It started with Hearthstone, the unexpected result of Blizzard keeping a bunch of expendable staff members in a closet and forcing them to work day and night until they came up with something that was both cheap and yet wildly profitable (or something like that). Its huge and immediate success emboldened any publisher with the rights to even remotely-recognisable IPs, and it wasn’t long before these companies, eager to make that same conversion of small investment to unlimited free money, started doing the same thing – and so it was that games like Elder Scrolls: Legends, Chronicle: Runescape Legends, and Clash
of Clans: Legends Royale were hastily slapped together and released to the rabid hordes who, in their excitement, would shoot their collective financial wads on booster packs and premium currency. Indie developers, too, soon realised that maybe even a vaguely-successful microtransaction-based card game would make a better investment than that procedurally-generated retro-pixel story-driven “experience”, and so we were graced with stuff like Duelyst, Hex: Shards of Fate, and Spellweaver. It’s at this point that many of us figured things would start to slow down.
Oh, how naïve we were.
Even with the market so saturated, new CCGs started dropping on an almost weekly basis. Every single IP owner was soon demanding month-long turnarounds on card-based adaptations. Mass Effect: Infinity, Legends of NBA 2k18, Bob the Builder Fight!!!, Civilization: Gods and Cards, and more squeezed themselves onto Steam, whose servers soon cracked under the pressure, forcing Valve to permanently cease all development on Half-Life 3 as more and more staff members were transferred to maintenance of a new digital distribution platform (Steam: Legends) servicing exclusively the CCG genre. Additionally, all indie development was immediately put on hold unpon the release of Unity: Digital CCG Edition: Legends, which allowed for even a one-person team to quickly build and publish barely-legal Magic: The Gathering clones - with which profitability was all-but ensured with an audience containing as little as ten rabid wallet-wielders. Gamestops quit selling console hardware and games, switching out all their physical stock for pre-paid CCG currency cards.
I speak to you now from Microsoft Outlook: Legends, a popular time-mail/card-battle client. It’s been six years since Call of Duty: Double-Infinite Warfarefighterbro 3, the last non-CCG title to be released to consumers. This morning saw the release of Suicide Squad vs Aquaman: Card Universe, whose virtual booster sales ensured that the game reached profitability in just twenty-six minutes. It’s since shut down operations, and players are now eagerly awaiting LEGO Suicide Squad vs Aquaman: Card Universe, due for release this evening. With over six-hundred cards available (five-hundred-and-thirty-seven of them being Ultra-Hyper-Mega-Holo-Rare, of course), this one’s sure to be a doozy - so we’re told, at least. And if not, at least we have Champions of Pokemon Heroes: Saga (like the original Pokemon TCG, except instead of playing monsters, you play players playing the original Pokemon TCG) hitting mobile tomorrow. Or, if that’s too mainstream, Super Pixel Basement Studios are releasing their long-awaited 8-bit CCG, CARDFYTER, whose mechanics are so cool and unique and complex that not even the development team knows how to play it.
And what of Hearthstone, you ask? Well, it’s more popular than ever. The massive profits allowed Blizzard to cease development on all other projects and turn their attention to the development of Hearthstone OS, which upon release acquired 100% of the market. Now, every computer, phone, and FitBit runs on the HS OS, meaning that we’re all playing Hearthstone, all the time. Even when we’re playing other CCGs, we’re playing those CCGs inside Hearthstone. In public, the phrase “Pull up a chair by the hearth” can be heard as often as the weather – I don’t even notice it anymore.
In the coming months, you’re going to witness the release of titles including Star Wars: Battlefront: Saga: Warriors: Saga, Heroes of Five Nights at Freddy’s, and Euro Truck Simulator: Legacy. And if you let it happen – if you keep buying all these packs with real money instead of just waiting to accumulate in-game gold like a well-adjusted human being – pretty soon the entire game industry will be upended as CCGs become the gold standard for game development. Every game you know and love will be erased from the cultural pantheon and replaced by some half-assed card-game thrown together by some lazy dev team just looking for a way to pay off their latest batch of yachts.