From bike-spoke decoration to glass-case collectible, the world of trading cards is always evolving. In recent years they made a jump from physical to digital with the help of companies like Topps, and now the next evolution will see those cards spread out in a whole new way.
Earlier this year Topps, the company behind digital card apps such as Star Wars Card Trader, Marvel Collect, WWE Slam, and The Walking Dead Universe, began to break out of its app-based mold. As an experiment, it released new digital cards that use the WAX platform (Worldwide Asset Exchange), a blockchain-based system for owning and trading digital goods, sometimes called Non-Fungible Tokens or NFTs.
“Blockchain is a really interesting platform for us and so we just we started with an experiment,” Tobin Lent, VP and Global General Manager of Topps Digital, told io9 over a video call. “Let’s experiment with our own properties. So we chose Garbage Pail Kids and we launched that in May. We were blown away because, it wasn’t a big release, but it sold out within 24 hours. [We were like] ‘Wow, that’s a surprise.’ In a way we expected it because it was the first time Topps was on blockchain, it’s a beloved property, but then we did it again with a Tiger King edition of that called Garbage Pail Kids Goes Exotic and it sold out in 24 minutes.”
The difference between a blockchain-based card and a card on a Topps app is that for an app, the card lives only there. Using the WAX platform, it can go anywhere, sell to anyone, for any amount, whether or not they have a specific app. Plus there’s full transparency regarding who owned it previously, what they paid for it, etc. In short, there is much less room for scamming, much more room for diversity of digital content, and a wide range of things you can buy on the platform, from trading cards to videos to art. What Topps thinks it brings that most blockchain collectibles are lacking is authenticity.
“The properties are incredibly important,” Lent said. “That’s one thing I think that Topps can uniquely bring to the blockchain is a sense of trust. That’s one of the things that we’re trying to build around this new experience that we’re creating is, you know, imagine a Topps kind of mark on it that says this is an officially licensed product...This is a chance for us to give that trust not only to the licensors but also to the fans. They know this is this is authentic and officially licensed.”
Since Topps already has deals with companies like Disney, Lucasfilm, Marvel, WWE, and many of the major American sports leagues, the company comes armed with a huge arsenal of licenses fans really like.
“They’re all interested in this platform. They all want to give it a shot and see where it goes,” Lent said. “[They have] lots questions about what happens to digital goods when they’re out in the wild and they can be placed next to anything that might not reflect well on the property, but they’re still interested in that model, and an incredible model of secondary revenue.”
While Lent says Topps will explore introducing blockchain collectibles from all of those licenses (in addition to the dedicated apps), it will first continue to experiment with other properties. Garbage Pail Kids was first and that’ll be followed by Mars Attacks! in the next few months. Another beloved ‘80s sci-fi franchise, Alien, is on the horizon too.
“[This year] we expect tremendous growth in blockchain and you can expect that we’ll be doing more with other properties,” he said. “How that interacts with our mobile apps? We’re not sure. But we’re going to be building experiences on both platforms.”
While the future of digital cards could be on the more secure, more transparent blockchain, Topps still isn’t sure exactly how it’s all going to play out. It will continue to grow on all its digital card apps simultaneously with the blockchain-based collectibles. Some of those properties will cross over, some may not, but like moving from the bike spokes to a glass case, digital cards (like other collectibles) are taking the next step.
“Blockchain is this new uncharted territory with a lot of potential. It’s like we’re exploring the Wild West,” Lent said. “I think it’s going to be a blast and thrilling as we start to see the potential of that platform [and] I expect really big things. We’re going to be building this new Topps experience. We’re going to be releasing new licenses and new properties and trying a bunch of new things. And so it’s going to be a really exciting year for blockchain.”
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