Osmosis Weekly #0006: Cardboard Crack, Story, & Sharks!

• 8 min read

Hey Osmotics,

Inside today's Osmosis Weekly...

  • Featured Rabbit Hole: The Art of Unboxing
  • Growth Hacks: Lessons from Scaling to $40M
  • Dumb Things to Share: Potato University

Quick Update: I am still behind on my summary of  Breakthrough Advertising (1966). For paid up Osmosis+ members, I have sent you a GoogleDoc invite to what I currently have as an apology. Or vig. However you want to think of it. Regular Osmosis members will need to wait for the final draft.

This week: Riffing off last week's issue on how unboxing is the only marketing channel that gives you 100% open rate... I want to share a crippling addiction of mine with you, something I fall into once every decade or so: cardboard crack, or better known as Magic: The Gathering (MtG).

For the non-geeks: MtG is "collectible card game" (CCG) where you blow all your money on these packs of cards not unlike sports cards. You take these cards, build a "deck", and you can play a game with them. It's been around since 1993 and today, it accounts for 75% of Hasbro's profit (shared with D&D).

When you open one of these packs, it's like scratching a lottery ticket. There are fifteen cards in a pack. Eleven commons, three uncommon and then finally, one rare card. As you can imagine, opening a pack is like a journey. A sequence of events leading to a grand finale. It is one of the most divine unboxing experiences one can have.

One time, a friend seeing how I was going through a bad day, handed me a pack of MtG and said, "Do you want to open this? Opening a pack of Magic always makes people happy." He was right. It did make me happy.

And this business model of creating randomness, collectibility and never-ending game design changes... has led to a brand that's still dominating its niche after 28 years, and driving potentially half-a-billion or more in revenue. Numbers are fuzzy as Hasbro lumps MtG with Monopoly under "Franchise Games" ($1.76B in 2020) or with "Dungeons and Dragons" under the "Wizards of the Coast" brand ($816M in 2020).

One of MtG's key to longevity is its constant product innovation, which brings us to today's topic.

How to Get Users Addicted to Your Product

OK, listen. There are tons of products out there you use out of habit because they've built something you've come to rely on to run your life, business or whatever. In fact, in this week's "Growth Hacks", Eric Migicovsky shares a great way to see how sticky your product is.

BUT – with that said...  we're talking about "discretionary income" products this week. Not just collectibles like MtG... but if you're being completely honest with yourself, most online courses, membership communities/masterminds, and paid newsletters probably fall under "discretionary income" as well. And what's more... they tend to have a low stick-rate.

So the question you have to ask yourself is – how does a game like MtG keep sucking in old players (for LTV), new players (to reduce churn) and keep current players loyal (for retention and that sweet, sweet recurring revenue)?

MtG has a huge toolbox for doing that. Some controversial, some filled with drama, but mostly brilliant strategic moves, often driven by their lead designer Mark Rosewater. I can't cover all of it in a single issue of this newsletter, but I'd like to focus on one move from last year I really liked: new booster formats.

Changing How You Open A Pack of Cards

Mark Rosewater has a proven history of experimenting, trying new things and completely upending traditions. Last year, he offered a new booster pack format called the "set booster".

So, once again - when you open a pack of boosters, you get, in order: 11 commons, 3 uncommon, and 1 rare. This format (11C/3U/1R) has been baked into the game's DNA since 1993.

Now, there's a reason for this. It's set up this way for one of the many ways to play this game called a "draft". I'll skip the details on what that means. What you need to know is... not all players do "drafts". Some of them just like opening packs to get their Friday night fix.

That's where "set booster" packs come in. Instead of 11C/3U/1R... there's now more of a "story". From the article, take a look:

So now... you get a "welcome" card... then a bunch of connected common and uncommon cards... then a "head turner" card next to a rare card... then another rare card... and finally, a foil card.

I love how Mark Rosewater breaks it down here into four "chapters": welcome, fireworks, big finish, and epilogue.

So now, you can buy regular booster packs for draft games... and you can buy set booster packs just to get your cardboard crack hit.

The point of me sharing this with you is not to geek out over a card game... but to show you the care, attention and craft that went into creating an experience for its users.

If you are a content marketer, a course designer, a newsletter writer, or anyone who must keep creating new and different experiences for their users... you can learn a ton from studying "different-but-similar" businesses that have staying power like MtG.

So – what is the current "format" of your product line? How is it delivered to the user? What's the unboxing experience like? Can you create more of a story and sequence to it?

