Upper Deck Entertainment is known as a purveyor of trading cards, like sports memorabilia and Konami’s Yu-Gi-Oh! card game. It revolutionized the industry when it came out with premium quality baseball cards, and now it’s launching its first-ever digital card game, Legendary DXP. It’s developed in partnership with SkyReacher Entertainment and will first debut on iOS at the tabletop gaming Gen Con event August 17. Later this year, Upper Deck plans to roll out to Android and Steam as well later this year.
The digital card games market is expected to reach $1.4 billion this year, according to industry analyst SuperData. Blizzard’s Hearthstone, one of the most popular in the genre, is still raking in the cash after its 2014 launch, earning $25 million to $40 million per month and frequently releasing expansion packs. To grab a part of the market, Upper Deck is hoping to capture the interest of its long-time tabletop audience as well as the wider digital card games audience.
Legendary DXP will take the mechanics from Upper Deck’s Legendary lineup, a series of deck-building games where players face off against each other as well as in-game villains. Though its tabletop Legendary catalog features intellectual property such as Marvel’s X-men and Joss Whedon’s Firefly, Legendary DXP is set in Alamyth, a new fantasy world.
Senior brand manager Jason Brenner says that Legendary separates itself from the literal pack in that there are both competitive and co-operative aspects to it, and that it has a five-player mode known as the Gauntlet.
“The one difference is, a lot of competitive card games are two players. It’s me-versus-you, and that’s all there is,” said Brenner in a phone call. “Where Legendary shines is it brings five people together and—not only are these people playing against each other, but each player is also playing against the game.”
As players progress, they’ll combat minibosses and enemies together while building their individual decks. At the end, they have to face off against the Mastermind, a final boss who players have to defeat within four turns. Once the Mastermind is defeated, the player with the most points wins. It could turn cutthroat depending on whether players view each other as either friends or foes.
Legendary DXP is developed in partnership with SkyReacher Entertainment. In January 2016, Upper Deck launched e-Pack, a digital marketplace where customers could buy physical trading cards and collectibles. This is the first time the company has done a digital launch for its entertainment products, though CEO Jason Masherah says it’s something they’ve had an eye on for quite some time.
“We kicked things back off in 2012 with our Legendary mechanic,” said Masherah. “Very quickly, as we got into that, watching what was going on in the world around us, we realized that at some point we had these assets and these game mechanics, and there would be a huge opportunity for us to take them digital.”
Because of the way distribution is set up, Masherah says it’s hard to estimate how many people play the Legendary tabletop games, but he says that it’s “somewhere in the six figures.” In the past three weeks of closed beta or so, Upper Deck has seen interest from folks who haven’t had a chance to play the tabletop version whether because of limited availability or its high $60 price.
Brenner says that they’ve also been drumming up interest in the community and amongst live streamers in particular.
“We’ve already reached out to quite a few folks on all fronts — Twitch, Facebook, Twitter. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from people who I wouldn’t have imagine would follow us and be interested in the conversations we’ve been having,” said Brenner. “A lot of people don’t have access to the game right now. A lot of folks are just watching the conversation, watching the videos going up, watching the screenshots.”
Legendary DXP will be a “freemium” game — though it’s free to download, players will have to pay a fee to unlock all the content. During its Gen Con launch from August 17 to 20, players will pay an early fee of $2; after that, it will be $5 to unlock everything. Brenner also says that there will be cosmetic items players can purchase, as well as in-game currency and items that players can only earn by playing through the Gauntlet.
After it rolls out to all its platforms, Upper Deck plans on starting to experiment with other events-based content along with some esports tournaments.
“We were the ones that created the tournament structure that all the trading card games are based on. A lot of what’s going on in esports dates back to that tournament structure that was created by Upper Deck in the early 2000s,” said Masherah. “I know [Brenner] and his team have some things in mind, some strategies in place to bring that tournament structure and organized play to the next level as we move forward on the digital front. We’ve learned a lot over the years on organized play in the physical world, and we think we’ll be able to bridge those two for the first time.”