Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Hearthstone thoughts

Of all the games in the world, on which one did you spend the most money overall? (Not counting indirect costs like buying a new PC to play a game)

Now for some people the answer to this question will be World of Warcraft, which costs about $200 per year including expansions. But for me the answer would be Magic the Gathering, because I spent around $1,000 per year for a decade on that game. And I didn't even play competitively, except for a few sealed deck tournaments (some of which I even won). My main contact with competitive MtG was being a level I DCI certified judge, which translated for those of you who weren't into tournament Magic means that I knew the rules of the game extremely well. I even judged during a World Championship, albeit not the main event. Anyway, I was fascinated by the myriad of options of deckbuilding, and thus bought thousands of cards, hence the high cost.

Due to that experience I have already repeatedly mentioned in the past that I think that MMORPGs missed out on the optimal business model. To get a maximum amount of money out of their players, they should have used the business model of trading card games, selling character powers in the form of sealed boosters with random rares, uncommon, and common "cards" to build a personalized "deck" from them. While nobody has followed that advice of mine, Blizzard now at least is looking into trading card games, and announced the online card game Hearthstone at PAX East. Actually "trading card game" is the wrong expression, as there won't be any trading in this game. Which is just as well, because the Magic Online experience has shown that online trading of cards is a sharks' game, and quickly degenerates into something ugly.

But even just as a collectible online card game, Hearthstone should be interesting. I think we can count on Blizzard to make the rules of the game more accessible, because having studied the Magic the Gathering rules I can attest to them being too complicated. Which didn't matter very much for a physical card game, as people just happily played the game "wrong" or with house rules (but a nightmare for judges when these players turned up at their first tournament). The complete MtG rules I had to study for the DCI exam was a 200-page document. The interrupt rules were also a headache for all computer implementations of the game, as the game needed to constantly stop and ask you whether you wanted to cast an interrupt spell. Hearthstone is more likely to be designed as an online computer game from the ground up, and not a computer implementation of a physical card game.

The biggest worry of some people regarding collectible card games is in how far they are "pay to win". In my experience that depends very much at what percentage level of the optimum you are willing to play. That is a bit like World of Warcraft: If you want best-in-slot items, you need a huge effort; if you can live with 90% of the BiS power, the effort is a fraction of that. Magic the Gathering is quite a fun game if played only with commons, and I've won games with a commons deck against decks stacked with rares. But any additional card in a collectible card game always increases your options, and thus to have all the options you need all the cards, which comes at a high cost.

On the other hand what I like about that business model is that your level of engagement with the game determines the cost. Playing casually is very cheap, playing at the highest competitive level is very expensive, with everything in between being possible. That appeals to my sense of fairness, and is much better than a game like World of Warcraft, where the casual players subsidize the heaviest users.

I love ccgs and lcgs. I am really looking forward to this effort from blizzard and if they get the cost per booster right then it will be my favourite game.
That's certainly a fun game for some. It's also immensely profitable if it turns out to be successful. (Creating and balancing a card costs only so and so much ..)

On the other hand this is absolutely not a game I'd want to play. I like games that are as independent as feasible from the real world; I have no desire to play a game that connects my chances to win with the money I pay.

"Playing casually is very cheap, playing at the highest competitive level is very expensive, with everything in between being possible. That appeals to my sense of fairness, [..]

The reason this doesn't appeal to my sense of fairness is that people earn/own different amounts of money in the real world. And this is a result of supply/demand (in the best case) and connections/family/location you were born (in the worst case). Whatever it is, it is not a result of any fairness-consideration.
I’m assuming that they will apply an Elo matchmaker system. Then the cash shop really operates optimally. Any advantage gained from purchases will lead to a temporary boost to win ratios (until the Elo catches up), but the purchaser keeps the new card forever so it feels as though they are making an investment.
Additionally, matchmaking would eliminate the requirement of having to pay to be able to win since they will only be materially disadvantaged against players that have recently boosted their decks.
I tried to join MTGO lately but they didn't like my PayPal OR my credit card. In the end I gave up. I may take a look at Hearthstone.

