Businesses seek to increase profit year after year, and so it should also not come as a surprise to see that Hearthstone is now the most expensive it has ever been since launching in 2014. Through ongoing changes to the structure and frequency of content expansions, solo adventures, pre-purchase bundles, cosmetics, and more, Blizzard keeps moving the goal posts further back, and it may be pricing itself out of the Trading Card Game (TCG) market in the long term.
Expansions And Adventures – The First Years
Like all TCGs, Hearthstone began with its Basic and Classic set of cards, as well as class specific cards earned as a reward for leveling up each class. In the following year, Blizzard released two Adventures, Curse of Naxxramas, Blackrock Mountain, and one expansion, Goblins vs. Gnomes.
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Similar to the upcoming solo adventure Galakrond’s Adventure, these adventures had a low price attached to them, costing roughly $19.99 or obtainable through in-game gold earned through daily quests. The solo content itself was negligible, as what mattered most was the release of roughly 30-45 new, meta-shifting cards obtained for completing the Adventure content.
In the first years of Hearthstone, this meant that players paid a reasonable price to have most of the cards needed to make both competitive decks and also wild, interesting decks to experiment with. With both Adventures and the $49.99 pre-order for the Expansion, players could get away with spending relatively little on Hearthstone.
This alternative release of Adventure and Expansion continued with the addition of the League of Explorers Adventure at the end of 2015, and 2016 consisting of the Expansions Whispers of the Old Gods, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan, and the adventure One Night in Karazhan. One could argue that 2016 was more expensive since there were two expansions, but that is simply how the alternating between both content types worked out. It was not until 2017 that Blizzard made its first big shift to upping the cost of playing Hearthstone.
Goodbye Affordable Adventures, Hello Three Expansions Per Year
2017 was a big year for Hearthstone because it introduced Standard and Wild formats and shifted to three expansions per year while doing away with Adventures entirely. This meant that the content mentioned earlier, including Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament, Goblins vs. Gnomes, and the League of Explorers, were removed from Standard play and could only be used in the Wild format. Since release, Wild has largely been a wasteland with a fraction of attention given to its balance compared to Standard, but that is a tale for another time.
To replace all the content that was removed from Standard, Blizzard introduced three expansions that year: Journey to Un’Goro, Knights of the Frozen Throne, and Kobolds & Catacombs. Instead of one or two low-priced adventures, now players had 135 new cards dumped into the game three times per year, and what’s more, Blizzard has slowly increased the number of Legendary cards in each expansion, straining the resources of paid and free-to-play players.
If all printed Legendary cards were useful, this would not be an issue. The reality is that with each set Blizzard includes cards that are, at best, experimental and possibly useful in a future expansion, or the opposite as utter trash in their core design, such as with Griftah. Instead of spending a set amount of money to receive all the cards done with Adventures, players needed to spend far more to receive a partial collection, and the number of Legendary cards continues to rise. The expansions for 2019 had 24, 23, and 28 Legendary cards each.
Locking Cosmetics Behind The Largest Preorders
Eventually Blizzard expanded beyond it’s one pre-order bundle per expansion to two, with the forty-pack bundle for about $49.99 remaining unchanged, and a new eighty-pack bundle for $79.99 added. The game is still free-to-play, but the rarest alternative hero skins were are always locked behind the more expensive bundle.
To be fair, cosmetics do not impact gameplay at all, but it is still worth stating that always locking cosmetics behind the highest-priced transactions of a free-to-play game is a jerk move.
How Much Does Hearthstone Really Cost?
About a year ago Youtube channel Hearthstone Mathematics released an informative video outlining similar points to what has been said above, and went about the task of calculating the cost of Hearthstone for completely free-to-play players and those who are willing to pay to acquire a complete collection. They take into consideration daily quests for an average amount of gold acquisition, promotional events, the weekly brawl, average amount of dust attained from packs, and more.
To summarize, Hearthstone has become increasingly expensive over the years, after moving to three expansions per year, and now, Blizzard has decided to double dip by blending paid Expansions with paid Adventures.
Galakrond’s Awakening Looks Like The Start Down A Slippery Slope
Blizzard has been consistent in their three yearly expansions, and in 2019, kept the meta diverse by adding balance changes or introducing cards into the Standard pool around the midway point of each expansion. The first time they did this, it was free, and players could craft new cards. The second time was also free with cards in Wild rotated back for a period of time. Now however, you gotta pay if you want a taste of the good stuff.
In Galakrond’s Awakening, the solo adventure releasing on January 21, players will see thirty-five cards added to the Standard pool, but like the old Adventure releases, will only have access to them if they purchase the new content. This can be done by paying with cash, at the familiar $19.99 price point seen in the early days of the game, or likewise, with in-game currency.
Without a doubt, Blizzard is testing the waters to see how much they can squeeze from their player base in any given year, and it’s a nasty surprise. We do not yet know the impact of the cards being added, but like previous adventures, it is safe to guess that at least a portion will be meta defining, and players may be too invested not to drop another bit of cash to get the cards.
If Blizzard is satisfied with their sales, the next logical step is to keep releasing three Expansions per year, and midway through each, a paid solo adventure that is costed at the same price point as the previous Adventure content, effectively charging players six times a year instead of three in order to remain competitive.
Closing Thoughts– Is It Worth It?
Ultimately, determining the value of a game and its cost to play at a competitive level is not something we can do. The value is subjective, but we can probably safely say that as the cost continues to rise, fewer players will find the higher price to be worth their consumer dollars as we can definitively point to the changes made over the past few years and say that the cost of Hearthstone has spiked and continues trending upwards.
Four or five hundred dollars a year to have access to most of the cards may be reasonable when compared to something like paper Magic: The Gathering, but the same amount of money can buy many other games on other platforms.
Will Hearthstone suffer as a result of its upward trending pricing? Time will tell, but with so many other outstanding games on the market it seems impossible to justify continually spending more and more money on a fun but completely mediocre TCG.
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