All is well in the Pokémon TCG, and very few fakes are well-made. But what about the future?
Are Pokémon cards really THAT difficult to replicate? If a bad actor got their hands on a printing design of a highly valuable card (and/or had the hardware technology to print/copy), how would that affect the legitimacy of said card? How would the market react? With Pokémon cards lacking serial numbers, how will grading companies be able to tell the difference? What if these bad actors could replicate almost any card?
While I am very bullish on Pokémon, I see fake cards as probably the single biggest threat to the TCG. While there are plenty of bad fakes floating around, who is to say that there won’t be far more sophisticated fakes in the future (especially when bad actors catch wind of all the money to be made from them)?
Are my fears unfounded? Would love to hear y’all’s thoughts on this.
@teraz, I’m not sure I follow why you’re quoting that thread. My question isn’t on the moral implications of fake cards; of course they’re unethical and would undermine the value of our collections (and, for many of us, our livelihoods).
My question is how big of a threat fakes are, and does this have potential to be the single biggest threat to the TCG in the future?
I’ve seen some fakes that are getting better and more sophisticated just as early as a year ago. While a close look + comparison with a real version of the card would most often prove authenticity (along with rip tests, light tests, etc.), they can easily be overlooked.
Are all of you checking each and every card you purchase individually and closely for authenticity?
@teraz OP never mentioned the morality, and is only interested in the financial implications of indistuishible fakes. I’d rip into this weird sense of morality that is displayed but that’s neither here nor there for the topic at hand.
On topic; financial repercussions due to confusion about the legitimacy of a card, or convincing fakes, has been seen in the past. Specifically M Charizard EX (the dragon type ones IIRC) from XY FlashFire is a card that significantly underperformed financially due to the large amount of fakes being out there. People burned themselves on this card and that caused the price to be quite low. I remember a youtuber talking about buying specifically this card because if you know what to look for you can spot the real ones.
So yeah, if fakes ever become convincing I believe it will have an effect on the market.
Will we ever see such convincing fakes? I think the card I mentioned earlier has better fakes due to how the original card was designed. The holo of XY-era cards was easy to fake as well. If we look at another game, MtG for instance, there exist high quality proxies that even sneak into official tournaments. There is however a lot of demand for proxies due to the poor reprint policies of WotC, which means a lot of competition between proxy-makers resulting in higher quality proxies.
We don’t have the same pressures in Pokémon, there is little demand from end-users for fakes of older cards, because we don’t use them for play. Valuable older Pokémon cards also have relatively unique holos that are hard to replicate since people don’t have access to the same materials as WotC or TPCi did. To make a convincing 1st edition stamp you would also have to acquire the original material used to make them. There are a lot of hoops to go through with a significant risk as well if you want to make indistinguishable fakes. So I don’t think we’ll see that level of fakes any time soon. I do think that as the quality of fakes improves people will have to be more careful, scrutinize sellers a lot more, and maybe switch to graded cards or systems like the eBay authenticity guarantee altogether.
As long as E4 exists, fakes won’t be that serious.
Currently fakes are mainly a threat for new collectors. WOTC cards are a big target. Most members here can instantly spot a fake. Numerous members immediately knew that 1st Ed Base Case was fake. And that had “correct” physical materials. Even with that, multiple people knew it was bs, with @rattlebear leading the charge.
There is another problem with fakes we never get to, scaling sales. For example, if team rocket made 1,000 “passing” fake 1st ed charizards, how is that going to play out? People sniffed out the extra GS legendary dogs, even without the massive binder video. People have tracked pkonno’s extra copies. Not only would you have to create a convincible fake, it would have to pass third party grading, then you have to drip them into the market in a way where people wouldn’t notice.
It won’t be a problem. Worst case scenario Nintendo does something when they print cards to add a layer of security for spotting fakes. Even now there are some tells that are extremely hard to replicate. Holo patterns for example, print quality, errors, the extra “dark layer” in the very middle of cards is the easiest tell and in my opinion, the hardest te replicate. You need a good magnifying glass or something of that kind to tell but that’s what I always do if im unsure.
@smpratte , I have seen great things from E4, and I have no doubt the community can spot the fakes. What @rattle is doing is also phenomenal work to keep bad actors in check, and he certainly called it when the 1st Ed Base Case turned out to be fake.
I’m thinking more into the future. Right now, Pokemon TCG is still a young market, despite being 26ish years old. It has so much room to grow in the future. What happens when the community grows to double, triple, or even 5-10x the size it is now? Think about all the hype and noise attracting so many new faces, demand, and ultimately, cash.
My concern is that, with the advent of more sophisticated technology in the hands of scammers, it seems that this risk isn’t being taken seriously enough yet. I worry what happens when it’s too late.
We see how bots have ruined the buyer experience with anything that has hype around it (TCGs, sneakers, art, etc.). We see how bots have ruined entire multiplayer experiences (RuneScape, CoD Warzone, Apex Legends, etc.). I’m reading the tea leaves, and it doesn’t look good. I hope Pokemon has some major defenses in the works to get ahead of it.
