GAME FACE: How Hearthstone Wins at Free-to-Play


I’ve never played World of Warcraft.

Such a shocking confession, from someone of my generation; but I’ve never been much of a PC gamer, having only just recently gotten my hands on a computer capable of even running Steam. Of course, I’m aware of the significant effect WoW had on the MMORPG genre, and on gaming as a whole. Heck, there have even been Simpsons and South Park episodes based on the series. If that doesn’t prove its cultural resonance, I don’t know what could.

However, I’ve now somehow become a dedicated fan of popular WoW spin-off: Hearthstone. To the uninitiated, Hearthstone is an online competitive card game based on Blizzard’s titular fantasy series. Much like the immensely popular physical card game: Magic: The Gathering, Hearthstone is a two player strategy game based around deck building and outsmarting your opponent. The player must pick from the selection of available classes to play as, be it rogue or Warlock etc.., and build a suitable deck, before challenging and eventually (hopefully) beating a worthy opponent.

For someone whose closest encounter with competitive card games was watching Yu-Gi-Oh! on Cartoon Network, Hearthstone was surprisingly accessible. The obvious tutorial helped, although I’d already received some ‘tutorship’ from a friendly Hearthstone sensei, but the fact that, even with a barely functioning Hunter deck, I was able to build up enough confidence to quickly start playing ranked, proves how much Hearthstone gets right. The option to complete daily quests for in-game gold means that even if you’re struggling to win enough matches to begin winning anything, you’re still receiving rewards and much needed encouragement.

Hearthstone’s free-to-play model works to entice the player to spend money, rather than force them. For example, packs are available to buy with real money, but they can also be earned from arena wins. More importantly, the bought packs are never favoured over those won in-game; you have just as much chance of getting rare cards in either. Certainly, in order to receive the full Hearthstone experience, investing money is kind of a necessity; the campaigns and expansions require money to be accessed. But, I know people, myself included, who have never spent a penny on the game, and have found much to enjoy.

Blizzard have provided Hearthstone players with plenty of awesome free content, like the weekly tavern brawls, and allow players numerous opportunities to try out new content before deciding to buy, like the free ‘Grand Tournament’ arena run offered before its release. The fact that Blizzard have kept the game so updated over the past two years has meant that the Hearthstone community continues to thrive. With the ‘Whispers of the Old Gods’ expansion soon to be released, they have also announced that matches will now be split into Normal and Wildcard settings, which essentially allows those with more basic decks to stand more of a chance at competitive play.

What I’m getting at here is that Hearthstone is one of the industry’s best examples of free-to-play models done right. With so many horror stories surrounding free-to-play games; such as EA’s disastrous reboot of PC classic Dungeon Keeper, or the shameless mobile cash-cow The Simpsons: Tapped Out! it’s always good to remember that free-to-play games like Hearthstone exist.


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