Zechs Files: The Cost of Hearthstone is Too Damn High
A lot has been said about the perceived cost of Hearthstone in recent weeks, but, in this case, the smoke is definitely coming from a real fire.
With a new expansion just around the corner, the Hearthstone community has had a topic to rally around. The game’s subreddit has been devoted to the discussion of this one talking point lately, or so it seems, and the vast majority of people seem to agree for once. That topic, of course, is the excitement of 150 or so new cards.
Wait, no. That’s not right, is it?
For a so-called free to play game, Hearthstone is real expensive. I won’t go into specific details here, partly because they’ve been done to death and partly because they’re not very interesting. To summarize: expansions are more expensive than adventures, dust costs vs rewards are ludicrous and legendary cards continue to be staples.
As an esports journalist, a lot of this stuff can be filed under “somebody else’s problem.” After all, the players we write about are always going to have full collections within hours of the set coming out. It sucks for us regular Joes who can’t justify digital cards as a business expense, but esports isn’t about regular Joes.
Except, the constant increase in cost is an issue for everyone in the long run. There are several reasons for this, but at a base level, if people can’t afford to play your game stream figures are going to drop as well. This isn’t football, where millions of middle-aged men who haven’t played the game in years (if ever) tune in. The overwhelming majority of esports viewers are players. Losing players means losing spectators, which means losing advertising money. Remember, that’s on top of the revenue lost from people simply no longer buying the product. It all adds up.
This is a real thing. I have pre-ordered packs from every expansion Hearthstone has ever released. Partly this was because I wanted cards and enjoyed the game and partly it was because I wanted to keep up with the meta game from a professional perspective. For Kobolds, though, I have no intention of pre-ordering. I have a kid now, and esports doesn’t pay well enough to justify dropping £50 on something I don’t even enjoy any more.
That last part is very important. Hearthstone has become a game I just don’t find entertaining any more. The dominance of Druid, which I wrote about at length, was only the start of the problem. Nowadays it feels like every deck except for Priest and Mage is just about getting the biggest bundle of stats onto the board. Hearthstone’s reliance on damage-based removal means that making bigger minions than your opponents can often be enough to win. If that’s what you like about card games, great! Have at it. It’s not for me, though, and, unless Blizzard starts printing more cards with the word “destroy” on them, I don’t think the game is going to change direction any time soon.
Admittedly, I’m just one player: an atom in a drop in the ocean of Hearthstone customers. The term Whale has been thrown around a lot lately, describing the extravagant spending habits of certain players. Financially, I’m far from Whale status, but after pro players, we journalists must have the greatest amount of emotional and intellectual investment in the game. If journalists can no longer justify the expense, surely there is a problem.
Maybe not, you say. But, if we give reddit the benefit of the doubt and assume sales will drop across the board - assume that people will vote with their wallets - that is a problem for the pro scene. We already established the viewership issue, but fewer invested players means fewer upcoming talents. The current batch of pros won’t be around forever, and without a healthy pool of talent to draw replacements from the game will slowly die. Following this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, at some point Blizzard would have to consider Hearthstone a drain on resources and stop updates. Realistically, that is a long way from happening, but it is a potential outcome of continued dissatisfaction.
We have already seen a few signs of Blizzard responding to this if you look closely. A free, somewhat playable legendary minion is a nice touch. Free arena tickets showed a willingness to throw players a bone, but it doesn’t address the elephant in the room. All the arena runs in the world are not going to help players justify maintaining an expensive standard collection. The change to legendary drops a few months ago helped, but it’s not enough.
My solution? Change dust values. I am still not going to pre-order the upcoming set, but I have been stashing gold when I can face laddering. I would be far more willing to continue playing if that gold was worth a little more dust. The fact that crafting a legendary minion costs four times the amount of dust you get from disenchanting the same minion is absurd. It always has been, it’s just that you didn’t need so many legendaries to stay competitive in days gone by.
I hope that Kobolds and Catacombs is a great set. I hope it drastically changes the direction Hearthstone seems to moving in. I hope we swerve dramatically away from Prince Keleseth and towards, well, pretty much anything else. I hope the game becomes more interesting, more finessed. I hope it becomes more affordable and I hope it becomes more enjoyable. As always, I look forward to spoiler season, but this time it’s for very different reasons. Instead of looking for exciting cards to play with, I’m looking for cards to make me want to play the game at all.