Digital collectible card game

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Screenshot of players livestreaming Hearthstone, one of the leading games of the genre Throne of Cards IV, April 2017 16.jpg
Screenshot of players livestreaming Hearthstone , one of the leading games of the genre

A digital collectible card game (DCCG) or online collectible card game (OCCG) is a computer or video game that emulates collectible card games (CCG) and is typically played online or occasionally as a standalone video game. Many DCCGs are types of digital tabletop games and follow traditional card game-style rules, while some DCCGs use alternatives for cards and gameboards, such as icons, dice and avatars. Originally, DCCGs started out as replications of a CCG's physical counterpart, but many DCCGs have foregone a physical version and exclusively release as a video game, such as with Hearthstone .



These games manage all the rules of a CCG, such as tracking the avatar's health, removing damaged creatures from the board, and shuffling decks when necessary. The games are managed on servers to maintain the player's library and any purchases of booster packs and additional cards through either in-game or real-world money. Some games, like Chaotic , Bella Sara , and MapleStory allow online players to enter a unique alpha-numeric code found on each physical card as to redeem the card in the online version or access other features. In other cases, primarily single player games based on the existing physical property have also been made, such as the Game Boy Color version of the Pokémon Trading Card Game and Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers .

Most DCCGs follow rules that exist for real-world implementations of CCGs, simply played out in the virtual space. However, some games like Hearthstone have gameplay elements that would be impractical or impossible to perform in a real-world game but is easily done within the digital game. For example, Hearthstone has a "Discover" keyword that lets players temporarily obtain cards from across the entire Hearthstone library for the duration of a match, even if they do not own that card yet. [1]


1980s–1990s: Origins

Prior to DCCGs, video games had used both card-based mechanics (such as Dragon Ball: Daimaō Fukkatsu in 1988) and collection-based mechanics (such as Megami Tensei (1987), Dragon Quest V (1992) and Pokémon (1996), all based on collecting monsters). The Super Famicom card-battle/role-playing game Dragon Ball Z: Super Saiya Densetsu (1992), based on the Dragon Ball Carddass series, is considered an early precursor to the DCCG, as it allowed the player to collect, buy and sell cards within the game for use in card battles.

Tabletop-based CCGs came about in 1993 with Magic: The Gathering by Wizards of the Coast which became a phenomenon that year in the traditional game market. The CCG craze grew in 1994 onward as a result. This was also approximately the same time that widespread availability of the Internet was launched. DCCGs evolved out of the ability for CCG players to challenge each other online rather than in person, as well as to provide computerized opponents so that players could play these CCGs by themselves. [2]

The first DCCG games eventually appeared in the late 1990s. Early examples of DCCG games include Magic: The Gathering (1997), Chron X (1997), Pokémon Trading Card Game (1998), Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters (1998), and Sanctum (1998).[ disputed ]Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon Trading Card Game were based on their physical CCG counterparts, Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters was based on the fictional CCG from the manga Yu-Gi-Oh! (1996), and Chron X and Sanctum were original DCCG games with no physical CCG counterpart.

There have been CCGs developed solely for computer play and not based on any physical product. The first online CCGs were Sanctum and Chron X , both developed in 1997. Sanctum was taken offline in 2010, but has since returned due to fan intervention; [3] Chron X still exists, producing new expansions over a decade later. Chron X was developed by Genetic Anomalies, Inc, which later developed other DCCG-like games based on licensed content.

2000s: Growth in Japanese market

DCCG games first gained mainstream success in Japan, where online card battle games are a common genre of free-to-play browser games and mobile games. [4] Monster-collecting Japanese RPGs such as Dragon Quest V and Pokémon, and the manga Yu-Gi-Oh, were adapted into successful physical CCG games such as Pokémon Trading Card Game and Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game , which in turn inspired a number of Japanese developers to produce digital CCG games, including adaptations such as Pokémon Trading Card Game and Yu-Gi-Oh! video games, as well as original DCCG games such as the minigame Triple Triad in Final Fantasy VIII (1999), Tetra Master (2002) which debuted as a minigame in Final Fantasy IX (2000) before becoming an online multiplayer game for the PlayOnline service, and Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge (2003). Within the United States, Wizards of the Coast had seen the success of games like Chron X and Sanctum, and initially with the help of a small development firm Leaping Lizard, built out Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO), an online multiplayer client for Magic first released in 2002 which players could spend money and win games to build out card collections. MTGO had a number of growing pains over the years, but remains an active service that is used as one point for entry for several of the main live Magic: The Gathering tournaments. [5]

