To CCG or not to CCG? That is the question.



Minion Games


Every month or so I run across another miss-guided designer making a CCG (Collectible Card Game or Trading Card Game). So again, I’m writing a blog so I don’t have to repeat myself all the time. Let’s be clear, CCG is not a STYLE of play, it’s a distribution model. If you just want to make a game where you construct decks to play, then don’t call it a CCG.

I’ve been in this industry a long time… about 20 years now. In that time hundreds of CCGs have been made. Do you know how many CCGs have lasted more than 1 year’s time? Maybe a dozen or two tops. You know how many have made any significant money? About half that. How many have lost significant money? Hundreds. There is a reason Magic the Gathering is still the only profitable card game WOTC produces – did you know they had 14 other CCGs? How many can you name besides Pokemon and maybe Star Wars?

In today’s hobby gaming world the CCG label is more or less the kiss of death to any game. Even large companies with large marketing budgets with awesome licenses don’t make it. Why do you think you have a chance in hell?

– CCG’s are very costly to make. Tons of unique art is required and the manufacturing process (with random boosters) is very costly. You will end up printing huge amounts just to get the cost down. Now you’re stuck with a bunch of product you need to warehouse. Then there is the unique art that you need to commission for each card which will cost you $100-300 per card. CCG’s that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing have still utterly failed – do you have that kind of money? There is a saying, the fastest way to lose a million bucks is to spend it making a CCG in the hobby game industry. Others have before you. Literally.

– Publishers don’t like CCG’s. If you are attempting to pitch your game to a publisher to let them handle all the business aspects of your game, if they hear the word CCG they will go running fast in the opposite direction. If they don’t they’ll want you to change it from a CCG to some other distribution format anyway.,

Backers do not like CCG’s. CCG’s rarely fund on Kickstarter (or other crowd-funding sites) and if they do it’s cause someone had an unrealistic goal and probably did it POD (print on demand). There is no quicker way to loose the interest of prospective backers then to tell them they have to buy your game multiple times to play it.

Distributors do not like CCG’s. The distributors were burned back in the 90s with all the MTG clones. They had to eat a ton of debt. They won’t even talk to you if you say the word CCG.

Game Stores do no like CCG’s. Stores have and continue to be burned by CCGs over and over. Sure a couple have a good run for a few months. Some regions have some success with one game or another. But overall almost all the retailers I know will not purchase a game that is branded and marketed as a CCG.

Customers do not like CCG’s. The problem with a CCG is that you need critical mass for OP (Organized Play) and they are expensive. Customers don’t like having to buy something over and over again (eg. random cards). Most customers who enjoy this kind of competitive format already have a game of choice. They are not going to dump the thousands of dollars they spent on that game to try out yours.

– CCG’s are very hard to maintain. Players expect regular updates and releases. Do you have a team large enough to continue to release tested product on a regular basis? How long did it take you to make your current game? You’ll not have that time anymore. You’ll have just months or people will loose interest. How fast can you work out balancing issues? Oh and you know it takes 90 days to get your product printed and shipped – so you have to launch with the expansion ready to go. Do you have money for that too?

– CCG’s require OP (Organized Play). If you’re going to push on and make a CCG anyway, be aware that you must have a OP system in place with prize support and TO (Tournament Organizers) and the lot. OP is an integral part to these style of games to drive continued purchasing and trading.

Ask yourself why? Why will your game succeed as a CCG when so many others have failed? Other games have had great mechanics. Other games have had great art. Other games have had great characters and story. Other games have had huge licenses. Yet the vast majority have failed. WOTC (Wizards of the Coast) who has all the money, knowledge, and power behind it has had many failed CCG’s. FFG (Fantasy Flight Games) is one of the top 3 game companies in our industry, yet they gave up on CCG’s over 5 years ago. AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group) doesn’t release new games as CCG’s anymore even though they have the 2nd oldest CCG maker in the industry. These are smart people and good companies.

So what do you do? Ever hear of the LCG (Living Card Game)? Ever hear of Dominion? Well these are two models that work well these days. The LCG name/brand is trademarked so you can’t use it, but the format is simple enough to mimic. You release a regular small static set of cards on a regular basis that people can use to augment their constructed decks. Sometimes called a ECG or XCG (Expandable Card Game). Dominion does this, just that it does it in large releases. Releasing their game in a board game box makes people assume a higher value due to the packaging and form factor.

If you feel your game needs the “deck construction” aspects of the format, then you really should try something other then rarity (which really doesn’t work anyway as people just get deck lists and buy singles) to make that work. Make sure your game/cards have multiple valid winning strategies so everyone isn’t playing the same deck. You can try assigning values to each card and allowing only a certain point total for your whole deck- this works with most miniatures games. Etc.

Another option is to take your game digital. But I would strongly argue that a great game in an online space is not the same as a great game on the table top. Take Shadow Era as an example, but there are many more. Go one way or the other then after your successful you can consider other options. WOW (World of Warcraft) card game is no longer being made as Cryptizoic and Blizzard both go to the digital format. Then there is SolForge from the designer of MTG which also is digital only.

I know every designer likes to think their game it unique and special and has a chance… well I bet you can say the same for most musicians out there. But how many actually become rock stars? I’m here to try to inject a bit of reality. Hopefully people will love your game – but the only realistic chance you have to find out is if you use a different distribution model then a CCG/TCG.

Best of luck and happy designing!


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  1. Jason erb on

    I’ve had an idea for a card based game, I would never do it in a CCG format. The LCG or boxed card game makes so much more sense. If anyone is thinking of doing a CCG have them look at The Spoils. A great card game but it can’t get moving due to product support, distribution, etc. And there are only a few pockets of players in the states.

