December 9, 2020

A game well played

With their international success making headlines, you may have heard about Legend Story Studios (LSS) and its trading card game (TCG), Flesh and Blood (FAB), but you may not have heard their story.

A team of experienced gamers and talented artists, Legend Story Studios developed FAB to push back against the rise of digital gaming and require players to sit across from each other in the flesh (if you will) to come away with a win. However, FAB’s mission became rather difficult when COVID-19 hit our shores and social distancing meant gaming with a community of like-minded strangers in the same room was not an option any more.

We caught up with one of the founders and CEO of Legend Story Studios, James White, to find the secret to FAB’s success and how LSS managed to successfully launch a product during a global pandemic.

Tell us about the trading card game industry and how both Legend Story Studios and Flesh and Blood fit?

The TCG industry really kicked off in 1993 with “Magic the Gathering”. Owned by Wizards of the Coast, Magic the Gathering became an internationally recognised brand and was bought in 1999 by Hasbro for USD$325million. The game has acquired many more players since, such that with Yu Gi Oh and the Pokémon TCG there are really only three big players in the TCG industry. We are aiming for there to be four big players, with FAB to be part of the four.

The growth in the TCG industry over the last 25 or so years has normalised gaming now to the extent where it is for many participants their primary source of identity outside of their paid employment. The TCG industry has built a network of local games stores, shops that are 50% retail space and 50% space to host and bring people together to play games socially or more competitively at tournament events. Our involvement with, and passion for, those “local” stores are a big part of why we created FAB.

LSS is a vehicle to create FAB and give us different development options for the future. FAB began with my experience in the TCG industry. I have worked in the industry since 1995, originally in a marketing capacity and as a distributor for Yu Gi Oh. I've also represented NZ five times at the “Magic the Gathering” World Championship as the NZ champion. As an avid player, I did not want to be at the mercy of what other people wanted done with the industry, I wanted to be a creator of intellectual property. At the same time I saw a trend in the TCG industry of the big three (Magic the Gathering, Yu Gi Oh and the Pokémon) moving their games online.

We started LSS and FAB in 2012, as well as a growing part of the TCG industry, we wanted to push back against the move to online. We also wanted to support those local game stores and maintain the local gaming communities that had developed around them. The name “Flesh and Blood”, perfectly captures the bringing of flesh and blood together, people physically playing games against each other. The name (which came to me in the middle of a yoga class after months of development) is about that, but it also exemplifies how in FAB you play and fight as the hero, as opposed to having creatures fight for you.

So no matter your strength as a hero once your blood is split your essence dies (we also love the acronym). To us, this and our resource system (patent pending), differentiates FAB from the other TCGs. The resource system allows for more chance than a chess game but not as much as our competitor so that those who hone their skills are able to consistently succeed at the game.

Flesh and Blood cards in hand

Describe the business challenge or objective that led you to seek advice

When we setup LSS and FAB I wanted to set up and be successful, to win. If you do not have a solid foundation to your business and processes then you will never succeed, no matter how great your product is. Legend Story Studios has ten incredibly hard-working employees in NZ, and we've developed an amazing team that includes hundreds of contracted artists and contributors around the world with the talent and desire to take the TCG world by storm!

When we started, we knew we had a great product, but we needed that foundation and we needed to protect our IP before anyone heard about it. We also knew we needed to find someone who could see our vision and help us make it a reality. I met Edwin Lim (HGM partner) at a Game Developers Association convention, where he was presenting on issues relating to commercialising IP. His attitude (and passion) towards the gaming industry is what separated Hudson Gavin Martin (HGM) from the other firms we looked at. HGM sees the gaming industry as viable and respects it, they share our vision of building a strong business with the capacity to scale up into a world leader of the TCG industry.

Our journey with HGM started with registering our trade mark. However, the relationship has grown alongside our business, and HGM has helped support us at a number of milestones, including our personal share offer, shareholders agreement, manufacturing and distribution contracts with worldwide manufacturer of cards and games, Cartamundi, as well as our agreements with artists and content providers.

Aria in the World of Rathe

"If you do not have a solid foundation to your business and processes then you will never succeed, no matter how great your product is."

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How has the pandemic affected your business and the TCG industry?

We launched “Welcome to Rathe” (the first set of FAB) not long before the global COVID-19 pandemic started and “Arcane Rising” (the second set of FAB) on 27 March 2020, just two days after the first lockdown in New Zealand. It was absolutely petrifying. FAB is all about playing face to face against other players, with the ideal user experience being about packing as many people as possible into a local store to play the game with each other. We originally had 200 events planned for early 2020.

That clearly did not go to plan, with 196 of those events cancelled, and only four running internationally! Our initial thoughts after we went into lockdown were that we may have to go into hibernation and stop business for a while, but then around May 2020 something changed. People were stuck at home with a lot of time on their hands, and wanted something to do, and as luck would have it their curiosity for new games grew. This pushed up TCG sales generally and demand for FAB grew.

We seized the opportunity to feed that curiosity and formed key partnerships with social media personalities. They endorsed FAB but also pushed FAB’s message of supporting local gaming communities. We believe this really resonated with a lot of TCG players who were not happy with the industry trend over the past years of going digital and moving away from a face to face experience.

The result has been incredible, we recently launched in Europe and Canada with sales and engagement 500% above expectations. FAB’s third set “Crucible of War” (which we also launched in the thick of COVID-19 internationally) is consistently sold out at retailers. We have now sold out all three of our sets worldwide due to the demand in New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, Malaysia, and America. We have more than 5,000 players registered for tournaments, and the second-hand market has spiked with cards being sold for ten times their original sale price! We are well on our way to our goal of becoming one of the TCG market leaders.

James White, Founder & CEO, Legend Story Studios with New Zealand National champion, Matt Rogers

What are your plans for the future?

We have been building off that groundswell of local and international support, forming important relationships with providers of organised play so that we can have high profile cash prize tournaments on a more global scale once the pandemic recedes. We have also realised that COVID-19 is not affecting everyone everywhere the same. Whereas our competitors are saying a blanket “no” to public events, we are working with local communities to get events happening in stores where it is safe to do so. Local community support is more important now than it ever was, and we want to make it happen with FAB.

2021 will be a big year for us. We have two sets “Monarch” and “Kingdoms” launching throughout next year that I am really excited to share with the TCG community. Plus we are planning on a number of events - our 2021 event schedule will be out just before Christmas so look out for that and book in for our next $10k cash prize tournament on Auckland Anniversary weekend!

Playing the chain

What is a tip you have for the aspiring champions and new players of FAB?

With anything in life, you get out what you put in. To become a champion requires practice, practice, practice. What we have done differently with FAB compared to other TCG’s, is to make sure that practice, commitment, and skill are reflected in results, much like you’d expect in any professional sport, and we have done that by reducing the variance (you can call it luck component) through designing a better game system (patent pending) than any other TCG that has ever existed.

The best way to start playing, is visit a local game store (click here for the store locator), and ask for a free Welcome Deck, then check out the 6 min Learn to Play video below, which covers off all the fundamentals you need to know to start playing.

Flesh and Blood is a very easy and fun game to play, but very hard to master.

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