Leaving the Dream

This is the story of why I left Wizards of the Coast.

My name is Jonathon Loucks, and I was a digital designer in Wizards R&D. I sat in the pit, right next to Shawn Main. I worked on Magic Online and Duels of the Planeswalkers, was on a few FFL playtesting teams, was on a few design teams, worked with the technology team and the business team, and worked on stuff I can’t talk about. When you’re in R&D, you end up doing way more than just your job.

If you’re looking for me to trash talk Wizards or any of its employees, that’s not what this is. This isn’t a story about Wizards being a “bad company.” This is a personal story, about me. It’s about how and why I started working at Wizards of the Coast. It’s about what it was like to finally work in my dream job. It’s about why I wasn’t happy.

This is the story of why I left Wizards of the Coast.

How I Became a Wizard

In the summer of 2002, fresh out of 8th grade, I bought an Odyssey tournament pack, my first Magic product. Later that year I started playing in tournaments at the local card store, right after Onslaught came out. In my sophomore year we moved, but I still drove 2 hours on Fridays to draft at that store.

Playing tournament Magic was a big part of me coming out of my awkward shy shell. It gave me confidence and helped me find friends that I really connected with. So did getting a girlfriend my junior year of high school – more on that later.

In my senior year of high school, The Great Designer Search began. I had been reading Mark Rosewater’s articles, and I started to seriously think about game design as a career path. I didn’t win, failing out in the multiple choice section, which wasn’t a big surprise. I continued to think of game design as my dream job, but I figured the chances of me actually doing it were slim. I focused on math and science and all that stuff I thought I was supposed to do, all while continuing to play Magic.

I went to the University of Washington for college. I was somewhat familiar with Seattle because I had family there, and it was the closest place to PTQ from Missoula Montana. I knew Wizards was in the area, though I still didn’t quite consider that a realistic option.

During orientation I just happened to hear about a class being taught by Richard Garfield and Skaff Elias on game design, and I managed to get in. Boy am I glad that worked out – there was some luck involved. Skaff liked me and hooked me up with his friend Tyler Bielman, a Wizards alumni, who was looking for an intern for his TCG, Xeko. Thanks to my understanding of TCGs through Magic, I got the job.

The rest is history. That job, and Tyler, taught me a lot about game design and broke me into the industry. The job gave me a sense of purpose and direction, helping me correct my failing trajectory in college and graduate with a degree in economics. I finally knew that game design was what I wanted to do, and I could actually do it.

Flash forward to 2013, I was working at Amazon.com as a game designer, and I was living with that same girlfriend from high school. I had failed a few times to get into Wizards, most notably with The Great Designer Search 2, but I really liked my current job. I was working closely with programmers on mobile game prototypes. Prototypes of games I designed myself. I felt like I had finally made it as a game designer. Until then, my connection to the game industry had felt like it was hanging from a tenuous thread. For the first time I was feeling secure in my career.

I was also very much connected to the Magic community. I was a part of the Limited Resources podcast, which gave me a lot of joy and sense of purpose. I wasn’t playing Magic as much as I used to, but I was still playing. I really enjoyed streaming, and it felt like a way to just hang out with my friends. Nearly all of my friends were Magic players.

Enter Ryan Spain, the original cohost of Limited Resources and current Wizards employee. He told me that there was a position opening up on the Magic Online design team, and he thought I’d be perfect for it. I had come to enjoy digital game design more than the paper stuff, so the job sounded like the perfect way for me to work on Magic. I met with Ken Troop, digital R&D lead, who said I was a little more junior than he was looking for in that position, but that he had a lot of faith in me. I passed the interview and was given an offer.

At this point, I had a tough choice to make, but I think I always sort of knew I would take the Wizards job if I had the chance. I had to. It had been a dream for so long. But I liked my current job, a lot, so I asked my friends and connections for advice. They all agreed that it was a tough choice, one only I could make, though they usually cautioned me about Wizards being a potentially difficult environment. Many of these contacts hadn’t worked at Wizards for several years, so they weren’t sure what it was like these days.

