With the release of ‘Journey to Un’Goro‘, Blizzard’s digital CCG Hearthstone gained its ninth expansion. Hearthstone’s ‘Standard’ format means that every year certain cards from previous expansions are cycled out of the competitive meta, and put into ‘Wild’ format for players to enjoy against players playing wild decks. This system means that, as with any card game, the release of a new batch of cards comes the costs that come with trying to remain up to date and competitive with the metagame.
In this Lyte Byte I’ll be taking a bite of the free-to-play model, specifically with Hearthstone, to see if it’s a model that’s truly ‘free’.
Personally, with the release of the expansion, I opened 22 packs using the in-game currency. Out of the 110 cards that I opened, I managed to pull 10 of the same cards. None of the deck defining cards that Blizzard have released leaving me with one, truly, viable deck in the competitive game.
Of course, this sucked.
Anyone who has spent time or money on the game doesn’t want to feel as if their previous efforts into the game have been wasted with the release of new content. Especially when there’s mention of conspiracy around these packs. Furthermore, the ability to buy 50 packs for $49.99 as a pre-order suggests that Blizzard intends for the average player to need at least 50 packs to enjoy the experience of their ‘free’ game. With the F2P label looming over Hearthstone’s head versus each of their expansions suggesting that the players purchase a lot of packs (or invest in the Adventure-type expansions, which also come with a hefty price tag) begs the question of whether Hearthstone is truly free to play.
With that aside, however, players need to consider the type of game they’re playing. Hearthstone is a CCG, a collectable card game. This suggests that part of the fun of the game is buying packs and opening the higher rarity cards in their pursuit of filling out their collection. For the more competitively minded perhaps the inability to play competitive decks due to the presence of a pay wall is frustrating, but it does fulfil the players that want to play without the worry of whether their deck is top tier and strong and just focus on grinding out gold to buy packs for free.
At the end of the day, it is entirely possible to play the game completely for free. The in-game currency provides players with the means to purchase packs through success in the game; the presence of basic cards means that every player that downloads the game will have access to a small pool of cards, regardless of how strong these cards are; the ability to craft specific cards by destroying duplicates of cards that you pull from packs means that you are able to build your way towards a specific deck type.
With all things considered I think Hearthstone players need to recognise that they could be playing a physical TCG where if you don’t pull a specific card from a pack you may need to spend more money on a single card than 50 packs on Hearthstone. Plus, if you don’t get the right card on Hearthstone you can make the card you want by disenchanting cards you don’t want!
To answer whether or not Hearthstone is free-to-play, however, comes down to the player that plays the game. For the casual player, sure, Hearthstone is a fun, free card game to enjoy. For the competitive metagamer, it’s an AAA title three times a year.
What do you think? Do you have experience with any similar ‘free-to-play’ titles? What about games like ‘League of Legends’ that offers players new characters for real-life currency AND in-game currency? Let me know!