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THE MYSTERY OF THE NEWEST MILLION DOLLAR PLAYING CARD KICKSTARTER

MetaZoo's playing card Kickstarter raised $1 million in funding in one day. But how?

Like most of you reading this, I love playing cards. And like many of you, I'm active in the playing card community, and try to keep up with the latest news and releases. Last month I was staggered to come across MetaZoo's playing card Kickstarter, entitled MetaZoo: Cryptid Nation USPCC Playing Cards. Nothing too unusual so far. It was billed as a deck of MetaZoo playing cards. Printed by USPCC. Cartoony style art. Three different deck options: Cryptid Nation, Nightfall, and Wilderness. Not really my cup of tea, to be honest. Nothing to see here, move along.

But then I noticed something astonishing. This project raised over $1 million in funding in just a single day. In fact, it met its funding goal of $50,000 in just 15 seconds after launch. By the time it closed it had reached $1,857,777. What? Playing card enthusiasts like me looked at this project and were rather baffled. Because it didn't seem to have the art or appeal anywhere near the top playing card projects we've seen before. And yet it had had a level of success that is almost unprecedented. And it came totally out of nowhere. What was going on, and how was this even possible?

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Full disclosure: I knew absolutely nothing about MetaZoo before coming across this Kickstarter. And I have zero connection with the company or its products. But I am curious, and I do like solving mysteries. And this was one mystery that begged to be solved!

THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION

There's a number of good reasons why the success of this project came as a big surprise to many of us in the playing card community.

1. It's rare for a playing card project to generate even half a million dollars in funding.

First of all, in the playing card world today, a Kickstarter project that hits a few hundred thousand dollars is a huge success. But a million dollar Kickstarter? That's almost unheard of. In fact, it was unheard of until September 2021 when Vivid Kingdoms Playing Cards came along from artist Ten Hundred. That was literally the first ever million dollar playing card project on Kickstarter. I've written up the Vivid Kingdoms story in a previous article.

So the fact is that only one Kickstarter project for playing cards has even hit a million bucks before, and that was just four months ago. Prior to that, only three playing card Kickstarters had even topped half a million dollars. If you're interested to see the highest funding ones, here's a list of the top 20 ever playing card projects, which I compiled a few months prior to Vivid Kingdoms coming out. At the time I put that list together, barely 20 decks had even topped $150,000. And that's in over a decade of playing card projects on Kickstarter!

So for this MetaZoo Playing Cards project to come out of nowhere and almost instantly become the second most successful Kickstarter for playing cards ever is completely mind-blowing. How did this even happen?

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2. The playing cards seem to have mediocre artwork and design.

The mystery deepens when you check out the playing cards themselves. Experienced collectors of custom decks became even more perplexed when they looked at the artwork and design of the project.

Here are some of the reactions I got from fellow enthusiasts in the playing card community over on Reddit when this project first appeared on the radar:
● "How?!? It's hot garbage with amateur art." - nescent78
● "While I’m happy for their success I find zero appeal in the project." - Rosellis
● "My 5 year old would love this. Not my style." - Parallelism09191989
● "I'm glad I'm not the only one looking at this and going "but why?" Sorry, but not a fan of the art on these at all, and will happily save my money for other projects." - fantasyxxxfootball
● "Is this not bad art tho?" - Robo-bird
● "What the heck is this? ... This just looks like knock off Pokemon gen 1 art with less than amusing character designs. I like the idea, but the playing card designs don't seem to be the most interesting designs." - ComicNeueIsReal

While the cards are cute and all, it's a very niche style of design that doesn't strike you as having an instant mass appeal. It's not as if there's an extravagant tuck box with gold foil or flashing lights. There's no expensive luxury boxed set with custom wood design that could bring in the dollars either. Each support tier comes with decks of playing cards, plus a handful of promo cards from the trading card game that this is a spin-off from. And that's it.

So the cards themselves aren't innovative, nor are there flashy tuck box options. We're still puzzled.

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3. The game behind the playing cards seems to have mediocre reviews and be relatively unknown.

And what about the trading card game that this project is connected with? The project page indicates: "MetaZoo Games is a Trading Card Game (TCG) featuring Beasties such as Cryptids, Yokai, and other creatures of Folklore!" The first set of the game came out on Kickstarter in 2020, and this new playing card project is only the company's second Kickstarter. But in between they've produced several sets for their trading card game, and so the playing cards apparently celebrate the release of the first three Core Sets: Cryptid Nation Base Set, Nightfall, and Wilderness.

So was the original project perhaps a runaway success, maybe? I checked out the original Kickstarter for the base game. But it was hardly a smashing success. It had just 255 backers, and attracted only $18,249 in funding. Nothing that would seem to explain a million dollar funding level for the company's second only Kickstarter project for a deck of cards based on the game.

