Planet Money did a Magic: the Gathering Episode

This cold is keeping me up. I’m too tired to do anything productive, so instead I’m listening to NPR, and Planet Money did a segment about Magic: the Gathering.

“Aw cute,” I thought. “They’re going to talk about the Black Lotus… it’s right in the title after all. The weird market of Magic speculation. Ok, I’m down.”

But the report is more than that. There are some deep lessons about game design, perceived value, economic manipulation, and doing what’s best for the game – rather than what your players think they want. Every time I’ve heard someone who was present during the early days of Magic talk, I gain even more respect for the team. This is a segment about how a brand’s most loyal customers were pushing it towards an unsustainable bubble, and they brought it back to earth, creating a game that lasted decades instead of years.

Those lessons are all hidden beneath the surface, coveredĀ in a candy shell of public radio types astonished that a silly game can last this long, and that a trading card with a picture of a flower on it can still be worth $25,000. The Beanie Babies have come and gone, the Beanie bubble burst. Long live the Lotus. Long live the economic genius of a small group of nerds. Long live Magic.

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