Magic: The Gathering hit the Xbox 360 and PC with Duels of the Planeswalkers, only to be followed a year later by DotP 2012 on multiple platforms, and now the upcoming DotP 2013. So why is a customizable card game, which is based around adding parts, getting annualized as full, separate games? According to developer Stainless Games, it has a lot to do with Microsoft's policies on Xbox Live Arcade games.
"What we wanted to do originally was, as we're living in the modern digital download era, make a game and just carry on releasing DLC for it, and go on forever," production director Ben Gunstone told Eurogamer. "That proved in the real-world to be very difficult, within the constraints of Xbox, mainly."
The game may be available across PlayStation 3 and the 2013 version will hit mobile devices, but that first step on Xbox 360 set the tone for the rest of the series. "It's to do with title update limitations," he said. "You can get around it, and we did get around it, but it became such a complicated affair. If you ever updated the original Duels game it essentially deletes itself and re-downloads itself. Submissions aren't free and if you keep on doing them it becomes a sliding scale... the tail doesn't make so much money towards the end."
That made refreshing the game with title updates or DLC unreasonable, so the game started offering a fresh take yearly. And Gunstone isn't entirely hard on Microsoft, saying they enjoy a "close relationship" with them and that their high barriers for certification "makes for a better game in the end." Plus, he points out, "800 Points is a relatively trivial amount of money these days. To charge that once a year is not a big ask."
Fresh launches every year do grant the benefit of fresh sales, so publisher Wizards of the Coast may have opted for that idea with or without Microsoft's hurdles. But as we look forward to the next generation, Microsoft may want to consider loosening its restrictions to make constant updates -- a particularly important factor in free-to-play games -- a more viable option for developers.