This is going to be a long one from a card game veteran but also a noob in Netrunning. I won’t suggest a solution for the problem as I don’t know it, but I want to stress out the two biggest issues with keeping this game alive - SITUATIONAL GAME MECHANICS and SALES POLICY.
This is based on my humble opinion and I think many people will disagree with this (also, my apologies for my English, it’s not my native language).
When I first saw this game I thought the rules were pretty complex, but I was determined to give it a try. I’m a huge fan of the CyberSpace concept, I love Gibsons’s Neuromancer and Cyberpunk’s netrunning. I also love card games and have been playing various since 2001 (starting with Magic the Gathering during the Oddysey block). So… I bought the Revised Core Set together with the Creation and Control expansion and started playing.
I quickly noticed that Netrunner is based on situational plays - your success is heavily dependent on having the right countermeasure to whatever the other player is playing. Killers break sentries, fracters break barriers and decoders break code gates, and then there are some effects that you can’t break through (“when encountered” and “traps”) unless you have that one specific card that can let you ignore those effects. The runner also needs to use different cards to prevent net damage, brain damage, meat damage, being tagged and prevent the Corp from scoring an Agenda within one turn (Clot). You can create a strong and fun-to-play deck, but if you don’t have “that one specific card” that saves you from an effect from “that other specific card” your opponent is playing, you may end up dead very soon. And if you do, it’s not a fun game.
It’s a super advanced rock-paper-scissors game. Some of us like it, others despise it.
It’s because situational mechanics look cool but are terrible when it comes to creating a friendly-competitive environment and even worse when it comes to bringing casuals to start playing. An experienced Netrunner player will make sure to have the right card at the right moment, but a newbie will often end up stuck and frustrated because (an example) he or she won’t have a Fracter, when the opponent will have a powerful, run-ending Barrier. Or he/she will become tagged and won’t have a Misdirection to remove tags before there’s a BOOM! on the table. And it’s not only about new players. Many people simply dislike when they need to put “that one specific card” in their deck just because somebody else could be playing “that one specific strategy” that they have no other way to counter. That’s why many other games resigned from those mechanics a long time ago… and they’re doing just fine.
Also - money. It’s always about money.
Yeah, Netrunner is much cheaper than keeping up to date with Magic the Gathering, but it is the XXI century. People play Hearthstone and Gwent online, with extra visual effects, easy access, they don’t have to travel to a local shop, they don’t have to search for people playing the game and - most importantly - they can start having fun without paying a single dollar. MtG may be expensive, but it’s a game with a tradition and lots of support from it’s developers.
On the other hand, people can choose the Netrunner, that has already nearly 50 (!) expansion packs… you don’t “have to” buy them, but there is a high chance that you will need to buy some of them to enhance your collection, allowing you to create various decks. And it’s hard to get singles - it’s not a card gathering game.
And this brings me to the final point… I feel that FFG is not supporting this game enough (again, this is just my opinion here). There are no social media fan pages created by FFG and the dedicated website releases only info on new products to buy (New Playmats! New Data Pack! Maybe you also want to buy the new Star Wars pack?) but hardly ever I see articles that would explain the lore or design thought behind cards. Most things we have, like the NetrunnerDB or this forum, have been created by the player community.
Also, I have never heard of events like “Learn the Netrunner” organized by FFG (for comparison, Wizards of the Coast keep on organizing such events and it brings lots of people to play at our local store). Most of my friends who are playing card/board/battle games (including shop owners and tournament players) have never heard of this game or were not interested in learning it at all. One of my colleagues even told me: “Man, seriously, why are you buying Netrunner? You know FFG is the EA of board games, right? They will sell you an incomplete box of cards that you won’t be able to fully enjoy unless you buy two more and a dozen of expansion packs to make it work. They care only about money, not about the quality of their products.” And it was hard for me to disagree because the sales policy behind Netrunner seems very unfair - actually, it looks like a money-making-machine instead of a live game, and if it wasn’t to Team Convenant’s videos on YT I wouldn’t even give it a try.
And please, don’t get me wrong. I love the idea behind this game but it’s also not the first card game I’m playing. I see the differences between Netrunner and other (tabletop and online) card games. The game mechanics are complex which already makes it hard to attract new players and the sales policy makes it even harder.