Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Upper Deck and the Curious Case of Lost Originality

When Upper Deck burst onto the scene in 1989 they revoltuionized the hobby with the slick cardstock, holograms and buck-a-pack pricepoint. Over the past couple of decades they've been in the middle of some the hobby's biggest innovations: in-pack autographs in 1990, winking holograms in the mid-1990s, jersey swatches in 1997 (although I believe it was Press Pass that first had memorabilia cards a year-or-so earlier), the intorduction of the mega-premium "pack" with the launch of Exquisite. The list is a pretty big and respectible one.

But today I'm disgusted by their lack of originality and their insistance on copying their main competitor and dancing around the fact that they're doing so. I'm pretty stocked about 2009 O-Pee-Chee Baseball, but I also recognize that while the parallel inserts may mimic the O-Pee-Chee design, one also has to acknowledge that these were originally Topps designs. It's a blatant rip-off in my books, even if they do own all things O-Pee-Chee.

After opening a couple of packs of 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee Update Hockey, the ripoff status has reached an entirely new level. Not only do you get a 1978-79 Retro variation in every pack (another old school Topps/OPC ripoff) but the composition of the set is exactly like the Topps Traded sets from 2001 and 2002. Every pack has a second parallel named OPC Metal. Topps Chrome anyone? And what's Topps Chrome without your refrectors. But wait, the refractor name is copyright. So instead they're Metal X parallels. Sounds an awful lot like the format for 2001 Topps Traded Baseball. Actually, that's exactly like 2001 Topps Traded Baseball. Who are they trying to kid that "Chrome" is different from "Metal"?

Give me a break! Following hobby trends is one thing. Creating entire sets that copy just about everything from your competitors is lazy, boring, insulting and just plain lame. Does Upper Deck not understand that by "borrowing," "paying homage," "tributing," whatever polite term you want to call it, from your competitor and their history that you make yourself look like a joke. It only makes what they do seem better.

Upper Deck needs to understand that they need to balance building from ideas and just plain taking others' ideas. By copying Topps to this extent they're losing their own brand identity. Topps has the market for nostalgia and history sets. Get over it and do your own thing. Upper Deck has built a fanbase for their high-end products. That's their angle. And just like Upper Deck normally fails at "old time" sets, Topps often does the same with high-end product.

My venting comes partially from the fact that this year's cards are pretty boring. There's nothing new going on in any of the sports that I can see. With the economic downturn and several licenses coming to pass, the era of risk-taking is gone. Instead it's A throwing B's poop against the wall, pretending it's C's and hoping that some of it sticks.

I want to see a little risk-taking for once. Something that doesn't involve Photoshopping in a politician. Something that doesn't copy a competitor. Something that's been missing for a while now - originality.

2008-09 O-Pee-Chee Update Hockey:

You've got your base cards, Metal parallel and Metal X. Seems familiar.

2001 Topps Traded Baseball:

base cards, Metal Chrome parallel, Metal X Refractors (or Retrofrators as Topps called them for a year or two)

1 comment:

GCA said...

Not to mention that they put two metals and a retro in each pack, leaving two base cards. So you have to spend a small fortune to complete the set while hoping to find someone who wants to start the 800 card Metal set and collects the Retros. They probably won't do retail jumbos or blasters either.