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The PA Report - Hearthstone is pay-to-win, and we’re actually totally cool with that

DogDog Registered User, Administrator, Vanilla Staff admin

imageThe PA Report - Hearthstone is pay-to-win, and we’re actually totally cool with that

Since the beta released in August, Blizzard’s new collectible card video game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft has received a fair amount of flack from a vocal minority of players who have pegged Hearthstone as pay-to-win. Others have rallied to its defense to claim it's not pay-to-win at all.

Read the full story here


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  • metroidkillahmetroidkillah Local Bunman Free Country, USARegistered User regular
    edited September 2013
    I'm just wondering how the Leagues are defined and played in. Is is according to the value of the decks? That way, a player with a fancy, expensive deck isn't allowed to roll in on a non-payer and flatten him. Or is is something else? Do you just choose? That seems easiest, but there's going to be a lot of complaining about matchmaking if that's the case.

    metroidkillah on
    I'm not a nice guy, I just play one in real life.
  • AerothornAerothorn Registered User regular
    "You can call Hearthstone pay-to-win if you want, but competitive Magic: The Gathering players who have dropped $6,000 on a Black Lotus are laughing at you."

    Jesus Christ, Andrew. You make some good arguments in here, then shoot yourself in the foot with that line. "X Is Not As Awful As The Worst Thing Ever" != "X Is Good." Saying that it's "better than Magic" is in no way undermining the critics, because Magic's business model is horrendous, and is precisely why Fantasy Flight's Living Card Games model has been so popular.

  • RunningmanRunningman Registered User regular
    I mean, are there really many competitive hobbies that don't have some element of pay to win beyond something completely locked down like Chess? That's sort of part of the fun of these things; you mix your labor and your resources with your deck/equipment/miniatures/etc and that gives you a more personal investment in and attachment to the army you're going to war with. I think Blizzard's model is extremely forgiving in that sense.

  • aecheanaechean Registered User regular
    I'm surprised you didn't compare it with Duel of the Champions at all. It's essentially that model. Blizzard hasn't pioneered anything here, they are expanding a little on an already successful formula.

    You can't be a CCG and not be pay to win. The thing that separates good and bad is can I still have fun without having to buy cards worth hundreds of dollars, and can my deck that I have invested only a few dollars in have any chance against a deck with all legendary cards?

  • aecheanaechean Registered User regular
    @Aerothorn

    Yeah, but Magic is still far, far and away the most popular CCG and card game. Far away.

    FF LCGs may be popular, but they aren't even in the same league as MTG.

  • untestedmethodsuntestedmethods Registered User regular
    @Aerothron FFGs business model is popular, but please lets not conflate things here. The LCG playerbase is -microscopic- compared to the number of people that play Magic.

    Also, Andrew no one plays Vintage outside of a -very- select minority of players. It'd be more apt to single out something like Voice of Resurgence that goes for 40$ (Or 160$ for a playset) in terms of competitive players playing right now. :)

  • tautologicotautologico Registered User regular
    People calling Hearthstone pay-to-win probably never touched a TCG in their life.

    @AEROTHORN
    MtG's business model is not "horrendous", it is what it is. People who are okay with that play the game, if you don't like it you don't need to play it, and as you said yourself there are alternatives like LCGs. I'd say that TCGs are still much more popular than LCGs right now, so there's a lot of people who maybe don't think Magic's model is "horrendous".

    I like Magic and of course you can spend a lot, but there are many ways to have fun in the game without spending much money, especially online (pauper and other "cheap" constructed formats, or limited formats). The leagues in Hearthstone are a cool idea but I hope they implement more variety later, like a pauper analogue. The Arena seems already like a sealed deck format, I wonder if they will implement drafts. Anyway I can't wait to try Hearthstone (and HEX).

  • kakitamikekakitamike Registered User regular
    So going off the magic example at the end of the article, what are my options for reselling my hearthstone cards to other players as their values fluctuate?

