“It’s just another pay-to-win game,” said another commenter on a Hearthstone piece anywhere on the internet. And you know what, Hearthstone hater? You’re absolutely right…if you add just one other word. Hearthstone is a pay-to-win-faster game, there is no doubt about it. For the uninformed, Hearthstone is an entirely digital collectible card game that pits two players against each other with all sorts of minions and spells and weapons until one player’s health has reached zero. Simple concept, tough game.

How does one procure cards? There are two ways: the player can either grind daily quests, one time quests, or wins to earn gold which can then be used to buy card packs or the player can merely shell out the cash and open as many packs as he or she likes. When you put it like that, it sounds fairly pay-to-win.

There is a problem among the Hearthstone naysayers these days. There doesn’t seem to be a unified reason for the hatred. Some people deride the game’s “simplicity” while others criticize the pricing. Some people even call Blizzard disingenuous for calling the game “free-to-play”. I’m here to set the record straight: Hearthstone is a free-to-play game. If anyone needs a source on that one, you can look at me. I play Hearthstone quite regularly—I would even say I’m pretty above average at the game—and I have never paid a cent. It almost feels like a crime.

Magic purists and instant gratification gamers: this game is probably not for you. If you want all the cards from the get-go without paying, you want an obscure card game with a smaller player base. That’s fine. If you want a tried and true card game with the physical cards to prove it, Magic is your thing. The beauty of Hearthstone is that it affords both of those pools when players are more receptive.

There are the pros and there are the casuals. I happen to fall in the latter category. I play Hearthstone because I like a little competition, but I don’t feel an incessant need to absolutely dominate. The reality is that intense Magic players pay a ton of money for complete collections and Hearthstone professionals do the same. They want the cards fast and they are willing to pay to get them. It’s not that I am unwilling to pay Blizzard money for something in Hearthstone, I just haven’t felt a crippling need to. Even with that mentality, I do not feel held back in the game.

Too often people let their own opinions or emotions get in the way of realizing an important fact: game companies are businesses. Blizzard did not make Hearthstone out of the kindness of their hearts so that broke gamers everywhere could play like Magic champions. Blizzard was very deliberate in their pricing strategies. They did what every mobile game that hits the app store tries to do: they reel you in with their free game and then incentivize you to pay real currency. That’s how the game makes money and there is nothing sleazy about that.

I find that to be true in my experience because I have a very fun time competing at the level I play at. Is ranked play for me? Absolutely not. Almost immediately past rank 16, I am slaughtered by high level players. Seriously, it’s a blood bath. But before that and in casual play, I do just fine having obtained cards only from grinding gold each day. It’s rewarding when your persistence finally pays off and you open that pack with that one legendary you were wishing for. It still feels amazing when a match has come down to the wire and you draw just the card you need to clutch victory. Blizzard’s marketing strategy and monetization practices have not in any way diminished or taken away those feelings.

That’s just background noise to an amazingly fun and surprisingly deep game. Is it disappointing to lose to a high level player with a seemingly perfect deck? Of course it is, but it’s no different than losing to a far more experienced player in a full priced console multiplayer game. There are always going to be better players, no matter what level you play at. Even if they bought all of their cards, it takes skill and planning to use them properly.

Is Hearthstone perfect? No, it has plenty of problems (looking at you, Facehunter). But the way Blizzard makes money from it is hardly one of them. The game rewards those who play it, just like any great game should.

  • Alana Fearnall

    I skimmed a lot of your article after the first paragraph.
    You said that Hearthstone is a ‘pay-to-win faster’ game, and I’d just like to point out that is the exact definition we have adopted as a gaming community.

    “In some multiplayer free-to-play games, players who are willing to pay
    for special items or downloadable content may be able to gain a
    significant advantage over those playing for free. Critics of such games
    call them “pay-to-win” games.”

    You will always have an advantage in Hearthstone if you are willing to spend the time and money in ‘Net Decking’ as they call it. I played Magic The Gathering for about a year at least once a week, drafting whenever I could. In that time I managed to build a net deck, valued at about $500 at its peak. That was through trading, drafting, and buying a random pack here or there. (I played during Born of the Gods – Dragons of Tarkir) Even though I had a expensive deck, players who went out and bought the decks outright had a distinct advantage. They could practice the deck from the moment it came out and was established, and I’d often be looking around for the last card on the day of.

    Hearthstone, Magic, and any card game will always reward players who spend more money on the game itself. I think that should be pretty obvious.
    I’m not saying Hearthstone is a bad game, I actually quite enjoy it, but when you come across people with 5 legendarys in their deck, its a little more then frustrating.

    • Sheldon Jones

      It really should have an option to not be in games for people who have spent money on the game. That’s one of the biggest factors in player skill and deck composition. Giving players that option would allow freebies to stay in their own domain and payers to compete in circles where a higher “breed” could butt heads.

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