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MTG Arena’s latest update takes monetization too far

‘Psychic Frog’s Horizon Hideaway’ has a cutesy name, but it adds more psychological manipulation to MTG Arena’s free to play economy.

A pink and blue frog with yellow eyes and a black tongue hangs from a branch, the mascot for the latest round of MTG Arena monetisation

The June 11 update to MTG Arena has added an insidious new layer of monetisation to the platform. The ‘Psychic Frog’s Horizon Hideaway’ is a time-limited premium currency store that adds more psychological tricks to the game’s efforts to get you to spend money.

Reader, I wish this wasn’t the MTG Arena story I was writing. Since the latest MTG set went live on Arena on Tuesday I’ve spent played through two Modern Horizons III Sealed events and hot dog is it a fun limited environment. I can’t wait to rebuild my MTG Arena decks with some new powerhouse cards.

But this update has also been the vehicle for WOTC to introduce a whole new layer of psychological manipulation to the platform, and that takes precedence.

MTG Arena monetisation - example of reward tokens being earnt

As of the latest update, and until July 30, winning games and completing daily quests in MTG Arena will earn you tickets. These tickets can be spent to buy cosmetics, mythic cards, packs, and up to one draft token in the Psychic Frog’s Horizon Hideaway store. But there’s a catch.

The Hideaway store is only open until July 30, and while you can look at it, you can’t touch it. You can browse the contents, even see which items you could afford to spend your tickets on, but it costs 2,800 gems to unlock the right to purchase anything. Gems are a premium currency which aren’t actually sold in blocks of 2,800, but you can buy 3,400 for $19.99 or €22.49.

This form of monetisation isn’t exceptional for free to play titles, but it is manipulative. Specifically, the fact that you are given oodles of ‘free’ tokens which will rot in a little over a month exploits the natural human tendency known as ‘loss aversion’. It’s a well known principle in psychology, economics, and game design, as board game designer Geoffrey Engelstein explains in this GDC talk:

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Humans hate to lose things and love to gain things, and this makes us bad at judging value rationally. If offered the choice of receiving one dollar and having a 50/50 chance to get another dollar, or receiving two dollars and having a 50/50 chance to lose one of them, people tend to pick option one. It doesn’t matter that both choices have, mathematically, identical options – people hate to lose things.

So by giving you a bunch of ‘free’ tickets that you can’t use, Wizards of the Coast is setting you up for an uncomfortable sense of loss. Unless, of course, you buy entry to the Horizon Hideaway. Tick tock! Don’t wait! Those tickets will be gone by the end of July!

MTG Arena Horizon Hideaway shop

Once you’ve paid for entry to the Horizon Hideaway, you may feel that you need to grind for tickets to make the most of your purchase, even beyond the point when you’re having fun. This is the ‘sunk cost fallacy’, the tendency to make decisions about what’s valuable now based on costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered.

Just like the Battle Pass system – which by the way, is still running, in parallel with the Horizon Hideaway – this serves to focus players’ attention on Arena through the extrinsic reward system of gold, XP, and tickets. It’s a shame that the game is capturing player attention through psychological exploits, rather than because it’s actually fun to play.

I don’t object to free to play games being monetised – developing videogames costs money. But manipulative free to play monetisation creates an environment of constant psychological pressure.

MTG Arena horizon hideaway shop locked

That’s going to make MTG Arena unpleasant or risky for some people. The brunt of payments in free to play games are often made by a small number of high-paying players, who aren’t always the players with the most disposable income.

I received an ADHD diagnosis late in life, and I know from my experiences before getting diagnosed that cracking Magic the Gathering packs and playing videogames can be addictive, particularly during periods of depression. It’s very frustrating to see MTG Arena go even deeper into a monetisation method that will negatively impact people who are vulnerable or suffering.

As I said above, it’s a damn shame that I’m writing about this, because Modern Horizons III sealed absolutely slaps. If you’re trying to stay on track playing Arena as cheaply as possible, make sure you check our guide to older MTG Arena codes to get some free packs. Just click “open all” to minimise the amount of time you’re exposed to the pack-opening animation – it’s habit forming.