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3 Clever Ways a Card Game Makes People Addicted to Buying More

buy moreShopping can be addictive.

We’ve all seen people who buy the craziest things like their life depended on it! Here’s just one, rather crazy example: fantasy trading cards (no kidding – that’s a $1billion/year business).

But you don’t often come across an explanation on how you can make people more “addicted” to buying your products or services, which probably make more sense – and are much more “useful” – than fantasy cards.

So, let’s take a look at what makes millions of people buy cards (lots of them) and what makes buying those cards so addictive.  And why, may you ask, are we looking at fantasy playing cards? Believe it or not, there are at least three lessons about getting people addicted to your product or service that you can pick up from card game businesses.

To be clear, none of these ideas are manipulative. Instead, these are ways to make people enjoy your products so much that they get addicted to buying them.

If you incorporate even one of these aspects into your products, people will get hooked. And buy more. Much more.

The Example Case

Wizards of The Coast is the company that created a trading card game called Magic: The Gathering. Simply put, you buy fantasy-themed cards that you then use to play against other players.

The company makes $1billion+/year revenue (though not all of it comes from Magic), so don’t mistake it as a basement project.

Based on what the local dealer had to say, the most sold product is a “booster pack,” which includes 15 semi-randomized cards.

So, millions of players spend hundreds of millions buying packs of cards without knowing what’s in them.

Why? Let’s take a look.

Idea #1: Random Big Wins

You get hooked on doing something because you get a “reward” when you do it. Perhaps surprisingly, you get more hooked if you get the reward only randomly. Predictable, even rewards aren’t nearly as hooking.

For example, people like gambling (in part) because they don’t win every time. Instead, when they pull that slot machine handle dozens of times, every now and then they get rewarded for it.

If you put a dollar into a slot machine, you hope to hit the $1,000 jackpot. And even though your chances of hitting it are far worse than 1/1000, it still seems to “make sense” because you invest so little and get a chance to win so much.

Humans are bad at understanding probabilities, just like we’re bad at breathing under water. (Not to mention how complicated calculating probabilities can get.) So, if you think this behavior doesn’t make logical sense, you’re right – but that doesn’t stop people from doing it.

In Magic, for example, most “booster packs” have a card that is “rare” (i.e. more valuable than the others). And a few of those rare cards are much, much more valuable than other cards (e.g., $10, $30, or $100, instead of the usual $0.10).

Even though you know the likelihood of getting the one rare card you really want is minimal (perhaps ~1%), you have the chance to get it for only $2-3 (the price of one booster pack).

Spending that $3 to get a chance of getting that $30 card seems like a good idea. The chance of getting a “big win” for a small investment is addictive.

How does this apply to your business? Well, can you give people a chance to win something when they buy your products? If you can, especially if the prizes are big, buying your products becomes addictive.

Note that giving a tiny chance to win a huge prize motivates people to buy more than giving a decent chance at smaller prizes. However, if people don’t feel a sense of reward often enough, they will soon get discouraged.

So, couple rare big wins with a steady flow of small wins, and people won’t stop buying your product or service.

Idea #2: Steady Small Wins

People aren’t stupid; they will stop buying lottery tickets if they don’t get a single win (big or small) after buying thousands of tickets.

That’s why you should give people smaller wins that create a sense of reward and make people believe in their chances of winning the big prize.

Looking at the booster packs, you always get some cards. And at least one of them is rare. So, you’re guaranteed at least a small victory each time, especially when even the most common cards can be useful when playing – they’re just not expensive.

I assumed that if you bought a stack of booster packs, you usually “make your investment back.” In other words, if you’d bought the same cards as individual cards, you’d probably spend more money on them.

To test my expectation, I bought a couple of small stacks of booster packs and calculated the prices for the individual cards in them.

The first stack ended up costing almost exactly the same amount as buying the cards individually. That might be the norm, though I’m not sure.

But the other stack would’ve cost more than twice as much as individual cards. It was the “big win” players (and customers) dream of.

So, you rarely feel too disappointed after buying booster packs – even if you didn’t get the specific super rare card you were hoping for.

And because of that, buying them is just about as addictive as gambling.

If you even partly rely on people buying your products in the hopes of getting a “big win,” make sure they get at least some reward frequently enough to feel good about the purchases. That’s what makes buying your products addictive.

But as far as the booster packs go, there’s one more huge reason buying them is so addictive.

Idea #3: Important Community

People are social animals. When we form positive emotional ties to other people, we don’t want to let go of them.

Many companies have private forums and/or Facebook groups for their customers. And the hope is that the customers feel like a part of a community they can’t part with.

In the case of Magic: The Gathering, the community is a big part of the game. And a big part of the community is trading cards.

Simply put, if you don’t have cards to trade, you miss out on much of the fun. And even more importantly, trading cards is the easiest way to become a part of the community; it works as an icebreaker.

So, to become and stay a part of the community, you need to get more cards. The way to do that is buying booster packs.

Wizards of The Coast also does something many companies could learn from: they make sure even new players have a simple way to get into the community.

They don’t organize many events on their own. But they almost force the card dealers to organize low-barrier events, usually on a Friday night.