I Signed the Contract

I knew it wasn’t going to be entirely smooth sailing, but I took the Wizards job. A big part of my acceptance was that I really wanted to make Magic Online the best that it can be. I wanted to give the Magic community the Magic Online that we’ve always wanted. This fire burned inside of me hotter than any Magic tournament fire. Game design had become my passion, and I wanted to turn my sights on the product that I cared the most about.

What I didn’t quite expect was how big of a life shift this was going to be. I had to stop playing tournament Magic, an activity that used to be a real drive for me. This also meant that I lost my primary connection to a lot of my friends. I had to stop doing Limited Resources, losing a tight connection to one of my best friends, Marshall Sutcliffe. We had become really close over the show, and our final show together was emotional. (Don’t worry, we’re still good friends.) I also lost my connection with the Magic community, especially given Wizards’ tight restrictions on social media – I couldn’t even stream myself playing other games. On top of all that, I left Seattle and moved to Renton.

This was a lot of change.

Then, after my second day at work, my girlfriend of 8 years broke up with me.

That was not an expected change. Things hadn’t been great between us for the last few months, but I never actually thought the relationship could end. Her leaving college was a transition that put new strains on our relationship, but we had survived all the other big transitions before. I assumed things would work out, because they always had. This time, they didn’t.

I was devastated, and it made the transition into Wizards incredibly strange. People kept congratulating me on the new job, gushing about how jealous they are, and saying how happy I must be that I finally got my dream job. I could only fake a smile and say “yeah, it’s great.” I couldn’t imagine being happy.

In that moment, I felt like all I had left was the job. It felt like everything else was gone. Wizards was it.

Working Through It

It was easy to pour everything I had into my job. I hated being at home, which was a painfully empty place. I worked a lot of late nights. I knew that I couldn’t fix my relationship, so I thought I could at least fix Magic Online. I felt like I owed this to the community, and I felt a great deal of pressure to deliver. Magic Online became some sort of weird metaphor that I still don’t completely understand.

I was clearly depressed. It had been building up for a few months, but the breakup and the shift to Wizards brought it out in full force. I lost thirty pounds in only a few months because I just wasn’t eating. The things I used to enjoy suddenly felt numb. Whenever I tried to play a game, I’d be bored within twenty minutes.

I wasn’t a great employee during this time. Sure, I was working hard, and I was told that my work itself was very good. However, being a good teammate is more than the quality of your work – you’ve also got to be able to work with people. I felt so out of control in life, I hated it when something stood in my way at work. I tended to take setbacks personally.

And there were setbacks. Wizards is a fairly big company with a lot of inertia. This helps Wizards ship high-quality card sets at pace that no other company can match, and always on time. Unfortunately, it also makes change difficult. Features that I cared a lot about weren’t gaining traction, and process improvements could take months.

My primary job was to create the “set spec,” a document I’ve written about it in my articles on dailymtg.com. This is the handoff document that R&D gives to the cardset programmers with each set. It’s meant to include all the information the programmers need to code the set.

A big part of what I liked at Amazon was working closely with the programmers. I literally sat next to them, and we could talk to each other freely. We hung out, and one of them is now one of my best friends. I thought this relationship was a key part of the success we had at Amazon. When I got to Wizards, I was surprised to find that the cardset programmers were not only sitting away from the design team, but they were on an entirely different floor!

I would describe Wizards as “siloed.” Each department is fairly disconnected from the others. There are strict channels of communication, and the departments tend to look out for themselves. There are a lot of documents being “thrown over the wall” to other departments, without a lot of communication. The set spec, at the time, was one of these documents.

As I started diving into the set spec, I realized that communication was one of our big problems. R&D just wasn’t giving the cardset team enough information. In turn, the cardset team wasn’t communicating with R&D when they had questions or needs. This lead to a lot of inconsistencies in how cards were coded, and new mechanics weren’t getting the design attention they needed. To Wizards’ credit, I think they knew this, which is why they hired me.

When I started working with the set spec, it was just a few notes on new mechanics and a handful of complicated cards. Nine months later, I had made the set specs a detailed design of the implementation for every mechanic and every card, down to the text on the buttons in the prompt box. I expanded the scope of the set spec to include all digital releases, like cubes and commander decks, instead of just the major sets. I also befriended the cardset programmers, looping them into our process earlier, collaborating with them in design meetings, and enjoying their company over lunch. I was determined to break down the wall between our departments, because that’s what was best for Magic Online.

