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hearthstone The One Major Free-to-Play Quality of Life Improvement Hearthstone Needs

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Hearthstone exploded on to the CCG and later tablet/mobile gaming scenes in a massive way. The success that Blizzard has seen with their first ever free-to-play game shows some serious potential, but there is one significant improvement that the game could make in that respect to its accessibility.


To provide some context, I wanted to look at some other free-to-play games briefly. Across a variety of genres and platforms, here are some free-to-play games out there today:

  • Dota
  • Heroes of the Storm
  • Neko Atsume
  • Final Fantasy Record Keeper
  • Puzzle & Dragons
  • Candy Crush
  • Trivia Crack

All of these games have one behavior that is uniquely and consistently different from Hearthstone - all of the content is free. You can purchase in-game currencies to speed the games up in games where energy/currency systems artificially limit progress, or purchase characters within the game, but the complete game experience is available without spending a dollar.


Hearthstone, on a technicality, is a free-to-play game for the same basic reasons, but it makes a choice that distinguishes it: The game gates content, not rewards, behind its pay wall:



The cost model for Hearthstone's Blackrock Mountain adventure.


Players can earn in-game currency to purchase access to Hearthstone's in-game adventure mode content. Strictly, that makes it free-to-play - you don't have to spend money to play the game - but unlike almost any other free-to-play game, a new player cannot download Hearthstone and enjoy it in its entirety.


With Adventure Mode content behind the game's pay wall, players need to play a lot of Hearthstone in order to gain access to all of the content. Each of the currently 10 wings available (five wings each on two Adventure Mode expansions) costs 700 gold to purchase in-game. To build up 700 gold would take:

  • 210 Play Mode wins (max 30/day); OR
  • An average of 14 daily quests

Assuming some basic math, to unlock the entirety of the current Adventure Mode content as a free-to-play player would take just shy of 47 days of 30 wins per day, including completing a daily quest every day. 30 wins per day will take an average of 60 games, which - at an average of approximately 10 minutes per game - would be 10 hours per day. If a casual player plays maybe an hour in a day, you're talking about 116+ days, assuming they can complete a quest every day.


All of this math is not to prove in any way that Hearthstone's gold acquisition model is unfair, or that the price of the Adventure Mode is inappropriate. It's simply to provide a snapshot of what it would take to achieve access to the content, to lend some credence to the following:


Adventure Mode bosses should be available for free, and the card rewards should be unlocked by in-game purchases.



The Lord of Blackrock shouldn't cost so much just to visit.


At its core, Adventure Mode is Hearthstone's single player content. For a ton of people downloading and playing free-to-play games out there, they're not looking for the competitive multiplayer experience that was Hearthstone's initial 'core' game - they played a ton of Angry Birds, and now they're seeing ads for Hearthstone, or seeing Hearthstone in the top 20 free games on iTunes, or whatever, so they decide to take it for a spin.


Many of those players might not stick around to play Hearthstone on the ladder, or grind through Play Mode to earn enough gold to do Arena runs or purchase Adventure Modes, but they might have enjoyed the Adventure Mode content independent of the other parts of the game experience.


What would be different if Adventure Mode was free-to-play, and the associated costs were for purchasing the rewards? Some initial thoughts:

  • Would a significant number of current Hearthstone players that did purchase the Adventures not have? I would argue this is not an issue. Current Hearthstone players are, by and large, playing the game for its Play Mode, because that is the game's current core. They purchase the Adventure Mode to unlock its rewards, as they are designed to be attractive for competitive play.
  • Would players not purchase certain wings, because their rewards were not attractive enough? Doubtful. Even a cursory glance at the card rewards from Curse of Naxxramas shows at least one significant neutral minion from every wing. Blackrock Mountain's design, with somewhat more class-specific cards on a week-to-week basis, might have been moderately problematic in that regard, but in the long run, competitive players would seek to complete the collection to have access to all of these cards.
  • Would players who didn't purchase the Adventure Modes under the old system (pay to access) play them under the new one (pay for rewards)? I think so, absolutely. As even more Adventure Mode content continues to be added in Hearthstone, the Adventure Mode portion of the game can evolve into its own enjoyable activity, moderately independent of users whose focus might be Play Mode or Arena.


And let's not forget the explosive new market that mobile has opened up for Hearthstone.


