Friday, 5 December 2014

Blizzard's Ambivalent Approach to In-Game Store

I have to admit I am a bit bemused of late with Blizzard's various ways, schemes, and practises when it comes to In-Game Store and various money grabs. Their approach seems to be rather chaotic, and far from uniform. In every game they currently have a cash shop, their approach is different. And while I cannot judge the success of each of the shops that are placed in World of Wwarcraft, Heroes of the Storm, and Hearthstone, I can share my thoughts about it.

In order to avoid damnation from the very start let us begin with Hearthstone. This I believe is of late the fairest of the three shops in Blizzard's games. While I maintain that individual wings of Naxxramas are pricey as all hell, and that Blizzard really went too far with it, it seems they are aware of it themselves. Especially if we take in consideration their latest efforts in regards with Goblins vs Gnomes expansion. Right now you can get a free arena ticket. That is equivalent of 150 gold coins. You get that much gold in average with three daily quests. In couple of days, when the expansion is officially released you will be able to get three free packs of cards from the new expansion. Each pack is worth 100 gold coins.

And while it is obvious they are doing it to bring back the players that might have gone elsewhere because the meta became rather stale of late, we cannot deny the efforts of the team behind Hearthstone in trying to keep the game as popular as it is. You could probably say, well it's some free stuff, what does that matter. Well, it is not the free stuff that matters but the cost of new card packs. The cost is equal to the old card packs that you will still be able to buy. And while in the old packs you can get the old cards, in the new packs there are only 120 expansion cards. This means that for rather low cost, even if you are new to the game, you can put together a decent if not solid deck with certain amount of synergy.

And this equal opportunity appearance that does not discriminate between veterans and new players is what makes Hearthstone relevant of late. We can all fight on equal terms, because it comes down to your own skill, and not how much money, or time you invested in the game. I agree that if you invest more time, generally that will mean you have more experience as well with the game, but in no way will a new player feel disadvantaged as it is right now.

To contrast that we have Heroes of the Storm. I have already mentioned the ludicrous gating system and insane prices of heroes in the shop. This game's store reeks of greed. They are selling skins, and I am fine with that. It is a free game, I understand they need to make money back in some way. But the thing is, that in comparison to their direct competition in this genre they are the priciest of the lot. DOTA 2 is completely free of charge, you have access to all the champions immediately. Skins and other visual stuff you can buy on the market, where people sell their designs, and Valve takes a piece of the profits. In Smite you can pay 24€ to unlock all the gods that are, and will be added to the game. If you do not want, you can still buy individual heroes with either real money, or in-game currency. The prices in either of two cases are normal. In League of Legends you can buy champions with real money, or in-game currency. Prices differ with older champions costing less than newer champions. You can and should buy runes as well, if you intend to play at max level.

And this latest model is where Heroes of the Storm takes inspiration from. But unlike being normal about it like Riot is in League of Legends, they have gone berserk while game is not even out yet. I am sorry, but 9€ for a hero is way too much. It is insane in fact. These days you can get complete games for that kind of money, especially during the sales. And I am not even talking indies, but AAA games. And can you please explain why Jaina costs 9€ or 15000 coins while Anub'arak in comparison costs 9€ or 10000 coins? If that is not blatant attempt at trying to squeeze you fans dry I do not know what it is. Currently 21 out of 32 heroes available cost 7.50€ or more. Sure, you can buy them with gold, but is there any chance you would want to buy them with real money? Not at this price for me.

There are various mounts and skins on sale as well. And while this is just cosmetics category, I think Blizzard is overestimating the appeal of these items if they believe they can sell them for such a high price. Most of the mounts cost the same as heroes, and these can be purchased with real money only, while there are some exceptions that cost whopping 17.50€. You can buy a Master skin for a hero you reached level 10 with, but it costs 10000 gold. You are basically choosing between buying a new hero, or buying a nice skin for your favourite. The price of skins ranges from 13€ to 4.50€.

And than last, and probably the greatest offender is coming soon, but not in yet, stimpacks. In simple terms experience booster. While it does not affect the games itself in any direct way, it does so passively, because those who play with heroes of higher levels, have more talents and abilities to choose from. They have greater arsenal at their disposal, and thus inadvertently a real advantage against their opponents. This, because Blizzard implemented the gating system and refuses to let it go (because I assume, the sales of stimpacks would plummet), even if this system puts people at disadvantaged position.

To make things clear, stimpacks make a world of difference. If you play one game alone you get X amount of experience. If you win you get 2X experience, if you lose only X. If you play with a friend, you get 2X+X amount of experience. And if you use a stimpack you get additional 100% experience and 150% gold for each game. that means if you bought a stimpack and played with a friend, and won, you get enough experience to get from level one directly to level four. And surprise surprise, at level four you can unlock all the talents and abilities.

So there we have it, Hearthstone, where all things considered the system implemented ensures equity among the new and veteran players, while the cash shop in Heroes of the Storm rewards those who spent money in it, and castigates those who did not. I will not go in World of Warcraft's in-game shop because that one is a blatant cash-grab and there is nothing to add that was not said before. To have a in-game store in a subscription based game is both greedy and hypocritical beyond belief. But Blizzard is only able to get away with it because playerbase tolerates it.

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