I used to play a lot of Astral Masters. That's the same deck-building concept except that everyone has access to all cards. (They did introduce some premium cards for those who paid extra, but most did not use them.)
Blizzard was/is already offering a trading-cards game ( so I was a bit surprised when they revealed a so-called "new" title. Which did not really get a LOT of enthusiasts, from what I've read online.

I'm quite happy about it. It will be free and it will come to iPads too. Good enough, I will have some time to test it and get bored fast, without spending a single cent.
"Playing casually is very cheap, playing at the highest competitive level is very expensive, with everything in between being possible."

The real cost of playing a the highest competitive levels of Magic is actually the travel and accommodation costs. Actually paying for cards is trivial at that point.

What I noticed during my time playing and judging Magic is that the people who spend the most on cards are the mid-level players. The tournament players get most of their cards as prices or by sharing among their play group. It is the players who are just dabbling in the tournament scene that end up paying a lot for cards.

I know that when I no longer had the time to be a tournament player, that's when the cost of getting the cards I needed shot way up.

It is going to be interesting to see how Blizzard handles all of these complicated dynamics.
Talking about business models, the one that is the most "fair" is the one with the least degree of subsidizing. If subsidizing is the incorrect word, then choice might be used.

In the case of MtG, the people who pay a lot are either competitive players (achievers) or deckbuilders (explorers).

When I played MtG, I was content to follow a guide for a cheap Elf rogue deck or Goblin deck. These decks were a ton of fun and were pretty competitive when it comes to playing with friends.

So I'd say this is a fair business model, compare to WoW's subscriptions when I played mostly PvP Scenarios at $15/month with no choice in the matter.

So why pay 15 for access to a battleground when I can play LoL or WoT and there the $15 actually buy me cool stuff like skins, that is if I choose to spend them that way.

I'm not very excited about Hearthstone because it sounds derivative but I'll give a try.
I'm curious though, at how this affects Blizzard's relationship with Cryptozoic, which produces the relatively established WoW TCG. Sucks to be the licensee competing with the licensor. But I suppose the games are separate enough to appeal to different audiences.
I do find it interesting that you never got into Guild Wars (well, I guess now it would be called Guild Wars 1) given that the power collection / deck building aspect of the game was so strong. Given what you indicate you like and don't like in an MMO, I would think that GW1 would have been pretty close to your optimal game.
I'm excited to try this game out. I played MtG in high school, but the cost always turned me off. Video games were such better value for money. A fun CCG that lets me play for free though? Sign me up!

I don't care about being the best. I just like to have fun. Hearthstone will most likely be a game I only play a little each day. Maybe play a couple matches before bed.
I played 3 games of Hearthstone at Pax East and I can say that having never played a card game before, by the second game I was really getting the hang of the game.

I can see this game being VERY attractive to the casual gamer, but also interesting and challenging enough for the more competitive among us. I feel that, of all things, Blizzard really excels at doing this. This will be a very profitable game for them, especially since their development costs are way lower compared to their other games.
What I would love to see is this card game integrated with WoW..
There are a lot of possibilities but things like dungeon bosses that you have to clear a whole dungeon to get to then you can fight that boss as a card game, say at the end of the dungeon, so you dont have to wait for other players.
Perhaps NPCs dotted around the world that you earn the right to play against by moving up the ranks and beating each one, the final NPC being the Alliance and the Horde leaders.
Obviously pvp, so you can "duel" another wow player using the card game.
Cards that drop from chests, or bosses or quests is an obvious one.
Just a few quick ideas, the beauty of this is it would help blizzards bottom line. More people would be encouraged to sub to wow. The card game would also run entirely separately from wow as well, but playing that monthly sub would help to "subsidise" the player against having to buy card packs, by getting cards in other ways.
There was once a spin-off of a card game from a CRPG - anyone remember Arcomage, which started as an in-game activity in Might and Magic VII?
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