will be minimal, even if your boost is below 10 count. For whatever reason, Huddle has become as much about contest viability as anything over the last few years, and its clear that boost for most cards is something that can drive value sky high.

My advice is simple – find the person who collects the team you have a ton of, and see if there is something you can work out. If that isnt in your wheelhouse, then its probably better to wait for the offseason, when all boosts are relegated to non-playable situations.

Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, everyone needs to be mindful of one thing in particular. No boosts from this program will likely be playable in 2017. Its in your best interest to acquire and divest as the need presents itself. Dont try to hold onto cards with the ill fated desire to use them next year. Its just not going to happen, if history speaks to the trend.

Overall, I have seen some people out there who will give low active boosts for expired ones if you have an opportunity to spend some time on the feed. Dont be that guy who wants a ton for those super low count golds and platinums, because you arent going to get a Rodgers 18x or even a 16x for your expired Dak. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Even with all of the drama of the playoffs, and the pending expiration of 99% of the boosts out there, its fun to play along with the contests, and if you are going to spend, this is the time to do it. Be forewarned, investing now does come with a price, as the big dogs will come – 50x is not far away. That doesnt mean you shouldnt go nuts, just be aware of what is going to happen.

Enjoy the rest of the games everyone!

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2017 Topps Bunt Brings Physical Crossover Back for Another Season

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Got in some great news today, as we got a sell sheet for 2017 Topps Bunt, which is the second go around of the physical crossover product that debuted last year. There are some changes in configuration without much change in price, something that should go quite well for the new product. That being said, it all comes down to execution on the digital side of things, with the hope that it turns out more like SWCT’s crossover and less like the 2016 version.

Its not a secret that the crossover products are meant to be pack ripping mayhem for a small price. Because the relic and autograph content is limited and the digital redemptions are likely pretty cheap to produce, the overhead on the product is smaller than normal. Its really meant as a cheap introduction for both physical collectors to check out the digital platform and app faithful to try their hand at ripping real packs. It seemed to be pretty successful last year, so why not try it again.

This year’s inserts are some of the ones I found to be the better of the batch from 2016 Bunt, mainly the Galaxy, Invincible and Vapor cards that were so popular in the app itself. We also see that signature series has a new look, and it might be a free preview for what the card will look like in 2017 digital Bunt.

As for configuration, there will be more autograph content this time, with one per case autographs instead of one every 3 or 4 cases. We also see that loot codes will have 10 card packs attached, something that will remain similar to the 2016 product. I was hoping for more of the Star Wars approach, where users could use the card exchange to get the redemptions, but I guess that isnt happening.

I also see that there is still a low presence of redeemable inserts within the packs, with base versions of the redemption sets numbered as low as 99. I would love to see almost every card have a code, as that would bring a lot more attractiveness to the product from a digital side. Of course that would be quite the nightmare in setup, but I feel like it would provide a large incentive to go diving into packs.

Overall, Im excited to see crossover products back for another year. Hopefully we get more as the year goes on and that Bunt wont be the only baseball crossover we see.

Here is the complete info:

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5 Things Topps Digital Needs to Work on Building for 2017 and Beyond

With the new build deployed across the portfolio, its time to discuss improvements that should be made across the board in terms of product development. Although I think wholesale upgrades to the apps themselves would be a great investment, its clear that it would likely be more of a longer term upgrade than a short term improvement. Here are five specific things I want to see improved as soon as possible.

Card Showcase

I know, I know, Ive beat this to death. That doesnt change the fact that having a place to store your top cards for the world to see is not a vital improvement that needs to be resurrected. I have said a number of times that users are expected to spend and spend, but there is no real place to show your clout without someone offering you a trade and digging through your sheet. Not only would this improve user satisfaction, pride in their collection, and trading options, but it would likely contribute to indriect revenue with people seeking out ways to add to their showcase.

As a whole, the ability to show off or be recognized in the app for top collections is little to none, which will discuss more in a second.

Collection Score

Right now, no one really knows what is going on or how to improve a collection score. Although we all can see that there is a correlation to quantity over quality for adding to the score, it isnt a good system for helping users understand what a “great collection” is all about. I would love to see some wholesale changes that have a better representation of measuring the prestige of a user’s presence in the app. I thought the level system would be a good start, but that hasnt worked out even close to the way I thought it would.

To further highlight the point from the showcase request, if Topps really wants us to spend, we have to have a way that truly represents our accomplishments. Things like trades completed, sets completed, top cards acquired, packs opened, etc, can all be indicators, but there has to be more opportunity for people to be recognized for their collections in an holistic fashion.

