Interview

Making magic on mobile with Magic: the Gathering Arena

We speak to Wizards of the Coast exec producer Chris Cao

Making magic on mobile with Magic: the Gathering Arena

The process of creating a game is difficult, long, and often stressful, but it's one that can reap many rewards alongside actually seeing your ideas come to life.

No matter the size of the game or how long it ultimately takes to make, each new title involves a lot of hard work, tough decisions, and a little bit of luck before it even gets out the door and onto devices. And in the current mobile and handheld games market, that's only the first step to making the title succeed.

To highlight all of the extensive work that often goes on unseen in the background, PocketGamer.biz is reaching out to developers to learn more about the general rigmarole of releasing a video game, with our 'Making Of' series.

This week, we spoke with Wizards of the Coast executive producer of digital game development Chris Cao surrounding the creation and launch of Magic: The Gathering Arena on mobile.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you start off by telling us about Magic: The Gathering Arena?

Chris Cao: Magic: The Gathering Arena (MTG Arena) is a free-to-play digital version of the physical collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering. MTG Arena follows the same rules as the collectible card game: players use decks that include any one of five colours of land cards and those land cards each generate their own mana.

Using adaptive UI and other methods we’ve managed to make the premiere digital MTG Arena experience something you can play anywhere.
Chris Cao

The mana is used to cast spells, summon creatures as well as activate spells and abilities. The ultimate goal is to get your opponent’s life total down to zero health. We brought MTG Arena to the PC in 2017 in beta before officially launching in 2019. Having just expanded to Mac in 2020, now MTG Arena is available on mobile and tablet devices too.

Where did the initial idea for the game come from?

The original creator for Magic: The Gathering, Richard Garfield, initially approached Wizards of the Coast CEO Peter Adkinson about publishing the board game, Roborally. From this. he asked Garfield if he could create a more portable game that could be played in minutes and “while waiting in line at conventions".

Garfield went to work on a concept and returned with the first version of Magic: The Gathering, which debuted in 1993. Since then, we’ve brought the game to several different platforms and we’re pleased to see it widely available on PC, Mac, mobile and tablets. You could say the mobile version is the most portable of them all.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome during development?

Bringing MTG Arena to mobile presents the challenge of making this complex game fit on a smaller screen. Using adaptive UI and other methods we’ve managed to make the premiere digital MTG Arena experience something you can play anywhere.

At what stage in development did you feel you had a game that you were happy with?

With Magic: The Gathering Arena, we had the advantage of starting with a successful live
game on PC. The challenge was achieving a similar gameplay experience on mobile devices where information needs to fit onto smaller screens.

Magic: the Gathering Arena is available on the App Store and Google Play from March 25th, 2021.

Once we felt the UI and player experience were both in a great place, we knew it was time to get it in the hands of players as soon as we could; they’ve been asking for MTG Arena to be on mobile devices since we launched on PC.

Why did you feel this was the right time to launch?

Our players have wanted a mobile version ever since we launched on PC. Now that we have the experience up to our standards and are confident players will enjoy it, we are ready to fully release Magic: The Gathering Arena on mobile.

Bringing an authentic MTG Arena experience to mobile means players can jump in anytime
and anywhere they want.
Chris Cao

If players have never experienced MTG, would you say this version is a good introduction to newcomers?

Magic: The Gathering is a challenging but rewarding experience. We are always looking for ways to introduce the game to new players. We’ve introduced Sparky, who will guide you through the initial tutorial as well as deck building, the mastery pass and more.

Players can also dive into “Colour Challenges” that teach them the basic strategies of the five colours of Magic: The Gathering. On top of that, weekly events provide unique, controlled ways to play, while ranked battles let players match up against those at their skill level. You can even import Arena decks from other players online to learn new strategies and get playing quickly.

With so many digital card games on the market, how will MTG Arena look to stand out from the crowd?

Magic: The Gathering Arena is bringing the original collectible card game experience to mobile. This is the 'Magic' experience you know and love, with the latest card sets, multiple play modes, drafting, competitive events and more. This is magic on your phone!

How are you approaching live ops?

Magic: The Gathering Arena has events that refresh weekly and provide new challenges, play modes and more. We are tied fully into the Magic pipeline which means we will see content drops with new Magic sets.

On top of that, Arena had two unique remaster releases of older Magic sets. We plan to release additional Arena-specific content in the future.

To consider MTG Arena a success on mobile, what needs to happen?

Bringing an authentic MTG Arena experience to mobile means players can jump in anytime and anywhere they want. That’s a huge success for both the players and the MTG Arena team.

Our focus is on the quality and accessibility of that experience because those elements define our success and all the numbers that follow. Mobile early access has exceeded our expectations and we can’t wait to see this continue with the global launch.

Features Editor

Matthew Forde is the features editor at PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @MattForde64 talking about stats, data and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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