  • AerothornAerothorn Registered User regular
    @Tauntologico: People who are okay with it are (as Penny Arcade is) people who are okay with pay-to-win. I agree that Magic can be a very enjoyable (if relatively expensive) casual game, but when talking about *competitive* play it is about as pay-to-win as you get. You may be "okay" with that, but really that says to me that you don't really value or appreciate a fair fight in your competitive gaming. When I game competitively, I enjoy the satistifaction of winning through my skill and ability, rather than my checkbook.

    Again: Groen's argument for why Hearthstone's pay-to-win is okay basically boils down to "playing casually for free is solid, and if you don't want to do pay-to-win (competitive, deck-building gameplay) then you don't have to." The former point is worth noting and really should have been the heart of this article, but the latter is a ridiculous cop-out. It's a shut-down to any and all criticism - "If you don't like X, don't engage with X" - at which point Penny Arcade Reports has no reason for existing. The "hey, it's better than Magic!" argument is just icing on the mud cake.

  • Canis_AnubisCanis_Anubis Registered User regular
    Look, Hearthstone looks cool all right, but forgiving for being pay-to-win because it's less of an outright gouge than Magic the Gathering isn't saying much. And it misses the point entirely: Pay to win is TERRIBLE design for a game. It's GREAT design if your aim is to clean out your customers' wallets. But a PVP game that asks you to crack open your wallet for a chance to be competitive is fundamentally corrupt.

    And before you ask, yes, I've played my fair share of CCGs, and had fun doing it. But there's another difference between a hard-printed CCG and an online one. When buying into a meat-space card game, you'd have the option to liquidating your collection to a fellow enthusiast to recoup your investment. In point of fact, due to good market timing with my MtG collection, I MADE money playing MtG. Even if I choose not to sell my collection, I can pack up my cards and break them out for a few friends and play whenever I want. There's no buy-back program for Hearthstone or MtGO, and these games will stay online exactly as long as the publishers find them profitable, and not one minute longer, at which point, your money is quite simply gone.

  • Echo2OmegaEcho2Omega Registered User regular
    edited September 2013
    And now you know what card games such as Android Netrunner are gaining so much popularity.

    Echo2Omega on
  • LewishamLewisham Registered User regular
    edited September 2013
    A big aspect of all Pay-to-Win discussions is how much the original game design has been sacrificed in order to introduce the monetization.

    CCGs have been around for so long that you can't really argue the original design was compromised. I personally am OK with this, and I get why people are not. This is the difference with many F2P games on social and mobile: they've been entirely compromised for the sake of money. CCGs haven't.

    I just wanted to put that point out there.

    In my opinion, the best model for consumers is the "pay to expand" model, like DOTA and LoL et al. where the things bought are supposed to maintain competitiveness parity. Blizzard could have gone this route, selling particular decks with a guaranteed value, but I doubt that would be as addictive.

    Lewisham on
  • tautologicotautologico Registered User regular
    @AEROTHORN
    TCG games like Magic are sometimes called "pay-to-compete". You need to spend money to be able to be competitive at the higher levels, but once you're at this level everyone will have spent the same and no one will be at an advantage. Do you think you can win a Magic Pro Tour just by spending more than the other players? The playing field is level at the top tiers of competitive Magic, and what counts is skill (and, obviously, some amount of luck).

    Many other competitive games and sports depend heavily on some "support" component besides pure skill, and most of these are really not fair even in the higher levels. I completely understand not wanting to spend much to be competitive (although there are ways to be competitive without spending much even on standard formats, and playing formats like pauper is not necessarily "casual"), but you can't say that being good at Magic is just about spending money, at least not without looking like you don't know much about the game at all.

  • tautologicotautologico Registered User regular
    Also: most of the time on a well-balanced TCG a good player with a "cheap" deck will win over a bad player with an expensive netdeck. Of course this is not true for just any cheap deck, to build a good budget deck you have to be aware of the metagame, know the cards well etc but that's why Magic is fun and extremely skill-intensive.

  • d.TFFoSd.TFFoS Registered User regular
    So how does this stack up with Duel of Champions?
    And will it give out daily rewards the same way? Like free entrance to an arena battle or something?