Contests

After spending literally 18 hours playing Huddle playoff contests this weekend, its becoming more and more clear that the current build (or previous builds for that matter) really dont have a good system for the contests. Its hard to see when points accumulate, scoring lag is becoming unmanageable, and the overall interface is really clunky.

Something as simple as an automated player add tool would be great. I pick the player, how many cards to add, and the system adds the top boosted cards in order, automatically. Taking that a step further, would be great to have the system have tools to suggest which cards in your collection are best to play in any situation. Not only would it help new users, but it would improve the overall contest system.

The way its set up right now just doesnt help me stay interested.

Messaging

Right now, there are both character limits and lack of notifications when trying to communicate within the apps. I have a distinct desire to know when someone responds to a message I write, and I really hate having to initiate a trade in order to communicate with other users. I want a messaging center and a want a way to be notified if I so desire.

The lack of live messaging as available in other apps is quite frustrating, but the lack of dedicated messaging as a whole is infuriating. People can be bombarded with trade requests over a card, and messages can be lost in the process. I have missed out on some great deals because overall notifications around trading arent great as a whole. Obviously, some people dont want the extra pop-ups, but that’s where toggled settings should be the method.

User Profiles

Right now, the only thing anyone ever sees about me is what is available in my tiny avatar, my collection score, and my ratings. They dont see my favorite teams or players, they dont see my website, and they dont see any place for people to endorse me for trust. All of those things would be a great opportunity to improve the user experience and customize the way people interact with each other. I HATE when people offer me trades for my Vikings cards on Huddle, because I feel my collection makes it obvious that I am a huge Vikings fan. In reality, people rarely do homework before making trade offers, and that can lead to me having this level of interaction.

I feel some can be improved with larger profile avatars, better customization of the user profile and moving on from a user system developed in 2012. Just having a spot to tell people what I want and dont want in a permanent fashion on my profile would be a huge benefit.

Hopefully we start to see some major improvement, as I would love to have this as a focal point for 2017 and beyond. Topps needs a bit of a re-rack on some of their apps, and this could be a way to calm some of the storm around functionality in the community.

 

 

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Has SWCT Gotten Back On The Right Track?

I think that the downward trend in SWCT has created a lot of negativity over the last year plus, and its definitely warranted.  A focus on heavy variants, sales, lack of follow through and a whole bunch of odd decisions seemed to have poisoned the well with a community that was once the strongest of any of the apps. There has been novels written on Twitter about the direction of the app, some of which is extremely personal and mostly negative. However, over the last few weeks, I have seen a shift in the force that might suggest some of that vitriol might be wearing away. So, based on that, what’s changed?

Release Structure

One of the main complaints of 2016 was the sheer number of Variants that were released with every set. Instead of creating additional content or finding ways to get people buying more quickly, they felt that quantity was better than quality. In recent sets, its been much more focused on letting the content speak for itself. That isnt saying variants dont exist, but more that the focus is on creating better designs and making the set themes interesting and cool.

Similarly, the packout gimmicks that forced people into spending money just to get access to a pack has been dialed back considerably, focusing more on simplicity and less on finding ways to squeeze another dollar out of the community, who has become so disgusted with that practice.

After a long long time of a directionless approach to the way cards are released, it seems like the team has finally recognized that there is more than just today and tomorrow when building a long term plan.

Although its not fully recovered in the slightest, or even close, Im seeing better approaches than has been used in quite some time.

Rebuilding the Coin Economy

For most of 2016, bundle purchases were a preferred method of pack delivery. Every insert had some sort of bundle attached to it, and as a result, the coin economy suffered massive issues with the way users thought about how to spend. Anything of value was rarely available in a coin pack, and users would save and save and save because they literally had nothing to spend it on.

In the last few months, it seems like the coin economy is slowly but surely being rebuilt, with a renewed focus on coin packs and delivering cards in a way that makes users feel less like they are digging into their wallet every time they want a card that was just released.

Similarly, cutting out people that use emulators and fixing some of the bugs might have contributed as well. For a long time, coin farmers with tons of accounts were able to drive down the value of coins by using the system to exploit the daily bonuses that came with each day’s reset. I dont think the issue is fully resolved, but from what I understand, its a lot harder to abuse the system with some changes that were made in the new build.