In Japan, CCGs that are played on arcade game machines with physical card sets came into vogue in the early 2000s, which provided a boost to arcade profits and have been a mainstay in many game centers since. Arcade games of this type have been developed by companies such as Sega, Square Enix and Taito, and are most commonly of the real-time strategy or sports management genres, with some diversion into action RPGs. Players can purchase starter decks for most games separately, and after each play session, the machines will commonly dispense more cards for players to expand their decks. [6] Examples include World Club Champion Football (2002), Mushiking: The King of Beetles (2003), Oshare Majo: Love and Berry (2004), Dinosaur King (2005), Sangokushi Taisen (2005), Dragon Quest: Monster Battle Road (2007), and Lord of Vermilion (2008).

Related, many video games have adopted CCG-type mechanics as part of a larger gameplay mechanism. In such games, the player earns cards as rewards in the game, often following similar rarity systems for distribution, and can customize some type of deck which influences other areas of the game's mechanics. Early example of this hybrid game include Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution (2003), Baten Kaitos (2003), and Metal Gear Acid (2004). Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (2004) was a role-playing game where the combat mechanic was based on attacks pulled from a deck of cards constructed outside of the combat rounds. [7] Similarly, Phantom Dust (2004) was a third-person shooter, but where the player's attack and defense abilities were randomly selected from a customized "arsenal" of powers that they collected through the course of the game. [8] Other examples of CCG-hybrid games include Forced: Showdown , Hand of Fate , and Card Hunter . [9]

The success of Cygames' Rage of Bahamut established DCCG games as a popular genre in mobile gaming, leading to a number of DCCG games being developed for mobile devices. It was also the first DCCG game to become a major success in the Western world, becoming one of the top-grossing mobile games of 2012. [4] DCCG games with significant populations of players include The Idolmaster Cinderella Girls , Kantai Collection and Million Arthur . In late 2012, Cinderella Girls was earning over one billion yen in revenue monthly, [10] whilst Kantai Collection has grown to more than one million players throughout Japan. [11]

Unofficial ways to play some digital versions of CCGs also exist, such as brand specific programs like Magic Workstation . [5] The bulk of DCCG programs however are not specific to any brand, such as LackeyCCG and Gccg or general game simulators like Tabletop Simulator , though the legality of these systems relative to the CCG's copyright is dubious. Such systems are often used to play copyrighted games whose manufacturers are no longer publishing the game, most notably Decipher's Star Wars Customizable Card Game [12] and Precedence’s Babylon 5 Collectible Card Game . Most of these systems do not have the CCG's ruleset programmed into the game, and instead require players to perform the necessary actions as required by the physical game's rules.

2014–present: Hearthstone vs. MTG Arena

Blizzard Entertainment released Hearthstone in 2014. Loosely based on the World of Warcraft CCG, Hearthstone features one-on-one match between players with custom made decks, built from a player's collection of digital cards. The game was designed to eliminate reactions by the opposing player during your turn to speed up the game and allow it to be played across a variety of devices. [13] By 2015, Hearthstone had an estimated $20 million in revenues per month, [14] and by April 2016, had more than 50 million unique players. [15] Hearthstone's success led to a number of similar digital-only CCGs in the following years. [16] Wizards of the Coast announced in early 2017 that they plan to create a new studio to adapt the Magic: The Gathering game into a digital format similar to Hearthstone. [5] [17] Titled Magic: The Gathering Arena , it entered closed beta testing in early 2018, and over time is expected to replace MTGO as the main online game for Magic tournament play. [5] [18]

The digital card game market was expected to be as large as $1.4 billion in 2017, according to market analysis firm SuperData. [16] Hearthstone encouraged the release of the digital CCGs Gwent: The Witcher Card Game and The Elder Scrolls: Legends . [16] Shadowverse has also been compared favorably with Hearthstone. [19]

In addition, there are several small, online CCGs run completely free by the card game creators and volunteer staff. These games at their most basic include a number of decks created for members to collect and trade. These cards are earned through games and contests at the CCG, with additional prize cards earned by collecting all cards in a deck (mastering) or completing a certain number of trades. Members typically visit each other's websites where they house their card collections, and propose trades to each other through forums or e-mail.