  • McEvilMcEvil Registered User regular
    @CANIS_ANUBIS
    First of all, it sounds like you are making two points: One, that pay-to-win is bad, and two: that buying physical things is not the same as buying digital things. The second point is an argument for another time, I think, so I want to reply to the first point.

    I think the big thing you're missing or avoiding is that yes, the game is PVP as you point out - but it's not like you are being pitted against people who have paid more money than you, which is something that Andrew points out several times in the article. So the other people who have an advantage over you are the ones you aren't playing. You can be perfectly competitive within your league; or if you are GOOD, you could probably even play slightly above your pay grade.

    Now, if the matchmaking is anything like Starcraft 2, then it will probably deliberately pit you against opponents of slightly greater skill (or money spent, if you want to look at it that way), so that you have the chance to improve. But at that point I would hope the difference is so marginal that you wouldn't even notice.

  • SuzakuSuzaku Registered User regular
    In my experience so far, you can build an extremely good deck with just the basic cards. I'm winning most of my games with a warlock swarm deck I built, which has a couple things I got from boosters (bought with earned gold) and a couple cards I crafted (from cards I got from said boosters and disenchanted).

    I don't think that calling it pay-to-win is entirely accurate. Pay-to-get-an-early-edge-over-competition is perhaps more apropos.

    Of course, the matchmaking system is also such that you generally only get matched up with players who have a similar skill level and win ratio, so I'm not sure you ever really have to worry about competing with the people who are buying stacks and stacks of booster packs. And, of course, the Arena is draft play.

    Crying out from the Red Land came a man of darkness with evil bloody secrets. He knew the Black Pharaoh, servant to the Faceless Sphinx God. He gave me the book of the dead. Messenger to those who are detested, prepare a way for the Void and the Evil Ones.
  • stfjstfj Registered User new member
    edited September 2013
    This is a very interesting article.
    I don't know anything about how M:tg works now, and I certainly haven't played hearthstone, but I did want to point out one slight inaccuracy that seems important.

    At least in the original sets that Richard Garfield was a part of, magic wasn't pay to win in quite the same way that is described here. He's actually talked about this particular point. When he was working on magic one of his design goals was to make sure that the rare cards weren't actually better than the common ones. Oftentimes the rare powerful cards (shivan dragon for example) also had incredibly high costs. They *seemed* cooler, but weren't actually more powerful. The reason Black Lotus is so expensive is precisely because the casting cost is nothing. This was an error in retrospect, and one that players exploited.

    Where M:tg was actually pay to win, is that with more cards, players could create more intricate, interesting, and unexpected strategies, and have more understanding of what they might be playing against.
    (edit: and if the comment below mine from suzaku is accurate, it seems like this strategy is alive and well in hearthstone)

    stfj on
  • RogueywonRogueywon Registered User regular
    On the pay-to-win front, there have been a few (probably unintentionally) hilarious - but nevertheless welcome posts on Randy Pitchford's twitter feed this evening, regarding Shipbreakers/Homefront.

    "With our investment, Homeworld Shipbreakers can be a proper commercial release. No need for F2P."

    So in other words: "Because we have more money, we can afford to charge people money for our game, rather than making it free".

    A tacit acknowledgement of the fact that free to play is engineered to be worse value for the customer than buy to own.

  • D_K_nightD_K_night Registered User regular
    This is a card game no different than Magic: The Gathering. It's just in online format, so you don't to have to manage a physical card deck. You want more cards, you pay - nothing new here.

    I think I might be playing this soon too. Tons of SC2 players have switched to hearthstone. I'm liking that.

  • FandeathisFandeathis Registered User regular
    The real question is, is this better than SolForge? Both are pay-to-win. I dropped $60 on SF, and dominate 95% of the games I play. Hearthstone sounds better based on this article. To those in the beta, is this true?

    You fuck wit' Die Antwoord, you fuck wit' da army.
  • RedBeastMageRedBeastMage Registered User regular
    Guess I'm doing it wrong competing with a basically free deck (Sorry, I paid for 2 arenas the other day) playing in Master Ranked now. Oops.

