On January 23rd, Wizards announced a revamped creator program designed to feature and reward streamers and other magic content creators. Under the previous system, a content creator filled out an application directly through Wizards. Once (and if) approved, the creator would presumably be highlighted on the main Arena Twitter as a featured creator, be invited to participate in the streamer events on Arena for new set releases, and receive other perks. However, details about when and if you would receive those benefits were unclear and not necessarily guaranteed.
This new program is in partnership with StreamElements and offers challenges for creators to complete and in return gives rewards in the form of Arena codes and gems for both the creator and their community. While the program is run through StreamElements, you do not have to stream directly through StreamElements to participate. I personally use Streamlabs OBS and just have a StreamElements account and bot in my chat.
I wanted to wait until after I was accepted into the program and was able to try it out before voicing any judgment or giving my first impressions. That being said, the program is still in beta so some things may change down the line.
My initial impression at the announcement was pretty positive, particularly in regards to the challenges. Personally, I find it difficult to stream Arena often because the ladder is mentally exhausting and you can go hours without actually accomplishing anything. Not to mention lighting gems and gold on fire from drafting. The idea of a system that actually gives me something to do is appealing, as long as it's not unreasonable.
While it was initially exciting for many content creators, myself included, it has also raised serious questions that I would like to reflect on. First, is this truly an inclusive creator program and what does this mean for non streaming creators? Secondly, are there elements of exploitation in this program? And lastly, is this the type of support that creators can really benefit from or are there other ways that have yet to be implemented that would be better?
All Creators Welcome!...Right?
A consistent and valid complaint from content creators has been that WOTC only seems to care about supporting those who stream Arena. After all, WOTC has not really involved itself with supporting content creators before Arena, despite successful communities on Youtube and several podcasts. However, during the announcement of the new creator program and during a Twitter AMA session on WOTC Influencer Manager Michelle Sutterfield's (@MishyFishyWhoo) page, WOTC stated that people from all types of content creation were welcome to apply to the program. Immediately, several people asked how they could benefit from the program if they weren't streaming, and the answers were unclear. To date, they remain unclear. I reached out to Wizards in regards to any updates on when and how they were intending to engage with non streamers, but was told that it was too early in the program to say. However, they were still working on it.
One of the first things I noticed when perusing the available challenges was the lack of any non-Arena challenge. Every available challenge has to do with playing Arena. There is no actionable way for non-streamers to participate in this program, so why encourage them to do so? Not to mention that it also signals that non Arena content is irrelevant. Whether or not that is the intention, that is certainly a consequence. Popular Youtuber, Tolarian Community College, stated that one of the reasons he will not be applying to this program is that it "appears to be just for Twitch streamers. Podcasters, article writers, and YouTubers ...don't seem to be the creators they are interested in."
I could write an entire article on Wizards relationship with content creators and content creation in general. The new creator program has definitely reignited some questions and tensions that I hope to see resolved soon. However, the reality is that this program, in its current iteration, is not for people who do not stream. If you are someone who does cosplay, or podcasts, or writes, etc, and you do not intend to pick up streaming Arena, I would advise you to wait to apply and see what changes come in the next several months. Your content is not irrelevant or bad or unimportant as it is, and you shouldn't change it for a system that is still very much in its infancy. Make what you enjoy and follow that where it leads. That will be much more successful than trying to force yourself into making content you dislike, anyway.
Rewarding or Exploitative?
The second concern that I would like to reflect on is whether or not this program is exploitative. However, I think it's important to compare it to the previous system first. Under the previous system, there was essentially no tangible or monetary reward for being a featured creator. The biggest reward a featured creator could get was being invited to a Mythic Championship or Invitational, particularly the Arena MCs. However, those discretionary slots were not exclusive to those in their creator program and were also few and far between, understandably so.
Some featured creators were invited to participate in the early access events. However, as that is one of the biggest streaming days with the most streamers online at the same time, small streamers were fighting for the same audiences as major streamers which meant fewer viewers.
A featured creator could also get featured on the MTG Arena Twitter page, receive codes to give out to their community, and be hosted by the Magic channel. But again, none of those were necessarily tangible monetary rewards and it was a rare occurrence. Now as a person who has received all three of those rewards, I am quite grateful for those opportunities, but it is important for the purpose of this article to be honest about them.
All that being said, I was happy to see that under this new program, I would be getting rewards more frequently than every four months or more. To be clear, none of these opportunities are going away under this new system. You will just need to be accepted into this new program to potentially receive them. Getting the opportunity for regular rewards is a definite upgrade from the last system, but perhaps there is further to go.
Almost immediately after the program was announced, concerns over exploitation were raised by several content creators. Adam Hernandez (@yoman_5), a popular deck analyst, podcaster, and writer for TCG, was one of the first people to voice their displeasure with the system.