I tell this story specifically because I feel like it’s the biggest win we had at Wizards for Magic Online. It actually worked. You can see the difference by comparing my earlier articles to my later ones. In my Theros article I’m talking about single-card implementations that I honestly wasn’t that proud of. Eight months later in my Journey into Nyx article, I’m talking about multiple system-wide improvements that are going to help all sets going forward. This was all due to a massive improvement in our process and the willingness of the two teams to collaborate. The rest of digital R&D and the cardset team deserve credit as much as I do.

So I should be happy, right? I wasn’t, and it sucked.

I was still incredibly frustrated. The improvements we implemented with Journey into Nyx were things I originally asked for with Theros. I wanted more. I couldn’t help but see what I wanted MTGO to be, so I couldn’t see the progress we were actually making. I had a lot of conversations with Ryan Spain, who kept assuring me that I was making more progress than anybody on MTGO. He would get visibly frustrated with me when I couldn’t see it. When Ryan Spain is frustrated with you, you know you’re doing something wrong.

I continued to be unhappy. Ken Troop, my boss, would take me on walks around the building and try to figure out how to make me happy. He needed me to be a productive member of the team. Eventually, something had to change.

The Day I Gave Up

In early March 2014, Ken pulled me into his office. He told me that he was moving me to the Duels of the Planeswalkers team. He hoped that the faster-moving and more stable Duels team could channel my design skills in a productive way. He appreciated my work on Magic Online and the progress I had made, but said that he needed to move me somewhere where I’ll be happier and more productive.

I hoped that I could be happy on Duels, but I know I kind of just gave up at this point. I didn’t go to Wizards to work on Duels. I had barely even played Duels. I wouldn’t have left Amazon for Duels. My fire had been snuffed out.

Around this time I also made my way onto a design team, codename Lock. Years ago this was my dream, and I would have been ecstatic. For whatever reason, it’s just not what I want to be doing with my career full time right now. I like digital games, and I want to build something.

I told various contacts I had in the industry that I was willing to leave, and I waited for the right opportunity to present itself.

Over the next few months I enjoyed the card design I was doing, but I didn’t really feel like I had a place at Wizards. Duels ended up not having that much work for me (I wasn’t really looking for it anyway) and the things I designed never went anywhere. I felt like I had been put out to pasture. I went from working late to cutting out early.

If I’m honest, it was also really hard to watch other people continue to work on Magic Online, essentially doing the job I was fired from. I was bitter. I think I still am, mostly because I know they were right to kick me off the team – I was hard to work with. I hated myself for failing.

It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t just unhappy, but that I was unhappy at Wizards. At first I blamed my misery on the breakup, but as I worked through those issues I realized that Wizards was also contributing to my unhappiness. When the right job offer came along, I took it.

I felt like I had really let myself down, as well as the community. I still feel that way sometimes. It’s rare that I think I tried my best, was prepared, and still failed. Unfortunately, my best wasn’t good enough this time. Making the choice to leave Wizards was really difficult. I still feel some guilt about it, though I’m starting to recognize that it wasn’t entirely my fault. It was a tough project to work on. In my time on Magic Online, three other designers had left the team, so I wasn’t the only one.

I Feel Better

I’m sitting at my computer, the night after my last day at Wizards, and I feel better. I feel like I’m connected to the community again. I feel free and unshackled.

This last year has been a struggle, but I’ve done a lot to get through it. I started going to therapy, which was a big help. I was on antidepressants for about 6 months. I gained all of the thirty pounds back. Then I lost twenty of them in a much healthier way by eating less, eating better, and exercising sporadically. I reconnected with friends that I had been pushing away as my relationship started failing, and I’ve become closer to them than ever before. I tried new hobbies, stuck with some, abandoned others. I went to Burning Man. I had a new girlfriend for a few months. I dyed my hair, grew a beard, painted my fingernails, shaved the beard, and repeated that cycle a few times. I went on a cruise with my parents, pushed myself out of my comfort zone, then wrote about it. Eventually, I left Wizards.

