Remember the days of collecting packs of trading cards and carefully organizing them into a binder? As a kid, I’d reorganize my collection on a weekly basis—usually sorting by alphabet or by favorite character or person (my cards were a mix of football and baseball players and fictional characters). My collection of cards was misplaced several moves ago, but a new app is letting me relive the feeling of cracking open packs without the effort of having to find a place to put them. Topps launched the Star Wars Card Trader app in March and having it installed on my phone is like going back in time and trading cards on the playground during recess.
The mechanics of collecting are pretty straightforward. When you start an account, you get credits. You earn more free credits each day you log in, and you have the option of spending actual cash to get more. You spend the credits on packs of cards. The contents of the packs vary with different parallels and inserts available. New insert cards are released on a regular basis and have included everything from cards featuring Olly Moss poster designs to classic Marvel comic book covers. Regular cards feature characters and creatures from the films and animated series with bios and descriptions. Once you’ve opened a few packs and have cards in your collection, you can trade with friends or strangers—there’s a Craigslist-esque feed where people list what they’re trading and what they want—and you can build your collection in whatever direction you want.
Fans have embraced the app with open arms. I see people regularly talking about Card Trader on Twitter and if you browse eBay, you’ll find some of the rare inserts going for serious bucks. I spoke with Steve Ciccarelli (Producer) and Neil Kleid (Digital Art Director) of Topps about the appeal of the app, inserts, and putting value on the cards.
Nerdist: Do you find it challenging to sell the concept of Card Trader since the cards are digital and not tangible?
Steve Ciccarelli: The best example I can give involves my father. He’s not a big Star Wars fan like I am, but he brought me into it all. When I told him I was going to start working at Topps and working on Star Wars, he was pretty excited for me. When I told him it was all digital, he was like, “I don’t get it. What’s the appeal?” The appeal is you can have the entire Star Wars galaxy on your phone. I think about it like music. I don’t want to lug my record collection with me everywhere, but I have it on my phone all the time. I enjoy it even more because I have better access to it. There are so many other things that we can do digitally than we can’t do with physical cards. There’s endless possibility.
Neil Kleid: What I tell people is, because I’m actually a Star Wars card trader from way back. I started with the Return of the Jedi cards when I was a kid. I would be the kid that would go down to the corner, meet my friends, and have a little trading circle. We’d sit there and open our packs and show off what we got. So Card Trader does offer digital collectibles and some people will think, “Well, it’s not something I can hold in my hand.” But it’s all about the hunt and the trading community. What’s great about the app is that now I can reach out to Star Wars fans across the globe. I can trade with anyone, anywhere, at any time. I think that’s what the appeal of a digital trading card is. You can carry your entire collection around with you in your pocket.
Nerdist: You mentioned the hunt, and you really encourage that with the continual release of new packs and inserts—Battlefront inserts recently dropped. How do you decide which packs and inserts to release?
NK: We’re very close with our physical card team and what we try to do is ride the line where we take the rich visual history of Topps Star Wars cards, which go back to 1977– we were like the first licensee of Star Wars— we’ll take a lot of those [original designs] and try to put them in the app, but we also want to do something that’s sort of new and exclusive. Something that you’ve never seen before.
Our designer, Matt, and I sit down and look at the available art out there or come up with a concept that’s specific to a character or a set. With Battlefront, it was obvious. We wanted to partner with them. We’re excited about Battlefront, they’re excited about Star Wars Card Trader. How could we not put a set into the app?
SC: There are so many things about Star Wars that I love that I haven’t seen represented in cards before. The idea is you can create anything. We want to hit all different kinds of fans. One person may not like the sketches [there’s a Sketchbook pack], one person may not be in love with the stormtrooper helmet art–I think of it as an art gallery. Between all these different kinds of sets, we’re trying to please every kind of different Star Wars fan in some way. Everyone has their own Star Wars.
NK: Yeah. Everybody has a different way to collect Star Wars and Topps is part of that. We’re not ever saying, “Physical cards are less important.” The digital cards are in addition to. It’s another option. You don’t have to stop collecting physical cards.
Nerdist: I often see fans discussing the value of different parallels and inserts. Are you working on any kind of guide that lays those details out?
NK: What’s interesting about that is that value is not something we’ve created. Fans of the app have created a sense of value.
SC: There was a subreddit created within two weeks. There has been this world that just built around Card Trader. People are creating whole websites and threads on message boards. It’s the most exciting thing to be a part of that in some way.
NK: People will come up and tell us “I love your app, but I hate your app.” If you do go to the subreddit or there’s a site called Vintage Han that popped up which is a valuation site, you can see that there’s a thriving secondary market. We have nothing to do with that, but it’s gratifying to see.
SC: None of us really expected it to be this gigantic this quickly.
NK: I do kind of feel bad when people come to our booth and ask, “What’s the most valuable card in your app or what’s this card worth?” I don’t know. One of my new go to answers is, “What’s it worth to you?” For me, Max Rebo or Commander Cody cards are more valuable for me because I love the characters. Fans will also comment, ”You’re putting cards out so fast I can’t get them all the time.” And you don’t have to get them all. It’s not Pokémon. Collect the ones you want.
SC: A couple of years ago when Topps put out the A New Hope illustrated cards, I was just getting back into card collecting. I wasn’t going out and looking out for Chrome or Legacy cards, but I needed to have all those poster re-creations from the illustrated set. I get it. It’s the collector’s compulsion. There is definitely an emotional connection that is kind of indescribable, but any Star Wars fan knows exactly what I mean without having to explain it.