Thursday, July 7, 2011

Upper Deck Entertainment Q&A with Marketing V.P. Jason Masherah

Upper Deck’s Entertainment division has been going through a variety of changes, but now the company is preparing to release a mix of new products based primarily around the Marvel brand. Trading card game (TCG) and Marvel fans have a lot of questions about what the staff at Upper Deck Entertainment has been up to lately and what they can expect for 2011. We sat down with Upper Deck’s Vice President of Marketing, Jason Masherah, to ask him the questions our fans have been wondering about.

Question: What is the state of the Vs. System Trading Card Game and will you be bringing it back?
Jason Masherah: “While we certainly appreciate that there is a loyal following for the Vs. System TCG, it did not continue to perform at levels strong enough to sustain it. Basically, we had some very passionate fans, some players who loved the Organized Play aspect of it, but not enough casual players to reach sales numbers we ultimately needed to support the game. We do not have intentions of bringing it back at this time, but I can’t say we haven’t explored that option because we do appreciate the fact that there is a following for it. The best way to qualify it is to say that game is on the shelf for now.”
Although UD no longer produces new Vs. System products, there are still pockets of fans who enjoy playing the game.
Question: Would you be willing to sell the Vs. System to another company who would get behind it?
Jason Masherah: “Well it’s not entirely accurate to say that we didn’t get behind it. We spent a tremendous amount on the Vs. System Organized Play program, promotional items, tournaments and much more. To answer the question, however, we do not have any intention of selling the Vs. System TCG at this time.”
Question: What happened to the World of Warcraft TCG?
Jason Masherah: “Our contract with Blizzard Entertainment ended and unfortunately we were not able to come to terms on a new agreement. I would call it an amicable split.”
Upper Deck produced a regular trading card game for World of Warcraft and this minatures game as well while the company was under contract with Blizzard
Question: Many Upper Deck employees ended up at Cryptozoic, which is now producing and distributing the World of Warcraft TCG. What happened there?
Jason Masherah: “Personally we wish those former Upper Deck staffers all the best. But professionally, we now view them as competitors.”
Question: Upper Deck was testing a new Marvel TCG less than a year ago. What happened to that and will Marvel fans see a new TCG any time soon?
Jason Masherah: “Our plan is to release a Marvel TCG in 2011. We have been in the development phase for quite some time of what that TCG will look like. We are excited to release details on it, but we do not want to have a situation like we had last time where we spend time and money promoting a product that’s just not ready. We will share details on the new Marvel TCG when we are close to releasing it, hopefully later on this year.”
Question: What is the status of your Organized Play division?
Jason Masherah: “When we release the new Marvel TCG we will announce details about our Organized Play programs. I will not put the cart before the horse, however. We’ve got to have the TCG ready before we share details on Organized Play. And it is a critical component of the success of a TCG, it’s one aspect of the business we will not neglect.”
Upper Deck is looking forward to launching their first Marvel release in quite some time when Thor trading cards hit shelves March 15
Question: Interest in the theatrical release of Thor is on the rise. What can fans expect from your Thor trading card release?
Jason Masherah: “We are very excited about the release as well, and I know people are really loving the first looks they are seeing through movie trailers and online exposure. Great photography will help bring the movie home for fans so that’s first. More importantly, however, is that there are plenty of great chase elements that will have collectors very excited. We’ve got some awesome sketch cards from top artists that will be included. We have autograph deals with Chris Hemsworth (star of Thor who also played George Kirk in Star Trek); Kenneth Branagh (Director of Thor and three-time Oscar nominee); Clark Gregg (plays Agent Phil Coulson, a reoccurring character in both Iron Man films and the upcoming Marvel films The Avengers and Nick Fury); Tom Hiddleston (plays Thor’s brother, Loki); Joshua Dallas (plays Fandral); and Jaimie Alexander (she plays Sif). There will be movie memorabilia cards as well. Where else can you get a card with Natalie Portman’s movie-worn pants on it?”
The film cell cards should be a big hit with collectors
Natalie Portman is one of the biggest actresses in the business today, now collectors can own a piece of her movie-worn memorabilia
Chris Hemsworth will have autograph cards in the set as well as movie-worn memorabilia cards
The one-of-one sketch cards came out better than we expected
UD partnered with a variety of great artists to bring these cards to fans
Artists really had fun with this projects and turned out some great final cards
We will be sharing more of these sketch card images on the new Upper Deck Entertainment Facebook Page and Twitter accounts
Autographs of the Mighty Thor can be found in Upper Deck's latest Marvel release
Question: There was quite an online controversy over Upper Deck cutting up movie props of Loki’s knives and Thor’s Hammer. What did you decide with regard to how those pieces will be used?
Jason Masherah: “Yes, and I want to thank all the fans for the passionate feedback we received on that discussion. We really took it to heart and listened to what our customers were saying. At this point we made the decision NOT to cut these pieces up and use them for trading cards. That is not to say we may not do so in the future. Our business is trading cards and these items would produce some very unique and collectible memorabilia cards most fans would really enjoy. We can appreciate those purists who hate the idea of seeing them cut up, so for now they’ve been granted a stay of execution, so to speak.
“It is important that those who were against us cutting these props up realize this was not the only hammer Thor used in the movie. In fact, it is a stunt hammer. Not everyone can own something like this so it is a unique opportunity to give several people the chance to own a piece of the history like this. We’ve brought a lot of smiles to people’s faces by producing memorabilia cards and that is not going to change.”
Off the chopping block (at least for now), the Thor stunt hammer and Loki stunt knives have been spared while staff review other ways we can use these items for trading card releases.

