Skeleton Key
27, Jul, 22

Skeleton Key Needs to Learn From Wizards' Past Mistakes

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Article at a Glance

Earlier this week, Wizards of the Coast unveiled they’ve launched a new game development studio. The studio, named Skeleton Key, is being helmed by ex-BioWare Executive Producer Christian Dailey. Currently, it’s unclear precisely what WotC’s new studio has been formed to create. However, they mustn’t retread Wizards’ past gaming mistakes. 

Magic: Legends

As a game that never made it out of beta, Magic: Legends is infamous for its shortcomings. Initially launching in open beta in March of 2021, the game was canceled in June and shut down by October. For a game that’d been in development since 2017, canceling the project after just eight months in the wild is an abysmal failure. Upon its launch, we called Magic: Legends “just fine” but others were less impressed.

During its brief time in open beta, players frequently complained about the game’s performance, mechanics, and gameplay. That’s pretty much every fundamental that can be wrong with a video game. During their only time streaming the game, popular Magic streamer Day9 stated, “it’s not that the game lacks interesting decisions; it lacks decisions. I hit my buttons on cool-down. I do not manage mana. There was no point in the first three hours that I managed mana, period.” 

Like many players, Day9 was intrigued by the deckbuilding system used to cast spells. However, it was crucially disappointing. “I really think that the current implementation of the deck and how that works in combat feels like an anti-system,” Day9 stated. “It feels like it hurts the gameplay rather than creating something new and cool and fun.” Ultimately, Day9 noted that they’d give Magic: Legends “either a zero or a one” out of ten. 

Alongside the mismatch between setting and gameplay that disappointed many fans, Magic: Legends had another critical flaw; microtransactions. It was no surprise that Magic: Legends had microtransactions as a free-to-play game. However, their implementation was aggressive, to say the least. Rather than just being able to purchase cosmetics, Magic: Legends allowed players to buy cards for their decks, ostensibly making the game pay-to-win. To encourage player spending, Magic: Legends was geared to be incredibly grindy, which aggravated many players. 

What Can Skeleton Key Learn?

Learn From the Past
Learn From the Past | Dragons of Tarkir

Looking back at Magic: Legends, there are many ways in which Skeleton Key could learn a variety of lessons. While we would like to rant about microtransactions as the worst issue, many WotC games’ most significant fault is the setting’s misuse. As Day9 pointed out in their rant, Magic: Legends failed to make the game actually feel like Magic. Instead, it was a Diablo-esque game set vaguely within the Magic: the Gathering universe. 

This is potentially the greatest failure a Magic: the Gathering game could make. After all, if a game doesn’t use its setting correctly, there’s no point in being set in that universe. Magic: the Gathering has no end of lore, mechanics, and spells that could work wonders in a traditional video game, so it’s a crying shame to see them squandered. Utilizing Magic’s mechanics and setting doesn’t mean making a card game. As Necromunda: Hired Gun proved for the Warhammer 40k universe, what matters most is that you get the setting right. 

While they’re part of the company,  Skeleton Key has plenty to learn from WotC themselves. Namely, what not to do in terms of communication. As we highlighted recently, Wizards of the Coast can be frustratingly silent on Magic’s issues, especially those in MTG Arena. This often causes tensions to fester and grow, as there’s no word on when anything is being fixed. Hopefully, like other developers, Skeleton Key will have its own PR department to keep people in the know.

What Are Skeleton Key Making?

Skeleton Key
Skeleton Key | Wizards of the Coast

Currently, it’s unclear exactly what kind of game Skeleton Key is making. There’s also no word on which of WotC’s franchises the developer is making a game for. Unfortunately, the usual sleuthing tactics of looking into job listings also doesn’t yield any results. Currently, Skeleton Key is hiring for several senior roles, such as Senior Producer, Art Director, and Technical Director. Due to the seniority of these hirings, it’s likely Wizards is still building this studio from the ground up. As a result, we shouldn’t expect to hear much about them soon. 

Thankfully, we do at least know something about Skeleton Key’s lead, Christian Dailey. Previously Dailey has worked at Blizzard Entertainment and BioWare, where he was an executive producer for Anthem and Dragon Age: Dreadwolf. This potentially means we could see some BioWare touches or inspiration in a future Magic: the Gathering game. 

Read More: Explorer Anthology 1 Brings More Staples, but Are They Enough?

Ultimately, due to the complete lack of information, there’s no telling what Skeleton Key is working on. With how long game development takes, it’s unlikely we’ll have a clearer picture for quite some time, so for now, we’ll have to wait and see.

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