It’s no secret that Hearthstone hasn’t been in a great place for the last year or so. Shaman has dominated the meta, RNG has run rampant, and decks have gotten faster and less fun. Power creep has decimated many of the best decks from Hearthstone’s early days. The new decks have been forced archetypes using blatantly overpowered cards like Patches and Kazakus. Players have been feeling particularly demoralized, and for a lot of them, Journey to Un’Goro was a make-or-break moment–if the expansion was a flop, they’d pack their digital bags and move on from Hearthstone.
The Hearthstone community is usually excited after a big expansion launches. There’s a predictable cycle on the forums after every new set comes out: a month of happiness, a month of anger, and, finally, a month of anticipation. However, the Journey to Un’Goro release was a bit different–this time, the forums were full of anger the day after the expansion went live. If you’re wondering why everyone’s upset before they even had a real chance to try out the new cards, that’s a reasonable question. To put it simply, opening packs of Hearthstone cards doesn’t feel “worth it” anymore, and this is especially true for the Journey to Un’Goro packs. Blizzard’s microtransactions might be too much for casual players to put up with–the barrier to entry for Hearthstone has never been higher, at least as far as your wallet is concerned.
Quests: Too Many Legendaries?
I’m a huge fan of the Quests that Blizzard introduced with Journey to Un’Goro. That hasn’t changed at all now that the set is actually out–don’t worry, they’re still awesome. However, they’re only awesome if you actually have them. Crafting the Quests is another story entirely. In the current meta, you’re basically required to have Quests if you want to play certain classes, and you need them to create certain archetypes. Hearthstone has never had such a heavy reliance on legendary cards in the past–at the most, there have been two ‘must-have’ cards included in previous expansions. With Journey to Un’Goro, however, you need nine legendaries to experience all of the content.
Fun story: I opened 115 packs and only got one Quest. The Quests were the only legendaries I actually wanted, and looking at my haul filled me with regret. Here’s the issue with the packs in Journey to Un’Goro: people want to try out the new Quests, but they’re not able to get their hands on them. You’re left with two choices: save up dust to craft the legendaries you want, or open packs until you get the card you’re lusting after.
Several people have suggested that the Quests should be given to every player for free–or perhaps even just one Quest. If you got to choose a Quest for free, or were even given one randomly, there wouldn’t be nearly as much complaining. The Quests provide awesome gameplay, but Blizzard has effectively added a microtransaction paywall and this time, the cost might be too high.
Legendary and Epic Rates Skewed Low
The Quests were the big issue with Un’Goro, but the community uproar showcases the underlying problems with Hearthstone’s card pack system. The fact of the matter is that players don’t open epics or legendaries nearly enough. In my 115 packs, I got six legendaries. I put aside money for four months, and I felt lucky to open six of the 23 legendaries in the set. One of them was a duplicate, but I still felt like I was beating the odds. I got access to less than a quarter of the set’s legendaries by opening over $100 worth of packs. The numbers aren’t skewed in anyone’s favor except Blizzard’s, and while that’s not exactly a surprise, it doesn’t make the bitter taste in your mouth go away.
The situation with epics isn’t much better. Again, you get far too few epics in packs–and out of the epics that you could get, there’s plenty of garbage. Now, it’s worth noting that Hearthstone is the only popular card game–digital or otherwise–with such horrible odds for opening rare cards. The odds of finding a legendary in a pack are around 5-6%. On average, this means you should get at least one legendary if you open 20 packs of cards. Since you typically get most commons and rares in your first 30-40 packs, you’re paying purely for epics and legendaries. Other games such as Shadowverse have an average of one legendary in every 8 packs. Magic the Gathering puts one rare in every single pack, guaranteed.
None of this would be nearly as bad if the dust rewards were decent, however.
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The Dust Rewards Suck (Still)
There have been major problems with the dust system in Hearthstone since the launch of the game. The amount of dust you get for disenchanting is pitiful, and it’s designed to be worse the less you pay–legendaries cost a full 1600 dust to craft, but if you disenchant them you only get 400. You only get a quarter of a legendary because the game decided through pure randomness to give you one you already had? How is that fair? If the dust reward for disenchanting legendaries was higher–let’s say 800, half the dust it would cost to purchase the card–the situation would be far more reasonable. But with how rare legendaries are, it’s the duplicates that sting the worst. Every 20ish packs you get a legendary, if you are lucky. But if you’re unlucky to grab a legendary that you already own, you might as well have found an epic instead–that’s all you’ll be able to buy with the measly 400 dust you collect from disenchanting the duplicate.
It only gets worse the lower you go. Legendaries and epics give back a quarter of the dust crafting cost. Rares, however, give players only a fifth–they cost 100 dust to create, but only give back 20. Commons are the worst of the bunch, since they cost 40 to craft but yield a pitiful five dust. Keep in mind that over 70% of the cards you get are going to be commons. If the conversion economy was rescaled so that players were given an even 50% of the card’s dust cost across the board, regardless of rarity, we’d have a much less infuriating situation on our hands. Right now a ‘crap pack’ with four commons and a rare will earn you a laughable 40 dust. Change the dust totals to be half the card’s value? Suddenly that ‘crap pack’ is now worth 130 dust, and customers don’t feel nearly as ripped off.
The Price Isn’t Right
It doesn’t end here. I could talk about the recent card pack price increases, the massive overvaluing of digital items in general, or why Blizzard should allow players to trade cards. But I’ve ranted enough, so I’ll wrap it up. The current price of Hearthstone packs is unacceptable. It costs over $100 to get a decent play set from each expansion, and it looks like Blizzard is intent on shipping three expansions every year. I, like many others, don’t feel comfortable paying $300 a year just to stay competitive. When you combine Blizzard’s efforts to maximize microtransaction profits with the overall mood of the Hearthstone community, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. It would be wise for Blizzard to revisit their business strategy for Hearthstone, or else the company risks losing customers who would be willing to pay a slightly more reasonable amount of money three times a year. Some of these customers might never come back, especially once they get the chance to immerse themselves in competing titles like Gwent.
Digital Items and the Death of “Free-to-Play”
At the end of the day, everyone needs to remember that these are digital cards with no real value. Your holographic Charizard might be worth a crisp $20 at a local flea market, and if you’ve got a couple rare Beanie Babies stuffed away in your attic, there’s still a chance you’ll be able to make your money back. (Maybe.)
Digital items are a different story, especially when Blizzard, unlike Valve, refuses to implement any kind of trading system or virtual economy–your cards are tied to your account, and it’s more difficult for consumers to justify a microtransaction purchase when there’s no chance of recouping the potential “loss.” When you open a CS:GO case, you’re given a digital item that you can be sold on the Steam Marketplace or traded to other players for different cosmetics. When you open a pack of Hearthstone cards, however, those digital items have suddenly reached the end of the line.
Giving out Quests or other legendaries to players for “free” doesn’t hurt Blizzard. Normal people will never be able to afford a full set, and there’s no virtual economy that’s at risk of being destabilized. If Blizzard is willing to make some much-needed changes to the way that legendaries and epics are distributed, we’ll buy just as many card packs, we’ll just be happier about it.