Awards

Set collecting is a huge part of SWCT, and delivering awards in a timely manner is something that has been a struggle going back to the Galactic Moments cards that took months to hand out. Im sure its a combination of the manual nature of building the award checklists and approvals on the content itself, but it was an issue.

I have seen more and more users that were saying many outdated awards were being fulfilled, and that the timing of things was much more of a palatable nature. I think this is probably something that many are thinking is minor, but I can assure you, its not. Some of the largest issues in the history of the apps have come around award deadlines, and that’s no joke.

It takes a lot of organization to run any app that is currently available, and I would guess that goes tenfold for a card collecting app built around one of the most meticulous communities of fans. I have noticed much better organization and fluidity lately, and I think that awards have been a good representation of that.

Improvements Still Needed

As I said, fixing the cracked foundation is the first step to fixing the whole structure. If the base of your building isnt sturdy, nothing else can really be truly fixed. There are some things that still need attention, and Im guessing it will be a year long focus across all the apps to restore the roar if you will.

The first thing that needs attention is the new build itself. There are still issues that are plaguing the release, and I have seen users on Reddit and the app talking about what is still going wrong. I think that allowing users to provide feedback on what they want to see different would be a great opportunity to build some good will, and might provide some bugs even I havent found yet.

Marathons are still a big issue as well too, as so many of them are unsold or unwanted. I think the original fervor around the marathons has died, and its time to re-evaluate the way the cards are delivered in this manner. Cards are sitting for weeks without selling out in some cases, and it might be time to move a new direction. Its going to take a lot of getting used to, but it will be for the greater good. In the meantime, its time to cut bait and start clearing out the old cards in heavily discounted packs.

Customer service and community recognition are similarly important, as its clear that the methods of management to this point have failed. The community wants the involvement they had when the app first started, and the producers need to do a better job being engaged and online. Community management is a full time job, so if it isnt going to be the people in charge of the app, its time to hire someone to run the ship as their main focus.

Again, lots of good trajectory for the app, good starts on some major issues that need to be fixed. I think that for 2017, things are finally on the right track, and we might see a lot of things happen that werent ever thought to be possible during the dark days.

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2016 NFL Playoffs: Top Players to Chase

The playoffs are here, and I could not be more excited. Although my team didnt make it, there are a lot of reasons to still be excited, even if you are like me. Huddle should be starting up with the playoffs this week, and this should include a number of programs in which users will be able to participate. Here are the players I would chase for both types of contests.

Fantasy Style Contests

Aaron Rodgers – There is no hotter team right now than the Packers, much to my dismay. In the last few games, the former MVP has thrown for 8 TDs and ZERO interceptions. The only drawback to picking him up is that the Packers have an injury riddled defense, and could easily get bounced early.

Tom Brady – I think he is the MVP of the season, and that’s with missing 4 games. As a team, the Patriots threw 2 interceptions all year, and Brady’s QB rating was 110 plus. Even though that stat isnt a prime indicator, its still part of the picture. The only issue is that he will miss next week on the bye, which makes his cards a bit less valuable than teams that play both weeks.

Matt Ryan – Another top MVP candidate, and one that is again missing next week because of the bye. He threw for a ton of TDs and very few interceptions, much like the aforementioned individuals, and should have a good shot at a deep run.

Bobby Wagner – Going to throw a twist in here, because this dude had a ridiculous season. He is a tackling machine, which means he will rack up points like nobody’s business. The Seahawks are playing Detroit at home, which is almost a lock to move on. Wagner could end up being the top card in the game if the Seahawks go deep.

Conventional Type Contests

Ezekiel Elliott – This is the guy to pick up if you are going to grind it out. Tons of yards, lots of TDs, catches passes out of the backfield. He will be rookie of the year, even if he didnt break Eric Dickerson’s record. There are a lot of recent boosts out there, might want to get your hands on a few.

Jordy Nelson – I mentioned Rodgers had thrown 8 TDs over the last few weeks, and this guy caught most of them. He is hotter than hell right now, and if the past has any indicator, he will have quite the game to start the playoff run.

Julian Edelman – Much like Nelson, Edelman has been on fire as well. He gets lots of targets, and with so few available receivers in New England, he should rack up points when you need to switch him in.

Antonio Brown – This guy averages something like 9 catches a game in the playoffs. Its ridiculous how good he can be, and if he takes over next week, you want him in bulk. Outside of him, I cant really name another Steelers receiver, which bodes well for his chances at getting a ton of points.