Leaving was an important part of my journey. Despite everything, I’m glad I worked at Wizards. I learned a lot, including stuff that you can’t learn anywhere else. I’m a much better game designer than I used to be. I made a lot of friends. Saying goodbye was hard.

On July 28th I start my new job at Dropforge, a mobile games startup in Bellevue. I’ll be a game designer working on bringing Card Hunter to tablet, among other projects. I’ll be their 13th employee, and I really like the people on the team that I’ve gotten to meet. I’m really excited about getting my hands dirty in design again. I think I’ll like the startup atmosphere, especially being a key piece of growing a company. I can’t wait to have something to show you!

What’s the Deal with Wizards?

Wizards isn’t a “bad company.” In some ways, it was the best job I ever had. I loved coming into work every day, even when my job itself was frustrating. I loved being in the pit. I forged a lot of new friendships. It was such a great place to actually be.

Unfortunately, Wizards just wasn’t a good fit for me. Maybe in a few years, but not right now. It was too big for me to feel like I could have the sort of impact I needed to be satisfied. It has too many ingrained, yet necessary, processes that make change slow and difficult. I also think I prefer working on games with a smaller scope. I made an exception for Magic, because I love Magic, but I think I prefer smaller, more agile projects.

There’s one aspect of Wizards that I feel like the public vastly misunderstands. If you take anything away from this article, I hope it’s this: Ideas are not Wizards’ problem. People are constantly talking about what we should be doing. Feedback from the community is constantly being analyzed, shared, discussed openly, and integrated into decisions. It kills my every time I hear somebody in the public say that Wizards doesn’t listen to players or care about their needs. It’s just not true.

When you feel like there’s a missing or poorly implemented feature on Magic Online, Wizards probably agrees with you. They would love to give it to you. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, and in ways that I never fully understood, they don’t have the resources to give it to you right now. You can argue that they should be able to give you the features you want, but I promise you that they want to give you those features just as much.

Lastly, can you please stop begging Wizards to “fire the design team” or “fire the programmers”? I was at Wizards longer than most of these people have been in their roles. They’re trying their best, and they’ve been handed the same program as you.

To The Future, and Be-Loucks!

A lot of people have been asking me if I’m going to return to podcasting and other things. I might. I hope I do.

First, let me get my footing. I need to start playing Magic again. I need to see if I still like playing Magic. I need to get comfortable in my new job and see what I have the bandwidth for. I also have about a year until all the tournament restrictions are off and I can fully compete – I’m still learning exactly what those are.

If things go well, I see myself grinding PTQs again. I see myself streaming often. Maybe traveling to some Grand Prix. Marshall and I have been talking, and I’m sure we can work something out if I want to podcast again. I’ll be more active on Twitter and Facebook now that I don’t have to watch what I say as closely. I’m looking forward to being able to connect with the community again, and I’ve really appreciated my welcome so far.

I think that about covers it. I hope you liked this oddly personal tale that isn’t really about Magic all that much.

As always, thanks for reading,

-Jon

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42 thoughts on “Leaving the Dream

  1. “Lastly, can you please stop begging Wizards to “fire the design team” or “fire the programmers”? I was at Wizards longer than most of these people have been in their roles. They’re trying their best, and they’ve been handed the same program as you.”

    So when you say this, are you implying that the programmers are actually good, but they are stuck with a base code that is so difficult and resource intensive to work with that even changes that seem simple and obvious become huge initiatives? Or do you simply mean they may not be good but they are well intentioned and really trying to make it as good a product as possible?

    Honestly, either way, the solution is to rebuild the program from the ground up right? Either with the current coding team, or with an entirely new one. How is the beta possibly the future of MTGO?

    • The programmers all seemed fine to me, but it’s not like I ever saw their code or would know what to look for, so it’s always hard to tell. I never felt like the skill of the programmers at Wizards was the limiting factor. They were willing to work with me, which is what I cared about.

      I don’t feel comfortable talking about what WOTC “should” do with the beta. Not yet, at least. After time passes, and I become more of a civilian, I think it’ll become more appropriate.

    • Honestly, either way, the solution is to rebuild the program from the ground up right?