“Friday Night Magic” is such a global event that practically every major card dealer on the planet organizes a Magic event every Friday.

It’s an ingenious way to draw new players into the community, which then hooks them to the game, the community, and buying cards (typically in the form of booster packs).

If you can create a community your customers get to be a part of, great. However, unless people in the community create emotional ties with each other, the benefits will be minimal.

So, just launching a support forum rarely does the trick. You have to help people make friends. If you succeed in that, you have a lot of loyal customers.

How You Will Make Your Products More Addictive

Many companies run promotions where people get a chance to win something, hoping it will motivate their clients to buy more (idea #1). But they don’t get good results because the prize has nothing to do with what makes them stand out from the competition.

For example, if you sell clothes made of recycled materials, running a “win a luxury trip to Switzerland” wouldn’t have any connection to your business. Sure, some people will be interested, but you might very well end up loosing money in the end.

Instead, you could offer a home composting kit as the prize (if your clientele valued your products for their ecological nature) or a style consultation (if your clientele valued your products for their unique style) or a free workshop on how to make old clothes fashionable (if that’s what your clientele would want from you).

Don’t run a generic promotion. Few people will notice it, and you most likely won’t get the results you hope for.

The first step is always figuring out what makes you stand out from the competition. Your marketing is supposed to make people choose you, so you should know what are the best reasons for them to do so (that’s your value proposition).

Random big wins, steady small wins, and a community – as well as all other ways to make your products more addictive – should support the reasons people choose to do business with you.

If you want to quickly figure out what the best reasons are for people to choose you, go through this 5-step process.

Questions or comments about these three ideas? Did you get a brilliant idea as you read this post? The comments are open below! 😉

About Peter Sandeen

Peter Sandeen dreams of sailing with his wife and dogs on the Finnish coast-unless he's helping someone build a clear marketing message and strategy that creates sales consistently. Download the quick 5-step exercise that shows what ideas are most likely to make people want to buy your products and services.

13 comments

  1. Danielle says:

    This really sparked my creativity. I’ve been working on a card deck and reading this article opened up a “door number 3” for its uses. Thank you

  2. Nick del Pozo says:

    Hey Peter!

    Excellent article, really interesting read. As somebody who has a few thousand dollars worth of MTG cards in the cupboard (and knows people for who the cards in the cupboard are worth 10’s of 1000’s), I can entirely back up pretty much everything you’re saying. You really hit the nail on the head.

    I really like the idea of using these principles in the context of other businesses, so the way you broke it down is much appreciated!

    Great article! Thanks for writing it!

    1. Hey Nick,

      It’s an expensive hobby. Wouldn’t necessarily think it is, but it is. There always seems to be a “better card” for any given deck. And surprise, surprise, it’s a $10+ rare/mythic ;D (and of course you need four)

      Cheers,
      Peter

  3. Sally says:

    I like these ideas – it reminds me of the “gamification” concept. People are drawn in by the possibility of winning. A bit of competition (and community) helps too.

    As I read your article I was thinking about how to include these ideas into information products. I’m creating a new training program and you gave me some ideas on how to incorporate big and small wins into my program and marketing. For example, by promising the potential of a big win (the ultimate benefit) with smaller (and more achievable) wins along the way.

    Thanks for sharing. And for giving me some new ideas..!

    1. Hey Sally,

      Glad to hear this helped 🙂 I’m interested to hear what the big and smaller wins are in your training and how it works out in the end…

      Cheers,
      Peter

  4. Hi Peter,

    Excellent analogy. The community aspect stands out to me.

    Folks love possibly hitting it big, and also, the small, steady wins but being part of a community puts the card niche you spoke of over the top. We all want to belong because we’re social creatures.

    Smart marketers or businesses go above and beyond to create an inclusive community of fans who can get together or meet through a variety of mediums. In this day, they’re online forums and private Facebook Groups but they can be offline meeting spots as well.

    People dig hanging with like-minded people concerning something special which brings the folks together. We’re all in tribes of some sort, and when smart businesses capitalize on this idea of tribing it up they will influence folks to buy more and more and more, and of course, they’ll also tap into oh so powerful word of mouth marketing.

    Awesome share Peter, thanks much for the helpful breakdown.

    Ryan

    1. Hey Ryan,

      Yep, even introverts (like me) are social animals. The community aspect is often talked about in marketing blogs/books/courses/etc., but the fact that people can actually meet each other in flesh is often forgotten 🙂

      Cheers,
      Peter

  5. Leon says:

    An enjoyable read; thank you. My question is, I work in Indonesia where gambling is illegal. How can I dress my event up to present the same rewards without it seeming like gambling/betting contest?

    I presented the idea of a product lottery recently and was shot down because of it not being a part of the ‘acceptable’ culture here.

    1. Hey Leon,

      I don’t know about the culture aspect, so I can’t really help much. What I presented in the post has nothing to do with gambling on Finnish standards. So, a similar idea wouldn’t raise any eyebrows here.

      For me the difference is that people can justify the purchase without the gambling aspect, too (even though it’s not really smart).

      Cheers,
      Peter

  6. cecalli@gmail.com says:

    Ok Peter, this is one of the best posts I’ve read from you. Its a great way of making valuable and more profitable your business. Thanks!

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