Magic: The Gathering Arena's Jeffrey Steefel Talk Esports, Accessbility, and More

Jason Fanelli,

November 1, 2018 7:30 AM

Magic: The Gathering Arena is bringing the classic tabletop card game to the digital world, and we had the chance to talk with Wizards of the Coast about that Herculean endeavor.

There are plenty of digital card games out there, but few names hold weight like Magic: The Gathering. While this franchise is no stranger to video games, its latest Magic: The Gathering Arena is the purest digital form of the classic tabletop game we've seen. We spoke with Jeffrey Steefel, VP of Digital Game Development for Wizards of the Coast, about the future of Magic The Gathering Arena, including esports and its plans to compete with the likes of Hearthstone and Elder Scrolls Legends.

Twin Galaxies: You had already released Magic games before Arena. How did this new game come about?

Jeffrey Steefel: We’ve learned a lot from our previous online Magic games and that has played a role in development for Arena, but Arena is part of a much larger goal for Wizards of the Coast. We decided to create Arena as our first endeavor with Wizards’ new Digital Games Studio because we felt Magic was the best place to start bringing our games to a broader audience through digital.

TG: You mentioned that Magic the Gathering Arena is the most accessible Magic video game yet. How does the game cater to players of all skill sets?

JS: We are building Arena for players who already like Magic, and to introduce new players to the game. The game rules engine allows us to make the game available to players in different ways. Currently hardcore and casual magic players can play a game that completely supports every step and every rule in Magic. We are focused on creating gameplay that is fast, familiar, and easy to pick up for online gamers. We also just implemented an early version of a new player experience in Closed Beta that will evolve over time to provide engaging guidance to new and returning players at varying levels of the game.

TG: You also mentioned the game is in beta. What will change before the official release?

JS: There will be supplementary card content and new in game events added. Throughout the rest of beta, it’s going to be more of a process of honing the experience we have more than adding a bunch of new features. 

TG: Since prior Magic video games were geared towards hardcore players, how do you plan to make up so much ground with Arena considering Blizzard made such huge strides with Hearthstone?

JS: Other online CCGs have done a really great job of expanding awareness within the genre, which is fantastic for all of us. Our focus with Arena is to introduce the expanding CCG audience to Magic, which we feel is the leader in the genre with its expansive history, rich lore, and unparalleled gameplay.

Magic the Gathering Arena
Uh, excuse me dragon, I can't see what my opponent has ca-...oh...

TG: Competitive play is a huge selling point for Arena. Do you have esports aspirations with this game?

JS: Magic is a competitive experience and has been played in tournaments across the world for over 20 years. Our Organized Play for tabletop is unrivaled, and our online audience has already expressed an interest in esports for Arena. We do think this game will be a great fit for esports and we will be considering that presence for Arena as soon as we think the game is ready. 

TG: Is there a way for players to communicate with each other in head to head?

JS: There are preset communication options in the game now, but we do not currently have plans for players to directly chat with each other during head to head battles.

TG: How would you like to see the game evolve over time?

JS: That’s a great question. We talk a lot about the fact that we are building a game, but we are really building a platform for Magic experiences. We are excited to leverage that in the future and begin exploring new experiences well suited to a digital environment that extend the possibilities in the space of magic.

TG: There’s a lot of controversy with free-to-play games and pay to win. How does Magic stand apart from the negative perception commonly associated with f2p games?

JS: Obviously, this has become a complex topic within the free to play realm. Free to play is one of the best ways to provide fresh gaming experiences to consumers while still being able to support the game. It’s kind of like paying $1 for a single song instead of $15 for the disc.

For Arena we want to ensure that players who do decide to spend feel that their investment delivers proportionate fun and engaging experiences. We absolutely have no intention of allowing players to pay their way to success. The in-game store allows you to accelerate your exposure to content but will not restrict enjoying the full Magic experience.

Magic The Gathering: Arena is entering the digital CCG realm a bit later than its competition, but its already vast player base and decades of lore puts it a a major advantage despite that. Once the game leaves Closed Beta and fully releases (maybe on consoles too?), there could truly be Magic in the air.


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