      But the beta *is* rebuilding the program from the ground up (except for the rules engine, which has never been the problem with MTGO). So they did exactly what you suggested, spent five years doing it, and got reamed by the community for it. Suggesting that they build from the ground up again is insanity. The beta client isn’t especially great, but it’s a giant leap forward from the v3 client, and putting v3 in a coffin is the only way they’re ever going to have the resources to fix everything else.

      • Is that what they did? I got the impression they were building off of the V3 client code as a base, which is why so many of the features are exactly the same… they just look cosmetically different. Maybe the actual gameplay piece was fully rewritten, but honestly that is probably the best part about V3, everything else is what needed (still needs to be..) gutted and rebuilt.

        JS you might be right, I honestly don’t know and I can’t recall a wotc post where they have stated either way. If it is the case that it was a near-full rebuild then hopefully they have done it in such a way that they (or someone from the outside if they ever stop developing in house) can continue to improve it in a meaningful way.

  2. ‘Lastly, can you please stop begging Wizards to “fire the design team” or “fire the programmers”? They’re trying their best.’

    So? Sometimes one’s best isn’t good enough.

    I’m glad you wrote this, though. This is about as forthcoming an article on this subject as I can imagine there being at this time.

  3. Hey Jon.

    I loved listening you on Limited Resources – your enthusiasm and energy always made me feel great listening to the podcasts, and it was during your run that I actually got seriously into Magic, or as seriously as a kitchen-table-and-limited player can be. I also enjoyed catching a couple of your streams when I could. When you headed to wizards I was sad, but excited for you at the same time. That last episode was crazy to listen to, hearing how another of Marshall’s co-hosts was making the transition from talking about the cards to making them.

    I am so sorry, and so sad, that your experience with Wizards was not what you wanted, or what it could have been. I also deal with depression (as well as obsessive compulsive disorder), and your story – of such painful changes in your life, and losing energy and enthusiasm – is too common among people like us. Sadly, so is that desire to blame ourselves. You haven’t let us down, Jon. You tried hard, you changed things for the better, and hopefully that is a lasting change. I don’t believe your best effort “wasn’t enough”, but that it’s best suited at Dropforge. I wish you the best luck there, and i hope to hear your voice and your corny jokes again soon.

    Sorry for the rambling post – this hit quite close to home, and I wanted to reassure you that you have support in the community, too.

    • Thanks Alex, that’s really nice of you to say :) Leaving Limited Resources was surprisingly hard, because I felt like I was leaving both Marshall AND the listeners. It’s good to see so much support as I tentatively make my way back.

      • I wish you the best of luck! Limited Resources was never the same without you and I mean it in a good way. Hope you will find your future spot in life and we listeners can hear you somewhere in the ether anytime soon.

  4. One thing I’ve never understood is why you guys can’t have the resources you need to make the best damn online game out there. You have an absurdly hungry userbase and RPU, but it seems that someone is too shy to pull the trigger on a huge increase in budget (which in turn should lead to a huge increase in revenue). It may not be the design team or the programming team, but it feels like someone is doing their job wrong.

    Anyways, thanks for the article and best of luck! Hope to see you back involved in the community!

  5. Thanks for sharing, fwiw, I have really appreciated the changes you were able to implement on the new client. You are talented, creative, and any project with you on it will be lucky to have you.

    It is unfortunate when our work environment isn’t as healthy as it could or should be, I think we’ve all been there at one point or another. Good luck to you on the new gig!

  6. I’m sure you’re getting a ton of this already but… PLEASE COME BACK TO LIMITED RESOURCES!! THE SHOW WITH ALL THREE OF YOU TOGETHER WOULD BE AMAZING

  7. I hope you get to write a guest article for “Lock” due to the potential for puns.

    A programmer trying their best doesn’t mean they are going to be experienced enough fix some problems if they are big enough. That’s not their fault though, it could be any of:

    1. Hiring manager is cheap so is hiring cheaper developers
    2. Hiring manager has little budget so has to hire cheaper developers
    3. Hiring manager is bad and not hiring people who are experienced enough
    4. Wages offered for senior developers is low so only less experienced developers apply

    Even if they are experienced, if the legacy code is terrible, that is going to be a limiting factor. Also, they can only do so much and if whoever is doing the schedule isn’t prioritizing things as the community think they should. Maybe all the new cards designed are too complicated and they don’t have time for anything else :-)

  8. Thanks for sharing that with us Jon, depression is horrible and I’m glad you’ve begun to push through it. Good luck in your new job!