      • Andrew Zorowitz on

        The spoils made some traction originally because they promised hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars of fabulous prizes (including free cruise trips), most of which did ultimately materialize…

        • Andrew Zorowitz on

          Eeep, didn’t materialize. (that’s what I get for posting comments after getting back from PAX at 6am)

        • The Spoils is moving towards a hybrid. Its current following really has nothing to do with the promises of the old company. While SOME people from the “old days” still play, the majority of the players have newly discovered it. While I agree with many of the points of this article, I do feel like there can be a happy middle ground. There is something to be said about “cracking packs” and finding “spoils”. It is exciting and appeals to that small part of the psyche. The ideal situation is to balance the cost to the player and the ability to create excitement through collecting. A huge thing that “LCG”s lose is the ability to create a “trade community” and that is a HUGE part of games like MTG, Yugi and others. That is a big part of what keeps games like those growing, the community that sticks together due to trading and “investment”.

        • Thanks for posting. Spoils has a lot of my respect as they are one of the few indie published CCGs to get any traction at all. Still, the amount of work that went into that must have been astounding. My stores sold it for a few months, but like all CCGs when the players dry up so does the game and we’re stuck with boosters left over we can’t give away.

  2. I agree completely. Never having bought into any CCG or TCG myself, I don’t think I ever will soley from a financial standpoint. I can collect many full games at $20-100 a piece much faster and with more reliable results than taking chances on booster after booster pack.

    I’ve been crafting a game (in my head so far, no physical goods as of yet) that could benefit from periodic releases of cards or other game components. As easy as it would be to say “hey, I could make it a CCG and flip the cash cow switch and be rolling in dough,” I don’t think that’s the answer for most games.

    I feel like focusing on finalizing what you have and releasing well play-tested, balanced games and expansions will be more beneficial to you and your customers.

    • Shawn on

      Just to further reiterate what James is saying, Chris… The CCG/TCG model isn’t just not the answer for “most games,” but for any game any longer. The time of the CCG has passed with the exception of the few that already have their player bases sewn up.

  3. Great post James! CCG was a flawed format from the start. It encouraged dedication and moneybags more than strategy and skill. Rarity was a good method to get people to pay over and over, a brilliant way to make money when it was a new format. We’re all tired of it though.

    Some brilliant games have been built around deck construction. As much as I love them, I can no longer support them financially. I imagine many gamers feel the same way I do. My disposable income was sunk into so many booster packs you’ll never catch me looking twice at one. Even the LCG format has grown stale on me, the packs come out too often, and creating the best decks requires being up to date. Power creep is the real problem with this model. Expansions always end up better than the core set.

    I was very hopeful for smash-up’s shuffle building, but I have heard absolutely nothing good about it. Nothing bad either, but apparently it was not what I’d hoped it would be. Not enough strategy I guess. Deckbuilding is fun, but really it doesn’t capture that feeling of making your deck for me because you often buy the best thing you can with the money you have. It’s more tactical than strategic as you deal with what is in your hand, and what is in your deck is your second thought.

    I’m not sure where we should go from here. I don’t think LCG or ECG or whatever it gets called is the way to go either. I think Fantasy Flight has cornered that market. Deckbuilding games are getting old too as more clones come out. Albeit some feature interesting innovations, there are just too many. We need to innovate deck construction again. In a way that doesn’t require as much investment in time/money as LCGs/ECGs but is more strategic than deckbuilders.

    As an industry we need and want more innovation and less iteration of established formats. Who ever can fill that need and desire will see a huge response, just like CCGs saw in their time. Just like Deckbuilding is seeing now. So designers… Go out and innovate already!!!

  4. In support of the LCG format that Smash-up has, I feel that it has the perfect balance. It hits many niches, is very well balanced, and the expansions feel “worth it” without being overpowering. Not forcing players to expand, yet allowing those that wish to, to do so.

    I agree as to the CCGs’ decline though, as the format, on many levels, is just flawed. I think the only reason many play now, is that they feel too deeply invested to quit, and pressure others into the hobby to help offset their own losses.

  5. Zolgar on

    I have a CCG, it’s totally unique and original, I call it Sorcery: The Collecting.

    Who should I submit it to?


    • If you’re being serious, I am sorry I can’t recommend anyone as no publishers I know would take on a CCG. Retool it into an LCG/XCG and then try to sell it.

  6. Benjamin on

    I just have to say….
    I’m designing a game right now – hardest thing I’ve ever done – throwing away ten ideas for every one I keep. Originally planned a CCG model deck-building experience, even with the market so tight and hostile to them. I stumbled upon this article, and I finally get it. Thanks for the frank conversation!
    It will not be hard to tune my game into something that can be bought in sets. In fact I’m starting to see the advantages of it.

  7. Hi James. So I had a question, what would you think of a card game that followed the LCG/XCG format but also had booster packs available solely on a cosmetic basis. Say, the art were alternate colors of the same card. There would be no competitive edge and would solely be for collectors purposes. There would be 1 of those alternate color cards per pack, maybe 1 per 2 packs, maybe multiple of the cards a pack. Would that idea of a booster pack still be feasible to you today?

    • The idea of a booster pack is that it’s random and that you are forcing a customer to pay for your game multiple times. That is the issue no one wants. Then you are assuming way too much if you think people want to collect your game before your game is even a hit product. So its something you should think about much later not now. I own game stores and the only people willing to buy more packs of a game just for art and such are the kids playing Pokemon cause they don’t even play the damn game. So the IP sells it, not the actual play of the game. If you have no IP, again who wants to collect it? P.S. If you wish to discuss more please use our FACEBOOK GROUP.

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