So, the quality of life change I would propose for Hearthstone, as a free-to-play game, is simply to make it truly free-to-play: Gate rewards, not content, behind costs. There are people paying for World of Warcraft subscriptions simply to enjoy pet battles, despite that not being the 'core activity' the game was designed around - that doesn't make that subscription, or the revenue it generates, any less meaningful to Blizzard!


If a gamer wants to explore Hearthstone as a single-player puzzle game using Adventure Mode, drawing them in seems absolutely worthwhile. It creates a new vector to interest players in the game without an up-front investment, and it also provides yet another avenue for Blizzard to create in-game purchases - you don't have to look far to find stories of players spending plenty of money on in-game purchases for single-player games! If a gamer wants to take Hearthstone for a spin as a single-player game, and then decides to spend money to purchase card packs to help them defeat the single-player content (since they maybe don't want to use Play Mode or Arena to do so), how is that style of enjoying Hearthstone wrong?


Conclusion: Hearthstone was released as a free-to-play multiplayer game, and has since had a purchasable single player game added to it. I believe that the single player game should be free, as there is a unique audience - one that is not currently being reached - available to Blizzard, and without any meaningful impact to the existing ones. Keeping the rewards behind the pay wall ensures that purchases continue, both for current and future players, as the primary multiplayer audience for Hearthstone will still be working towards collecting cards, and may also entice a unique single player audience into purchasing rewards or card packs to defeat the single player Hearthstone 'puzzle' content.


What do you think? Would you, or someone you know, try Hearthstone out for its single-player content? Would having the card rewards - or exclusive card backs - as the purchasable portion of Adventure Mode expansions change your purchasing habits?


This one weird click bait title is actually a conversation about improving Adventure Mode accessibility.

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Well met Odinn!


This is the reason I stopped playing.  It's free, from a certain point of view.




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hearthstone is basicly either pay to play or nerd to play(in the sense that you have to be a freak like me who plays games all day in order to enjoy this game to it's fullest if you don't intend to invest money).



this is the nature of all blizzard games though,except that most of the others don't even give you the second option.

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Did you know that WoW is also Free-to-Play, up to level 20.

It's pretty limited though tongue.png I tried it once and I couldn't speak with anyone, I couldn't exchange gold, couldn't use the auction house. I felt a bit limited ^^

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Odinn, thanks for the post.  I'm glad you pointed out how difficult it is to play the adventure modes for free - I especially enjoyed the math! I started playing Hearthstone about two months ago in early March after two friends recommended it.  I only agreed to try it out because it's free and I'm not one to spend a lot of money on games.  I instantly loved the game and have been playing regularly ever since.  I decided my first priority for spending my gold was to purchase each wing of the Naxxramas set.  Getting the first few wings didn't feel too bad to me since I was able to quickly win gold as a new player through unique quests (unlocking each hero, playing 3 games in play mode, etc.).  Earning enough gold for the last couple of wings definitely felt like a chore, though. For this reason I'm debating whether or not to use real money for Blackrock Mountain.


Having said that, I don't think having access to the set for free would have changed my behavior.  I see myself as a long-term player and I really want to collect all the cards, but I'm still reluctant to spend real cash, so I think I still would have earned all the gold in order to get the Naxxramas cards for free.


I have a brother, however, who I think would enjoy Hearthstone (he currently enjoys playing MTG), but like me won't want to spend money on it.  Unlike me, however, I don't see him having the time or patience to spend much time in Play Mode to earn gold (at least not initially).  Having access to the single player content for free might be a great way for him to get exposure to the game.  And, who knows?  It might reel him in to the other facets of the game.  I like the idea!

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Hi everyone!

Perhaps a different point of view. I played MTG '94-98 and then again 2010 onwards. 

If you want to build a competitive deck for example "singleton" with some dual lands you are going to hit 300€ quite easily.

Of course, the "value" of some cards rises over the time, but I have a nice collection of Doomtrooper, Vampire TES, Rage (Werewolf) and Star Wars, worth of near to nothing. Can I play? Yes, of course. But you always need an opponent.

That is what Heartstone makes so brilliant. You can play anytime, anywhere.

And, if you are not going to spend money, just let ranked mode be, and everything is going to be fine.

So, it's fine for me to pay every month a bit to "speed up" my collection, because the time I've saved is worth more.