  9. (Okey first, no MTGOs problem is not the programmers or the current teams problem it is a C-level and orginal design problem. It need a code resist and a change on what programming language it is built in. It have a early 2000s technology base.)

    That said, I do so know this feeling. I rather recently changed work to a programming role that I dreamt off for a long while. But for a company that is not liked but also keeps things super secret, and I am not enjoying working for it. Partly for the fact that I lost contact with outside of work friends, partly because I have not much in common with the people I work with, partly because the company is older then technology and the home alone and depressed feeling. Sadly I am still there so this needs a lot of anonymous.

    I can say you so did the right thing to get your feet out of there and into a nicer role. I am sneakly trying to find new employment elsewhere but as I don’t want to loss anything yet or my paycheck extremly sneaky.

    I don’t know whose benefit this post was for, telling you I understand exactly where you are, or showing myself that this is where I am.

  10. Thank you for this post, there are a lot of us out there who have been anxious to hear the details since you announced that you were leaving Wizards.

    I’m glad to hear that you are feeling better! That’s all that matters, in the end.

    Looking forward to seeing and hearing more of you in the Magic community! It hasn’t been the same without you.

  11. Thanks for sharing the story. I can really sympathise with you, as my girlfriend (15 month relationship) ended our relationship this monday, which was a surprise for me. I’m still baffled about her reasoning and it’s eating me from the inside, since she is the love of my life and I cannot stop thinking about her.
    Eating is no fun anymore, sleep is uneasy and everything is pretty much meaningless. I have to force myself to do anything and I’m still wondering how I am going to drag myself to exams and work (which I scheduled for this holiday…for her -.-). Guess I am the wrong man, for the right girl…

    An 8-year relationship must make it much harder to overcome, so I somewhat understand how you felt/feel. Sorry for that and good luck with your new job.

    • Good luck. It’s rough, but time really does help, though it can feel frustratingly slow sometimes. I recommend that you try to talk to you friends. I was lucky in that I had friends that were really good at listening. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. You also have to WANT to feel better. Therapy is good if that’s an option for you.

      • Thanks. I’m blessed with friends listening to my misery, but as you say, finally I have to move on and let the past be past.

  12. That was a tough read. I had been unemployed for while, finally got a job, and then a couple of weeks into it my girlfriend of a few years broke up with me. This was an incredibly deep and involved relationship and it was like a punch to the gut. After another month, I quit the job, moved back in with my parents, and tried to get out of an incredibly deep depression which still lasted for several months.

    Things are better for me now and I hope they will be for you too!

  13. Hi. I follow you on Twitter, and when you mentioned writing this post, I knew I had to read it. I, too, aspire to work at Wizards of the Coast, and I had a couple of questions for you, if I’m not being too forward. Did you have any interaction with the graphic design/marketing team? If so, what is the culture like? What do you think would make my resume/cover letter stand out in order to get a job with them? I’m currently a senior in university and the PR Manager for a tier 1 core store in SC and would love to work for Wizards when I graduate (and I was already turned down once). My competencies match what they are looking for in their graphic design/marketing jobs, and I tried to make it clear that I am willing to relocate after graduation… I just don’t know what to do. Any insight you could offer would be very much appreciated. Thanks so much!

    • Sorry, I didn’t really work with them at all. WOTC’s hiring practices seem like they’re a bit of a crap shoot if you don’t know somebody on the inside. Sorry I don’t have great advice for you, but good luck!

      • That’s what I got too, since they’re owned by Hasbro and all the applications go through them. I’ll try reaching out to some people on LinkedIn and see if they know anyone. Thanks so much!

  14. When I first heard you were into Wizards I was very happy about you. I liked your TCGPlayer articles and LR podcasts and I kinda missed you from standing your point of view to us, always joyful and funny to read/listen.

