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Hearthstone P2W?

Gevlon had a post up last Friday about Hearthstone that claimed the following:

My problem isn’t that you must pay to be anything but a punching bag. I’ve played 5 years of World of Warcraft, paying 720 euros in the process. My EVE accounts are over 1000 Euros, luckily they’ve been paid by bad EVE players. It’s obvious that you have to pay to use a product and can only get a sample for free. However – unlike in subscription games – there is no fixed cost. If I pay the subscription, I can play EVE or WoW fully. If I pay even $1000 on Heartstone, there is absolutely no guarantee that I’ll be competitive against someone who paid $2000. Even worse, there is no guarantee that my wins are mine, and I’m not just stomping on better players with smaller wallets.

So no thanks, I keep away from Heartstone and the rest of the pay-to-win games.

It is worth noting at the start here that the math is off: on average, you’ll have every Hearthstone card after opening 512 packs, or spending roughly $640. Or it could be as few as 215 packs, for $213. Or you could end up like me, who has just about every card I could conceivably want (not a full set) after having spent 3+ months and $50.

Gevlon countered that there will be more expansions and thus cards later on, but I don’t find that particularly relevant because a dude named Reynard took a 5-day old account and navigated a completely F2P warrior deck to the Legendary Rank, all on Twitch. This wasn’t a guy who spammed Arena games 20 hours a day for every card in the game – this is a guy put us all to shame with his brass balls, mad skillz, and a deck with six Rares (no Epics, no Legendaries). Granted, he is about a pro-CCG player as a person can get. “Results not typical” and all that. But how much money or cards it takes “to be competitive” is not quite as descriptive or damning a statement as it sounds. Is it possible to prop one’s lack of skill with more powerful cards? Sure, probably. Where exactly are those goalposts though?

The larger question of whether Hearthstone is P2W obviously depends on your definition of the term. Is having more/better cards an advantage you can purchase your way into? Yes. However, you can also earn your way to those same rewards using in-game currency. In fact, the whole Dust and Crafting mechanic is something about Hearthstone that has significantly moved my original opinion of its apparent P2W tendencies.

See, I do consider card games like Magic to be P2W for a few specific reasons. First, the power level of the cards heavily and unapologetically skews towards the higher rarities. While there are some very nice Legendaries in Hearthstone, the vast majority of even the top tier decks consist of Basic class cards and Commons/Rares. Second, and more importantly, you have zero control over acquiring any specific card in games like Magic. Yes, you can absolutely buy cards off of other players, but that’s exactly where the P2W part comes in. Or, actually, it comes in at the very beginning, wherein you have zero cards in your collection and have to purchase some to play at all.

Crafting in Hearthstone, along with your ability to complete daily quests and purchase packs with in-game currency, shifts the focus away from paying for advantage to paying for time. Given time, you will have all the cards you could ever want, with zero dollars spent. Is paying for XP boosts in other games considered P2W? Not likely.

But if accelerating the grinding process constitutes a win one pays for, that by definition should encompass most all MMOs, WoW and EVE included. Gevlon thinks dropping $1,000 on PLEX and walking away with a 100m Skill Point pilot inside a Titan as a Day 1 player “doesn’t count” because those were player-made, and thus there was no net increase in power in the EVE universe. But isn’t all power relative anyway? That new player in a Titan is at a significant advantage over all his/her Day 1 peers, not to mention anyone not flying around in a Titan-hunting band.

Besides, what actual difference is there between purchasing currency directly from CCP, and simply siphoning the currency generated from thin air by 1,000 players completing 1,000 missions? Or even completed ships built from ores from the ether? Rate of in-game inflation? If one is P2W, surely the other is as well.

In any case, my opinion right now is that Hearthstone is not P2W, even though it otherwise has most of the trappings of decidedly P2W CCGs. Your early games with the default card selection will suck. There are a number of strictly-better cards at the same mana cost, and they’re usually more rare. A Legendary card dropping at the other end of the table is liable to ruin your day.

That being said… it’s been proven that one can be competitive with a six-Rare deck. You will end up with all of the cards in the game if you keep playing (for free!) long enough. Hell, it’s not even one of those “you can technically get everything but it takes 10,000 hours” F2P payslopes. Other CCGs have allowed players to buy packs using in-game currency, but Blizzard’s willingness to allow Hearthstone players to craft the exact card they want should close the P2W debate once and for all.

At least, for now. We’ll see what the future brings with expansions.

No Better Time to Buy

If you happen to be in the Hearthstone beta, there is perhaps no better time to purchase packs for real money than right now. See, Blizzard changed the following cards in their most recent patch:

  • Unleash the Hounds
  • Sylvanas Windrunner
  • Blood Imp
  • Defender of Argus
  • Pyroblast
  • Dark Iron Dwarf
  • Abusive Sergeant
  • Warsong Commander
  • Charge
  • Novice Engineer

While most of the changes were nerfs (aside from Unleash the Hounds), the salient point is that Blizzard compensates those who might have spent Dust crafting these cards by making the disenchant Dust amount the same as the crafting cost. In other words, I could craft Sylvanas for 1600 Dust and disenchant her for 1600 Dust instead of the normal 400 Dust.

“Whatever,” right? Wrong.

What is not immediately obvious is that you have the ability to craft Golden versions of every card in the game, which are the digital equivalent of foil cards in paper CCGs. These Golden version of cards typically cost four times as much Dust to craft than normal. Do you know what this means?

Dust. Dust everywhere.

Dust. Dust everywhere.

As far as I know, every person who signed up for the Hearthstone beta has gotten a key by this point, so technically anyone who cares about this game has the opportunity right now to take advantage of this scenario. Those two cards above gave me 1200 Dust by themselves, which is 400 Dust away from any Legendary I care to craft. I went ahead and disenchanted both my Pyroblasts as well for 400 Dust apiece, as I never really felt inclined to use them all that much in the first place. Given how this “bonus” Dust window only stays open for about two weeks total, you might want to make your decision sooner rather than later.

This scenario was about the only thing that would have gotten me to pay real money for Hearthstone. And I did. As I have mentioned previously, my prior lack of interest in paying is not an indication of some deficiency in the game, but rather the strength of being able to play for free with few impediments… provided Hearthstone isn’t your sole source of entertainment. If you’re capable of only playing once every 2-3 days to knock out dailies and then go into the Arenas, you can do quite well for yourself over time. But if you want to dip a toe into Constructed, you’ll do much better with the various Legendaries.

Just be warned that sometimes bullshit like this happens when opening packs:

Really, Bliz? Really?

Really, Bliz? Really?