By StarvingGamer 25 Comments
It was probably just a matter of time, but Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic: The Gathering and MTG Online, have filed a lawsuit against their biggest direct competitor. No, I'm not talking about Hearthstone.
HEX: Shards of Fate is an upcoming Free-to-Play digital card game being designed by Cryptozoic Entertainment, creators of the World of Warcraft TCG that heavily inspired Hearthstone and a wide variety of other tabletop/board/card games. A self-described MMOTCG, Hex hopes to offer players a wide breadth of PvE content to be experienced solo and in groups in addition to the traditional PvP trappings commonly associated with TCG's. It also borrows more heavily on the mechanics of Magic than any other TCG I'm aware of.
This is a bigger problem for WotC than it might initially seem, as the online version of Magic has been under fire this year as players have gotten fed up with the incredibly poor quality of the client. Their feeble attempts at an update have only served to make things worse, and have left players bewildered as to how a company could let their flagship product remain so fugly and non-functional when Duels of the Planeswalkers exists.
Of course for a long time none of this mattered because Magic was literally the market when it came to online TCG's. Even with the recent genre explosion of significantly prettier games like Might & Magic: Duel of Champions, SolForge, and Hearthstone, WotC were able to cling to the fact that no competitor could match MTGO in terms of breadth, depth, or complexity, which granted them a captive audience of the most hardcore card-game players. But that seems to be exactly who Hex is targeting.
No bones about it, there is a lot of Magic in the DNA of Hex. It seems less like Cryptozoic set out to build a completely new TCG ruleset and more like they reimagined Magic as a modern game designed to take advantage of a purely digital format. Outside of a slightly more flexible resource system and a number of card mechanics that would be impossible with cardboard, Hex plays exactly like Magic, right down to deckbuilding, win conditions, and turn structure. Once a Magic players learns that a Troop is a Creature and that "Spellshield" means "Hexproof", they can jump right in to playing Hex.
Hex is literally offering everything that MTGO has (minus the absurdly large cardpool and the exorbitant prices that come with it) with a significantly more attractive wrapper. This has put MTGO under much closer scrutiny and, instead of putting up or shutting up, WotC has fired back with a "no you shut up" by suing Hex and Cryptozoic for copyright violation, trademark violation, patent violation, and consumer confusion. You can find an excellent breakdown of the entire lawsuit and how much of a leg WotC has to stand on in this article by Douglas Linn. He's a lawyer specializing in business law and estate planning by day, and the director of QuietSpeculation, a site focused on strategy and finance in Magic: The Gathering, by night.
Perhaps most worrysome are Linn's conclusions:
This is company-killing litigation if Wizards prevails on its claims AND gets all the damages that it wants. It means that if Wizards wins on either the second or third claim, the court could permanently prevent Hex from making the game.
I predict that Wizards will win on its patent claims, it has a good shot at winning on copyright claims, and it will lose on its Lanham Act claims.
There is a very real chance that Hex will never see full release. By the way, did I mention that this is a Kickstarter game?
The most interesting wrinkle in this entire story is the fact that Hex is one of the multi-million-dollar video game Kickstarters that followed in the wake of Broken Age née Double Fine Adventure. 17,765 people funded Hex: Shards of Fate, to a tune of $2,278,255, with 13 of those people paying $10,000 each. Of course there are inherent risks when backing any Kickstarter project, but this is likely the first and certainly the biggest video game Kickstarter at risk of failure due to legal action.
While the people at Cyptozoic are trying to stay positive, their dream of building this incredibly ambitious digital card game (and their entire company?) may be at an end. What could this mean for Kickstarter if over $2 million in backer money suddenly disappears? And where does this leave the future of MTGO and the DCG space? All I can say for sure is that they are Wizards™ and this looks fucked up.