    Knowing you left and how sad you were made me a bit unhappy as well: I had a working experience which was very nice, had lots of nice people around me and even was a nice place to play Magic: we had some tournaments with 20+ people. But I felt I needed to part ways: the place itself had their problems which somehow lead me to be very unhappy, not personally but professionally.

    I think most people call some places their ‘dream jobs’, but truly it’s not always like that. There’s a job where you feel good and you do things in a way that completes you. Not always a big company is *your* place to be, that’s something which I take for myself.

    I’m rooting for the best of you, not only as a (former?) Magic player but as a person who has their own problems but will surely overcome them.

    Best wishes from a reader and fan!

  15. Jon,

    I appreciate your professionalism and candor about Wizards but this seems like a pretty common story with the high expectations about gaming jobs. People focus more on the gaming part than the job part. I mean Magic Online is a dinosaur so I can totally understand wanting to work on a project with legs.

    As for Magic Online and now that you are out what do you think about the overall philosophy of magic as an online game and how it compares to other games. Digital objects, high price pay to play, inferior software, etc. The excuse from Wizards is always as you said ‘we are trying, we care, and we agree’ but from the inside where do you think the buck stops. I know you don’t want to burn your bridges but what was the road block to all these ideas being implemented?

    You said on twitter that it was maddening to hear people at Wizards say “Wizards is not a digital company.” Is that the whole problem? The company perspective is that the online product is just another form of distribution. Will it just take some decent competition to hurt profits enough to make them change their mind? What happened at Wizards when Hearthstone came out?

    Thanks Jon, all the best!

    • Hey, thanks for the response. I can’t really get into specifics here. The road blocks were basically what you would expect – resources and process. My tweet about “Wizards is not a digital company” is certainly not a widely held belief inside the building. Blaming WOTC’s problems on that belief is like saying the team that won the sports game “just wanted it more.” It’s way too simplistic and not actually that relevant.

      • I totally understand what you are saying about the problem being more complex than attitude but I am I guess applying it to the people that would provide those resources. It seems like we hear the same story from Wizards and it doesn’t answer why this product is so bad. The people aren’t at fault, unaware of problems, or unwilling to solve them but the impetus and ability to do so just doesn’t seem there. Just from a price perspective playing MTGO is far on the high end so how can it be an issue of resources? Then there are casual products like duels of the planeswalkers when they can’t get the original right. So I guess these are the kind of things that have us scratching our heads and then if Wizards blames it on the client then that seems like a management failure. At the end of the day updating and adding content to a game regularly isn’t such a groundbreaking and difficult task.

        Maybe this is just venting but mostly I wanted to say that you shouldn’t blame yourself or being depressed because MTGO certainly isn’t a normal gaming product. Unlike most games it doesn’t rely on quality of the program so being the guy pushing for that could be pretty frustrating.

  16. Pingback: MTGYou #43 – Building a Sealed Deck | MTGYou.com

  17. Hi Jon,

    Like many people here, I’ve been following your progress since you left Limited Resouces, and eagerly hearing your voice on daily mtg thru the articles.

    I’d just like to join the chorus voices to thank you for sharing with the community such a personal story and all the best for the future!

    Best wishes

  18. Between the RPS reviews (http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/tag/card-hunter/) and your move to the company, I’d say it’s time to start playing Card Hunter!

    As someone who has been playing on v.4 this whole time, I do want to say that the improvements that came about because of your ideas were both noticeable and appreciated. I wonder, to an extent, if someone of your frustrations wouldn’t be alleviated now that WotC only has one client to work on, but I completely understand the need for a change.

    Making something as big as MTGO even a little bit better is a major accomplishment and you should be proud of it. Thanks, and best of luck at Dropforge!

  19. I’ve talked in person to WOTC people and they all say pretty much the same thing: “We know what we’re doing, we’re the experts, players should just play and let us do the heavy lifting.”
    Which of course helps to explain why MTGO is such a snake pit and a failure as a program and the fact that it makes tons of money for Hasbro leaves them no incentive to do better.
    WOTC rakes in the cash and if the program sucks, “oh, well.”
    If people quit it’s okay: we’ll just get new suckers to keep pouring money into the game.

