We’ve already covered a huge number of the serious issues with The Pokémon Company’s new Pokémon TCG Live, the replacement for the decade-old digital way to play the card battler, Pokémon TCG Online. But there’s one other aspect that’s gone under-reported, and astonishingly, it’s not a bug: they’ve halved the number of digital cards you receive from your code cards. And speaking to Kotaku, have claimed this is “optimal” for players!
Having made the incredibly poor decision to migrate my account from PTCGO to PTCGL, I have a teetering pile of regrets. While the change is inevitable for everyone eventually—Online is to be switched off as soon as Live comes out of beta—holding off on it is a great idea for so many reasons. Firstly, as clumsy as Online might be, it’s not buggy to all hell. Secondly, as a game with “Trading” in its title, the replacement removes all aspects of trading. Thirdly, migrating will destroy any card you have more than four of, for no compensation. Fourthly... yeah, you get the idea.
But when I noticed that redeeming code cards was only seeing five cards come out of the digital packaging, I assumed something had gone very wrong with the software. For the last decade, every Pokémon TCG product has come with an extra piece of cardboard, sporting a string of letters and numbers, and a QR code. These have unlocked a digital equivalent of the pack or item you bought, made available to use online. From booster packs to deck boxes to coins to sleeves, it’s been a lovely bonus, and allowed the excellent card battling game to be played without having to meet up in real life. And in every one of those booster packs, you got to unlock ten cards for the online game.
The online booster packs worked the same way as the IRL ones. You got an Energy, a bunch of common and uncommon Pokémon and Trainers, then a reverse hollow (or if you were lucky, alt-art, Trainer Gallery, etc), and a rare. It made sense, and felt eminently fair.
Now, depending which version of the software you’re using, you either get the full ten, or entirely swizzed with half as many. It deeply sucks, and after contacting The Pokémon Company (TPC), Kotaku has learned it’s entirely deliberate.
“For mainline Pokémon TCG expansions such as Sword & Shield [and] Silver Tempest, each code card is designed to yield five cards in Pokémon TCG Live,” TPC told us, “which helps reduce the rate at which non-foil common and uncommon cards are obtained.”
This is the strangest way of promoting their own product, suggesting that receiving less of it for your money is beneficial to their customers. And sure, yes, no one needed the 79 Burmy cards they’d built up in PTCGO, but at the same time, they’d paid for them. Never mind that anyone trying to complete a collection might be chasing down an uncommon they’d happened to miss, and now has their chances more than halved.
However, there’s an (imaginary) economic reason for the decision that has no benefit to players whatsoever. Because PTCGL has drowned itself in so many overlapping and confusing in-game currencies, it has become a difficult balancing act for TPC to manage. One of these currencies is Credits, and these can be spent to buy any card from any collection a player desires. So, yes, if you want you can just get that alt-art Lost Origin Giratina, or the Evolving Skies moon-loving Umbreon—cards that in real life could set you back $500. Credits are gained by winning games and completing battle pass tasks, but also by gaining more than four of any card. Because Live won’t let you have more than four, should you pull another, it’s converted to Credits. And it seems they’ve realized that if they let you get all the bulk from your code cards, you’d get “too much” Credits. And this isn’t my conspiratorial thinking: TPC said it to us themselves:
During game development, we found that 10-card booster packs in Pokémon TCG Live often resulted in more duplicates of non-foil common and uncommon cards. Once the maximum number of copies has been reached for a card type, duplicates will get converted into Credits that can be exchanged for any card that a player does not already have in their collection (up to the maximum number of copies allowed). This issue was mitigated with five-card booster packs, which further balanced the in-game economy and contributed to a more optimal player experience.
Which is to say, they created a new in-game economy that didn’t work very well, so halved the number of cards you receive to fix their mistake. Why are you limited to four of any card? No clue—obviously you can only play four of one type in a battle deck, but it doesn’t offer anyone any misbalancing advantages to possess them. But because you are, and it breaks their new system if you don’t, tough, you lose half your pulls. It’s more “optimal” for you.
However, put those codes into PTCGO, and you’ll still get all ten, for as long as that software is allowed to live.
This doesn’t even get into how disappointing the process of opening packs is in Live compared to Online. Previously, you scanned codes and created a collection for later. There you saw a depiction of the packs, could click on each when you wanted, “tear” them open, and watch all ten cards pop out, any rares flipped for you to reveal. It was a lovely experience. Now, when you scan a code you’re forced to open the five cards immediately, with no ceremony, and none of the sensation of opening a pack. All absolutely bewildering design decisions.
In better news, TPC confirmed for us that despite the very IAP-friendly new Crystals currency, there are no plans to start allowing players to spend real-world money. “Pokémon TCG Live will continue to be a free-to-play game without any in-app purchases, making it accessible for all types of players.”