Modern cards are a different beast altogether. Chase cards are texturized which I haven’t seen on a fake card before, not even poor quality imitation texture. I think this is enough of a hurdle for now. I am not that familiar with the use of serial numbers on cards, but I assume serial numbers doesn’t solve the issue unless you also make them limited X/X with knowledge of the whereabouts of each copy. Otherwise what is to stop someone from creating a fake with a correct serial number (like we see with fake PSA slabs).
I don’t have any knowledge of the inner workings of WotC, but they have the famous green “L” in the rosettes of the red mana dot on the back of the card. That I believe is still a relatively strong way to identify fakes (though there may already be fakes good enough to fake that too). WotC itself has embraced the alternative art reprint and direct to consumer sales of singles through Secret Lairs. I think this is in part to catch onto the reprint value of some older staples that are too strong for the metagame. Reprinting older valuable cards is a good way to dilute the market and keep fakes somewhat at bay, but that is not a solution that works for Pokémon. I am not tapped into the going ons of fake reserved list cards, so I have no idea if and to what scale these are being produced.
Education first and foremost is imperative when making any sort of purchase. High quality fakes in all sorts of hobbies have been persistent for years, and they fool people. But they also don’t fool people who know what they’re looking for.
If fakes get better, will it make the barrier for entry on raw cards a bit higher? Probably. But even Ebay is going after that with their authenticity guarantee on ungraded cards over a certain $ value. If fakes get better, will it have any significant impact on the Pokemon market? Currency collecting, autograph collecting, and memorabilia collecting say no.
I think this answers your worries; Pokemon ended the bot phase in 2020. Scalpers were public enemy #1. Less than 2 years later, that is resolved. Pokemon not only printed more product, they are actively buying more printers. Botting is more of a company & supply issue. In the case of sneakers, they are choosing to release limited product. That strategy creates free marketing noise. Pokemon has already proven multiple times they will increase supply to meet that demand. They did it in 2017, and are doing it now.
The Pokémon company could take some actions to prevent fakes.
A direct to consumer approach by only ordering through the Pokémon Center. It will give an avenue for collectors and players to get modern product straight from the source. Would probably result in lower sales overall due to not being in big box stores, which is probably a significant part of their sales volume. Could also do a print to demand approach by mostly taking pre-orders on the website. In down economies, this approach would be great for business.
Continue utilizing texture on the chase cards, or even adding more features to the card that will make it difficult to recreate. XY era holo patterns are basic and seems easy to recreate. Even flat V cards are simple enough.
Could stop doing stamps like STAFF and never go back to 1st edition stamps. Turning a shadowless Charizard into a 1st edition can be somewhat passable. I can also see taking a participant card and stamping your own STAFF stamp on it. Just prevent the chance that someone can modify a card to try to increase the value.
There really isn’t any future threat of good, unidentifiable fakes. The sports card hobbies are much bigger with much more valuable cards than Pokemon, and still no major problem of fakes has emerged in those places. This is true even for cards which are 100+ years old. If someone really wanted to fake cards, why would they go to the trouble of making a fake Pokemon card when they could just print a fake Mickey Mantle rookie or T206 Honus Wagner? It would be less difficult (no pesky holo pattern to worry about) and several times more rewarding.
Hell, why wouldn’t someone with that amount of expertise, knowledge, and printing capacity just cut out the middleman and start counterfeiting cash?
Pokemon and the card hobby should obviously be concerned about fake cards because they are a problem for the market and for collectors. But fakes will never be more than a problem for the inexperienced collector.
It seems that many people underestimate how hard it is to create fake Pokemon cards that are realistic enough to fool graders on a consistent basis. The proof is right before us, or rather behind us: The past 3 years. We have reached a point in Pokemon where cards have become valuable enough that creating a convincing fake might be lucrative. And yet, nobody has managed to do it on a big scale (we know that because even during the 2020/2021 mania, the number of graded PSA 10 copies of the most expensive/popular cards has increased relatively little).
Now, you might argue that fakes will still be a problem in the future as technology progresses, but there’s a flaw in that argument. The technology already exists, in fact it is 25 years old. If people could just create fakes, they would have done it in the past 3 years (when things started to become real lucrative), and the fact that they couldn’t replicate an existing technology in 25 years implies that they won’t be able to do it in the next 25 years either.
I’ve been collecting things all my life. Every single hobby has counterfeit and fakes. While they do get better they are never 1:1 and experts within the hobby can always tell the real from the fake. I wouldn’t let it disturb your enjoyment in the hobby.
I would argue the tech isn’t quite there yet – otherwise, like you said, we’d already see the market being flooded with these more sophisticated fakes. As @expedition and @smpratte suggested, there are defenses in place currently that mitigate against this threat; but…what if the tech outpaces these defenses?
I know I’m beating the dead horse by now, but this is just to drive the point further – food for thought, planting the seed if you will. I think it’s healthy to recognize threats.
In business strategy, we use the SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats – to remain hyperaware and steer the ship while riding the big waves and avoiding the icebergs; as dramatic as it may sound, I see this as Pokémon TCG’s potential iceberg.