Next I headed off to BoardGameGeek, which is the world's biggest database and website on games, and has millions of users who are experienced gamers. It's typically the best place to learn information about any game in the world. Surely there I would learn if this MetaZoo trading card game was actually a very popular underground hit, and had a rabid community of fans and players somewhere in the world. Trading Card Games can be enormously popular - just think of the three giants of the genre: Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Magic the Gathering. To my surprise, as of right now the MetaZoo TCG has less than 10 ratings over on BoardGameGeek. That's an extraordinarily low number for a game that has any degree of popularity.

What's more, all the comments and the reviews weren't very positive. Only three people had written something about the game, and here's what they had to say:
● Rating: 6/10. "A mix of a Pokemon and Magic from a small publisher. The artwork is childish in a pencil-drawn way that looks like notebook scribbles, but I don't mind it that way. The gameplay uses one unique idea regarding the "4th wall" which can give buffs based on your literally surroundings - the weather in your area, things you can see out the window, etc. It's a neat idea that allows the relative strength of some cards to vary. Gameplay is a little bit fiddly and rules show lack of polish. I would play it some more but won't need to own it." - DroppEcho
● Rating: 1/10. "Game is terrible. Owners stink. Distribution is wack. Thumbs down." - StuffyDole
● Rating: 1/10. "Yep, this game is absolute ****. Our RPG group of mates bought starter decks last night just to see what it was all about and wow…stay away. A confusing mess of horrendous art, beyond clunky mechanics, awful production quality and a ridiculous fourth wall gimmick." - Chris Pratt

Yikes. That's painful. So where are these backers coming from, and how on earth could this project generate such a high level of funding? This was quickly becoming a Million Dollar Question.

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THE MILLION DOLLAR ANSWER

I wanted to do some more digging, to try to figure out what was going on here. So I got in touch with some players in the MetaZoo community to find more. And here is what I discovered.

1. MetaZoo is a very successful and upcoming TCG (Trading Card Game).

As a TCG, MetaZoo has been compared favourably with Magic the Gathering TCG and Pokemon. And since the first set came out on Kickstarter a couple of years ago, it has had a meteoric rise, and is enjoying a growing wave of popularity. While there's been minimal buzz or ratings over on BoardGameGeek, that's evidently not an accurate reflection on the size of the community or the success of the game. People into Trading Card Games tend to focus on just a single game, and don't usually hang out on boardgame websites like BoardGameGeek, because they have their own communities that focus entirely on the TCG of their choice. Fair enough.

And the MetaZoo TCG seems to be a decent one. I've even seen it described as "the new king of TCGs". As someone who actively played the popular Magic the Gathering TCG for quite a number of years, I can appreciate how a good TCG can draw people in and have significant success. The art style of MetaZoo seems to be drawing on the vibe and art style of the original Pokemon game, so that nostalgic feel also contributes to its draw. They have marketed themselves to traditional Pokemon fans, and it's working.

I'm told that there is a significant online presence with games being played on Tabletop Simulator, FB groups, and the official Discord. Apparently MetaZoo has a big player base in parts of the US, with weekend tournaments of 50 players and more happening regularly each weekend in Texas. I even came across a report about a planned $100k prize pool tournament for later this year, with rumours that the actual numbers of the prizes given out may even be higher.

One person wrote this: "Every step of its meteoric rise has seemed unlikely, but it just feels unstoppable at this point. There are collaborations with big influencers in the Pokémon community, as well as a partnership with Steve Aoki. They’re adding high profile board members as well. There’s certainly some money and power helping to push the game forward at this point."

So it sounds like they also have some tech-savvy guys on the job, combined with real marketing smarts. Apparently MetaZoo has already done collaborations with clothing and skateboard communities. Video games are also on the horizon, and they're currently exploring things like hologram cards and NFTs. So clearly the people steering this thing have a lot of vision and drive. And MetaZoo as an IP and as a brand has quickly generated a lot of momentum, and that's reflected in the hype surrounding this latest Kickstarter.

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2. The real appeal is in the MetaZoo TCG promo cards you get with the playing cards.

Finally I found myself getting to the bottom of this project's success. It turns out that the real reason for the massive funding is because each tier of support gets you promo cards from the MetaZoo TCG. The larger tiers offered special promo cards that had rarities of just 1000 or 250 each, which makes them potentially very valuable for a TCG. And it's those promo cards that backers are investing in here, not the playing cards. Fans of the game tell me that cards from the original TCG went for big profits. First edition booster boxers retailed for around $130 each originally, but now fetch prices around $900. That represents a very handsome profit, thank you very much. Search for MetaZoo over on eBay and you'll find plenty of auctions for items well over a thousand bucks.

