Thoughts on the shutdown of Online TCG Carte

GamesCampus today announced the Shutdown of its Online Trading Card Game Carte. While this is an expected move, the news made me sad as we invested a lot of work and efforts during the launch of the title (Disclaimer: I was in charge of Marketing and BD for their EU office From April 2011 and Feb 2013). The shutdown of the game is a showcase for the mistakes a publisher can make, once he publishes a title globally. I apologize for my lack of native English in this text in advance.

Starting Position

The product that was shown to us once the decision was made to publish the title in Europe was obviously in Korean. But what we saw was a good idea for an online trading card game: Free2play, a good story, very nice artworks. We thought this could be a nice niche title, strong in its focused target group and potentially a long-term success, if we would provide enough new content, meet the customers needs and do our job in terms of community management.

In the EU, Carte was managed by an outstanding Producer initially, who had a history in trading card games (he was a “magic the gathering” referee years earlier) and definitely knew how this could become a successful title in this TCG subculture. An interesting background, if you look at the communication between the development company and the EU publisher later.

The first mistake

The English version of Carte was exclusively given to the US branch of our Korean mothership. Obviously, nobody at the EU office was too happy about this. From our perspective this was a practice of subsidizing our brothers and sisters with a significant share of EU players (the European branch of gamescampus was only responsible for the german version of the game initially. This was changed in late 2012, as far as i remember).

A new hope

There are several examples of online TCGs, published by Asian Game Companies. Some were done via subscription models, other lacked good translation quality, several ones were super-overprized. We knew there was a market and we knew it could be possible to be successful. We made a focus-group test with hardcore TCG players from whole Germany that came to our Berlin-office for the test. The feedback was quite promising. Although several Features were missing (Trading Function!, Ranking, etc. etc.) we thought getting them implemented to the game would be a question of time. Word-of-mouth started to show effects, a small momentum within this small, very focused target group was happening.

Beta

Initial Launch was in Korea, US and EU followed several months later. Japan was to follow. Even though the metrics said the game wasn´t working in Korea, we saw a strong reaction in Germany´s TCG Scene. Good User retention, good conversion rates, great DAU/MAU for a niche game – it was a nice start. Actually i outbalanced my own expectations in terms of user acquisition.

Operations

The beta was done, we were close to go to commercial Service. Across all branches, we had the highest ARPUs, the highest Paying-User Ratio, the highest activity of players compared to signed-up accounts. But to match the revenue expectations given to us from never-never land, we knew we would need essential features to be added to the game which were requested by Players as well as ourselves.

Countless minutes were invested in meetings, convincing the Korean developing house and our so called global coordinator in our mother company in Seoul that EU Version would need priority in getting features the Players requested. Unfortunately, the person over there was nearly not able to communicate in English and they decided to prioritize dev ressources to the nearly dead Korean version instead of the English and German one, which were still healthy.

Ignorance by the Developing Company

Our Producer suggested an ELO-Ranking. The Game Developers didn´t even know what he was talking about. He tried to explain it with League of Legends as example. They said they didn´t like the Game, claimed it to be not successful. So the ELO Ranking was postponed and declared as “not that important update”.

I mentioned initially Carte was a Trading Card Game. In fact, the game NEVER had a trading function. The trading function was never realized, promised a lot of times by the Developing Company. Instead of being finished, they worked on features for the dying Korean version and the also failed Japanese version. Please note that at the time i am speaking about, German players had the highest share on the server population in terms of activity, revenues and conversions.

Nemesis

From a title that created hope and positive reactions by TCG addicts, we saw a change of the communities mood. The job went more and more into keeping customers loyal. We tried to balance missing features with ingame-events, self-organized tournaments (the game didn´t offer a function for this) and keep the population loyal. We did a lot. But what could we do without the necessary support? The most requested features by the Players were not given to them. So a lot of them left.

Bugged out by useless discussions and several tries to explain the EU market to the Korean Developers, the Producer quit the Job. His successor followed eleven months later. Both belong to the most talented workers i´ve seen in this industry. Both are now working at very well-known and successful Game Companies in Europe.

Learnings:

1. When you source a Game, convince yourself the Development Company can meet a global publishers needs.
2. When you publish a Game globally, listen to your local teams.
3. If the customers needs are different in the specific territories, give them what they want.
4. If you publsih a Game globally, put somebody on the coordination part who is fluent in English at least.
5. Set goals to your team that actually CAN be achieved if you want to keep them sustainably motivated.

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11 thoughts on “Thoughts on the shutdown of Online TCG Carte

  1. I was so happy when they explained to me how bad lol is. That saved me so much time, since I have never played the game before….

  2. Pingback: Carte wird eingestellt | TCG-Arena

  3. It was a good game. There was potential. And the end is just a failure. Really bad to see a good game going down like this. The first 3 months were nice. After that it was possible to “see” no Trading Function is coming.. and so on… I liked the game. I even spent a lot of money. And would have spent more if there had been something good in features and development after the first months.

    Bad. :(

  4. As mentioned on twitter. I feel “the first mistake” is entirely moot in this particular case because there was almost no case where we didn’t work closely with the original CM for the European branch.

    I dunno if he would want me saying his name publicly but I liked him and we were often banded together trying to convince development that they are – in fact – going to destroy the game.

    They adamantly disagreed and in turn destroyed the game. Your #’d lessons at the end are spot on though. A global service is only viable and worthwhile if the developers are willing to actually cater to the needs of each community.

  5. Like Evil Neko I feel so too. It was the best tcg I have ever played. Such a shame. I even printed all the cards so I could play it after the shutdown in real. And once in a time I still look up if theres a revival of this game. Does anyone know if it would be possible to make a private server of it?

  6. Like everyone before me has said, this is, to date, the best TCG, physical or digital, that I have played. It really was on-par with the biggest TCGs out there (I’m looking at you, MTG). I’ve been playing digital TCGs since Sanctum (by Nioga) back in 2001, and I’ve been playing physical TCGs since 1996 with MTG.

    It had a very intriguing PvE Raid mechanic that beat HEX TCG to market by several years, and it had a great odd/even turn mechanic on certain cards that beat games like Faeria to market as well. Lots of innovation, well-thought out mechanics (some of it borrowed from WoW TCG), great art, and a great community.

    Based on your shared story and insight, I still think both the Developing Company and Gamescampus were at fault, though perhaps Gamescampus less so. Communication between Gamescampus USA and the USA player base wasn’t great, and the marketing for the game was pretty weak as well. Lots of translation errors with new set releases also meant the top guilds had to recruit in-house Korean players to do unofficial translations (yes this totally happened).

    Server lag when playing against international players was also a big problem for daily tournaments and frustrated many players who had lost games simply because their turns took much longer to finish as a result of server lag. The global infrastructure wasn’t quite there, so perhaps the tournaments should have been region restricted.

    I would love to see someone pick up this license or create a spiritual successor to this game with better management and better communication with the community.

  7. Does anybody know who owns the source code and IP for this now? I would be interested in working on this eventually if there is no team on this already.

  8. Best digital ccg ever created. Card design, game mechanics and plurality like that never seen since. Bring it back and swim in cash. If it woulb be reliesed now it would be no1 by far.

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