In 1993, Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro Inc., and part of its US gaming division, which accounts for 27 percent of all of Hasbro’s $3.1 billion annual sales, released Magic: The Gathering. For a complex strategy game, it’s very simple, needing only cards and basic arithmetic skills. It’s almost like rummy on steroids: Each player draws seven cards from his or her own deck and continues to draw a card at the beginning of each turn. But, rather than collecting suits and runs, Magic players try lay out certain combinations of creatures, lands, and spells they then use, or “tap,” to attack their opponents. The game ends when all but one player runs out of either life or cards. (See “Magic for Beginners,” linked at right.) Within a couple of years it caught on. Today, Magic is WoC’s biggest money-maker, even beating the iconic Dungeons and Dragons with consistent sales and a responsive fan base.
According to Tolena Thorburn, spokeswoman for WoC, the player demographics, measured by tournament registrations, are male, between the ages of 15 and 30. “There are some females that play,” says Thorburn. “But it’s not measurable.”
Perhaps because of its casual nature, Maine storekeepers see things differently. “The game went through a massive explosion in ’94 and ’95 where I was selling several booster boxes a day,” says Chris Thacker, manager of The Keep Games and Comics in Brunswick. During the Magic boom, other collecting cards sat on the shelf. “It’s all that anybody wanted,” says Thacker.
And, unlike other role playing games or collecting cards, Thacker saw it spark an interest in women, one of the toughest demographics to get into a game store. Thacker has worked at The Keep since 1994, right at the beginning of the Magic boom. “I was teaching housewives, little girls, teenagers, everybody,” says Thacker. “Usually, this kind of thing is mostly male-dominated but I taught tons of women as well, which was kind of neat to see them interact in the hobbies because that’s a demographic [the hobby and gaming] industry hasn’t pierced very well.”
Magic was a surprisingly revolutionary success for WoC and Hasbro, resulting several spin-offs including Star Wars and Star Trek versions, and games that mimicked the Magic playing format like Pokemon and, most recently, Yu-Gi-Oh. But, unlike the Star Wars and Star Trek versions, Magic has proven to have a longevity that didn’t wane as the release hypes for the movies and television series did. And, unlike Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic enjoyed several years of being the only game of its kind on the market and was being played by a wide age range and by entire families. So while its fans grew up and stayed loyal, other card games are finding their market to be a much younger, and therefore smaller, audience. This translates into stronger sales for hobby store managers like Thacker.