With all the titles announced in E3, many gamers are feeling a sense of fear and excitement: yes, more new and amazing games are coming our way, but how much are we going to have to shell out for them?
This is why free-to-play games like Hearthstone –despite being relatively more simple than, say, Fortnite or Apex Legends, and despite having a smaller fan base –are still continuing to enjoy popularity, with the 2019 prize pool for the HCT World Tournament now up to $4 million.
Designed to be free-to-play, Hearthstone does provide players with “premium” options like purchasing expansion packs (a new expansion comes out every 3 months), adventure modes (which were discontinued in 2017), and new heroes (which are completely cosmetic). Since it was released in 2014, Hearthstone has been able to balance its pricing in such a way that f2p players can compete with ‘premium’ players with just a little bit of grinding and a little know-how (there are plenty of free Hearthstone for Beginners guides online).
However, starting in 2018, Hearthstone has made it harder and harder for free-to-play players. This is because Blizzard decided to change certain things about the game that made it a lot harder for f2p players to compete with players with deep pockets.
Taking Away the “Pity Counter”
The “pity counter” is a term that Hearthstone players use to describe the pack distribution system of the game. Whenever a player buys (either with in-game gold or their mom’s credit card) a card pack, they are guaranteed to get at least 1 card of Rare quality or higher, with the game’s RNG ensuring that every player, premium or otherwise, all get a fair shake.
But it wasn’t completely random; after a while, players realized that every 40th pack you open will have a guaranteed Legendary card, a powerful card that could shift the balance of any game (or screw you over, depending on how RNGesus feels on that day). This counter then resets every time you open a pack with Legendary cards.
Whether this was by design or by coding accident, Blizzard never really confirmed, but for a long time, free-to-play players would use this system to strategically open packs. Counting the number of packs you open for that guaranteed Legendary became known as “pity counter”.
In 2018, however, Blizzard decided to take out the Pity Counter and go back to a completely randomized card generation system, something of an unpopular decision amongst a majority of players. This is because the Pity Counter system balanced the scales for f2p and premium players: no matter how many cards you buy, you’re guaranteed a legendary after 40 packs.
But with a completely random system, premium players can leverage their money to buy more packs than a f2p player can, increasing their chances of finding a Legendary, thus creating more powerful decks. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee that buying more packs will help you win, but it does help.
No More Adventures
Adventures in Hearthstone were a set of single-player campaigns that pit the player’s wits against the computer and a series of unique challenges. Normally, you could buy the stages of the Adventure with in-game gold or a flat-rate of $20. It was pricey, but at least it guaranteed you a large number of cards of that expansion and all the stages of that adventure.
With the discontinuation of Adventure mode, however, Blizzard still released unique single-player campaigns, but with each stage now costing a different price. In lieu of releasing Adventure modes, Blizzard instead decided to release full expansions instead. This would normally be good news; however, Blizzard also decided to up the price of each expansion, with Rastakhan’s Rumble offering 67 sets for $69.99, and Rise of Shadows offering 80 packs for $79.99.
As prices go up, however, enthusiasm for the game is starting to go down; in 2018, Blizzard reported a drop in active players, while February 2019 saw Blizzard’s Hearthstone revenue decline by a whopping 52%. There’s a clear correlation between Hearthstone’s price changes and its decline in both players and revenue, but whether Blizzard will see or realize this, only time will tell (but so far, nah).
It’s Still a Fun Game, Though
Yes, it’s getting expensive, but beginning with Rise of Shadows unique take on the whole game (introducing more “villainous” cards) and the rest of the 2019 expansions promising to introduce (or rather, reintroduce) certain aspects of the game that made it fun (reintroducing mechs, Reno Jackson, and new keywords like Reborn), Hearthstone is still a fun game to play.
Yes, you’ll need to grind a little bit more than before just to earn enough gold to buy packs, but Blizzard did give concessions in the form of higher gold rewards for completing certain quests, even giving out free packs prior to an expansions release. Of course, even if it does feel like the most powerful card in the game is a credit card, we can all take comfort in the fact that, at the end of the day, RNG will screw us all.