Why Did Mojang's Scrolls Go On Life Support?

By Jeff Francis
What's the reason for the Scrolls hiatus?

When Mojang developed and released Minecraft, it resulted in two things. One, it gave birth to a gaming revolution that allowed gamers to release their creative nature in ways unseen since mmo games first burst upon the market. Second, it gave Mojang a license to print money that most other game companies (with the exception of Blizzard) can only dream of. The game sold tens of millions of units, thus allowing the company to go off the beaten path with their next project. The company then began work on Scrolls, a hybrid trading card game and strategic wargame. Sadly, the company recently announced that a Scrolls hiatus was going into effect, and that nothing new would be released for the game. With so many resources behind it, why did Mojang's Scrolls go on life support?

The Scrolls mmo had recently released their latest patch, Echo, but a grim announcement met players on the game's homepage just a few days later. It said, "After much deliberation, we’ve come to an important decision that we’d like to share: Echoes will be the last major content patch for Scrolls. We won’t be adding features or sets from now on, though we are planning to keep a close eye on game balance. Scrolls will still be available to purchase for the time being, and our servers will run until at least July 1st, 2016. All future proceeds will go towards keeping Scrolls playable for as long as possible. The launch of the Scrolls beta was a great success. Tens of thousands of players battled daily, and many of them remain active today. Unfortunately, the game has reached a point where it can no longer sustain continuous development." So what went wrong as events culminated in a Scrolls hiatus?

To my eye, there are a few plausible reasons why Mojang's Scrolls did not go over as planned. The first reason is one that affects many mmo games: poor sales. When the game went into paid beta, it sold quite briskly, selling 100,000 units. After that initial rush, sales dropped drastically. It was reported that the game sold a mere 10,000 units in a three month period after the initial splash. Compounding the issue was that concurrent players numbered only about three to four thousand players a day. (This is not a healthy number at all.) The fact that players had to spend $21 to play a TCG was probably another obstacle that the game had to face. The vast majority of TCG mmos on the market are free-to-play, which makes having gamers pay for a similar gaming experience a really tough sell. Eventually, Mojang lowered the price all the way down to $5 in order to drum up sales. One reason that the developers gave for this price reduction was that they wanted the game playable across multiple platforms (PC, tablet, etc.) with a single community binding them all together. They saw that other mobile games had a far lower price than the $21 that they were asking, so they decided to lower the price to garner more mobile gamers.

To be honest, such a strategy would work of the game was enjoyable to play on a mobile device. While those who played Scrolls like the game, it's not your standard casual fare that is normally found on mobile devices. The game mixes both TCG mechanics with wargame strategy mechanics to create a totally unique game. Scrolls features a ton of strategy, both in deck building and also in arranging and moving your forces on the battlefield. This is not a game that you can play casually while riding the bus or waiting for your car to be fixed. I think Mojang would have been better served keeping the game confined to the PC platform and eventually consoles. That way, they could have maintained their higher price point.

Another reason for the Scrolls hiatus is the name of the game itself. Mojang got themselves into a legal tangle with Bethesda over the name. Bethesda felt that the name Scrolls would cause gamers to confuse that game with their Elder Scrolls games (such as Elder Scrolls Online). The two companies finally came to an agreement where Mojang would not trademark Scrolls or compete with the Elder Scrolls games. While the agreement allowed the game to continue, it did have repercussions. Any legal battle costs money, so that's resources taken away from the game. Second, not being able to trademark your own game limits how you can monetize that intellectual property down the road. Plus, there's the fact that Scrolls is usually assumed to be Elder Scrolls Online when you try to use a search engine to look it up. The only sure way to actually get to the game's website was to type "Mojang Scrolls" instead of "Scrolls mmo" or some other variation. Making yourself harder to find on the internet is not a recipe for success.

Scrolls match

Lastly, some of the gameplay elements may have led to the Scrolls hiatus. The game is challenging and not for the casual gamer. There's also no single-player version or campaign for players to mess around with. As Minecraft was the perfect solo gaming experience, I think many players thought that the second project by Mojang would have been solo-friendly. Such is not the case. Player expectations may have been too high as well, and, thus, a contributor to the Scrolls hiatus. The frenzy associated with Minecraft is something that I have not seen since mmorpg games first burst upon the scene. I think many players felt that Mojang would have hit a grand slam with their second game as they definitely had a lot more resources to put into it. While they got a solid game, it was not the revolutionary leap forward that many players were probably hoping for. It didn't stand out from its competitors the way that Minecraft did (and still does).

Does this mean that the Scrolls hiatus is permanent? Personally, I think so. Unless a ravening horde of gamers suddenly decide to buy the game, and then spend money within the game, then I don't see a long future for it. The best bet for the game to continue on is to become free-to-play, and Mojang have repeatedly said that they don't wish to do that. In the end, a number of factors contributed to the current Scrolls hiatus. While each individual one was not a death blow, the combination of all of them dealt the game an extremely severe blow. One that it looks like it'll be unable to recover from.

Jul082015

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