Sutterfield, in response to concerns over a 12 hour streaming challenge, made it clear that there would be no challenges that promote unhealthy streaming behavior and clarified that it was just an example, not a real challenge. While that is good to hear, the paying out in in-game currency is still problematic. As I mentioned before, the previous system offered no monetary payouts, outside of being invited to a Mythic Championship or Invitational. I am hesitant to even consider that as a true reward due to the fact that extremely few people got this. However, you were not being asked to do anything different than what you were already doing or make specific content for Wizards’ benefit. That is a meaningful difference.
Creators who are a part of this program are certainly being used as vehicles of advertising and a way for Wizards to hit certain Twitch metrics. In fact, you can’t even claim a reward under this program without being made to tweet about it first. And in exchange for the multiple levels of advertising Wizards is getting, creators are receiving gems and community codes in lieu of real money. Wizards can make infinite gems and infinite codes with little to no cost to them. From that perspective, they are getting something of real value in exchange for nothing. And therein lies the concern over exploitation, as the majority of the labor is on the part of the creators, but the majority of the benefit is received by Wizards. Not to mention that benefit will be received in real dollars by users who go on to make in-game purchases.
Of course, giving money to every single content creator who joins the program would be unrealistic. If anything, there is a chance that creators who are starting out or still have small audiences would stop getting support entirely, as Wizards would likely decide to only pay those with larger audiences and a wide reach.
However, let's not pretend as if Wizards' does not have the money to spend on creators. I found several paid promotions on Youtube channels. It definitely stung to see popular Youtube channels (that were not even Magic related channels) be paid to promote Wizards, while there are plenty of Magic focused content creators who are not. Wizards is obviously deciding to spend its real dollars in capturing new players rather than current ones. A part of me wishes that this game was not as amazing as it was because maybe then we could leave what often feels like a toxic relationship.
Let me be clear here, no one who is streaming or making content is doing it for free. Streaming and video set ups cost money. Cosplaying costs money. Everything has a time cost. I’m not saying anything that any of you don’t already know. But there is a dangerous misconception that because the consumer of the content is not being charged, there is no monetary value to the content. Everyone who is making content on a regular basis, myself included, wants to see a return. Unfortunately for us, the model that exists requires us to get an established audience and then convert that into paid subscribers through engagement. The creator program is only acting within that framework. Perhaps that is why even though I view the program critically, I am choosing to continue to participate and focus on the good. My issue is more with the system, and less with Wizards. Call me a jaded capitalist, but when the system gives access to something for free, it's only natural for a corporation to take advantage of that for as long as possible.
Can It Be Improved?
A concern I mentioned at the beginning of this article, was whether or not this program gives the kind of support that creators really and need. I reached out to others in the creator program about their feelings towards the program. The general sentiment seems to fall somewhere between lukewarm and pretty positive, and no one mentioned feeling exploited. Magic with Zuby (@MagicwithZuby) stated that the community code giveaways, gems, and challenges felt like a "big plus" to their stream. They have seen new faces to their streams and experienced more interaction. Several challenges involve raiding a stream with 100+ viewers. While streamers with smaller audiences aren't able to complete this reward, they are still able to benefit from larger streamers sending viewers their way. I have personally been the recipient of it, and it's a great boost to my mood and streams.
Those who feel lukewarm about the program, myself included, thought that the rewards themselves could be improved. For example, there is a challenge for streaming for three hours and one for five, but there reward is the same. To me, that should scale. Others also felt like the ICR codes should be better than just random uncommons, and I agree with this as well. If WOTC is not going to pay out in real dollars, the rewards needs to at least feel worth it.
I think what I would like to see is a content creator program mirrored after MPL and Rivals. I would love to see a multi-tiered support system, where level 1 is something like this current program and the next level is for the top tier content creators who can get paid sponsorship contracts. Wizards was more than willing to give out streaming contracts last year to promote their MPL, but if their intent is to capture a wider audience, than why not give it to successful Magic focused streamers?
Outside of streaming, there is no doubt that other content should be supported. We have absolutely brilliant cosplayers, and I think it would be a boost for Wizards to commission them to do work instead of leaving that responsibility solely on TOs. Especially since most have to keep their content PG friendly, despite 18+ cosplay content being an extremely lucrative area. Podcasters, writers, and YouTubers, should also be included in their future support. I would imagine it would be just as simple for them to feature any number of these types of creators on their Twitter page as it would be streamers. So why not? If Wizards is going to say that they are inclusive, they need to be inclusive.
Overall, I am choosing to be optimistic about the program. It certainly has its problems, but it's still early days. To be solely negative wouldn't be fair. Wizards deserves credit for implementing what it has in the first place. I can't think of other games that have put this much work into creating a program for its streamers and influencers. For now, the best thing to do is make the best of what we have, and continue to encourage them to improve.