Hearthstone thoughts
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 March 2013, 4:13 am
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.
Tobold's Blog

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