Topps and WizKids unveiled their first joint project -- a collectible miniatures game that the companies hope will tap into the growing interest in fantasy baseball. Major League Baseball Sportsclix, which will hit store shelves during baseball's 2004 spring training, features more than 150 baseball stars replicated as two-inch high 3-D game pieces. Contestants in the new game will assume the role of baseball managers and pit their teams against each other in a traditional, nine-inning, 27-out game. There will be several different levels of game play -- ranging from 'spring training' play, easy enough for any 8-year-old who understands the basics of baseball, to 'world series' events that reflect all the subtleties of this classic sport. Each individual game piece features the likeness of an actual player, his uniform, and most importantly -- his statistics from the previous year, which are incorporated (via a secret formula) into the numbers on a dial in the figure's base. Thus the Alex Rodriguez figure will be much more likely to get a hit than a Jeromy Burnitz figure.
The retail format for MLB Sportsclix is typical for a collectible miniatures game: starter sets ($19.99 retail), which contain nine figures, a playmat, dice, and rules; and two kinds of booster packs, one for the mass market (2 figures $4.99), and one for the hobby (3 figures $6.99). The figures in the starter sets will be visible, but the packaging of the boosters will hide the figures from view. To enhance the collectibility of the game there will be four levels of rarity among the figures: common, uncommon, rare, and unique. Topps and WizKids plan to issue a new series of figures each spring, with the dials reflecting the player's performance from the previous season. The importance of a player's statistics to the game play, and the long lead time required to manufacture the figures, make it impossible to include rookie players during their actual rookie year, though top rookie players from 2003 such as the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis and the Brewers' Scott Posednik will be included in the initial 2004 edition of the game, which comes out next spring.
The MLB Sportsclix game will feature both the Topps and WizKids logos (with Topps on the front of the packaging). While Topps, America's oldest continuous publisher of sports cards, had considerable input into the nature of the game and will also help distribute it into the mass market, retailers will purchase the game from WizKids under the normal WizKids terms and discounts (which is a good thing considering the lower retail markup on sports cards). WizKids will also fashion a major 'approved play' program based on the Heroclix model. WizKids has planned a full complement of demos, tournaments, and special promotions starting with a number of events during spring training 2004. Promo figures will be available early to help retailers interest their customers in the new game. Game day giveaways at major league ballparks during the 2004 season are a distinct possibility, though none have been scheduled at this time. Details of the full marketing plan for the game have not been finalized yet, though it could include TV ads (pending a demonstration of the effectiveness of WizKids' TV campaign for Creepy Freaks).
While attempts at creating popular sports-based collectible card games have not met with resounding success, WizKids was able to create a popular superhero CMG (Heroclix) in spite of the fact that previous attempts at superhero CCGs (Marvel Recharge) had tanked. In addition to the actual game itself, the figures of the top 150+ Major Leaguers may interest fans, who don't care about the playing a CMG. But perhaps the best hope for a quick success for the MLB Sportsclix lies in tapping into the burgeoning interest in 'fantasy league' sports. MLB Sportsclix is basically a 3-D fantasy league baseball game -- and if the gameplay is right it could take off. Although Topps and WizKids stated in their press release that 'there are currently no plans finalized for additional games,' if the MLB version of Sportsclix takes off, the NFL, with its huge fantasy football following, should be next.