Leaky Helvault

Ten years ago, Wizards was suffering from a series of leaks from various sources. After several years of changes behind the scenes and a lawsuit in front,i they appeared to have things under control. Leaks were few and far between. Then, Guillaume and the Godbook hit, dumping the entire spoiler season all at once before the official spoilers began. Punishments were meted out,ii and Wizards undoubtedly looked at changes to their spoiler policy in light of the massive leak.

This spoiler season it is happening again. Many of the cards from Avacyn Restored were spoiled ahead of time. Images of several cards in Spanish were leaked and spread quickly across the Internet. The difficulty of controlling the release of paper cards that need to be designed, developed, printed, and shipped out all before the official release date makes it very difficult to keep the information under wraps.

There is however, another leak that doesn't involve Magic cards. This time, it is the Helvault. Most of you know that Wizards of the Coast has made attempts with recent prereleases to add something different or unique to the prerelease play experience. Faction packs in Mirrodin Besieged and the monster hunts in the Dark Ascension prerelease are two of the recent changes.

The Helvault is a stylized box that holds unknown contents. As the players play at the prerelease, they will remove the tabs keeping the Helvault closed, eventually opening the Helvault, whereupon everyone attending the prerelease will get to share the prizes.

Unfortunately, the contents of the Helvault have been spoiled.iii The Helvaults were all shipped last week to the various stores that managed to get a Helvault for their prerelease. A local game store owner claims that the Helvault arrived at his store in a damaged box with the contents visible due to a damaged Helvault. He posted the contents of the Helvault, and he included pictures.

My store also received our Helvault! Even though it said “Hellvault” we figured it out right away!

When we opened the box up, this was sitting right on top.

In eleven different languages, the sheet says, “DO NOT OPEN! Players at your Avacyn Restored Prerelease will break the seals one at a time. When the last seal is broken, you'll open the Helvault and all will be rewarded. See the Prerelease kit—mailed separately—for instructions on how to use the Helvault.”

The same day we received the Helvault, we also received the Prerelease kit. The kit included the foil prerelease cards, posters, other promotional materials, and the instructions relating to the prerelease.

For those of you who can't see the writing on the picture, the bold part says:

Opening the HelvaultWarning: It is intended that the Helvault be opened only when instructed. Reports of stores opening the Helvault early may result in repercussions, including your organization being excluded from future Prerelease events.

The various warnings make it clear that Wizards doesn't want the contents of the Helvault released before they planned for it to be released. That has been WotC's policy for a very long time. They like to build up the excitement and tension for the coming set. Up until the Helvault, this has always meant slowly leaking out particular cards on particular days. The goal.

Mark Rosewater wrote about this in June, 2006. “I know that many people believe that leaking information is, in fact, good for the game. We disagree. This isn't to say that we don't believe any information should precede a release, just that we want to be in control of what that information is. We've spent a great deal of time and energy to figure out how to promote a set . . . Releasing information on unreleased sets is one of the most important pieces of marketing we do. Wizards has to care how it's released.”iv

His statement holds true for the Helvault. The difference with the Helvault is that Wizards doesn't want to reveal any of what is inside it. Let's say, for example, that there is a set of fifteen Magic cards for everyone at the prerelease in the Helvault. It doesn't build anticipation for the set or the prerelease if they spoil what one of the cards in the Helvault is. Spoiling a card, or all the cards, in the Helvault simply makes them something else you get for attending along with the prerelease promo card. The wonder of what could be in the Helvault is far more exciting—and a far bigger draw—than knowing the contents of the Helvault.

A couple of weeks ago on Twitter, @andrea2s1 started a trend asking #inthehelvault? This exploded with some serious guesses, but mostly jokes.v None of that would have happened if the contents of the Helvault were leaked.