I would highly recommend you read Mark Rosewater's article even if you have never played a game of MtG in your life. You will get the thought process of a creative mind who has kept a game alive and thriving for almost three decades.

For attribution purposes, this article was forwarded to me from my brother, who ungratefully had not subscribed to Osmosis despite being family until I harassed him yesterday. Jerk. He has now subscribed as first name: "Ungrateful", last name "Brother". +

Growth Hacks Worth Checking Out...

This week: Talking to your users, lessons learned from scaling to $40M, and why stories beat ideas every time.

How to Talk to Your Users

Eric Migicovsky, founder of the Pebble Smartwatch, now a partner at Y-Combinator, gives a great lecture on how to talk to your users. His most notable advice? Founders must talk to their users at every stage of a business... and do it themselves. Some other insights I loved:

  • Don't ask your users about hypotheticals like, "if I built X, with features like Y and Z... would you pay to use it?" Users are terrible at figuring what features they want. To quote Henry Ford: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Instead...
  • Ask them about their problems and how they deal with it. When they encountered the problem last, why it was hard, what they tried to solve it, and what they don't like about those other solutions.
  • Meet your users where they're at. Forcing users to fill out an online form when they're not Internet people is silly. Sometimes you just have to pick up the damn phone, or in the case of one anecdote Migicovsky shares...where a founder needed intel from firemen, he just showed up at different stations to chat for 10, 15 minutes with them.

Scaling to $40M (And Who Not To Hire)

This is an epic Reddit post from /u/ccasrun talking about the ups, downs, and mistakes learned from bootstrapping a business to $40M. There are some tough, tough lessons here. Here are my three favorite:

  • Hiring Friends Rarely Ends Well. It's fun and games at first, but when you need to actually start managing or firing them, it's over.
  • Be Honest About Their Growth Potential. There are times where you have to promote someone inexperienced to the next level because you  need someone doing that job. But without the right experience and mentorship (and unless you're super lucky) that person will fail. People don't become C-suite level employees overnight.
  • Systems, Process and Operations Is Overrated... until it's not. I'm blown away this guy got to 100+ staff and eight-figures in revenue without a COO or CFO. He was also passing out leads to his sales team via email. No CRM. Which goes to show you, for startups... don't worry about keeping things organized, systemized and process-driven. Just make money. Clean the chaos up later.

The Best Story Wins

How good of an original idea doesn't matter. How you present it does. In this article by Morgan Housel (brought to my attention by Osmosis member Nicholas B.), he shares how it's not the best ideas or even the right answers that win. It's ideas packaged in great storytelling that reaches an audience and resonates. Quote:

In a perfect world the importance of information wouldn’t rely on its author’s eloquence. But we live in a world where people are bored, impatient, emotional, and need complicated things distilled into easy-to-grasp scenes.

And unfortunately, because of this... many new, original and quite possibly world-changing ideas fall by the wayside. What's more – lies, misinformation, and bad ideas wrapped up in a well-told tale spread like wildfire.

If you are a copywriter like me, in any capacity, recognize you wield a powerful tool that shapes reality. +

Dumb Things to Share With Loved Ones

Because it's a better conversation starter than errands...

  • Potato University. OK, so at Plural, Ryan once wrote an email about how potatoes can cause (or prevent) heart disease. I forget which. But it is the best email in our agency's history in terms of open rates, CTR and even conversions. It's become the legendary "Potato Email". So as a joke, Alicja signed Ryan up for Potatoes USA, which appears to be a lobbying group for potato farmers? Anyway... they just launched an online course! Here's the trailer for Potatoes 101:

  • Do you track your book reading online? For years, I had a Goodreads account and tracked the number of books I read religiously. I had a goal of 72 books a year. But over time, I started reading shorter books just to hit a pointless metric. This article from Penguin shares the history of tracking books you read, and how Letts, the diary maker, sold 55 different types of diary to consumers by 1862.

  • Shark Tracker. Is there a shark near you? You can find out here. OCEARCH currently has 416 tagged animals (mostly sharks, but turtles, seals, and alligators too). They've also given them names like Slinger,  Audrey Laine, and Dr. Brent.

Coming Soon(ish)...

Book summaries go through seven stages at Osmosis: Reading, Raw Notes, First Draft, Editor Review, Revisions, Gif Hunting, and Publishing. Here's a status report of what's in the queue...
  • Breakthrough Advertising (1966) by Eugene Schwartz : 60% First Draft
  • Trusted Advisor (1998) by David H. Maister : 0% Raw Notes
  • The Hard Things About Hard Things (2014) by Ben Horowitz : 50% Read

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