    I swear, I'm retiring from any game with the word 'Revolution" in the title. I must be the only person who breathed a sigh of relief at not being called for the Omegathon this year.
  • KaboodleKaboodle Registered User regular
    @Fandeathis > Better in some ways. Because it's very small decks, even the pay-to-win can be mitigated by good/bad luck. And the problem/good part of the arena is also that randomness. That said, I heavily despise entire games being decided on the draw of a single card in a randomly shuffled deck. Add in that their deck, while not PAY to win, they may have gotten better luck in their random drafting of cards, and as such dominate heavily. We might as well just roll a dice and the higher number wins.

  • CaedereCaedere S'no regrets BIRDIESRegistered User regular
    In regards to Magic Online: You actually CAN cash out your cards for physical ones, through the set redemption program. In fact, that's the backbone of the entire MtGO economy.

    FWnykYl.jpg
  • untestedmethodsuntestedmethods Registered User regular
    Also, I wish people would stop bringing up Netrunner or LCGs as an alternative to "pay to win" it's -still- "pay to win" considering a high end competitive deck might need to buy the base set 2 or more times over (70$ there) and you -have- to buy a 15$ expansion every month to keep up. That's -still- pay to win. It's just a different value.

    I think it's also interesting to note that top tier players (generally speaking) don't buy boosters. They just get the singles or use their winnings.

  • gacbmmmlgacbmmml Senior Web Developer IHG.comRegistered User regular
    I'm in the Closed Beta and I have to say that the Legendary Cards I received from Booster Packs have literally won me more games than I can count. I've put in about $150 in Booster Packs (or Expert Packs as they call them) and it's definitely been worth it.

    I'm ranked Platinum (1 Star) so I'm well on my way up the ladder. Any other questions regarding the Beta?

    Noah (girls are cute, but monkeys make me laugh)

  • BlaineeBlainee Registered User new member
    GACBMMML: You are exactly the kind of person who will get his ass whooped later on as soon as there are going to be enough players who can utilize their skill.
    Anyway, in regards to P2W - I think all of you who think its evil, just watch some stream with Arena in HS. Its pretty fun draft mode game and even if its in part based on luck of your draft choices, you still can play only nine games maximum with the most powerful deck you built with your incredible luck.
    After the nine wins, you collect your rewards and you can build next deck. Its much more fun than constructed and much more skill based. So all of you with problems about constructed card games being about who puts in more cash to be able to play competivly on the highest levels, you can play Arena, where all depends only your brain and luck.

  • AxonAxon Registered User regular
    can you trade or resell cards?

  • DaltonCarlDaltonCarl Registered User regular
    edited July 2014
    ---

    DaltonCarl on
  • TaznakTaznak Registered User regular
    I need to actually play this game and get a feel for it to see if I'm okay with the business model. For now, I'll just say that I'm wary, after Plants vs. Zombies 2 turned out to be hugely disappointing due to being F2P.

  • WizarDruWizarDru Registered User regular
    I got off of the M:tG train a long, long time ago. I've never played WoW, though I have nothing against it (simply don't have that kind of free time any longer). For my money, I'll play Card Hunter, which is a F2P that is equally enjoyable as a single-player and multiplayer game. While money certainly makes it easier to advance, my experience hasn't shown it to be a 'pay to win' kind of situation.

  • GunganGungan Registered User regular
    Anybody who has ever played a collective card game knows that they are pay to win at the core. That's the entire business model. Turning a CCG into a virtual CCG doesn't change people's expectations in this regard, which gives this model a pass for this genre of game. Giving everyone a free starter deck, however, is not really possible in the physical card game, but easily done with virtual cards.

  • TaznakTaznak Registered User regular
    @Gungan: The only CCG I play and like is the PC version of Magic: The Gathering, which coincidentally is not pay to win.

  • Dark JaguarDark Jaguar Registered User regular
    I have a hard time seeing the concept of "booster packs" as anything but a scam. I can't stand paying for a GAMBLE that I might get what I want. No, I will not pay for anyone's "mystery box", even if it could be a boat.

