Possibly the most interesting thing about the Oath of the Gatewatch card leaks is the attitude large parts of the community have shown in their aftermath, especially in response to Trick Jarrett’s article. The reactions towards Wizards of the Coast, although that company has objectively been wronged by people deliberately breaking their trust, show an amount of hateful glee which is remarkable and suprised even me, who has been a staunch and vocal critic of Wizards for many years. I have been thinking a bit about what is going on here.
Firstly, let’s get some facts straight: During the last couple of years, early leaks of cards from new sets have become quite a rare occurence compared to earlier times. Especially, big surprises have not been spoiled for us since the New Phyrexia godbook leak, if I remember correctly. Wizards have really tightened their security around their intellectual property.
Coming Oath of the Gatewatch, they have failed. There were several separate instances of leaked cards already, weeks before offical preview weeks begin. Some of those were rather minor (unless they’re somehow connected to bigger leaks), but two stand out: The reveal of the new Kozilek and the new basic land Wastes a month ago, and the reveal of all expeditions and almost all mythic rares (plus a couple of lands at lower rarities) a few days ago.
Now, there was originally some indication that the first leak might have been orchestrated, but in retrospective this seems very unlikely now. Yes, spoiling Kozilek and Wastes (and concurrently, albeit apparently from another source, Mirrorpool) at the same time suggested that there was a plan behind these reveals, but we now know that this plan included spoiling those very cards officially, and the seeming coincidence that specifically those two cards were leaked is well explained by the very plans to spoil them offically, pinpointing the source of the leak as someone who was involved in those plans.
Also, the idea that Wizards wanted to get the community to talk and speculate about the meaning of the new mana symbol has merit, but with every day passing it became clearer that it could not be in that company’s interest to maintain the enormous confusion resulting for several weeks without clarification. If the leaks had been orchestrated, Wizards would have found a way to clear up all those misconceptions after a week or so at the latest (even without admitting that this had been an intentional leak). Generating buzz is one thing, but allowing players to form pet theories they fiercely cling to, and then disappointing them with a „boring“, obvious explanation is another, and instigating major rules confusion all over the community is even worse. Wizards are incompetent in some areas where they do not allocate enough resources (Magic Online, their web presence etc.), but they are emphatically not incompetent in their marketing decisions. Claiming that the bedlam which ensued after those leaks was either planned or not anticipated by them is just ignorant.
Their reaction to that leak was certainly telling: Evading all questions for several weeks, then offically presenting the two cards as if nothing had happened before, and later admitting and condemning that leak specifically in a clearly butthurt article. There is no way this is playing on with some kind of PR stunt – they make themselves look way too bad here.
Note that this article did not address the much bigger second leak at all, although that certainly hurt the company even more, revealing almost all mythics and expeditions – the major selling points of the new set! – in one fell swoop. That is simply because they do not want to validate these cards or draw attention to them, since they have not officially been spoiled so far (which is in line with their actions after the first leak). You need to be aware, though, that this article still vents the anger about that leak as well, which explains some passages that might seem a bit overblown if only put in the context of the first leak.
Concerning the source of those leaks, it is possible that the first one (Kozilek and Wastes) happened due to negligence – someone involved in preparing the official representation left a file in a place where they shouldn’t have left it, and someone else stumbled over it. It is extremely likely, however, that at least the second leak happened because somewone violated an NDA which had been a requirement to get access to those cards in the first place. If you seriously consider that person a „hero“, your moral compass is way, way off! It doesn’t make you a hero either if you publish info which you came across accidentally, but hey – you’re not owing the big, bad, soulless company anything. I can get behind that. But if you consciously break the trust someone put in you (for example, if you visit a Wizards employee friend and take a picture of a yet unrevealed card which happens to be lying around), you’re a scumbag; and if you explicitly break an NDA in a major way, you’re a criminal, too.
And yet, many people celebrate any and all leakers as heroes. Why is that?
There are many levels of answers to that question. The most obvious is egoism: People want to see cards from the next set as early as possible, no matter what. Once again, I can get behind that! I am a deeply involved Magic player, and that means I spend a lot of time thinking about this game. The earlier I get to know a card, the more time I can put into evaluating it and putting those evaluations into different contexts. I am an information-processing machine craving data. If there is something to be known, I do want to know it – now! Still, I am a far cry from publically endorsing scumbags and criminals.
Then, there is the pent-up frustration with a company which treats its customers as drug addicts, not caring about providing the best possible experience for them (no matter how often they claim to do so), but only about maximizing their profits. This is the company which has been keeping Magic Online continuously in a state of barely playable for one and a half decades, simply because this is the most cost-efficient way to maintain it. It is also the company that has been making sure that competitive play became ever more expensive over the years, and that has been consciously rigging high level play to make sure that players from their home market will completely dominate it. There are many more smaller – but sometimes clearly more evil – things Wizards are responsible for (for one example, google the Zach Jesse ban), and once again, I can get behind that frustration.
There is an issue, though: Humans really like to perceive things as polar – good vs evil, right vs wrong, company vs customers. So, someone hurt Wizards somehow? Applause – they obviously deserved it! It is a typical gut reaction, but people should pause and reflect a little before they allow themselves to voice such statements. Evil companies are evil because they do evil things, and because doing evil things is bad. If someone else does an evil thing, even if it happens to hurt an evil company, that is still bad. Worse – whatever justification that person might have to do those evil things could turn out to be the exact same justification which made that evil company do their evil deeds. Identifying right vs wrong is not about choosing sides once and then feeling morally superior for the rest of your life. (That is wrong.)
