Owner: Interactive Imagination
Description: Launched last October as a collectible card game, Magi-Nation is based on the 3,000-year history of a far-off world called the Moonlands, inhabited by a forgotten race known as the Eliwan (a.k.a. the Magi). The Eliwan are Hobbit-like figures who battle one another and evil Magi by summoning dream-like creatures to life on an alternative plane also known as the Moonlands. If it sounds needlessly Byzantine to you, don’t worry, you’re probably north of Magi-Nation’s intended audience. The property’s detailed history-a creation of former intellectual property lawyer and one-time high school physics teacher Phillip Tavel-has caught on with hardcore gamers, as well as attracting the attention of big-time licensees like Nintendo, which released a Magi-Nation title for Game Boy Color in March. Respecting the anti-commercialism ethos of gamers, Interactive Imagination quietly targeted the first edition of the cards to early game adopters, initially launching them at gaming and hobby shops. Roughly 11 million units sold, and the initial supply was depleted by January. The sell-in for the cards’ mass launch in March doubled that amount, says Tavel. Also helping to spur on the cards’ popularity are the roughly 70 monthly Magi-Nation tournaments that Interactive has helped to organize at retailers across the U.S.
Concept: Inspired in part by Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Tavel’s grand plan was to present Magi-Nation to the trade industry as a complete world from which the company would extend the property into books, TV shows, movies and various consumer products. With the release of the inaugural CCG set Duel, Interactive introduced the first five of 12 regions in Magi-Nation. It will bow with the sixth region when it releases the next set, Awakening, this month, and will gradually unveil the other regions with quarterly card releases over the next three years.
Demo: Kids ages eight to 14
Licensees: Nintendo (Game Boy Color); Prima Publishing (a dual strategy guide for GBC and CCGs)
The Latest: Interactive is currently talking to three networks and two prodcos about developing an animated TV series, as well as working on another Q4-launching title for Game Boy Color and its next iteration Game Boy Advance.
Potential: Interactive Imagination is positioning Magi-Nation as the CCG for kids who have outgrown Pokémon, but aren’t yet ready for the complexity of Magic: The Gathering.
The gameplay of the cards is based on an amalgam of popular CCGs, and is designed so that both veteran and novice gamers can pick it up fairly easily, says Tavel, creative director of the Seattle-based company. The goal of the card game is to use your three Magi cards to defeat your opponent’s Magi by reducing their energy level, which is indicated by a number on the top right-hand corner of each card. Players battle each other by using spell cards and bringing dream creatures to life. They can also augment the power of their spells by playing relic cards, which come in both booster and starter packs. The Game Boy Color title features the same story line, but with some minor differences. In it, players assume the role of Tony Jones, a young boy who’s pulled from earth into Magi-Nation’s world and must collect dream creatures and defeat the evil Core Magi in order to return home.
In terms of merchandising opportunities, 50 companies submitted proposals to make product for the property at Toy Fair, pitching everything from Magi-Nation footwear to housewares. But Interactive Imagination, which is comprised of video game veterans from Squaresoft and Nintendo, is taking a slow-growth approach to licensing to avoid flooding the market with too much product that doesn’t sell, says Greg Richardson von Oy, Interactive’s senior VP and managing director of product development. Among the categories Richardson von Oy says Interactive is planning to license are apparel, collectible figures, game accessories, T-shirts and books. At press time, the company was shopping the manuscripts of two Magi-Nation books, a prequel title and another book that tells the story of Tony Jones and his journey into the Magi world.
Market reality check: Since November, Magi-Nation has ranked among the top four best-selling CCGs at specialty game shops, according to a monthly survey of 6,000 gaming stores published by Comics and Games Retailer.
Lance Miller, manager of Nexus X, a Toronto, Canada-based comics and games store, says the cards are currently outpacing sales of Pokémon and are second only to Magic: The Gathering. ‘We’re finding a lot of kids who were into Pokémon are now transitioning into Magi-Nation,’ says Miller.
In terms of merchandising potential, Matt Wexler, manager of licensing at Toronto-based toyco Spin Master Toys, says the highly detailed look of Magi-Nation-which he finds reminiscent of the video game Zelda-should allow it to translate successfully into a range of product that would have a broad appeal.
‘The characters aren’t too masculine; they have those Sailor-Moon teardrop eyes, so [related merchandise] should interest both boys and girls,’ says Wexler.
As is the case with most properties, Wexler thinks Interactive Imagination needs to secure a TV deal for Magi-Nation in order to create the mass awareness required to drive a merchandise program. Wexler’s only concern, however, is that Interactive chose the CCG line as its platform to launch Magi-Nation.
‘Will kids want to buy toys around a trading card game? If it was a TV show first, and you see the main characters beating each other up or engaging in some conflict, then kids can play with the toys on that level,’ says Wexler. But, he adds, properties that have launched as CCGs-like Magic: The Gathering-have not spawned wildly successful toy lines. Another cause for concern: There’s a history of fantasy-genre properties (see Smurfs and Lord of the Rings) whose entertainment has attracted large fan bases, but has failed to deliver merchandising boons. That said, if the Warner Bros. movie merch program for Harry Potter is successful, it could change how the industry views the licensing potential of fantasy properties, which would bode well for Magi-Nation.