And Naxxramas or BRM are "no random" cards, so even if you need couple of moths, you still going to get your Loatheb, Sludge Belcher, Khel'tuzad and all the gorgeous Dragons in BRM.

And the point is, at this moment, with soul bond cards only (including Naxx and BRM) you are able to build up an pretty competitive deck!

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That's exactly the reason why I actually play Hearthstone. It is not a simple puzzle game like Candy Crush. I want have the possibility of having every card without paying a dollar (or an euro) and play with real people. I make adventures just to have the reward and because it's nice. I am an occasional player (meaning that I play one hour per day or little more, but I play since the Beta exit) and so I do not want that Hearthstone begin to be like MTG, where you have to spend hundred euros to get a competitive deck. In Hearthstone you have only to be lucky enough or to be patient to have your dust.

Edited by Phage
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I think the single player content is something Blizzard can absolutely looking to expand upon in hearthstone. If they had more sinlge player content it could really suit the phone player audience, as it's much more casual and puzzle like as you have said. As for making the single player content free is very much possible when they start to make more content in that direction, only two adventures are out so far, so it is still a growing space within the game.

Although the cards is the main draw of the adventures, the single player content isn't something blizzard is willing to throw out for free just yet.

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I managed to get lucky and play since beta.


I've spent about £50 on cards and then bought both of the expansions. I love playing the game now its more accessible on my phone and tablet rather than being rooted to my PC.


So roughly £100 spent so far.  Not that bad considering the amount of time I've played and the fun I've had.  But BRM has been a huge barrier for a lot of my friends.  Most of them start after Naxx was released and few want to pay to unlock it.  At first it didn't seem much of a big deal as they had so few cards anyway, missing the Naxx ones didn't seem to have that much of an impact on their games / decks.


But now you throw in the BRM expansion into too and it seems like there a ALOT of cards they won't really have access too.  They don;t want to grind out the wings with gold as they are using the gold to try and catch up with the basic cards already.


Depending what the next expansion is like and how much it costs I may decide to either wait or buy with gold.  Or perhaps if there is a MUST have card maybe just pay for that wing. 


Although great fun - I can;t remember going back to Naxx to rerun the old class missions etc it's more of a one off play.

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Howdy Odinn,


Solid thoughts on the play of adventure mode. I personally use gold to buy all of Naxx as well as BRM and yes a little peeved I don’t get the BRM fiery card back. As for the best way to gather gold. I like to clear all of my daily quests along with the 10 gold for 3 wins averages out to around 420 gold a week. One wing every two weeks and since I am storing up in between I normally have 4k plus going into the next adventure.


How can I get more gold? I personally like to gamble in the arena if you can pull off 2-3 wins it’s a wash as you get a card pack and some gold, go +5 and your moving forward in gold collection and getting some cards. Already have the cards dust them to make the extra cards you don’t own.


Just my thoughts and I play this game way too much, work and sleep are such an interruption.


Have a Beautiful Blizzard Day!


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I guess I can chime in with the pro player perspective here and verify a point that Odinn made. If his proposed change were put in place, and the Boss wings became free, with the cards themselves being behind the paywall. I would absolutely pay the money/gold/whatever to get the cards.

I play Adventure mode at the moment purely to unlock the cards, I gain little or no enjoyment from the Adventures themselves, so it is purely a vehicle to allow me to continue to access the full card set at all times.

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Out of curiosity Sottle do you play the heroic modes of the fight? If you do is that just for Icy Veins or for personal goals?


Suppose for top end players they are more of a means to an end rather than something you can do for enjoyment.

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Yeah, I do play the Heroics, I seem to remember enjoying the Naxx ones a little more, since they actually seemed like fun puzzles, but I might just be remembering them poorly. Most of the BrM Heroic bosses are just criminally unfair advantages given to the AI because the designers are too lazy to create competent AI. It's just artificially inflated difficulty, which is poor game design.

Not asking for miracles, but perhaps playing the Dragon in your hand before your Blackwing Tech is something they could address instead of just giving a boss unnatural advantages.

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It is free to play only to get you to spend money when you play.  If that model stops working then the game will be cancelled.


I am enjoying it so spending a few bucks a month is worth it.  I also don't have the time to grind as a free player so if I want to play in the higher levels it will take some money investment.  I don't have a problem with it.  An hour a night is fine and winning more than I lose makes it more fun.

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