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November 3, 2004

Excerpts: The Medici Effect - Part IV

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 4:20 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Think about that for a minute. Imagine walking into a game of poker where a player suddenly presents a straight flush in a totally new suit of cards. These are ovals, he says. You would probably get confused (or maybe very angry). Games just dont work that way. For essentially all of history, all the pieces of a game have to be present for fair play. If you play chess, for instance, you expect all the pieces to be on the board in their correct positions before the opening move. Not in Magic.
Once the game is over, the second player may take a closer look at the new Juggernaut card, decide that she likes it, and offer to trade it for one of her own duplicates. It turns out that some cards are common; others, such as Juggernaut, are rare. Rare cards may be difficult to get no matter how many decks you buy, and the only way to acquire them is by trading with other players. This can involve joining a community of players locally or on the Internet, or meeting fellow players at conferences. On top of that, Wizards of the Coast releases new card sets every year, making the card search (and card buying) a continual and fresh challenge.
What is the result? Players buy entire decks simply to get one particular card. Even more interesting, they find a million and one ways to locate other players with whom to trade cards. Soon players begin trading cards for reasons other than to improve game playperhaps because they predict an increase in the value of rare cards or want to get a complete deck.
Wait a minute. Isnt that what collectibles are all about? Think baseball cards. Think stamps and coins. Remember the Garbage Pail Kids cards? These items can be bought, collected, and traded, leading to an amazing self-reinforcing and rapidly expanding network of collectors.
That, then, is the secret of Magic: The Gathering. It sits at the intersection of collectible items and ordinary games and is called, not surprisingly, a collectible card game (or trading card game). The intersectional idea that hit Garfield that day in Multnomah Falls in Oregon was a concept from a field other than gamescollectiblesbut he connected the two worlds. That connection was both unique and wildly successful. When the game hit the market it was just incredible how fast it was selling . . . it was spreading like a virus, he says. When I talked about the game and its rules at conferences, peoples attention was rapt, they were intensely immersed. I dont know what was so compelling, but I had never seen people so focused on anything before or after. . . . The initial 10 million cards we published were gone in [about] four months.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.