Le’veon Bell – Much like Zeke took the NFL by storm in the NFC, Bell had a tremendous season on the AFC side. He didnt play part of the year due to suspension, and was still in the top 5 for rushing yards and TDs.

Jay Ajayi – If the Dolphins cant get Ryan Tannehill on the field, Ajayi will carry the brunt of the load coming out of the backfield. Matt Moore just isnt a great QB, and going against the Steelers will put heavy pressure on the running game to perform. They will likely lose, but get some Ajayi goods just in case.

Odell Beckham Jr – Look at the Packers’ secondary. They are trash scrubs that are there because no one else is healthy enough to play. If Eli is half the QB he has been in previous playoff run, OBJ could have some insane amount of yards and like 8 TDs in one game. This is a guy I am going nuts and picking up a ton.

This the best time of year, and I cannot wait to see what goes down in the next few days. Get ready, because the tidal wave is coming. Grab a surf board and sack up, lets get going.

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Looking Back on 2016 and Looking Forward to 2017

Well, the year is coming to a close and for many, that’s probably a good thing. A lot has happened during the course of 2016 that impacts the apps, some of it pretty awesome, and some of it hasnt been great. That being said, there is still a lot to be happy about as the New Year begins, and I want to take some time to look back on 2016 and what there is to look forward to in 2017.

The Year of Expansion

I have said on this site a few times that a year in the apps is not a year in real time. Its like 10 years. It feels like all of the apps that Topps Digital offers have been around for a long time, but many got their time in the spotlight for 2016. I think the reception of a new app has been exciting leading up to the launch, but to say that all new ventures have been a rousing success is definitely not the case. Although its fun to get a new license into the mix, Topps hasnt always shown that they are good at getting a new app off the ground with the right plan in mind. Apps like WWE and Skate did a good job at taking things slowly with their attack plan, and have seen a steady increase in participation as the year progressed. Others dove in quite fast to direct purchase and sales, and it soured what might have been a better release.

I honestly believe that it might be a while before the next license is signed, as Topps is finally starting to realize the resources that are needed to make a new app work. In addition to content, staffing and maintenance are a huge part of the user experience. Topps looks to have understood that spreading a small team even more thin, probably isnt the best way to go about a new brand.

All in all, the design across all the Topps brands looks stronger than ever, despite the added stress likely put on the team. I am continually impressed by the level of artwork within each brand, as its clear that the team has staffed the right people to design the content in each app. The only issue I see is that there are only so many things you can do with shots from the Star Wars films, and only so many ways to boost a card in the sports apps. Eventually, the art will need to be a compliment to new functionality that hasnt come. Now that expansion is completed, hopefully both will be on the front burner again.

Rogue One Takes Center Stage

Raise your hand if you expected Rogue One to be as good as it was? All of you with your hands in the air are liars! I think that the apps were banking on a great performance of Rogue One content released in SWCT, and because of tempered expectations, it may not have originally gone over as well as it probably should have. The movie was amazing, and since that time, Rogue One cards in the app have been hot commodities.

With a trilogy movie on the horizon, its only a matter of time before we start the cycle over again. Now that the user base has been roused by the way they movie turned out, Im curious as to how this will play out on a continued stage for 2017.

I think that Rogue One’s success will spell very good things for the way upcoming movie content will be delivered, and Im excited to see how Topps’ physical content for the license will continue to play out across the digital realm.

If we continue to see positive growth in secondary market value, and a continued awesome performance in delivering the content as we have seen lately from the SWCT team, this could be the recipe we have all been waiting for. I have seen a shift in the way users are digesting what is being released, and I hope that continues.

Physical Products Feeding Into the Digital Apps

To start the year, Topps Series One Baseball had in app redemptions of cards that could be found in physical packs. This was introduced in 2015 with the 5x cards that were extremely limited pulls across both Series 1 and 2, and I was extremely happy to see it make it to the apps again for 2017. What I wasnt expecting was entire products that were based on the apps themselves, and how they would be done so that both communities of collectors would benefit from their release.

Starting with the Bunt product, we saw a lot of promise that kind of devolved into a mess with release. Cards that were supposed to be exclusive to the people ripping physical packs were delivered out to digital users, something that killed a lot of value in a product whose sole benefit was exclusivity. Eventually it was fixed, but not before the damage was already done.

It was somewhat made up for in the awesome contest structure that was delivered through the app itself, offering some rare physical prizes that were only available to people who had the app equivalent redemptions in their collection. Hopefully programs like that continue if the product is back for a second year.