In some cases, new elements are added to the digital CCG to improve the experience that cannot be recreated physically. The online card games Sanctum and Star Chamber include, e.g.: game boards, animations and sound effects for some of their cards. The NOKs, on the other hand, offer talking figures and action-arcade game play. In a different case, The Eye of Judgment , a CCG that has been combined with a PlayStation 3 game, bringing innovation with the CyberCode matrix technology. It allows real cards bought in stores to be scanned with the PlayStation Eye and brought into the game with 3D creatures, animations, spell animations, etc. as representations. Hearthstone uses mechanics that would be difficult or impossible to recreate in a physical setting, such as cards that allow players to draw a random card from the entire card library currently supported by the game. [13]

Developers have also looked for other revenue models for offering digital CCGs to players. Valve's Artifact is heavily based on their multiplayer online battle arena game Dota 2 , and thus features three boards (called "lanes") instead of the usual one. [20] Instead of purchasing boosters with random cards, players purchased specific cards for Artifact from the Steam storefront, allowing the card economy to be driven by players. [21] Gods Unchained by Immutable uses digital cards that are individually tied to blockchain elements (NFTs). While these cards cannot be updated, players can use blockchain transactions to buy, sell, and trade the cards with other players while online and enabling their use offline. [22]


With the growth of mobile gaming and streaming viewerships, digital card games are a significant part of the video game market. SuperData estimated that digital card games will bring over US$1.5 billion in 2018, with a quarter of that from Hearthstone, and the potential to grow to US$2 billion by 2020. [23]

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Magic: The Gathering</i> Collectible card game

Magic: The Gathering is a tabletop and digital collectible card game created by Richard Garfield. Released in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast, Magic was the first trading card game and had approximately thirty-five million players as of December 2018, and over twenty billion Magic cards were produced in the period from 2008 to 2016, during which time it grew in popularity.

Booster pack

In collectible card games, digital collectible card games and collectible miniature wargames, a booster pack is a sealed package of cards or figurines, designed to add to a player's collection. A box of multiple booster packs is referred to as a booster box.

<i>Pokémon Trading Card Game</i> Collectible card game based on Pokémon

The Pokémon Trading Card Game, abbreviated to PTCG or Pokémon TCG, is a collectible card game based on the Pokémon franchise by Nintendo. It was first published in October 1996 by Media Factory in Japan. In the US, it was initially published by Wizards of the Coast; Nintendo eventually transferred the rights to The Pokémon Company which has published the game since June 2003. In 2016, it was the year's top-selling toy in the strategic card game subclass. In 2017, it had an 82% share of Europe's strategic card game market. As of March 2021, the game has sold over 34.1 billion cards worldwide.

<i>Yu-Gi-Oh!</i> Trading Card Game Trading card game

The Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game is a Japanese collectible card game developed and published by Konami. It is based on the fictional game of Duel Monsters created by manga artist Kazuki Takahashi, which appears in portions of the manga franchise Yu-Gi-Oh!, and is the central plot device throughout its various anime adaptations and spinoff series.

<i>Magic: The Gathering Online</i> Video game adaptation of Magic: The Gathering

Magic: The Gathering Online is a video game adaptation of Magic: The Gathering, utilizing the concept of a virtual economy to preserve the collectible aspect of the card game. It is played through an Internet service operated by Wizards of the Coast, which went live on June 24, 2002. The game does not run on mobile as Magic: the Gathering Arena does, since it is only install-able on Microsoft Windows. Users can play the game or trade cards with other users.

Redemption (card game) Collectible card game based on the Bible

Redemption is a collectible card game based on the Bible. It involves Biblical characters, places, objects, and ideas. The object of the game is for players to use their Heroes to rescue Lost Souls by defeating their opponent's Evil Characters, with the first player to rescue five Lost Souls winning the game. Redemption was first published in July 1995 by Cactus Game Design and its creator, Rob Anderson, continues to develop and produce the game and is the final authority on rulings.

