Why Don’t I Like Hearthstone?

I like video games. And I like trading card games. I’ve spent loads of money on Magic cards, and although I’ve never quite had the time or money to really dive into Standard and keep up with the format, it’s always something I’ve wanted to do. To be in there, in the moment, refining my strategies after every Friday night, practicing against friends, keeping an ear out for The Next Big Deck. So then I hear that Blizzard’s released this free-to-play card game called Hearthstone…

I have nothing really against Hearthstone’s mechanics. I think that they did exactly what they wanted to do and made it work well. Teaching people how to balance the number of lands in their Magic decks is hard, I can understand why Blizzard would cut that out. I think that Hero Powers are an interesting addition to the trading card game and mean that players can at least do something if they can’t play a card with their mana. Heroes being able to attack is cool. And the thing that I really like about Hearthstone is that Blizzard is owning that their game is digital, and they can use random effects often.

But despite all of that, I stopped playing Hearthstone. I stopped playing Hearthstone sometime after the first wing of Naxxramus and did not look back until shortly before the writing of this post, though as of this post I haven’t yet played a game again. I want to see the new cards, especially since the GvG expansion seems real as compared to Naxxramus.

But, I dislike interacting with Hearthstone, because I so dislike everything that results from this game’s monetization.

Blizzard wants to make money. This I understand. But they want this game to be free-to-play. So they need something that technically enables players to play freely while encouraging them to spend money. Most games do this with account upgrades or cosmetic items or temporary boosts. But how do you do that in a card game? So Blizzard decided to do a switch. Magic: the Gathering is both a trading card game and a collectible card game. You can just collect cards on your own but you can also buy, sell, and trade. Hearthstone is only a collectible card game.

It’s simple. If players can only really get more cards through packs, you can trickle packs through to them through slow gold earning or let them spend real money to buy them. Some cards will be more powerful than others, that is a fact of card games like this. So you bump them into higher rarities, which make them less likely to be seen in packs, which means players want to buy more packs. Which is great if all you want is that new card feeling. It’s terrible if there are just a few cards that you want. It’s even worse in Hearthstone, because each of the nine classes has class-specific cards that don’t cross over. Don’t like playing Mage? You can open up a pack with nothing but Mage cards all the same.

Hearthstone pays lip service to the idea of allowing players to get exactly the cards they want with the arcane dust. But really, your bulk cards are worth such little dust that it would take an eternity to get the high-value card that you want, especially if you’re somewhat of a collector and only break down your spare cards. It’s a solution in as much as giving a man digging a trench a spoon is: Technically usable but far from adequate.

And there’s no trading in Hearthstone. There’s no secondhand market. I can’t simply swap cards with someone or buy singles from my Friendly Local Gaming Store. My trash is no one’s treasure, because it can never be anyone else’s. The secondhand market does so much for Magic: the Gathering. It brings people together, it keeps interest going in the game. It gives people hope when they open up booster packs. It lets people share their knowledge and their cards.

There’s none of that in Hearthstone though. And what really kills me is that Hearthstone tells me to play in their Constructed format- But doesn’t let me construct my deck! The singles that I want are denied to me by the random nature of pack opening and the stinginess of the dust system! I’m being denied the tools that I need to be able to play in Constructed.

That just leaves Arena to enjoy. But I can’t always enjoy Arena because I have to do Constructed to get the gold to play Arena, and Constructed’s where most of my problems are. But Arena isn’t even free of problems. If I do a Magic: the Gathering draft, I keep the cards. No matter if I win or lose I keep those 45 cards. In Hearthstone your Arena deck vanishes when you’re done. Which is mind boggling, because Drafts are an amazing way to grow you collection, to give you some direction with the cards you acquire instead of being left to random chance. I would even pay the gold price for 6 boosters if I could keep my Arena decks.

So… I hope you can see why I don’t play Hearthstone any more. I don’t have anything against the game itself in terms of mechanics. But in terms of monetization? I can’t stand it. I can’t stand a game that denies me the tools I think I should have, that’s reliant on how lucky I am opening packs, that takes away what makes other card games bearable to get in to. I like the game, but I just can’t stand everything around it.

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