Would you like to play a game?
Say this to anyone these days and the choices are plenty, from console gaming, board games, PC gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality, and even gaming on the Mac, but even as new games emerge to occupy our time, sometimes it’s the classics that continue to win us over, albeit in a different guise, and none have the longevity, and persistency than trading card games, or collectible card games.
Want to play the latest Magic the Gathering (MTG)? The question is, which version, from the original, previous, current, to upcoming, and that’s just on MTG alone. Across the ocean in Japan, there’s Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or fan-favourite Weiss Schwarz, and even the up-and-coming One Piece Card Game.
If you thought that physical trading card games are a dying pastime, there are also successful digital versions that have paved the way for more, from the extremely popular Hearthstone, Legends of Runeterra, Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, to of course, the many, many versions of MTG, with more physical and digital versions on the horizon.
Disney is launching the Lorcana TCG with Ravensburger in 2023, while popular Genshin Impact video game will debut its digital Genius Invokation TCG and more recently, Marvel entered the fray with Marvel Snap digital TCG, created by Ben Brode, one of the co-creators of Hearthstone.
But why is trading card game fever back with a vengeance? You could chalk it up to a few reasons.
Of course the pandemic is to blame
The pandemic has had a significant impact across various areas, and the trading card scene is no different. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, several folks resorted to discovering new hobbies or revived old ones, in order to find some levity in the middle of dark times.
Even as the pandemic became (more or less) under control, trading card games serve as a way for people to forge communities and connect with one another — a feeling that was sorely missed amid lockdown restrictions.
After all, there’s nothing quite like going into a brick-and-mortar store and learning new strategies from fellow players, or sharing the joy of pulling a rare card. It’s simply that comforting and familiar feeling of being a part of a close-knit community that shares and understands your interests.
Players are all grown up
Another contributing factor is the fact that many trading card game players today are fans who are well into their careers and have access to disposable income. Whether it’s the early Pokémon games or the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime, or any other form of media, these older fans grew up with entertainment that shaped their lives. And now they have the spending power to support it.
A similar thing could be said of Weiss Schwarz‘s growing base of young fans, as the card game incorporates characters from popular anime and video game titles that have hit the mainstream. Whether it’s anime or video games that first drew them in, players have hit a point where they can afford to invest in their hobby and their favourite franchises.
The pull of celebrities
Celebrities love trading card games too! Just last month, Post Malone collaborated with Wizards of the Coast to celebrate 30 years of Magic the Gathering in Secret Lair x Post Malone: Backstage Pass. The award-winning recording artist is a known MTG enthusiast, and this partnership is the icing on the cake.
The collaboration came in the form of two collections. One of them sees Post Malone taking centre stage in hand-picked cards from one of his own decks. These cards feature exclusive art of Posty intertwined with Magic’s dark fantasy. The second collection showcases Post Malone’s iconic tattoos in the art, alongside handwritten flavour text and doodles from the artiste himself. This paves the way for Post Malone fans to discover the world of Magic: The Gathering.
On the other hand, there are also some celebrities who have fallen off from the game and are trying to recapture their nostalgia. For example, prolific rapper Logic shared on his Instagram account after spending US$183,812 to acquire a rare Charizard Pokémon card: “When I was a kid I absolutely loved Pokémon but couldn’t afford the cards. I remember even trying to trade food stamps for theirs and now as an adult who has saved every penny he has made being able to enjoy something that I’ve loved since childhood now as a grown man is like buying back a piece of something I could never have, it’s not about the material it’s about the experience.”
In scenarios like these, the close-knit community you might find in a brick-and-mortar store expands to the online space, where parasocial relationships with celebrities and influencers may encourage potential players to join in the fun.
Even popular fast food chains aren’t shying away from the action. Earlier this year, McDonald’s Singapore had a promotion that featured Happy Meals with the Pokémon TCG: Match Battle. Meanwhile, back in 2021, KFC Indonesia collaborated with Pokémon to release eight promo cards, one with every purchase of their Kids Meal. Such promotions may inspire children to start the hobby young, and potentially continue into adulthood.
Digital card games contribute to the hype too
Trading card games aren’t exclusive to just physical cards. Free-to-play video games like Shadowverse, which is hugely popular in Japan, and recent hit Marvel Snap offer an easy gateway into the genre online. Even popular games like Genshin Impact are developing virtual trading card games to capitalise on the trend.
Marvel Snap, in particular, heavily appeals to the visual and collectible aspect of trading cards. The game boasts a wide range of cards that players can unlock, alongside numerous variants of each card that feature different art styles. Players can even upgrade cards to add 3D effects, shiny logos, and more, mimicking the allure of rare holographic cards in real life.
If Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel is anything to go by, digital card games have an immense audience. The game surpassed titles like Monster Hunter Rise, Destiny 2, and God of War during its release on Steam in terms of the number of concurrent players. What’s more, folks who enjoy the gameplay could easily make the shift to physical trading cards.