And then, things tend to be always a bit more complicated than we would like them to. Shockingly, an evil company is not made up exclusively of evil people. So, even if hurting that company overall seems morally justified, it doesn’t mean that hurting the people working for it is, some of whom may actually be doing their best to improve things from the inside! Allowing our (completely justified) frustration to turn into unreflected general hatred is actually one of the more evil things we humans do.
However, between the very personal satisfaction of seeing new cards earlier, and the vague general frustration with the big evil company, there seems to be a reason to support leaks which I had overlooked so far, but have become aware of recently. To understand it, we have first to be clear that leaks actually do hurt Wizards! There is a lot of poorly thought-out rationalizing why leaks would actually not be a bad thing for them, but once again, people readily assume that Wizards have no clue how to market their products best, which is an ignorant and downright stupid assumption. Also note that we are not talking about a random common leaked a week earlier here or there, but about leaks of the magnitude we have been seeing with Oath of the Gatewatch: Previewing a major (and probably the most spectacular) theme of the new set several weeks early; and showing practically all cards of highest interest at once weeks before their official previews start. Especially the latter completely destroys the whole marketing strategy of Wizards for this set. Say, who of you truly believe that marketing strategies do not influence sales? You might want to not get into this discussion in the first place – it’s a waste of time to argue with people who completely ignore reality around them.
Those very marketing strategies, though, are what put Wizards at odd with their customers. Why exactly do they profit so much from their own carefully crafted revealing scheme? Well, they are obviously generating hype, but what I didn’t realize (because I was never affected by it) before somone else pointed it out is that they generate that hype at the exact best time to induce people to make impulse, and worse, panic buys!
There is a German term which I’m not completely sure is translated absolutely correctly with „promotional trip“: „Kaffeefahrt“. Another one – „Haustürgeschaft“ – is probably exactly translated with „doorstep deal“. Both refer to businesses which consciously exploit the fear of people to miss a good deal if they do not make it right now, and which would run very badly if those people had enough time to think about that deal and analyze its advantages and disadvantages.
This is exactly what Wizards is setting up with every new set. It is why they show us one or two mythic rares per day, hyping them as much as possible – not always for the competitive crowd, but mainly for the casual players who tend to be more easily impressed. These players believe they need those impressive cards, and they believe they need to preorder them right away, before they get much more expensive. That wouldn’t work if those cards had been known and thoroughly discussed for a week or two before it became necessary (or possible) to preorder.
It would be naive to doubt that Wizards‚ sales are actually hurt by leaks, but it pays to think about why exactly that is the case. A new Magic set is not a movie, where getting spoilers beforehand would ruin your enjoyment of the plot. Its appeal, however, is strongly determined by subjective impressions. It makes a heck of a difference if a large segment of the player base perceives the new Kozilek as using some incredibly convoluted new mana of a pseudo-sixth color which requires massive functional errata of hundreds of old cards to work at all, or if Wizards get the opportunity from the very beginning to explain that some costs may now require colorless mana (and that’s all). The absurd overthinking which happened in the wake of this unplanned reveal will stay for a long while with many players, and color their perceptions of Oath of the Gatewatch. However, this is the case where a leak actually hurt both company and customers.
As to the spoiled expeditions and mythics, Wizards are right to remind us that a couple of people who had been working to present these cards in an especially interesting way were bereft of the fruits of their labor – but in this case, the interests of company and customers are not the same. Yes, some people might prefer to see a few cards spoiled per day instead of a whole bunch at one time, and maybe get some spicy flavor or cool additional information with the reveals. But mostly, what is happening is that we get to look closely at this impressively-looking set of kitchen knives a few weeks before we can buy it, and realize during that time that, actually, we do not need it at all (and that it is likely not nearly as good a deal as we were led to believe at first). People getting time to think before they need to buy isn’t good for many businesses, and Wizards is one of those.
So, I can partly also get behind people considering leakers as some kind of Robin Hoods protecting unwary customers from the marketing schemes of a greedy company. Many opinions voiced are still woefully unreflected, but I am starting to comprehend where those people come from. Wizards‚ way to handle spoiler season is largely a means of artificially increasing demand, and I understand why some people perceive early leaks as a form of protection against this kind of manipulation. It is extremely unlikely, on the other hand, that this is what the leakers‘ motivation is rooted in. They undoubtedly have their own petty, egoistic motives, so we might not want to canonize them for what they are doing.
One last thing: There are additional reasons to get angry about Trick Jarrett’s article. He is creating the impression that people sharing available info about leaks are doing something wrong, and even seems to threaten those, which is unacceptable. He also writes a lot of bullshit about what journalism is and what it is not, and he uses the term „theft“ for something which, while possibly illegal, is most certainly not. He also pleads solidarity with a few writers and owners of small sites when his real concerns are obviously his company’s profits. These are points which are valid to address with criticism, and once again I can get behind people who feel little empathy with Trick or the company he represents – and yes, they brought this on by themselves. Still, it makes me feel uneasy when I see by how much many people overreact here.