Short Version: It was a lot of hype that left a lot of people at best only moderately satisfied, and at worst actively disappointed. I consider the Avacyn Restored Prerelease to have been a net negative for my store. In the future I would be inclined to ignore such aspects in future novelty prereleases that are structured in a similar way and would instead operate such prereleases as standard prereleases.
- It gave a lot of focus and marketing hype for the Avacyn Restored prerelease
- There was extra stuff to give out
- The stuff to give out was at best marginal and players were actively dissatisfied after the degree of push was put into this
- The Premium Vaults created an even more negative reaction from players when they learned that they never even had a chance at a Premium Vault
- The possibility of having 1 Premium Vault and 1 Regular Vault
- Players choosing to stay home after finding out that they had been ‘duped’ after the initial contents of the Helvaults were revealed.
- Players choosing to avoid my store in favor of another place that had a scheduled Helvault event
- Once some players learned the contents of the Helvault they opted to just show up at a later, non-Helvault, prerelease event
In bullet form, those are my observations of the Avacyn Restored Prerelease at BattleZone Games. I have been spending the last couple of days reflecting and talking to both my employee and player base.
In terms of actual numbers, I actually had fewer players for the Avacyn Restored prerelease weekend as compared to the Dark Ascension weekend. It’s very unusual for a large set prerelease to be smaller compared to a small set prerelease, particularly when there is as much promotional push behind it as Avacyn Restored had. I did have some warning that this could be a problem leading up to the day, as the grumblings from players had started to boil up after Friday Midnight prereleases at other locations.
Going into the event Saturday Morning, one of my floor judges had told me that there were rumors of ‘Premium’ Helvaults at other places bubbling up on Reddit and other social media. I didn’t really pay much attention until it was confirmed later by Helene Bergeot on Twitter, as I had multiple events to run. In retrospect, I am glad that both of my Helvaults were regular Helvaults and did not have any special content in one, but not the other. That would have made the prerelease experience at my store even more dissatisfying for my players, as some players would have received promos that were worth upwards of $100 while others had received goods that had pretty much no value.
The numbers, particularly for non-Helvault events at the Avacyn Restored prerelease were so soft, I may as well only have sanctioned a couple of events rather than attempting to run the full six that I traditionally try to do. When an event is structured in such a way as to provide disincentive or leads to dissatisfaction that makes them not want to participate in further events, I consider that a huge negative. It’s even more negative when I am hearing that people are disinclined to participate in future prerelease events.
"I only sort of liked the Helvault event. It was pretty disappointing to me because I barely got any of the achievements, and plus both Helvaults were already opened by a certain time so I didn't have a chance at [the seal bonus]. If you guys did a similar event again, I probably wouldn't go just for that reason."
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement from a player at their first prerelease event and is the sort of the feedback that I as a store owner pay attention to.
What could be done better? Let’s start with some feedback from some other players:
"Knowing what the contents were is what kept me from going. Oversized promos are of no value and while the tokens were cool I knew they wouldn't be hard to come by later. Should have been limited edition, alternate art, foil versions of the angels and Grisslebrand [sic]. You wouldn't have been able to keep me away with those."
"I don't have a problem with the idea of a chance at Premium. Offering that chance is no different from rolling the dice with purchasing booster packs. The problem with that it was not advertised as a chance. It was advertised as equitable to all players."
This brings up two common points that came up repeatedly in discussions. First, making the chance at getting something special equitable. Perhaps if the promos were in packs to be distributed blindly, a logistical headache I am sure, but something similar to the StarCityGold Rush at Grand Prix: Salt Lake City as a model. Everyone had a chance at an Unlimited Black Lotus, even if they end up with an Arabian Nights Camel. Also, it was clear that it was an actual roll of the dice, rather than an implied promise that everyone’s getting the same. Secondly, if there is extra promotional goods, make them have value rather than being the normal swag that is not really meaningful to the vast majority of players. The regular Helvault contents were not exciting and will be forgotten by the time of the Magic 2013 Prerelease.
I have asked my local players for their rankings of the three novelty prereleases so far (Mirrodin Besieged, Dark Ascension, and Avacyn Restored), and here is what I have gathered:
- Mirrodin Besieged Prerelease was generally regarded by most I queried as their favorite. They either appreciated the uniqueness of the packs, the collectibility of the packs, the incentive to play in multiple events because of the distinct promos, or just the us vs them flavor of the events helped make it feel like they were, in a way, participating in the conflict, particularly those that played on the Mirran side. Some did not like the faction packs, but that has been a minority.
- Dark Ascension topped no one’s list, but it wasn’t everyone’s least favorite either. It didn’t have much promotion, and so expectations were not high. At BattleZone, I gave extra packs and FNM entries as prizes in the human vs monster fight. It let me as a store owner be creative. While no one regards it as the most memorable, it was certainly enjoyable and people asked for an FNM structured like that. Some ranked it third because they didn’t care about stickers.
- Avacyn Restored also never made first place, but could avoid third place over Dark Ascension because people reasoned that there was at least some extra swag in it for them at the end of the day, and that the stickers from Dark Ascension just didn’t do anything for them. Some ranked it third because of how let down they felt about the Helvault event.
It’s clear that Wizards of the Coast is still working out what works and what doesn’t for prereleases as events. It’s also clear that they want to continue the work to help make prereleases more special. What would I suggest in the future for other special features?
- Make all WPN locations equal. People hate to be on the losing side and knowing that they never had a chance because they were at the wrong place.
- Make the extra promos desirable. Swag that you would have gotten out of the booster pack or fat pack isn’t special.
- Make the event’s subgame a participation for everyone. Everyone should be able to participate and not be out of contention just because they were not one of the first to do something.
- Don’t make your events structured in such a way as to drive business away from a location. Let players support the location(s) they enjoy and not feel disincentivized for that choice.
Feel free to post your thoughts in comments, and if you want to contact me directly, I can be reached at:
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Thanks for reading,