  • mpurekampureka Registered User regular
    Remind me again why we are cool with this? Because it's the same business model that Magic: The Gathering has been using to gouge us since 1993? It's okay because it's been around the block a few times?

    Sorry folks, but I am not okay with this and will not be touching this property. As usual, I'm sure I'm in the minority for actually sticking to my guns and not buying a product that is ideologically abhorrent to me EVEN THOUGH IT IS MADE BY BLIZZARD. :P

  • GunganGungan Registered User regular
    edited September 2013
    @MPuREKA

    Normally I would agree with you, but it's a product of the trading card age. Baseball cards, hockey cards, etc... You bought them in packs, they were all random, you traded them. They had literally no other purpose. Someone thought it would be cool to make it a game in additional to trading cards, but you still paid for packs of random cards.

    Hearthstone was born from all that. The only problem is the lack of trading.

    I played the Star Wars CCG for a while. I didn't spend a whole ton of money on it, but I also never really got any rare cards either.

    Gungan on
  • PrimesghostPrimesghost Registered User regular
    @TAZNAK

    Which version would you be talking about? Duels of the Planeswalkers is essentially an introduction to the game of Magic and is severely limited in how you can adjust the premade decks you are given. As far as I know they still haven't included a deck editor in the game.

    If you meant Magic the Gathering Online then I hate to break it to you but that's the exact same pay model as the physical card game.

  • TiberiusEsuriensTiberiusEsuriens Registered User regular
    edited September 2013
    Completely incidentally [/sarcasm], the people that are not cool with this are the people that were least likely to ever play it anyways. Yes, it's a card game, with the same payment model as every other card game, being designed by card gamers and to be played by card gamers. Andrew isn't saying the model is perfect but he's not saying it is broken. The game is a very tight experience and the developers know their audience. If you don't feel like you're the target audience, then you probably aren't.

    @GUNGAN
    The devs specifically left out trading because of two reasons: You are more likely to get screwed over by bad deals and have tons of crappy cards sitting around that you'll never use, and digital trading pulls money out of the game. Hardcore players would log onto sketchy 3rd party websites, and pay someone through pay-pal just like gold farmers in WoW. Even if the websites are secure, the lack of profit from the money whales (since this is F2P) could cause the game to die out quickly.

    I played the SW CCG, too. That game was baller, even though I also never had a good deck. Good card games don't need every card to have fun. Typically the vital cards are given to you in starter decks, like Hearthstone does.

    TiberiusEsuriens on
  • mpurekampureka Registered User regular
    edited September 2013
    Yeah, go figure, the people who are too smart to play games with this pricing model are too smart to play games with this pricing model regardless of whether they are digital or come printed on pieces of cardboard. Who knew?

    The target audience is people who are easily parted from their money, the same target audience as M:TG. That doesn't mean we should be "totally cool with that."

    Also, Ben has nothing to say on this. Andrew wrote this article. :P

    mpureka on
  • wormspeakerwormspeaker Objectively Terrible Registered User regular
    I would say that it's still quite possible to be competitive without legendaries. If you do the normal grinding to fully unlock the class you want to play and then seed it with a few more common cards you can still be effective against a person with 5 legendaries in their deck, if you design your deck right. Much like in Magic: the Gathering a weenie deck can be quite effective against even against someone who has dropped their mortgage payment on the game.

    Just taking Tirion Fordring for example, he costs 8 mana. So you can't get him out before round 7 in most cases. He's also just a 6/6 and if you have a bunch of weenie taunts out on the board it doesn't matter how much damage he does because there is no equivalent of Trample in Hearthstone. There are numerous common cards that can kill or control your high value cards, so legendary creatures aren't really game winners in most cases anyway, the match is usually decided or close to decided before you get to the point where you can place on on the field.

    I believe that a top player with a $0 deck vs. a poor player with a $6,000 deck will find the top player still winning handily.

    I'm quite looking forward to playing a weenie taunt shaman deck with some direct damage. It'll cost me next to nothing and should be quite effective. I should be able to win against a person loading their deck with legendaries before round 8.

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