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Yu-Gi-Oh and Counterfeiting: A Brief History

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We were all surprised by the recent news of serial numbers tying specific dice to card rarity in the Yu-Gi-Oh set. The move was made without warning and was certainly unexpected.

Just as unexpected, though certainly far more welcome, was WizKid's response to a question from a Facebook user stating that the numbering was going to be unique to the Yu-Gi-Oh set. But why? They did not say.

Well, we have a theory.But first, a little background.

The Yu-Gi-Oh CCG's entry to the US market wasn't too dissimilar from that of another popular CCG - Pokémon. The Pokémon trading card game was distributed in the US not by the company that originated the game, but by Wizards of the Coast via an agreement. Konami's partner in distribution for YGO (I hope that fans of the game/anime/manga aren't offended by that abbreviation, it's a pain to type) was Upper Deck, a company mostly known for baseball cards - growing up, I had many from them in my collection - that has now published a couple of excellent deckbuilding games using the Legendary system.

However, there were soon problems. Konami accused Upper Deck of producing and distributing cards that they weren't authorized to make use of. Konami filed suit; as often occurs, Upper Deck filed a countersuit. Things got a little bit ugly and the battle spread to all markets where Upper Deck was handling distribution.

It turns out that it was no small thing that Upper Deck was accused of doing. Ultimately, in court proceedings, Upper Deck "admitted in depositions to printing and importing to the U.S., approximately 611,000 unauthentic Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG cards, which violated trademark, copyright and unfair competition laws." (Source)

It was also discovered that "employees of the Upper Deck Company, including its Chairman, Richard McWilliam, participated in a 2008 meeting ... where they discussed that the cards made without authorization by Upper Deck did not look authentic enough, and where Upper Deck’s chairman then shredded samples of the counterfeit cards."

The countersuit was tossed.

This was a pretty significant event in the YGO world, as one would imagine. There is even a page in the YGO wiki about the issue. And the counterfeit cards? As you might expect, they were rares. Specifically, they were showcased in multipacks of boosters as an enticement for purchase.

While Konami is far from the only company to deal with counterfeit issues in their CCGs, they may be unique in being victimized by a business partner. This quote from one of the press releases really stands out to me, especially in consideration of the serial number move:

"This ruling shows Duelists, distributors and our hobby and retail partners the great lengths we will go to protect the integrity of the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG and the products that are on store shelves."
I think it is quite likely that additional controls on the authenticity of cards and dice were a part of the licensing agreement with Konami for this game - just another of the "great lengths" that they will take in order to protect the integrity of their intellectual property. WizKids generally has narrow parameters on what they get to do with the IPs that they have access to. This is why many of their board games specifically involve Clix - many of their agreements limit WizKids access to Clix-related things.

TL;DR - In this case, we at The Reserve Pool assert that WizKids is doing what it must to keep Konami happy. It serves their ability to keep relations friendly for the Yu-Gi-Oh Heroclix line, and it enables them to give this set a try.
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  1. Ken Varga imported's Avatar is the theory that Konami would want this as a control to protect against shenanigans by 1) Wizkids, 2) consumers, 3) both, 4) other, or 5) don't know?

    I'm not completely sold on the theory, but it is better than my vest one (which assumes some unlikely incompetence on Wizkids part). Hopefully more clues will emerge. I guess it currently is harder to manufacture a passable counterfit SR die than it is to make a passable card, so your theory does have that going for it for sure.
  2. Joe Smelosky imported's Avatar
    This make a lot of sense. Though Konami is crazy as well, they've made some pretty stupid decisions regarding yugioh. Like how they hate the secondary market and will print the same card as ultra rare and common in the same set. So anything weird or out of place would come from Konami not wizkids. Though wizkids needs to change the rule about using out of set dice, it's a bad rule.
  3. Dave imported's Avatar
    Perhaps any and all. Konami first suspected one of the distributors of the counterfeiting, but the distributor then pointed the finger (correctly) at Upper Deck. They were using JUST rare cards to encourage sales of these other products. So apart from the usual counterfeiting that CCG companies have to endure (weren't 47 million counterfeit Pokémon cards just seized?), they were also victimized by their business partners. The end result was that Konami took over production worldwide. Perhaps they're nervous about taking on a similar relationship. As you say, much harder to make a die than a card, and this seems more to ensure proper card rarity than anything else.

    Certainly YGO players would be used to Konami's demands.
  4. Ken Varga imported's Avatar
    I did a bit more research on the YGO counterfeiting by Upper Deck. I didn't understand how those cards could be "counterfeit" if UD was the manufacturer for Konami. (It seemed like they'd be authentic, just not authorized). It turns out UD was NOT the manufacturer of YGO cards then. Konami always manufactured all of the cards and even packaged them. They then handed them off to UD who did the distribution and marketing of the CCG.

    In an effort to move slower moving packs (at least that appears to be the motive), UD secretly made counterfeits of 9 of the most sought after rare YGO cards and handed them off to another company to package them, rares visible, along with some of those regular slow-moving booster packs. The counterfeits were not well executed (coloration of the print was off and the security foil was even the wrong color foil) and were quickly discovered. UD originally denied involvement, but it became clear that they were the culprit. Konami took over distribution.

    Does this shed any light on the dice serial numbers? Not really, but if Konami is behind the requirement, it fills in more details on how they were burned by a partner in the past. If Konami is a control-freak on the DM project, I wonder if they're manufacturing the dice and/or cards?

    The YGO collector's checklist is now known, and the two other versions of all Super Rare YGO cards are Rare and Uncommon. No commons. That makes me start to wonder if this isn't what I first suspected--an ill thought out attempt at a marginal money grab that just got dialed back last-minute. It will be interesting to see if the second DM YGO set that is released (assuming there is one) has dice serial numbers.
  5. Brad Andrews imported's Avatar
    I tend to wonder if WK is just testing the waters to see if they can get away with the same rarity levels that soured me when I returned to Heroclix for the War of Light stuff. Too many almost impossible to get pieces. Idiotic and not good for long term fan retention.
  6. Nate Smelley imported's Avatar
    I can't find the checklist online, where did you see it at?
  7. Ken Varga imported's Avatar
  8. Ken Varga imported's Avatar
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