I think the way the SWCT physical product hit shelves was impacted by the lessons learned from the Bunt product, and that was a huge positive note. I love the redemption tickets and the different ways the physical product interacts with the app. I also like that there is a lot more content that is connected to the app itself, as that was a huge let down in the Bunt side of things. I was hoping for much more connectivity, and only a select few cards were redeemable in the app. SWCT had a much different approach and that was awesome.

Most importantly, this is probably a street that Topps Digital is carefully treading down. On one hand, the success of the product on the physical side isnt going to directly drive revenue to SWCT. On the other side, this could introduce digital collectors into the physical pack ripping part of the business, and could make customers a bit more sticky with their brands. It could also have an impact of physcial collectors heading into digital for the first time. I dont envy this position at all, but hope it is all taken in stride as helping Topps as a whole instead of in fighting over who gets credit for any successes.

The New Build Spreads to All Titles

What started with Skate and Bunt has finally made its way across the apps, and so far the reaction has been mixed. Although the speed and memory requirements of the new iOS apps has been great, there has been a fair share of glitches and bugs that still need to be addressed.

That being said, its good that this type of shift is happening. We have already seen the use of video based digital trading cards in Skate, and hopefully those wont be the last we get. We also know from some newspaper articles and LinkedIn posts that Topps opened an office in Orlando that functions as a place to run these types of initiatives.

If I had to guess, Topps is trying to move to a homegrown app state that allows them to advance product development further and more quickly through an internal team. That is a positive progression that is definitely necessary.

My only complaint is that there was a direction involved that seemed to be rolling out the app took precedence over fixing some of the issues inherent to the build. Similarly, user feedback on some aspects of contests and other things needed to be addressed as well, and I just dont see that happening. I would love to see a fully baked idea in place for a small pilot of the apps instead of rolling out a 3/4ths baked idea to all the apps.

Looking Ahead to 2017

Things have definitely ramped up this year, and they have big shoes to fill in 2017. With all the different pieces in place, we are desperate for some true innovation that I dont believe has been seen in an inexcusable portion of time. Video cards are nice, but that should be the appetizer, not the entree. We need to see Topps make strides in shaping the future of the app, because new content delivered the same way as it has been for 3 years isnt going to move the needle next year.

If the apps are going to grow, and if the apps are going to stay relevant in a growing competitive marketplace, there are feature enhancements that cant be left to rot. Whether its the user showcase, new contest formats, or even a new look to the app itself, Topps cannot sit back on their laurels and hope to see revenue continue to come from their user base.

If anything, Topps is burdened with the need to provide REASON for users to keep buying. If its a new sig or a new boost, how long before the community just gets bored with the constant flow of new content without new features? Its a finite time, and that is guaranteed. With how far things have come in 2016, and the open space hopefully now provided by the new build rolling out across the portfolio, hopefully that means there are resources to build apps that can stand the test of time.

My volume on this issue has gone from a 2 to a 6 over the course of 2016, and it will grow increasingly louder if we dont see true changes that start to take place. I am a huge fan of what Topps has managed to do with their growing digital business, but choices made during next year will have lasting impact.

Things like a long term plan for user creation and new user onboarding has to be as much of a focus as product development. In its current state, most of the apps are a ginormous pill to swallow for any new user. Not only do you have a user base that literally despises trading with uninformed newbies, but the functionality of the apps is not intuitive in any way.

Let me put it this way, look at the luck and effort that needs to happen for one user to become a paying member of the community, something that Topps needs for the business to grow. First they have to find the apps, among the thousands that are out there. Then they have to download the app and register their account. They are immediately thrown headfirst into the fray with no real resources or education. Likely, their first few trades are laughed out of the building, and thats if they dont stumble on the negatively charged commentary in the articles. So, you have a 1 star rating, a lack of understanding of how things work, but content that is really cool. Odds are insane, so this is where things really get messy. Lets say all the previous stuff goes right, and they want to buy a bundle. Chance that they pull something other than base? Really a crap shoot. So, if they do become a buyer, there is maybe a 20% chance they stay a buyer, right?  Im not sure. It just seems like a small percentage, but im sure Topps has all those numbers. At some point, new users and user retention has to be a bigger focus.

Which brings me to my last point. Customer service and user interaction is the one thing that Topps really has a PR issue with. Even if they do the right things and do what they can to service the needs of the community, the image they have around customer service and general interaction with users is piss poor. They made their own bed in a lot of ways with this situation, and I hope they are seriously considering a way to create a team whose sole purpose is community management.

