The Saga of 10,000 Digital Han Solo Cards Comes to a Complex End

The Saga of 10,000 Digital Han Solo Cards Comes to a Complex End
Jabba's Prize. And mine. Image: Topps/Lucasfilm

It all came down to this. Hundreds of hours of work, spread over seven months, all culminating in a single press of a button. If it worked? Glory. If it didn’t? Agony. And while one would assume a moment of this magnitude would go off without a hitch, history proved that not to be the case. Yes, I’m being incredibly overdramatic considering the headline of this article, but Star Wars fans get it.

Back in August, I decided to “hoard” cards in the Topps app Star Wars Card Trader. This is a process where you trade with other players to accumulate several thousand copies of a single digital card that can be used to create a new, limited, unique version with your name on it. In the app, it’s called a “monument,” and I decided to attempt that with one of my favourite pieces of Star Wars imagery: Han Solo in Carbonite.

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This idea of hoarding for monuments didn’t originally come from Topps, the players created it. Fans were just looking for something fun to do in the app and decided to “hoard” thousands and thousands of copies of their favourite characters. Eventually, Topps took notice and rewarded them with monuments. In the years since it’s become a semi-regular tradition — never guaranteed but generally expected.

I previously went into detail about why I personally wanted to try for a monument card. After writing that piece, I kept updating it to track my progress. So I know that in the month of August I accumulated almost 6,000 cards. Two weeks later? I hit 10,000, which was my initial goal. By the start of October, I’d hit over 13,000 on my way to a new goal of 15,000 and more.

Topps finally announced 2020 monuments were officially happening in mid-October, with the actual salvaging (the process by which you turn your thousands of hoarded cards into the monument) not happening until early February 2021, giving fans plenty of time to hit the requirements (more on that in a bit). Series 1 monuments for the 2020 base were available on February 3. A week later, Series 2 would be available. Han Solo in Carbonite was in Series 2 which gave me the luxury of watching the first process happen in anticipation of my own. But, frankly, it couldn’t have gone worse.

At 2 p.m. EST on February 3, the Series 1 monuments went live and would be available for a week. Roughly 30 minutes later, they were gone. Not sold out mind you, taken out of the app entirely because of how poorly it worked out. Some people had no issues. Others lost all of their base cards and got nothing in return. Others still couldn’t access the app at all. The long-awaited, nerve-wracking moment of truth was a disaster.

Topps put up a statement in the app. “We are aware of the issue users are experiencing with Monument Salvages. We have deactivated the associated salvage while we work to diagnose the issue.” The post told fans who had issues to contact support and later added a more detailed FAQ.

Over the next several hours, Topps customer support slowly worked to fix the problems; most people who had issues were sent their monuments in-app, others got their base returned so they could do it themselves. It all seemed very unorganized and case by case. By 9:45 a.m. the next morning, another update was posted in the app explaining that the support team was still working through the errors and would provide an update soon. Meanwhile, the salvages were still deactivated — it took until Friday, two days later, for them to go back up. As a make-good gesture, some fans got $US100 ($129) worth of the in-app paid currency. Others got less. The solutions and responses were unpredictable but, it seemed, the problem was solved.

“Monuments were more popular than we projected which caused a sudden, massive spike in traffic when it first launched, causing us to take down some of our services,” read a statement provided to Gizmodo from the Star Wars Card Trader team. “We were troubleshooting immediately. We got everything back up and running, and made sure that those who were affected received their Monuments or missing cards.”

Which brings me to my moment: 2 p.m. on February 10, the Series 2 monuments. I had all the cards I needed. Way more than enough, in fact, so as the clock changed and the event became available, I did it. While there were a few moments of anxiety, thankfully it worked. Here’s a quick edit of my screen captures (they got cropped in iMovie, but you get the idea).

It was mine — 6,050 cards well spent for my Han Solo monument and avatar.

This is all ridiculously nerdy and pointless information, of course. But the details speak to what I and many others have seen happen with Star Wars Card Trader in the past few months. I dove heavily into the app when it debuted in 2015 but then left in 2018 because it was becoming too expensive to play. You had to spend money to have even a chance at good cards. From what I’ve seen, that’s why many other people left around that time too. Topps quickly realised that though and, a year or so later, the balance started swinging the other way. And it continued to swing. And swing.

