Uh, Magic, Wut?
For those who never tried it, Magic: The Gathering is a very ingenious card game that has made about 3 batrillion dollars. You are, like, totally a wizard, and you wield a deck of cards that summon monsters and fire lightning bolts and other awesome stuff. The cool thing about the game is that you buy packs of cards, but the cards you get are random. You then pick the cards you like and build your own custom deck from that. And then you fight other people, who have their own nifty personal decks.
This is really cool because you can make a deck that best represents how you like to play games. You can make a deck with lots of fast nasty creatures and rush the opponent in a banzai rush, or a you can make a slower, more cerebral deck with powerful defensive cards to wear the opponent down before you fire back with one overwhelming blow. This customization aspect is easily the best part of the game.
So How's the Video Game?
Well, it's ten bucks. You play it, and they hand you a premade deck and you play with that. You battle against either AI opponents or other humans online. You do well, and you get a different fixed deck to play with. Some of the premade decks are OK. Others of them will teach you the joy of pure, undiluted frustration.
The game's production values are amazing. The AI is pretty darn good. The rules of Magic have been adapted to make a lively, fast-paced online version. The title is definitely fun enough to be worth ten bucks.
But it doesn't have the deck-building. You can only play with premade decks (which you can modify, but only very slightly, and usually for the worse). Sadly, playing with these decks is a pretty dry experience. If everyone was only able to play with premade decks, Magic: The Gathering would never have been any sort of success in the first place.
And thus, the horrible, horrible error.
Wizards of the Coast, the creators of Magic, didn't make this game to get your ten bucks. It was clearly very expensive to develop, and they're never going to earn it from cruddy XBox Live purchases. They made this game to make Magic players, to get you to go to the store (or Magic Online) and plop down folding money to buy the actual cards. My guess is that they left deck-building out because they were, like, "We don't want to give those cheapskates out there the ability to actually play the game for a mere ten dollars? Who do they think they are? Lowly cretins."
That's the only reason I can think of for this decision. Compared to all of the production values they were pumping into the thing, adding deck-building to the game would be no trouble at all.
But, and this is the part all developers can learn from, they forget the first rule of making the demo for a game:
ALWAYS PUT YOUR BEST MATERIAL IN THE DEMO.
You don't want the demo to be fun. You want the demo to make people freaking fall in love with the game. You want to use the demo to fill customers with hot passion for your product. Believe me, if Duels of the Planeswalkers really gets someone interested in Magic, that person won't be sated by the rinky-dink assortment of cards and options available in the video game. They's gonna' go spend money. But, to make Magic into a video game, for whatever reason, they ripped its heart out. What is left might attract some players, but nowhere near as many as it would.
And Magic is expensive. They want players to drop a hundred bucks or more. This is a huge hurdle to jump over. You want people to make this sort of commitment? Then your demo has to pull out all of the stops. Not half of them.
When you make your demo, don't be grasping. Approach the player with glad heart and open arms. Show them your best stuff. Addict them. Enthrall them. And then, before they have time to tire of you, cut them off and ask for the money. That's how you do it.
My Personal Experience.
By the way, I was sucked into the Magic thing by the 1997 PC version of the game. It had, as much as possible, the full Magic experience, including deck-building. It was really made with passion for sharing the game. I played it. I saw what the game was really about. Then I went out and, over the next few years, spent tons of money on Magic cards. Just my personal experience, for what it's worth. Using a video game to suck people in to the paper game can work.
Of course, then again, I shouldn't criticize them for doing less to get people addicted to Magic. That's like being angry at dealers for selling less addictive heroin.