Magic: Legends, the Diablo-reminiscent take on Magic: The Gathering, is shutting down on October 31st, 2021. We’re in the age of digital games and online games, so seeing something gone forever isn’t unusual, but this time around, the game hasn’t actually come out yet.
OK, so that’s a bit of a half truth. Magic: Legends has been available in open beta on PC since March 2021, but the full release, the game’s launch on consoles, and the full weight of a marketing campaign had not been felt.
The official statement, which you can read on the Magic: Legends website, simply states that it will be shutting down. There’s no meaningful reason for the decision given here, although, in a move that’s very good for people that invested in the game, they do say that “All players who spent money in-game across Arc and the Epic Games Store during the Open Beta will be refunded their full purchase amounts.” That’s something that should lessen the blow to anybody who had gone all-in on this open beta.
The statement also states that they missed their mark, but are proud of what they managed. To be honest, having played the game, while I don’t necessarily think it was revolutionary, I do think it was interesting. Having Magic: The Gathering’s deckbuilding integrated into an action RPG was fairly unique, and while the open world was a bit drab in places, it was still incredibly cool to see all of the places I know and love from the fantasy world realised in a more accessible way.
There were definitely issues here, the combat felt a bit drab, a lot of the quest design amounted to basic fetch quests, but the vast majority of the problems were linked to monetisation. There were more currencies than was reasonable and it was tricky to figure out whether or not you needed to spend real money to get things, or if you could earn them by just playing the game. These issues could well have been the main reason the game has been cancelled.
It seems that this announcement came only shortly after the developers working on the game were told. According to Aaron Walz, the senior sound designer and audio producer at developer Cryptic Studios, the game was cancelled by the studio for “poor financial performance.” Of course, the game was only in a beta phase anyway, so we’ve no idea how much this game was expected to make, or how much it was actually making, but such a reason still feels rather premature. Again, the game wasn’t “out” yet.
As ever with these kinds of things, it’s disappointing to see another project cancelled and the likely fallout from this that some people are soon going to be without jobs. Hopefully Cryptic Studios is able to keep the team together and pivot to a new project, but the industry is becoming rather well-renowned for just cutting things short and a culture of instability for the people working on them. Magic: Legends had a core idea that was fascinating, and the potential there felt far higher than what was actually achieved.
To me, at least, Magic: Legends felt like a game that would have benefitted greatly from not being free-to-play. I understand that MTG Arena is F2P, but that doesn’t mean that everything surrounding the franchise should be as well. Rather than having a chance to unlock things via purchases and loot boxes, the game would have been far more engaging if you could actually just earn everything by completing quests or opening chests.
Magic: Legends could have been a premium game with a one-time buy-in and the potential for DLC classes and characters further down the line. However, what we saw was a game that launched into beta with plenty of elements in their testing phase, but the monetisation in full force. It was clear from the beginning that there were pay-to-win aspects, and putting those in before the game is even out says a lot about the priorities of whoever was in charge of the game.
It’s a shame to see another game gone, especially when there have been other games that have turned it around. If the industry continues to shut down projects before they’re ready for the limelight, especially when they’re in a phase of trying to adjust to feedback, then the whole beta label is nonsense anyway. What’s the point of understanding that your game isn’t finished and then cancelling it before it gets a chance to actually launch? Maybe capitalism is bad for creativity? Shocking stuff!