Because new users are seen as a scourge rather than a benefit by many users in the app, community engagement is a way to make sure they dont lose hope. Moderators in the articles and trade hubs, twitter staff to make things more fun, and a presence by the producers in the community was a great thing in the past. All of that seems to have disappeared. No one monitors the way things go in the articles, and even fewer monitor the spam in the fan feed. Users are left to police themselves, and when scams and bans take hold, there is very little support to really get things under control.

Even with all of these challenges, I am still quite confident that 2017 will be a great year for the apps. I think that user voices need to stay on top of them to keep them honest, but they have a good team in place. Its just execution, and if execution is done at a high level, the sky is the limit.

 

 

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Revitalizing the Card Exchange

card-trader-build-a-shipWhen the card exchange was first introduced in Star Wars, I was really intrigued with the way the app would progress as a result of this new concept. At first it was used in some pretty simple ways, but was expanded to build ships and actually had a possibility of being used in some sort of gameplay if that’s the direction they wanted to go.

Instead, after a few months, it was pretty much abandoned, and though it was picked up in Bunt and Huddle with some upgrade offers, it hasnt really caught fire the way I thought it would. Recently, it was used as a vehicle for ticket cards given in Huddle over the course of each of the holidays. Although the execution had some odd moments, as a whole, it was a way to add some life into the exchange again.

 

So, this begs the question of how Topps can use the card exchange to really breathe some much needed life into the feature, as right now, im kind of low on how its been going right now.

Build a Card

I have wondered why the “puzzle card” idea wasnt part of the original design for the app and its use of the exchange. If users could pull pieces of a card that form something when the pieces are all exchanged, I think that would be a fun set. Dont tell people what the pieces form either – release a piece a day and run contests to see the first person to guess the final card.

Pack Redemptions

It would be cool if special packs could be redeemed through the exchange. It could be used for hoarding in SWCT, where a user could shred some base cards to get access to a pack that contains nothing but their hoard character. I think it would also serve well in the sports apps, with boosts and other types of cards being delivered through a special pack in the exchange.

Coin Card Exchanges

For a while, Topps has delivered coins in packs by using coin cards that are given to users who pull the cards in packs. It would be really cool if I could shred my coin cards, which no longer serve a purpose for a slot machine pull of inserts or more coins through the app. The higher the amount on the card? The better the odds you get something when shredded. I think that would clean out some of the bulk I have in my sheet, and it would be really cool to reward the players who obviously spent real money to get those cards in the first place.

 

Monument Type Cards 

I know it was a disaster to do all the monuments that were offered with series 1 and series 2 in SWCT. Combing through user names to make sure they werent offensive, actually adding the names, running the queries to see who had the goods, it was a lot of extra work. It was also a wildly popular and rewarding experience for the people that completed it, and really made the user feel accomplished for hoarding. Outside of adding user names to cards, which seems to be out of the question, the concept doesnt have to go away. Going out of one’s way to over collect a card, or put together a specific collection is something that should be recognized. Using the card exchange as a delivery for that recognition is a good place to start. Its clear that people would chase the cards, and I would love to see the ideas of a target card – not just for base, but for inserts too. Give people a few options to chase some pretty insane targets and let them fly in all the apps, not just SWCT.

Team or Affiliation Based Exchanges

Are you an Angels fan in Bunt? Here are some special shreds for you to do. Are you affiliated with the Empire in SWCT? You get access to these specific offers. So on and so on. I rarely see the team affiliation used any more, and even less so in the non-sports apps. Its unfortunate, because choosing your user profile at the beginning no longer really has any impact. Would love to see team specific exchange offers be used more frequently, as it would be a way to wall off some inserts and make users trade. Card trader is now in pretty much every game title, and this would be a fun set to have people put together.

Exchange Leaderboard

Im sure that Topps can highlight the top exchangers in the game. Users that have had the most exchanges under their name, and how to identify those people if desired. Would love to see recognition for those people, especially when there is SUCH a lack of recognition app wide. As a whole, this is something that needs to be addressed, but finding a way to build sets around top users would be great. Most exchanges of this particular card gets X. Something like that.

Overall, I feel like there isnt a lot of news lately that shows Topps has put a focus on developing features or their products. Release schedules and building cards/designs is a lot of work, but I want them to put a larger focus on really building out the apps too. Card exchange is a feature that already exists, the producers just need to use it in creative ways. It might not make DIRECT revenue that they can point to, but the indirect ripples can be very large as we saw in the past.

 

 

 

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