In a 2002 article, “The Leak that Was,” Mark Rosewater compared spoilers to movie trailers. vi

It's Saturday night, and you and your significant other are at a movie. As you nibble on your overpriced, pseudobutter-buttered popcorn, you lean back in your chair and the lights slowly dim. After the annoying commercials, the trailers begin. The first scene flickers on the screen, and you realize that this is a new trailer for a movie you're dying to see. Your adrenaline starts to rise as the images fill your retinas. And in just three minutes, they manage to give away every important plot point in the movie.You've just been robbed. In nine months you were planning to plunk down a little under ten dollars for an exciting movie experience. You'll still plunk down your money, but now you're not getting as much. The people who made the trailer stole some future happiness from you. And there really wasn't much you could do about it.Now, you have to understand, I'm not anti-trailer. I believe a good trailer will whet your appetite for the upcoming movie. A good trailer will build your expectations and get you pumped to see the movie. A good trailer adds to the movie experience. What I'm complaining about here is the bad trailer. The one that tells you more than you want to know. The one that doesn't add to, but rather subtracts from, the movie you will eventually see.

There is also the economic effect of spoilers. There are only three possible outcomes to spoiling the Helvault: more profit, less profit, or the same profit. The only way to increase the profit by spoiling the Helvault is if the contents are something so many people desire that it encourages more people to attend. I don't know what would have to be offered that it would increase attendance. It does seem likely that Wizards of the Coast has some idea of what it would take to increase attendance at prereleases. If they were offering something like that, it would also make sense for them to tell you what it was beforehand—keeping it a surprise would defeat the purpose.

There is the possibility that spoiling the contents will have no change to the profitability of the prerelease. This would mean that whatever is in the Helvault has to be something that enough people want who weren't already planning to attend the prerelease to make up for the people who no longer want to attend the prerelease now that they know what is in the Helvault.

The final possibility—that fewer people will attend prereleases if they know what is in the Helvault—seems most likely. If everyone knows what is in the Helvault, the people who were coming in the hopes of receiving something valuable won't come. Those people who were coming in just to see firsthand what is in the Helvault won't come. Those people who were coming to be part of the excitement, to be part of climax of the Helvault experience, won't be coming.

Given what we know, spoiling the contents is an unsound economic choice, and it lessens the joy of the prerelease experience for many people, why did it happen here and happen before? George Loewenstein, in “The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation,” suggests curiosity in and of itself is the reason. He sees curiosity “as a form of cognitively induced deprivation that arises from the perception of a gap in knowledge or understanding.”vii

This explains why all of us want to know what is in the next set. Wizards makes it very clear that there is a new set of cards coming, and we don't know what the cards will be. Wizards creates the gap in knowledge that Loewenstein suggests. It explains why so many of us rabidly check GatheringMagic.com through the spoiler season. It also explains why someone would open the Helvault. Wizards is trying to make us excited about the coming set, and they do that by piquing your curiosity.

While curiosity explains why people like spoilers, it doesn't explain why people share the information. The Helvault for my coming prerelease sits only eight feet away from me as I type this. Curiosity would explain why I would open it and look (I haven't and won't!), but it doesn't explain why I would share this information with anyone else.

Perhaps fame is the missing factor. Dr. Orville Gilbert Brim's data suggest that only a small proportion of the population (2%) rate fame as their most coveted goal.viii This would explain why some people will publish their spoiled discoveries in the face of economic sanctions while others (myself included) will not.

We saw an example of this with the New Phyrexia leak. David Gauthier was attempting to achieve some level of notoriety (a form of fame) by claiming he was such good friends with Guillaume Wafo-Tapa that he had access to the Godbook. This drive was so strong that when called on to prove access to the Godbook that he produced it.ix

Promotions like the Helvault show that Wizards of the Coast is trying all sorts of things to make the prereleases interesting. Faction packs, monsters versus humans, and now the Helvault are some of the more interesting ideas Wizards has had to give the prerelease a unique feel. I hope these unique ideas will not be abandoned due to the curiosity and desire for fame of a few.

Bruce Richard


i Rosewater, Mark, June 19, 2006, Law and Order
ii Wizards of the Coast, April 28, 2011, New Phyrexia Leaks
iii If you are looking for me to tell you the contents or where to find out what the contents are, dream on!
iv Rosewater, Mark, June 19, 2006, Law and Order
v Heather Meek's 20 Tweets: In the Helvault gives you twenty of the best ones.
vi Rosewater, Mark, September 30, 2002, The Leak that Was
vii Loewenstein, George, “The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation,” Psychological Bulletin, 1994. Vol. 116. No. 1, 75-98.
viii Cary, Benedict, “The Fame Motive,” New York Times, August 22, 2006.
ix Durward, Caleb, April 28, 2011, Legacy Weapon, A Troubling Leakage