Content of the article: "Hearthstone’s Biggest Problem"
Hey all, J_Alexander_HS back again today to talk about – without hyperbole – what I think is the biggest problem with Hearthstone. This isn't a doom-and-gloom thought, as much as the number 1 thing I'd address about Hearthstone if I had the chance to leave the longest positive impact.
Hearthstone's biggest problem can be summed up like this: Hearthstone is a great game that I wouldn't recommend to anyone new unless I knew they were going to commit to it long term.
If I had a friend who had never played Hearthstone ask me whether they should pick up the game, I'd hesitate to recommend it because of the relatively-steep investment of time and/or money they'd need to put in, especially if they wanted to explore it more fully, build up a collection, and try to keep up with new releases. Even if I recommended them at least trying the game, I certainly wouldn't recommend spending a single penny on it until I knew they were really interested, as the return on investment when it comes to spending money can be pretty poor in terms of how it feels for the less invested.
This sucks. I want to recommend Hearthstone to people. I think it's one of the best games on the market in its genre (and in general; it's a great video game that just happens to be a card game). It's just not easy to get into because it costs so much for most people's expected level of commitment.
This problem of cost gets even worse for newer players because ignorance is exceptionally expensive in Hearthstone. If I started a fresh account on another server, I understand a lot about the game. I know what is good and what is bad. What I should craft, what I could replace, what decks are viable or memes, and so on. I can go infinite in arena, and probably get legend pretty quickly from a fresh start. Even still, it would take me a long time to build up any serious collection, or a lot of money. I could go all in and build one or two top-level meta decks, but then I would have killed a lot of my initial collection rewards to do so and would not be able to explore/adapt to the meta as quickly moving forward without that foundation. (In fact, I did try this one month, and I'll return to that in a moment)
However, what happens if the new player doesn't know all that (because they're new)? They're likely to make bad decisions with their limited rewards, dust cards they'd regret, fail to make cards/decks they're going to like, understand how to make budget replacements, and so on. Questions about crafting decisions are some of the most common I receive, and with good reason. Without someone guiding their hand, it will take a new player much longer to reach that point I described above, and it would take me quite a while to begin with.
Hearthstone has made good strives in this regard: ranked rewards, new/returning player decks, duplicate protection, new-player pack bundles, free play modes, and so on. Each of these changes represent some of the best things Hearthstone has done to the game. Anything that makes the game more accessible is a huge plus.
This doesn't get us all the way there, though, and have seen a few steps in the opposite direction from a cost perspective. The new mid-season mini-expansions are great for injecting new content into the game, but also increase its already steep cost by a fairly-dramatic margin if your goal is to actually obtain those cards. Frequent updates to balance upsets investments in established decks more regularly.
This brings me back to the new account experiment: one month I decided to play a little on EU, and quickly tossed together a Galakrond Rogue list, as it would be the easiest to complete. I got the deck together to a reasonable degree quickly by nuking all other cards I obtained to craft it. A few days later, Necrium Apothecary got nerfed, quickly hurting my potential to be as competitive as I'd like. A few months later, Galakrond got nerfed, hurting it all further. While Galakrond Rogue is good again now after a new expansion and more balance patches, if I had been stuck with that EU account I'd be out of luck for months.
If I was a new player, I probably would have quit on the spot, or at least given up on constructed for a time.
Hopefully the new rework of the rewards system will result in something that's as-good-or-better for everyone. But wouldn't it be nice if it wasn't just a little bit better, but a lot better? For instance, wouldn't it be amazing if those mini-expansions were given away to players for free? Or even if they could be purchased for something small like $5? I think a move like that would earn Blizzard a great deal of goodwill from the community and give lots of players reasons to invest/re-invest themselves in the game over time. Moves like that would help inspire me to actually recommend the game I truly love to others.
Right now, I'd say Hearthstone is probably a 5/10 in terms of the F2P experience. If you know what you're doing you can get a pretty good start pretty quickly, but if you don't know, it's going to be a larger slog of time and money than I feel it should be. You'll hit many setbacks, and it will feel exploitative at times (or all the time for some). Obviously I'd like it to be a 10/10, but there are financial realities in terms of how much money Blizzard expects to make off it, so the game will likely never truly be free.
I hope the new rewards structure is a win for everyone, even if I don't understand it at the moment (how much XP to expect per day, on average, and how that translates to per-day gold), but I'd love it if Blizzard aimed for the stars and made the game much cheaper for people to jump into, rather than simply maintaining the cost or even making it a little more generous. A change like that would get me truly exciting for the future of the game, more so than any card text that would ever be added.
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