Fantasy Flight Games American game company

Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) is a game company based in Roseville, Minnesota, United States, that creates and publishes role-playing, board, and card games. As of 2014, it is a subsidiary of Asmodée Éditions.

Gundam War: Mobile Suit Gundam the Card Game also known simply as Gundam War is an out-of-print collectible card game based on the Gundam anime series produced by Bandai. Players can simulate battles in the anime series. The game is designed for 2 players, though there may be different fan-created multiplayer rules. This game is sometimes confused with the Gundam M.S. War Trading Card Game, since both are published by Bandai and are based on the Gundam series.

<i>Marvel Trading Card Game</i> Video game for Nintendo DS, Windows, and PlayStation Portable

Marvel Trading Card Game is a video game for the Nintendo DS, Windows, and PlayStation Portable. It was developed by Vicious Cycle Software and 1st Playable Productions and published by Konami. The game is based on Upper Deck Entertainment's Marvel Comics-based collectible card game, and was released across all three platforms in several regions in 2007.

LackeyCCG is a computer program used to play virtually any collectible card game (CCG) against online opponents or for building and testing of CCG decks offline in a solitaire mode. It also allows for the searching of cards within each CCG. LackeyCCG currently has Mac, Windows and Linux versions. The program was created by Trevor Agnitti and is currently in its beta testing stage.

Collectible card game Game played using specialized playing cards

A collectible card game (CCG), also called a trading card game (TCG) among other names, is a type of card game that mixes strategic deck building elements with features of trading cards, introduced with Magic: The Gathering in 1993.

A sideboard, side deck, or side is a set of cards in a collectible card game that are separate from a player's primary deck. It is used to customize a match strategy against an opponent by enabling a player to change the composition of the playing deck.

<i>Pokémon TCG Online</i> Online video game

Pokémon TCG Online is a 2012 video game based on the Pokémon Trading Card Game developed by Dire Wolf Digital, and is available for Microsoft Windows, macOS, iOS and Android. It was originally released in March 2011 under the name of Pokémon Trainer Challenge as a browser-based game.

<i>Magic Duels</i> 2015 video game

Magic Duels is a video game based on the popular collectible card game Magic: The Gathering. Magic Duels is a successor to Stainless Games' Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers and its annual sequels, released from 2009 through 2014. The free-to-play title was released on July 29, 2015, shortly following the physical release of the Magic Origins core set.

<i>Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links</i> Free-to-play, digital collectible card game

Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links is a free-to-play, digital collectible card game developed by Konami for the iOS, Android and Microsoft Windows platforms, based on Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game. After an initial beta period, the game was first released in Japan on November 17, 2016, and then released to the rest of the world on January 11, 2017. The Windows version was released worldwide via Steam on November 17, 2017.

<i>Magic: The Gathering Arena</i> video game

Magic: The Gathering Arena or MTG Arena is a free-to-play digital collectible card game developed and published by Wizards of the Coast (WotC). The game is a digital adaption based on the Magic: The Gathering (MTG) card game, allowing players to gain cards through booster packs, in-game achievements or microtransaction purchases, and build their own decks to challenge other players. The game was released in a beta state in November 2017, and was fully released for Microsoft Windows users in September 2019, and a macOS version on June 25, 2020. Mobile device versions were released in March 2021.

<i>Legends of Runeterra</i> Digital collectible card game

Legends of Runeterra is a 2020 digital collectible card game developed and published by Riot Games. Inspired by the physical collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, the developers sought to create a game within the same genre that significantly lowered the barrier to entry. Since its release in April 2020, the game has been free-to-play, and is monetised through purchasable cosmetics. The game is available for Microsoft Windows and mobile operating systems iOS and Android.

Mythgard is a digital collectible card game originally developed and published by Rhino Games, and developed by Monumental since October 2021.

A digital tabletop game is a video game genre that includes video games that have gameplay similar to physical tabletop games, including board games, card games, and role-playing games. Many digital tabletop games are adaptions of existing physical games into the video games, though some of these are wholly digital games that use tabletop game mechanics. There are also tabletop game simulators that allow for users to recreate tabletop games from a variety of game pieces.


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