Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pucatrade and the Return of Market-Driven Magic: the Gathering

Max writes about Pucatrade, an innovative Magic: the Gathering card trading website, its potential for changing the face of Magic, and its relevance to his design of the "Budget Magic" format.

A friend of mine recently showed me the website, an innovative Magic: the Gathering card trading website that allows players to trade with one another using the real market-driven values of cards.  This site gives Magic players opportunities to trade in a better way, but its technology is relevant to the Budget Magic system I devised in an earlier post, and PucaTrade as a whole has potential to change the way people play Magic.

How It Works
PucaTrade is a clever little website.  The entire site is governed by "pucapoints."  Players can make points one of two ways.  First, they can buy 100 points for $1.  More enticing, though, players can trade away cards they don't need for their dollar values times 100.  To generate these values PucaTrade actually scrapes data from a large group of commonly used singles-selling websites.

Every user makes a "Want List" of cards she wants to trade for, and a "Have List" of cards she no longer needs.  When PucaTrade sees that any user (a) has a card on her "Want List" that another user has on his "Have List," and (b) sees that she has points equal to its value, the user with the card is given the opportunity to initiate a trade.  If he does, he is provided with an address to send the card.  When the receiving user gets the card, she tells PucaTrade that it has been received and the site transfers the appropriate number of points from her account to his account.

Prior to systems like PucaTrade, Magic players had two options if they had unwanted cards that they wanted to exchange for cards they needed for a new project.  First, they could trade them to others in reality or over the internet.  This, of course, presupposes that there even is a player out there who wants the cards you want to get rid of, and who is willing to trade the ones you want.  Second, the player could sell the unwanted cards to singles vendors for half the monetary value (if they are lucky).  This means that for every dollar spent on Magic singles, at least fifty cents will eventually be lost.  PucaTrade alleviates both of these problems by allowing players to trade away what they don't want for full value, so long as someone somewhere wants it, and then get what they need at no loss, so long as someone wants to get rid of it.

As an added bonus, PucaTrade actually makes trading away cards feel like an opportunity rather than a chore.  Because of the way the marketplace works, it's a fairly big deal when someone wants a card on your "Have List" and has enough points to trade for it.  As a user of the site I find myself frequently refreshing the "Send a Card" page, and I jump at the chance to initiate a trade whenever someone wants my card.  That's good game design if I've ever seen it!

Implications for "Budget Magic"
A while back I proposed a new format of Magic called Budget Magic.  This format would limit players' total deck values to under a certain monetary cost.  One of the major stumbling blocks to implementing such a format is that someone would have to compile card values from a trusted source or as an average of many sources.  PucaTrade's cost determining system shows that this kind of cost averaging is technically feasible, and so far hasn't been easily exploitable.  Furthermore, a price averaging system like PucaTrade's would be much more amenable to Wizards of the Coast if they were implementing Budget Magic, as they wouldn't have to legitimate any particular seller by drawing prices from their site.

Future Directions for PucaTrade
Of course, PucaTrade's not all sunshine and rainbows.  There's currently no functionality to make bulk trades or compensate players for postage.  This unfortunately skews trades towards higher value cards, meaning that it's much more likely that you'll find someone who will trade away their 500-point card than finding 10 people who will each trade away their 50-point card (because they'd each only be netting 13 cents after postage). 

That said, I think PucaTrade potential for revolutionizing the way players collect Magic cards.  I think that potential lies in incorporating the ability to trade Magic: the Gathering Online cards.  MTGO digital cards could be treated by the PucaTrade system as yet another edition of any given card, and prices could be scraped from popular websites that sell MTGO cards, just as they are for paper cards.  A nice small benefit of trading MTGO cards would of course be the perk of avoiding all postage costs when transferring cards.  Heck, if they wanted to get fancy the folks at PucaTrade could even script a bot to handle the transactions to avoid having to moderate disputes.

The really awesome benefit of handling MTGO cards, however, would be for Magic players to more fluidly exchange paper cards for digital ones.  Currently a full set of digital cards can be exchanged for their paper counterparts, but that presupposes that the collecting player can sink a good amount of money into her digital collection, and that she actually wants paper copies of a whole set of cards.  Utilizing PucaTrade in this case would allow paper-centric players to try out decks on MTGO, while assuring them that most of the money spent could eventually be transferred back to paper cards with minimal loss.  It would also allow digital-focused players to play some paper events without worries as to what they will do with the cards: they could just turn them back into tickets to continue to draft online.

As a whole, PucaTrade incorporating MTGO functionality would be a boon for both players, who would be free to experiment in both digital and paper Magic, as well as of course for Wizards of the Coast, who could see rising numbers of players crossing over from paper to digital and vice versa.  I hope PucaTrade plans this functionality, because I would very much like to use it myself.