Hearthstone: How Journey to Un’Goro has put off the casual player

Price hikes, back-to-back expansions and the introduction of Quests... Players are now required to spend their savings on digital cards

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The Independent Culture

Since April 2014 — when Hearthstone launched on iOS devices — I have found myself accidentally spending countless hours playing Blizzard’s digital card game. Based on the World of Warcraft franchise, Hearthstone sees players construct decks and battle in a virtual inn. Like almost all card games, there’s an element of luck, but creating an original deck that actually wins matches requires knowledge, skill and — thanks to the latest expansion — a lot of money.

I’ve had an excellent time playing Hearthstone the majority of the time. Over the years, I’ve purchased the Welcome Pack for £3.99 and all four Adventures, which have ranged from £13.99 to £17.49. That probably seems like a fair bit of cash to splash on digital cards. For all those hours spent playing on the train home, though, that money hasn’t exactly felt wasted, even if some of those cards are no longer playable in Standard (we’ll get onto that). 

Many other players have also spent much more money thanks to the release of Expansions, which now total five thanks to the recent Journey to Un’Goro. With these, the only way to get the new cards is through purchasing packs, each containing 5 random cards. The cheapest bundle you can get contains two packs for £2.99 and goes up to 40 packs (200 cards) for £48.99 on iPhone. Bare in mind, there’s absolutely no guarantee you will get the rare cards you want. 

A quick on cards. There are five rarities of card: Basic, Common, Rare, Epic, and Legendary. These also come in Golden, which are just aesthetically pleasing and are worth more Dust — AKA the other in-game currency that allows you to craft a card of your choice. The minimum you will get in a pack is four Commons and one Rare (Basic come with the game). Presumably, the best pack you can get is five Golden Legendaries (whether they exist remains a mystery to me, at least). 

For some Pokémon comparisons: a first edition Charizard would be equivalent to a Golden Legendary Tirion Fordring, a Charmander would be similar to a Common Goldshire Footman, and Porygon an Epic Faceless Manipulator.

 

Now, you can also win these packs through doing daily challenges. These challenges win you Gold, which can be spent on packs. Packs cost 100 Gold: daily challenges range from 40 (common) to 100 Gold (rare). Also, there is the Arena — costs 150 Gold to enter — where the game limits how you construct your deck. The longer your winning streak, the more Gold you get. 

Oh, and then there’s the Tavern Brawl. Once a week and free to enter, you gain a free pack after your first victory in Tavern Brawl. Plus, if you want your character to look awesome, you can purchase special skins for £9.99 (no effect on gameplay, but you’ll look fly).

That’s the basics of spending money — real and fictional — in Hearthstone. And, yes, there are a lot of ways to spend money in Hearthstone. Considering an estimated 50 million people played Hearthstone as of April last year, Blizzard are likely raking in the money, even if there are numerous free-to-play players who refuse to purchase anything.

Despite what you’re thinking, the financial model for Hearthstone has actually worked well for skint players such as myself. As mentioned above, spending money on Adventures — which you can purchase with Gold if you’re willing to save — doesn’t seem bad when you spend so long on a game. 

Also, when buying, players know exactly which cards they’re getting with an Adventure, unlike buying random packs. For instance, when purchasing the Curse of Naxxramas adventure, players get six legendaries, two epics, four rares, and 18 commons, all of which were widely played across constructed decks.

With Journey to Un’Goro, Blizzard has released their first back-to-back Expansion. Importantly, this happened following a price hike as well, two packs previously costing £1.99 as opposed to £2.99. These two factors have led to outrage among Hearthstone fans.

A price hike was always going to cause issues; who wants to spend more money on the same product? Releasing back-to-back expansions is a less obvious problem, but something that has affected players quite deeply. For an extended period of time, we’ve been purchasing packs with no guarantee of a card they actually want. Adventures gave stability — core cards every player could use — and often form deck archetypes. 

Another note. When constructing decks, many players turn to the Internet for help, often leading to a certain deck archetype dominating the meta. There have been low-points over the years, including the rise of Grim Patron, Secret Paladin, and Pirate Warrior, all of which centre predominantly on a single card. Developers have often ‘nerfed' offending cards or added new cards that counter old ones (often leading to further problems). 

Singular cards have never dominated deck archetypes as heavily as with the introduction of Legendary Quests, a new card-type singular to Un’Goro. These cards require you to build decks around them and will no doubt help define this year’s meta. However, to gain a Quest — like with all Legendaries — you need to be very lucky with your card openings, spending huge amounts of money.

 

The argument can be made that Hearthstone requires you to eventually earn these cards as time goes on. But, considering there are nine of these Quests, and each is basically a requirement for the majority of new deck archetypes, these have become almost essential additions to your collection.

By introducing so many Legendary-but-pretty-much-necessary cards, Hearthstone now commands you spend your savings to make the most of the game. We’re not even talking about £49.99 you would spend on an AAA game — that would likely only get you one of the Quests. Plus, in four months when another expansion is released, you’ll need to spend the same amount again to stay on top. 

These Quests should probably been released differently. Perhaps through an Adventure-like system where you complete challenges to win them, therefore not forcing your wallet to empty itself unnecessarily. Whatever the case, Hearthstone currently feels like a huge cash grab when it hasn’t before, and that’s putting off casual players like me.

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