Between March of last year (when I got back into the app) and today, it’s night and day. Last year, there was a good balance of hard-to-get sets as well as more easily acquirable ones. Now, each week, it seems there are fewer new cards to collect than ever, and the ones that are available are easier to get than ever. No limits, long availability windows, relatively simple odds. As that’s happening, there are barely any (if any at all) limited cards anymore. Everything is simple and cheap to get. It feels more like a game everyone is designed to win rather than a sign of pride and accomplishment, a way to perhaps keep younger players happy but at the expense of alienating older ones. I can’t tell you how many times a new, obviously young player will send me an egregiously imbalanced trade for an extra rare card of mine and get mad when I turn them down. But the experience speaks to a certain expectation and entitlement that takes the magic out of collecting.

And there’s no sign that’s going to change. As a result, monuments and hoarding have become the soul of the app. At any moment in the trade feed, dozens of people are doing it. Plus, people will now trade not just base cards for base cards, they’re trading these new “limited” cards for base cards too, which would’ve been unthinkable years ago. In an app with a decreasing sense of collectibility, hoarding is the thing. It’s challenging, it’s fun, and eventually, it results in a card that’s actually limited. Something not everyone can have. Something you personally worked hard to get. Which is why you’d think Topps would embrace it. But up until now, they haven’t.

The back of a 2020 Monument. The space will be filled with the names of people who were able to get it. (Image: Topps/Lucasfilm) The back of a 2020 Monument. The space will be filled with the names of people who were able to get it. (Image: Topps/Lucasfilm)

The 2020 monument announcement was 10 months into the year. Ten months of people hoarding just for fun, crossing their fingers in the hopes they’d be rewarded. Then, once the announcement happened, it too was a mess. That I only needed 6,050 Series 2 cards (5,000 white, 650 blue, 250 red, 100 green, and 50 orange) was relatively easy. How easy? Reaching those goals only took me six weeks and, in the months that followed, I saw people on social media brag about completing it in a single weekend. (Many, many people were able to complete monuments for multiple characters too. That’s how easy it was.)

Then there were the Series 1 cards which had been available in the app since late 2019. Initially, monuments for those cards had a goal of 20,000 whites. Fans complained that was too hard though, and despite having been out for almost a year at that point, the number was dropped to 15,000 — just three times the amount of Series 2, despite having been available for eight additional months. It seemed as if monuments were beginning to be geared toward something for the masses rather than an achievement for a truly dedicated, hard-working fan. Less a monument and more a moment.

But, in a surprising turn of events, it seems that could be changing. At least partially. Despite the recent tech issue and minor fumbles along the way, hoarding for monuments continues to be the biggest thing happening in the Star Wars Card Trader — and the Topps team has seemingly finally noticed.

The Han Solo in Carbonite 2020 monument. (Image: Topps/Lucasfilm) The Han Solo in Carbonite 2020 monument. (Image: Topps/Lucasfilm)

“We understand how important Monuments are to our fans,” the Star Wars Card Trader team said in a statement provided to Gizmodo. “We are committed to doing them again this year and have already put measures in place to make the experience rock-solid and fun in 2021.”

That’s the earliest Topps has ever made it official. Monuments are happening in 2021. You heard it here first.

Stepping back a bit, it’s certainly important to remember I’m writing this very much from a deeply rooted fan experience. Topps is a business and most fans don’t know about the inner workings there. (How much money is being made, how much the app costs to run, etc.) Just like with many other industries, what some fans want probably doesn’t mesh with what works financially and, one would hope, most of these decisions aren’t reached lightly. Gizmodo attempted to dig deeper into the issues at play with the app, but after multiple requests to speak with a member of the Star Wars Card Trader team at Topps, we were only provided the statements quoted above.

Nevertheless, there is definitely a gap in understanding between what many fans want and the people making the app. Something I didn’t quite understand until I dove head-first into monuments. Fans are fans though. We’re loyal to a fault and will keep coming back because we love collecting, we love Star Wars, and we have already invested so much time and money. Plus, at the end of the day, I did get my Han Solo in Carbonite monument. It’s mine. I have it. I love it. Even if it was a bit of a bumpy road, I worked hard for it — so for me, it was worth it. But it was still easier to get than I expected, and now that I know that I can adjust.

Hypothetically, that could change this year though. Considering Topps is listening to feedback and 2021 monuments are officially a go, maybe with some more planning, it’ll be better this year. Either way, send me 2021 Han Solo base cards at DarthGerm. I’m still hard at work.