It turns out that the MetaZoo TCG has also attracted criticism for exactly this reason. Quite a number of voices argue that the gameplay isn't particularly outstanding, and that the creators have been over-emphasizing the business element of the game. I've even come across suggestions that they are generating an artificial scarcity beyond reasonable limits, in a quest to attract investors and speculators. And there seems to be some evidence that supports this. Over in MetaZoo circles some fans openly talk about using multiple Kickstarter accounts to get around this Kickstarter's buying limits, so that they can be eligible to get more stuff from the project in order to make easy money. And when you google MetaZoo and check out buzz about it on youtube, there seems to be an inordinate amount of discussions about investing in the TCG. On the whole, there seems to be more content about the value of the MetaZoo cards than about actually using them in games.

While we're not likely to see a new TCG today reach the dizzying heights of classic TCGs like Pokemon, Ug-Gi-Oh!, and Magic the Gathering, there certainly are some examples of good modern TCGs that are achieving real success. But is MetaZoo one of them? The argument has been made that there's more interest in the business side of MetaZoo than the actual game-play. That's not to say it's not a fun game. But MetaZoo's business model does seem to be heavily weighted towards the investment side rather than the game-playing side. Some have even raised real concerns about its future, since it seems to be more focused on collecting and money-making than the game itself.

What is clear is that opportunistic speculators are seeing this latest Kickstarter as a potential opportunity to make significant money with the new TCG promo cards, with the very real scenario of selling them for a large profit. Some of these cards may be selling for hundreds of dollars each in time to come. As you might expect, all of the larger reward tiers for the current Kickstarter that offer more decks also offer more promo cards. The largest pledge option gets you 75 of the decks of playing cards, but more importantly: 75 individual promo cards, a box set of 10 single card boosters, and a very special single limited edition promo card. Only 250 of those rewards are available, and even though they cost $1,150 each, they're all sold out already. Clearly it's not the 75 decks you get that supporters are throwing money at, but the 80 odd TCG promo cards which are the real prize.

In light of all this, strictly speaking this is not really a million dollar playing card Kickstarter. We can't really compare the funding this project is receiving to other playing card projects that brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars, because it's the promos that are generating the money, not the playing cards. Backers don't actually care much about the playing cards, and in fact the smaller tiers that offer individual decks haven't seen much support at all. Rather, it's the larger tiers that get larger numbers of promo cards have attracted all the support. $1,150 for the Cryptid Nation Headcaster Deck Bundle? 250 rewards, all sold out. $525 for the Cryptid Nation Arch Caster Deck Bundle? 1,000 rewards, all sold out. Both rewards offer a single highly limited promo card, and that's where the money is.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Of course the MetaZoo playing cards themselves will also be of some interest to people who enjoy the TCG, simply because it's a further way they can enjoy the brand. But it's really the fact that this TCG is going places and has a money-making element that is driving the success of this Kickstarter. Enthusiasts mostly just want the promos, and in the end few will really care much about the playing cards. They'll be keeping or selling the TCG promos, of course, because that's where the real value is, and it's a chance to make easy money. But the playing cards? No thanks.

So nobody would be surprised to see the actual playing cards flood the market sometime in the future. With the upper reward tiers meaning you end up with 75 decks of playing cards in order to get around 90-100 promo cards for the TCG, folks throwing money at the project will have more decks of playing cards than they'll ever need. What are you going to do with 75 decks of playing cards that were part of the cost of entry just to get the real treasure? At best these will end up dumped on eBay at absurdly low prices, be used as giveaways that nobody wants, or used as cheap wallpaper.

In that respect this project is somewhat similar to the Iron Clays & Spades playing cards project from Roxley Games, which earned over half a million dollars. But the bulk of that funding was for gaming counters (over 3500 backers) rather than for playing cards (only 175 backers). That's why I excluded it from my list of top 20 most funded decks of playing cards of all time that I put together in the middle of last year.

But that doesn't mean that this isn't an impressive result for MetaZoo, or that these playing cards aren't any good. Anything that involves the sum of a million bucks or more is still quite astonishing, even if this Kickstarter project isn't quite what it first appears. And these playing cards are going to be printed by industry leader USPCC, so of course the quality and handling is going to be excellent. And more surprises were announced during the fundraising period, including add ons for artist prints, uncut sheets, holo foil cards, gilding options, and poker chips.

The future of MetaZoo TCG will continue to be a polarizing subject, and only time will tell whether this trading card game will be a boom or bust in the long term. But for now anyway, regardless of whether you're a fan or a critic, the fact that it's raked in over a million bucks is more than enough proof that the guys behind MetaZoo are the real winners.

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Want to learn more? See the Kickstarter for MetaZoo: Cryptid Nation USPCC Playing Cards, and the official MetaZoo website.

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Related articles you might find interesting:
The First Ever Million Dollar Playing Card Project
The Top Most Funded Playing Cards on Kickstarter, Part 1
The Top Most Funded Playing Cards on Kickstarter, Part 2

Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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