Today my small town was once again covered in a couple inches of snow. When I looked out my window this morning and saw that we were getting another dose of misery, I decided it would be a good day to a whole lot of nothing. The most I have moved all day is from my couch to my kitchen to make delicious tacos, and I am OK with that. Every once in a while a couple of snowmobiles will cruise past the house, and remind me that there are plenty of ways to have fun out in the snow, but just going out my front door to get the mail was enough to send me running straight back for the covers. I’m happy enough to watch the snowboarders do their triple corks and in Sochi, they can have the rest of winter. I’m done with it.
I decided to give the game Hearthstone a try today. A bunch of people had recommended the game to me, which is odd because I’ve never played deck building games like Magic The Gathering in the past. It’s easy to see how the game has become so popular though, any game that combines the relatively simple nature of card games with the dopamine drip of collecting awesome loot is a recipe for a very addictive experience. If you are not aware of what deck building game is, it’s basically a more advanced version of playing a card game like WAR. Each player goes into a match with a deck of 33 cards in Hearthstone. As you rank up from beating opponents online, you start to collect more powerful cards. There are certain cards that work better offensively than defensively and vice versa, and a lot of the depth to the game is knowing exactly when to play a certain card in your hand, or what combinations of cards to have in your deck when you go into a match.
When you win a certain number of games, or beat certain challenges the game lays out for you, you are given a chance to “purchase” new card sets in the hopes of finding a rare or legendary card to add to your personal deck. I played about 20 matches today and had three chances to open card packs, and I unlocked one legendary card to play with. It very much felt like opening up packs of basketball cards as a kid in hopes of finding a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant rookie card. There are class specific cards and neutral cards that any class can use, so when you are opening a new pack there is a tangible excitement to getting a card that fits your specific class.
Here’s where things get lucrative for Blizzard, the developer of Hearthstone, if a player does not want to play a bunch of matches in order to unlock a new pack of cards to open, they can pay $3 for two packs, $10 for seven packs, $20 for 15 packs, or a whopping $50 for 50 packs. If a players time is worth more than there money, and/or they want to build a seriously strong deck to play with, all they have do is plop down some good cash and they will have the same kinds of cards that taken other players days/weeks to earn. Of course the players that have grinded to build up their decks have also mastered the strategy of the game and have perfectly constructed decks. There are literally hundreds of videos that explain the best combinations of cards for every class/deck build. Take not that Blizzard is the same company that develops the insanely profitable World of Warcraft, of which Hearthstone’s “lore” is based off of.
I doubt I will ever put any real money into Hearthstone’s economy, but Blizzard is not worried about getting every single person’s cash. When it comes to free to play games, the idea is to get as many people playing as possible, then trying to get even one percent of the people playing to cough up some dough. This business model has proven insanely successful for MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA 2, which both have player bases in the millions and profits to match. If you have have talked to someone who is hopelessly addicted to mobile games like Candy Crush then you are familiar with the power of free-top-play. As for Hearthstone, I can really see myself getting into in this game. The matches tend not to last more than five to ten minutes, the production levels are up to Blizzards impeccable standards, and there is enough strategy involved to keep me thinking about the game when I’m not actively playing it. These are the hallmarks of a successful game, and one that I’m going to do my best not to become hopelessly addicted to. Now, if I can find out where all the hours in today went, that would be great.