  20. Great article. Well written and honest.

    I do completely disagree with this “Lastly, can you please stop begging Wizards to “fire the design team” or “fire the programmers”? I was at Wizards longer than most of these people have been in their roles. They’re trying their best, and they’ve been handed the same program as you.”

    The programmers at wotc have proven over and over that they are incapable of making a modern program that works correctly. When someone cannot do the job they are hired for then they need to be fired.

    Personally I think they need to fire almost every single person involved with mtgo. Start from scratch with people not hired through nepotism. Pay the industry standard for wages instead of well below like they currently do (turns out quality programmers are not willing to work for half the pay just to work with magic cards). Hire an outside developer to design a new mtgo from scratch (with the rules engine being the only thing worth keeping).

    • Yes, Gabriel. I totally agree with everything you said.
      Fire ‘em all and start over.
      Maybe a scorched-earth policy is what it will take to get it going in the right direction.

      • Just a hint guys, when you say “fire all the programmers and start over” it’s a really good sign you’ve never worked on a software project of any real size before and don’t know what you’re talking about.

      • Just a hint, Mike: when you defend incompetence it’s a really good sign that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

      • No, firing the entire team and replacing them will not work. Here’s why.

        When you fire all the people, you lose all the knowledge these people have. Everything these people know about how the program works is suddenly gone, and whoever is left behind will have to figure it out from scratch based on whatever information can be gleaned from the code and the documentation. This results in a long phase during which the new team has to get up to speed and will not be able to make big changes to the software, while probably unintentionally introducing bugs.
        The immediate effect of “firing everyone” is to make the product even worse over a long time. The end result would most likely be a period of floundering followed by someone making the decision to start from scratch /again/, and during no point in that process will the product actually get better.

        This is the basic pattern that everyone in the software industry has either heard about, or seen first hand. It’s a common occurrence when a company decides to outsource their formerly in-house development to a third party.

        So yeah. MTGO isn’t perfect. It’s got flaws, serious flaws. But “fire everyone” is not the right way to fix them. What Wizards needs (based on what’s said in this article, and what John said in his interview with Marshall Sutcliffe), is better software architects and managers. They need a better integration not only within the various subteams working on MTGO, but also between MTGO and Magic R&D.
        They (and, more importantly, we the customers) do not need a year of people having to get up to speed with how the software works on the inside.

        TL;DR: Screaming “Fire everyone” is something only someone with absolutely no experience in building and maintaining software will say. It’s not productive, it’s just populism.

      • No, Fabian, “fire everyone” is what happens when there is catastrophic failure and there is a need to start over. It should have happened a long time ago. You would think that a company with the resources of Hasbro could do better.
        But no, they went the El Cheapo routine and the player base has suffered with it all this time.

        I’m amused by the concept of retaining incompetent people because they have been there a while. You talked about waiting a year while a new team gets up to speed. It’s been a lot longer than a year since MTGO began and we still have a lousy product.

        Did the programmers at MTGO also do the software for Obamacare? If they did, that would explain a lot.

    • Way I see it, MTGO suffers from a few wrong design decisions and a development team that isn’t set up the way it needs to be in order to work at full capacity. Therefore, the way to fix these issues isn’t to fire the guys who implement the card mechanics, or the people who update the rules engine, or the person responsible for implementing the UI.

      Consider this analogy: You’re hiring an architect to build a house for you. You work out what you want to have together, and then let him go to work. A year later, you take a look at the mostly finished building, and discover that several decisions that were made by the architect severely impact the functionality of several rooms you wanted. Do you fire the Contractors who are building your house? Are they incompetent?
      The answer to both is “No”. It’s not their fault that the plans the architect drew up aren’t what you wanted to have. It’s the architect’s fault, and it’s with him that you need to seek redress.

      With MTGO, similar things apply. You don’t need to fire all the developers. You just need to make a few changes in a few places (This sounds a lot easier than it is!), restructure the team so that it can work faster, be more responsive, get a few good UI/UX designers to make the experience of using MTGO more accessible.

  21. Thanks for putting the story on virtual paper. I’ve been confronted to similar dynamics in many ways and it’s always instructive to get another perspective on them.

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