MTG Arena hasn’t even entered into the closed beta phase of development, and already everyone wants to know when the game will be released to the general public. Deciding on a release date for a flagship product is a mixture of art, science, hard work and late nights. In this article I would like to examine all the information we have so far about MTG Arena, sprinkle in some educated guesses and add a dash of total speculation to make my call on MTG Arena’s release date.
Unfortunately this section of the article is the one with the least amount of information to share. So far, Wizards has been incredibly tight lipped about almost all of the details surrounding MTG Arena. Most of the facts that we do have about MTG Arena center around the founding of Wizard’s Digital Games Studio. It was announced on August 11th, 2016 that Chris Cocks had replaced Greg Leeds as the President of Wizards of the Coast. Almost exactly five months later, on January 12th 2017, the announcement of the formation of the Digital Games Studio was released. On September 7th, 2017 MTG Arena was officially announced. The final dates that we are aware of are a bit fuzzier than these. Next, we know that the MTG Arena closed beta will begin sometime in November 2017 and finally, that Wizards wants Arena players to be able to stream the game by early 2018. These dates may not seem like much information to go on, but they can be important for speculating on what Wizard’s announcement cadence looks like and be able to extrapolate a pattern out into the future.
One final fact that I want I want to bring up for inclusion in our consideration is that Wizards has stated that MTG Arena will launch with the full set of standard legal cards when it does launch. Note that they did not specify that this would be the set of current standard cards. Also, standard is the only constructed format that Arena will support during initial release.
Because MTG Arena needs to release with all sets available in the standard format at the time of it’s release, Wizards must choose whether to release MTG Arena before or after the Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks rotate out of the format.
In the above graphic, the Dominaria set is represented by the code name “Soup” and releases April 27th 2018. Core Set 2019 releases July 20th, 2018. The set that releases after the 2019 Core set (sometime in the Fall or Winter of 2018) will trigger the Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks to rotate out of standard. Let’s pick some potential broad release windows in 2018 and see what that would mean for the lifetime of the Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks in MTG Arena.
Suppose that MTG Arena is targeting a spring 2018 release date. This means that Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks would be available for standard play for almost a full year. Nice! This seems like plenty of time for those sets to be available in the game and for players to feel like they had had enough time to experience them. If a summer 2018 release is in the cards, Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks have roughly a six month shelf life. Six months is starting to get toward the lower end of what I would consider most players to find acceptable for the length of time for a card to be available before it becomes obsolete. Once we get into the fall and winter seasons Kaladesh and Amonkhet would only be around for one to three months. I can’t imagine that having players “lose” half of their available cards within the first three months of playing the game would be a good idea.
One great resource to mine for unannounced clues about which direction a company is heading is their open job postings. While perusing the available job postings on Wizard’s job board I noticed something interesting in a posting for a Rules Engine Software Developer position. In this job posting, it is explicitly stated that it is expected that the employee is should reach full performance potential within six months. Keep this six month training period in mind as we will revisit it later.
It is easy to make comparisons between Hearthstone and MTG Arena in both play-style and target audience. Lets take a look at Hearthstone’s beta to see if there are any clues to be found about how long a digital CCG product should be in beta. Hearthstone was in closed beta for five months and open beta for one and a half months for a total beta window of approximately seven months. One important thing to consider when using Hearthstone’s beta as a benchmark is that Hearthstone also had to complete and polish game balancing during this time which is not something that Wizards needs to be concerned with during the MTG Arena beta. Given that MTG Arena has a smaller scope of things to complete during its beta phase, it is not unreasonable to assume that its beta phase could be shorter than Hearthstone’s was.
Bringing it All Together
My interpretation of the information above is:
- Wizards realized that Hearthstone was a major competitor and decided MTG Arena would be the response.
- Once Wizards started making moves toward implementing MTG Arena, they communicated steps they were taking in intervals of no longer than eight months.
- MTG Arena should release when sets that are next to rotate out of standard still have at least six months left in the standard format.
- Wizards wants to hire an additional developer to help expand and maintain their rules engine. They expect this developer to be a full performance potential within six months.
- Hearthstone’s beta period lasted about seven months, but Hearthstone also had to worry about testing and fixing game balance issues that should not be a factor for MTG Arena’s beta.
Given the above information, clues and speculation, my prediction for the MTG Arena release date is…
May 22nd 2018
This date meets all the requirements I have set out above and I feel has the best potential for the date that Wizards is targeting for the release of MTG Arena. What does everyone else think? Am I way off base? Did I hit it right on the nose? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @mtgarenapro.