When Topps launched its NHL Skate digital app at the start of the 2016-17 season, I couldn’t get enough of it. I constantly bought packs, actively traded for cards that I needed, worked towards getting all the reward cards and participated in numerous daily contests.
A year later, my enthusiasm for Topps Skate is all but gone. Yes, I still open the app once a day to collect my free coins, and will open a few packs now and then and try to get a few inserts. But I don’t even bother with the daily contests, nor do I try all that hard to get any of the cards. Here’s why.
Your Cards are Worthless in the Playoffs
During the 2017 NHL Playoffs, Topps decided that the cards from the 2016-17 regular season wouldn’t work during the playoffs; you had to buy special playoff packs and use those cards in the daily fantasy hockey games.
That sucked. I worked hard all season, trading and leveling up cards of great players — only for those cards to be ineligible for the playoffs. So, I would have to start from square one, buy the new packs, and then trade and level up these cards.
It was like all the hard work that I had done was simply no good anymore. So what if I grinded my way to a Gold Brent Burns or a Gold Connor McDavid? At this point, I stopped playing the daily contests, for that reason and because…
Those Who Spend Money Always Win
The “Go Boosts” are really what killed the contests. A Gold parallel version of a card gives you 10 times as many points as the regular version of the same card, but you have to combine many, many cards to get a Gold Parallel. A Go Boost usually gives between 7.5 to 10 times the points — usually for specific games (such as the Winter Classic) or for a day or weekend of games. But Go Boosts aren’t too difficult to get if you spend a lot to get them. Those with Go Boosts or with Gold parallels can clean up in the contests. Winning those contests, in turn, earns players better cards or special achievement cards, which are limited. It’s the whole “the rich get richer” thing.
Look, when everyone was on equal footing, the contests were a lot of fun. We all like to think that we could “out-GM” or “out-coach” the other people who play Topps Skate. Near the start of the 2016-17 season, I would routinely finish within the top 10 in most of the games. By the end of the season, I wasn’t even cracking the top 100 because so many people were buying packs that guaranteed Gold cards — and later the Go Boosts. Those who spend money in Topps Skate win the contests. Outspend the other guy and you come out on top. Really, that’s all there is to it.
The Gambler’s Fallacy
My next problem with Topps Skate has to do with something called the gambler’s fallacy. It is the thinking that if something happens less frequently now — i.e. you didn’t get a hit in the first five packs of cards — that it is more likely to happen later. Allow me to clarify this a bit further.
Say you roll a six-sided die and want to roll a “three.” You have a one-in-six chance of rolling a “three.” So, you roll the die and a “two” comes up. Now, if you roll the die again, your odds of rolling a “three” are still one-in-six, even though some people incorrectly feel that they are more likely to roll a “three” than they were before.
How this logic applies to trading cards varies. Consider that a box of Upper Deck Series One has six Young Guns in every 24 packs. That means you would get one Young Guns card in every four packs. Now, if you took out all 24 packs, mixed them up, opened 12 of them, and didn’t get a Young Guns card, then you’d know that you would most likely get one in every other pack through the last 12 packs. This is because Upper Deck promises six Young Guns per box.
But Topps Skate packs do not come in boxes, and opening many of the same insert pack never guarantees you anything. Take the recent “Arcade” inserts for example. Odds of getting an Arcade insert are one in every 10 packs. If you open one pack, your chances of getting an Arcade insert are one in ten. If you open a second pack, your chances of getting an Arcade insert are still one in ten — though people would understandably think their chances were now one in nine. But your odds never get better. Every time you open a pack, your odds are the same, regardless if it is your first pack or your twentieth.
Last season, there was one time when I blew through $20 worth of the game’s “gold coins” currency to try and get a certain special card — which I didn’t. I think the card was seeded 1:20, and I probably bought 25 or 30 packs and did not get one. After each pack, I thought to myself “it will all even out,” or “law of averages,” or “my luck will change soon.” Of course, this was before “diamonds” became an in-game currency that greatly enhance your odds, or sometimes guarantee you an insert.
I did give Topps Skate an honest try. I purchased some coins, and some of the packs that could only be bought with money, but decided that I wasn’t going to constantly spend real money on these because…
“This is Not a Pipe”
Recall the famous painting by René Magritte called “The Treachery of Images.” It is a picture of a brown pipe, and underneath it are the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” — meaning “this is not a pipe.” What Magritte meant was that his painting was literally not a pipe; it was a painting of a pipe.
Topps Skate cards are not cards; they are pictures of cards. More specifically, they are digital pictures of cards. I cannot easily look at a set of Topps Skate cards as easily as a set of cards that I put into nine-pocket pages. I cannot easily trade Topps Skate cards for other cards. Topps Skate has jersey cards and autographed cards — but they are not tangible cards that you can hold. An autograph on a digital card is just a facsimile, and a jersey swatch on a digital card is pixels, not fibers.
Originally, I did not mind that the cards were digital, as the contests were the biggest draw for me. But once those stopped being fun, Topps Skate lost me. Maybe digital cards are for you, and that is fine. Or maybe digital cards are for the younger generation, and that is fine too. But for now, I will stick with the old fashion type of hockey cards that take up shelf space and clutter my desk. If I get sick of them, at least I can put them in my bike spokes. Of course, I’d need to own a bike first.
Do you still purchase Topps Skate hockey cards, or participate in its daily contests — or did you bail like me? Is there some great advantage of Topps Skate that I am missing, or is there a drawback that I forgot to mention? Leave a comment and let me know YOUR thoughts. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.