I did a post after just a few weeks in Hearthstone back at the beginning of the Beta over at Cold’s Gold Factory: Play HearthstoneOverview & First Thoughts and now that we are in Open Beta I wanted to close out my thoughts. What have they been doing right, how I think the opening will do, and other random musings?
I did a post for beginners back in October (Hearthstone:Philosophy for Beginners) that may be of some use as the advice is relevant even if the cards or the ‘meta’ [means what is popular right now] have changed. This post now will not be a preparation style post or anything for the new players coming into Hearthstone.
Once Open Beta started I got my wife to run through “Day One” activities on her Battle.net account getting a perspective from a non-gamer. My views on the tutorial and mode layouts remain mostly unchanged. The tutorial is adequate only lacking in areas such as targeting (hitting the wrong thing with damage or a buff is common for beginners) and had enough ‘story’ elements to it to keep interest. Of course Ranked mode in proper has been added to the game now and while there are no direct rewards for what rank you reach, there is at least an incentive built into the system to continue playing and the effectiveness of these little ‘carrots’ (ranking up) cannot be understated.
Continued after break..
“Pay to Win” is still a big debate in the little community that has formed mainly lead by an influx of decks relying on Epic and Legendary cards. I want to say now that I do not see a problem with spending money to progress further or faster in a game; it all comes down to striking the right balance. “Pay to Win” to me means that you hit a wall early on and have to drag out your checkbook to continue having fun. Taking this definition I don’t consider a game like ‘Candy Crush Saga’ to be Pay to Win, even though you can literally pay 99c to win a stage and it is one of the top grossing games on mobile devices. An example of Pay to Win for me is ‘Plants vs. Zombies 2’ when it was first released. The problem wasn’t the units you can purchase with real money; the problem was hitting the ‘Paywall’ too early in the game. You got about 4 hours of content then everything else was behind literal walls (I saw the irony in this) that you either paid for and it wasn’t cheap, or you endlessly repeated the same levels over and over until you eventually could put 10+ hours into opening just one of the doors. I say ‘when it was first released’ because they saw the error in this strategy and quickly redesigned that entire game from the ground up to change this.
That being in my mind, I do think Hearthstone is leaning towards Pay to Win but not for the traditional reasons that people whining on forums give. I have no problem with the price of packs or an Arena run. Going through now two ‘Day One’ experiences, I can tell that there is a little too much “Paywall” pressure early in the game. Once you go through tutorial, beat all of the practice modes, and try both Play mode and Arena mode you haven’t gotten enough packs to really get that “I’m getting stronger” feeling and while you do start with many basic cards most of them are filler you’ll quickly not want to use because it is not fun getting murdered over and over in Play Mode. Many are left almost directly after the practice games with “Wow, now I have to buy packs” or if they enjoy Arena “Now I have to start shelling out $2 wow” since newer players will not often fully recoup so they can endlessly chain Arenas. Like I mentioned in my first impressions you don’t want this massive wall that stops people because they’ll just turn and walk away. They have to balance it where people are still having to climb the wall (pay $ to Blizzard) but don’t feel it all at once.
I have a few ideas I’ve bounced around. One is changing how basic cards work so that it isn’t just a list of cards at the beginning hitting you. You can prolong this section of the game and give new players a sense of “getting stronger” without having to get packs by gating basic cards in a fun fashion so that there is a progression there and it doesn’t have to work exactly like they gate class-specific basics. This method doesn’t affect paying customers in the least since the free players aren’t getting anything more. Another idea is to have the first quest reward packs only be semi-random and guarantee either certain classes or certain rarities show up. Maybe at level 10 with each class you get a pack that has mostly cards from that class in it, or is guaranteed to have the rare be from that class. In the large scheme of things you are only giving them maybe one rare or a couple of commons from each class and it would make a world of difference in new players getting that ‘epic’ feeling for the class and wanting to continue buying out packs.
Either way, I don’t see Pay to Win as being an insurmountable problem. The other thing to consider is whether Blizzard has what it takes to make a long-term enjoyable and expandable card game experience. I think that might be determined with their first major content patch. They’ve said that the constant card balancing is Beta-only and in the future they’ll create small sets with interestingly designed cards so that the ‘meta’ of the game can adjust itself against cards perceived as powerful when they become overused instead of those cards having to be nerfed to stop their use. This will be great for the game if they can do it and on the correct timetable. This is very apparent in the Beta at the moment as it had stagnated and this post was going to be about kind of how the ‘meta’ worked out in Beta and predicting how it will play out afterward, but now I see Blizzard making a change (like the first major content patch) right as the game officially opens which would invalidate that post and if they don’t push for this change or at least get the game onto mobile devices quickly it will stagnate anyway I guarantee it.