Entertainment for the Oligarchy

Having played card games like Yu-Gi-Oh! since 2004, the main players to watch in these games hasn’t changed much. When I first started playing Yu-Gi-Oh! the tournament scene was largely covered by a site called Metagame, and the major players to watch were names such as Anthony Alvarado, Chris Bowling, and Adam Corn. By 2007, the exact same names were still contenders featured by Metagame. In three years, the scene never changed. The reason for this was is simple: Yu-Gi-Oh! is a game for the rich. It always was, and always will be.

I’m not saying you can’t be middle-class and have fun playing these games. I’m saying that if you want to be competitive, you have to have money – lots of money – and that just isn’t fair for most people.

The $1000 Rectangular Paper

I remember in 2006, while browsing Yu-Gi-Oh! cards on eBay (mainly because my local card shops never had the “rarer” cards I was looking for), I found a Crush Card Virus on sale for $1000. The pictures were real (the guy had his name on a slip of paper next to the card) and the card set showed it was an official SJC tournament prize card. But $1000? Really?

With $1000 you could buy a respectable gaming computer, or a decent motorcycle. But since a card like this was so hard to obtain, the selling price for it was $1000, and I doubt any middle-class kid would be able to afford it, much less win it (since a tournament-competitive deck generally ran $1500+).

Today, the scene is much cheaper, but still expensive. Tournament-worthy decks generally run at least $500 (and don’t tell me Gadgets, because Gadget decks aren’t tournament-worthy anymore), which is still not a good deal for the average Yu-Gi-Oh! player.

The Good Stuff Is Already Gone

Despite the guaranteed rare per pack, the changes of getting a tournament-worthy rare card was highly unlikely due to the fact that resellers often used deck box examination methods to determine where the rarest cards were before selling the packs. An example of this is pack weighing – a heavier pack is a sign of a rarer card, simply because the rarest cards are more holographic and weigh more than average “rare” cards. Thus, buying a pack online or through the store almost always meant that you would only receive a mediocre “rare” card, and if certain cards were absolutely crucial to your deck, you had to resort to other, more expensive methods such as buying off eBay or through a card reseller.

Some may argue that this is a marketing ploy, by keeping supply low while demand is high. However, the truth is that Konami doesn’t really know what cards are good and what cards aren’t. These “standards” are set by the players, and the top-ranking players and vendors are the ones who are truly profiting off of this economic imbalance. Basically, the rich get richer and stay competitive, while the poor get poorer and keep sinking lower as new packs are introduced, causing new “good” cards to be determined following a tournament (back then, one tournament was happening somewhere in the US each week).

Most of the Cards Suck

The truth is, Konami doesn’t test its cards, and Wizards of the Coast doesn’t either. In fact, rare cards are determined by the sole fact that they have some grand effect that makes them appear to be much better than other cards. In contrast, most video game companies test their games before they release them. Why should card games be any different? Instead, Konami produces a bunch of worthless cards containing only a picture and attack/defense values. Virtually every card used in a competitive level in tournament has an effect. As a result, all of these effect-less cards are simply tossed aside as wasted paper. In fact, I once tried to sell them all to a store once and they wouldn’t take them.

So in all, your $5.00 pack gets you:

* 1 “Rare” card, which more than likely won’t be competitive

* 8 cards, with 60% of them probably being worthless

So in reality, that’s a little less than $1.00 per card. A little expensive for a bunch of noncompetitive cards, but perfectly fine if all you want to do is have a little fun, right?

That still doesn’t mean Konami is being very efficient with Yu-Gi-Oh! The packs are still a clear ripoff. So what’s the solution? For the most part, it’s embracing the fact that more and more people have both a computer and internet access:

1. Go virtual. With no packs of “random” to purchase, users will be able to simply browse a database of cards online to purchase cards and build a virtual deck.

2. Realtime online matches. This solves the issue of tournament location, as users would simply need to have access to a computer connected to the internet in order to participate in games.

One good side effect of this revolves around game balance. Since all the cards are virtual, errata can be easily changed online to make them more or less competitive, hence balancing out the game, without the need to mass-reprint thousands of physical cards.

In regards to what is stated above, there is a virtual card game in production that is currently working to fix the problems I have outline above. At the time of writing, most of the artwork for this game is currently still in production. For people interested in joining and helping out (no technical skills necessary), please visit http://www.zems.com/forums

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