When I first heard the term “living card game,” I understood surprisingly well what that could mean. As I’ve learned more, I found that I wasn’t far off. In a way, this is an example of good game design—being able to use concise titles and language to describe an effect something has or a trait it possesses. This is what Fantasy Flight Games has done with games such as Android: Netrunner, and their business model with this genre of card game is extremely interesting. So the first question is: what exactly is a living card game? Well, FFG has done something interesting with card games like Netrunner. Rather than forcing customers to do blind purchases to try and strengthen their arsenal of cards, games like Netrunner have regular expansions that are released, allowing players to expand their decks if they wish. The difference between this and other genres, such as the “collectible card game” is that the living aspect puts less pressure on consumers, allowing them to collect, but at their own pace and without affecting the fun of the game. For example, players are able to play a fully functional game of Netrunner with the core set of cards, and it’s still entertaining. They don’t have to go out and purchase cards to make the game fun. And that’s the beauty of making a card game alive.
There are other games out there that are very similar to this game, in terms of business models. For example, Dominion is an extremely engaging deck-building game. There are, however, multiple expansions for the game that immerse players even further in the world and add more options for the gameplay. Dominion can be played with two to four people on the core set, and it’s incredibly fun. It demonstrates all the aspects of the game effectively, and doesn’t blatantly ask the players to make additional add-on purchases to achieve a complete game.
Other games, such as Magic: The Gathering, are different because they basically ask players to blindly purchase more cards in the hope that they get high caliber collectibles. This also applies to the wildly popular Pokemon. Although these games have huge followings, they differ from living card games because of what they demand of the customer for a full experience. In addition to collectible and trading card games, the living card game genre differs from themed and regular card games. For example, the game Love Letter contains engaging gameplay, all packaged into a single purchase. There are different versions of these types of games (Love Letter: Batman, Fluxx: Monty Python, etc.), but they are all standalone games that don’t really ask anything else of the consumer past the initial purchase. Regular card games, such as War, Egyptian Rat Screw, and Poker are the most basic card game genre, and are unique because they require a generic deck of face cards that can be used for countless games. So, if we looked at these genres in terms of how demanding they are of the consumer, the ranking would most likely be (1-5, greatest to least): 1) CCG, 2) LCG, 3) Deck Building, 4) Themed, and 5) Regular.
I would argue that most games’ gameplay reflect their business model. This applies to video games as well as card games. Video games filled with micro-transactions differ greatly from games that rely very little on micro-transactions. Netrunner is the same way. This game reflects the living aspect of the business model within the gameplay. For instance, the fact that there are certain corporations and certain hackers one can play as shows that there is room for the game to grow. Perhaps one of the regularly released expansions will be a new corporation and runner class. This does not take away from the fun if a person only has the core, but they have design the core in a way that it can be easily expanded to offer more options. Additionally, Netrunner’s multiple win/lose states offer room for new life to come in to the game through expansions. Because there are multiple ways to win and lose the game, new cards can expand on that aspect of fun by presenting different obstacles and abilities for the corporation and the runner to encounter and use. These nuances of gameplay are brilliantly incorporated, because they feel complete in their core, but are easily combined with new material as the game continues to live and grow.
This choice was on purpose, and I believe it was a wise move when in terms of considering consumer needs. FFG say on their own website: living card games “…do away with the deterrent of the blind-buy purchase model that has burned out so many players.” They recognize that consistently purchasing new products with the hope that good cards will be acquired becomes exhausting. Since Netrunner is so rich in it’s gameplay, this would especially be detrimental if the business model were structured this way. Therefore, I believe they chose the LCG model for Netrunner because it increases the shelf life of the game dramatically. Players can move at their own pace as they play the game—whether that be putting it on the shelf for a few weeks at a time, or immediately buying the next new thing to expand their gameplay options. In short, they wanted this game to get the most mileage possible, and that will be achieved through the LCG model.
The various genres brought up in this discussion each have perks and downsides. And that’s the beauty of playing games—there is a genre for everyone, and you don’t have to be a slave in any way. Living card games bring an interesting flavor to the table, because to me, there is a lack of intrusiveness. So much of what we see in the world of entertainment asks for the customer to turn out their pockets, and I feel like a living card game seems strangely respectful in that regard. FFG’s goal is obviously to make and increase revenue, but by using the LCG model, I feel they increase consumer loyalty, thus boosting the reputation of their games and extending their relevancy over longer periods of time.
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I'm a games lover, designer, and producer; Beatles freak; fishing enthusiast; and music researcher. It's tough to have so many good things in life!