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Star Wars' Digital Trading Cards Have Gotten So Much Weirder

A cropped GIF of a Kylo Ren Kinetic Sketch Card from Star Wars Card Trader.
Image: Topps
Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.

Are you a quarantined Star Wars collector craving social interaction as well as new merch? Do what I’ve been doing: In recent weeks, I’ve once again found myself enamored with Star Wars Card Trader.

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Star Wars Card Trader is an app created by Topps back in 2015 that allows fans to open packs of digital “cards” they can then trade or collect. Like most cards, some of them develop real-world value. And even if there’s no real-world value, the cards are chock full of canonical information, details, and images delivered in a slick, engaging way. Simply put, it’s a lot of fun. Or at least, it was for a while.

When Card Trader launched, I quickly developed an unhealthy obsession with it—an obsession I wrote all about here. Then, after a few years, my interest began to fade. As the app made it increasingly difficult to get the coolest cards, and there was a clear shift toward buying premium currency, I slowed weaned off Card Trader until I was basically off it completely.

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However, in celebration of the app’s five year anniversary, it relaunched the most famous card set to date: “Vintage.” Vintage was always my favorite series because the aged look felt like an actual old school Star Wars trading card. And wouldn’t you know it? The combination of Vintage returning, a near-complete rehaul of the app, and having a ton of time to just sit on a couch with my phone, has once again hooked me on Star Wars Card Trader.

This Rey card was the Award Card for collectors who got all of the newly released Vintage cards and still had the entire set of the original. In the end, only 138 collectors qualified. You’re reading an article by one of them.
This Rey card was the Award Card for collectors who got all of the newly released Vintage cards and still had the entire set of the original. In the end, only 138 collectors qualified. You’re reading an article by one of them.
Image: Topps

In the years since I’ve left the app behind, almost everything about it has improved. For starters, it now has a much more Star Wars-y look, almost like an in-universe datapad. There’s still a constant stream of new cards you can collect or trade, but now there are also mini-games to play, and new goals to achieve on a daily or weekly basis. Cards aren’t the only thing you can collect either. Now there are profile avatars and a huge increase in variants of cards, catering to everyone from the ultra-serious collector to the casual player. All the cards now have more metadata attached too, which helps to gauge a card’s perceived value without knowing much about it. The list goes on and on.

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“There’s a lot of new stuff that we didn’t have prior that we’re really building on,” Marc Seal, Senior Content Product Manager for the app, told io9 over the phone, “And it’s not just the accessibility of the content but the quality too.”

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Case in point, one of the coolest new additions to Card Trader is kinetic cards. Kinetic cards make full use of the digital format in that they aren’t static images. They move. It began with cards that showed the violent energy in Kylo Ren’s lightsaber. Later, it evolved into moving variants of older cards, cards showing sketches being drawn or even autographs happening, in real-time, on a card.

The GIF at the top of this article is one example, and here’s a quick video of a signature card.

“We have Adam Driver, we have Daisy Ridley...and that’s really them signing,” Seal said. “[Those are] the movements they took signing it. So that was something else we implemented. The hope was we’d bring our collectors closer to the talent that portrayed these roles and make them feel like they were really there having something signed.”

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Seal came onto the Card Trader team in 2019 and fully acknowledged that the app had some issues before he arrived. Since then, he and his team have worked to make the app more accessible to collectors and make it a generally more pleasant experience. Most importantly, they’ve rolled back the importance of the paid currency and made almost every card set, in some way, accessible to fans who only want to use the in-app, free currency. (Of course, if you do pay, you can access even more limited variants and have better odds at all the cards.)

Realizing what things are important to fans is due to the fact Seal and his team continually monitor online feedback. “I’m personally very active on both Reddit and several of our Discord communication forums,” Seal said. “I’ll go in there and have very casual conversations with our users, see what’s going on, and try and get as engaged with them as I can. I’m trying to understand them, trying to understand what they like and then take that as a little bit of part of the picture of the whole.”

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Card Trader has been releasing cards tied to each episode of The Clone Wars. There are talks to have tie-ins to the upcoming High Republic, too.
Card Trader has been releasing cards tied to each episode of The Clone Wars. There are talks to have tie-ins to the upcoming High Republic, too.
Image: Topps

One of the biggest fan discussions of late has been the aforementioned rerelease of the Vintage cards. During the three weeks that Vintage returned, the app consistently crashed and locked people out at the time of release, which led to mass hysteria among the fan base. Seal explained that bringing Vintage cards back didn’t just bring in new users, it brought back a ton of old users (“Hello there,” your author says), which meant that millions of old cards needed to repopulate in the app simultaneously. The huge volume of users new and old, as well as those old cards loading, are just a few of the things that created unique problems for the app every single week. Hence the crashes.

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“There is a lot of work being done and improvements have already been issued to the server that will make sure that these issues don’t happen again,” Seal said. “But there’s still some work to be done before we are ready for another full-fledged event like this to avoid any issues.”

And though not everything is perfect (just look at those aforementioned Reddits, Discords, or comments in the app to see that)—speaking with Seal, it seems obvious the app is in very good hands, especially since it’s so unclear what the future of Star Wars holds on TV and in theaters.

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This Rogue One Fractured card is an example of the design work that goes into all the cards.
This Rogue One Fractured card is an example of the design work that goes into all the cards.
Image: Topps

“It’s our job to come up with unique ways to keep the Star Wars universe engaging the fans,” Seal said. “So even if it takes a little bit longer to get that new content, we’ll be doing our jobs to make sure that the communities continue to be able to interact and experience the Star Wars universe in an amazing way that carries them the extended distance until they get the next thing that Lucasfilm is able to gift to the Star Wars community.”

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For me, Star Wars Card Trader has once again become a gift to the Star Wars community. Yes, the new cards are great and app updates welcome. But in these troubled times, it’s just nice to have something to open on my phone once I’m call caught up on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Somewhere to spend some money (either fake or real) and get that very specific buzz at collecting something cool, limited, and Star Wars.

“I think almost everybody feels connected to Star Wars in some way,” Seal said. “And Card Trader is probably one of the best ways on the digital market now to dive into that experience. To dive into the content of Star Wars.”

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Entertainment Reporter for io9/Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

stingrayjake
StingrayJake

Well I just downloaded the app because of this post. Been playing Galaxy of Heroes for a couple months and have a pretty long road map for progress over the next year or two, but I was looking for more Star Wars content for the time when I’m waiting for GOH energy to reload. I’m sure this will do.