Upper Deck’s Entertainment division has been going through a variety of changes, but now the company is preparing to release a mix of new products based primarily around the Marvel brand. Trading card game (TCG) and Marvel fans have a lot of questions about what the staff at Upper Deck Entertainment has been up to lately and what they can expect for 2011. We sat down with Upper Deck’s Vice President of Marketing, Jason Masherah, to ask him the questions our fans have been wondering about. If you missed Part 1 of this Q&A, click here. We hope you enjoy the second part of this interview.
Question: Some artists have been sharing images of sketch cards they created for this project online. Do you have anything you can share about the sketch cards from the Thor release?
Jason Masherah: “We think they are going to be a big hit with Marvel fans. We have worked with renowned artists like Jim Cheung, Lord Mesa, Remy “Eisu” Mokhtar, George “GEO” Davis, Butch Mapa and Frankie B Washington.
“Additionally, I’m hopeful fans can help us out with another question we have for the Thor product. There are some sketch cards that can be combined to create a larger picture that is really fantastic. You can see a couple examples of these cards below:
Should we keep these four cards together in one pack or insert them into separate packs?
Would collectors be able to put together a four-card image like this if they were inserted into separate packs?
“Now, should we separate them and insert them randomly into packs where collectors will be forced to seek them out in order to put them together? Or should we include ALL the cards in the same pack as a ‘hot pack’ where we keep the art intact for one lucky collector to find? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.”
Question: What should Marvel fans know about the new Marvel Beginnings set that’s due out this spring?
Jason Masherah: “Innovation is one of the key drivers for us here at Upper Deck so I’ve tasked our Entertainment staff to really work to reinvent the collectible card category for properties like Marvel. Forget about inserts and autographs for a second. Let’s get down to what should really be important in a Marvel release: characters. Marvel Beginnings will be Part 1 of a three-part series that chronicles more than 500 characters in the Marvel Universe and will be the most comprehensive set ever produced. Each card will feature the highlighted character from an early appearance and then again sporting a more contemporary look. We will have a thorough biography on them to give them the credit they deserve. Think of Marvel Beginnings as the first part of a three-part encyclopedia to the Marvel Universe.
“With that being said, there will be exciting content in the product using new technologies like die-cut, holofoil and Micro Motion insert cards. Sketch cards from artists like Dan Panosian, Graham Nolan, Jim Cheung, Joyce Chin, Cat Staggs, Kate Bradley, Remy “Eisu” Mokhtar, Jonboy Meyers and David Mack. We’ll have autographs from Marvel favorites like Stan Lee, Brian Michael Bendis, Joe Sinnot, Kurt Busiek, Gerry Conway and David Micheline. We have a couple other surprises in store for this product that will have fans scouring to find boxes once it hits. If you love Marvel, this is going to be a pack-opening thrill like you’ve never had before with another brand. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Cards in the Marvel Beginnings series will document characters in the Marvel Universe
Cards will feature both heroes and villains in the comprehensive collection of Marvel characters
A variety of unique sketch cards drawn by artists will add to the experience of opening up packs of Marvel Beginnings
Obscure characters as well as favorites like Spiderman will be featured
Question: After Thor and Marvel Beginnings, you have a product slated around the theatrical release of Captain America. What can you tell us about that?
Jason Masherah: “The trailer just premiered during the Super Bowl and there seems to be a lot of good buzz about the movie right now. Our release will be similar to that of Thor with lots of compelling content including some very unique manufactured patch cards that look great. Sketch Cards, costume memorabilia, and actor/actress autograph cards will also be included.
Marvel fans are excited to see Thor and Captain America make their big screen debuts this summer
Question: Upper Deck Entertainment hasn’t shared a lot with fans as of late. Do you have any plans to engage fans in new ways and to keep them updated on what is coming out next?
Jason Masherah: “Absolutely. Yes, I feel like we haven’t been there for Marvel fans over the last year in particular primarily because there wasn’t a lot to share. I apologize for that and I can promise you that is going to change. We are happy to announce we have revamped our Twitter page to cater to all Upper Deck Entertainment releases. I encourage fans to follow us and chat with us by clicking here. Additionally we have a new Facebook page for Upper Deck Entertainment where we will answer questions, look for new ideas, share new images and run a variety of fun giveaways. I encourage Marvel fans in particular to “like” that page which they can find by clicking here. You can look for more stories on Upper Deck Entertainment products here on our Blog as well. Additionally, we are looking for writers and fans to assist us there. If you are interested in potentially writing for the Upper Deck Blog on entertainment products and the market as a whole, contact us today at upperdeckmarketing@upperdeck.com.”
Question: What does Upper Deck Entertainment have to say about its past performance in the market and what is next?
Jason Masherah: “As a company we’ve enjoyed some successes and endured some failures. We’ve done some things really well, but we’ve also made some mistakes along the way. We are not preoccupied with the past. We have a new team that’s very motivated to make trading cards fun for TCG and comic book aficionados alike. We’re going to do some things that people won’t be expecting this year and we are really anticipating the reactions we’ll see from that. We have some fresh new ideas to further invigorate the category and our focus is on the future. We can’t wait to show you what we have in store!”

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~Chris Carlin
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