My last post tried to make a constructive discussion from something which some people thought was “entitlement” on the part of a gaming subreddit. I think I did a pretty good job! What’s ne-
Blizzard just announced a big update to Heroes of the Storm, which they are calling “Heroes 2.0”, which is starting with a massive update to the progression system. Many of the new features are good and fine, or even genuinely great for growing the game in the long run. So: why the upset? Briefly summarized, the changes are:
- Introduction of two new currencies, one premium (“gems“) and one ‘free’ (“shards“).
- New cosmetic features: emoji, VO lines, announcer VO, “sprays” (á la Overwatch), and banners.
- Skins are no longer sold with all of their different colours together; they are now separately obtainable.
- None of the above are obtainable directly through either premium currency, real money, or gold. They can be “crafted” using shards or found in another feature familiar to Overwatch…
- Loot Boxes! Which [thanks to a janky Google Translate] are already affectionately known as Booty Coffers.
- Loot Boxes can contain shards, or almost any cosmetic item, and duplicates are disenchanted to give the player extra shards.
- Heroes are now bought using either gems or gold, the latter now being used solely for buying Heroes. Heroes cannot be directly purchased using real money.
- Hero experience curve massively flattened and the level cap removed: Booty Coffers will be given to players every 5th level for free.
So, a lot of changes to how my money is expected to go from my bank account to Blizzard’s. Let’s briefly highlight some of the good things. Firstly, the massive expansion of cosmetic items is really exciting and encouraging, and the systems which go with them are also nice. The new “loadout” system will give me a fast way to swap colour palettes and not risk anti-skynergy.
Likewise, since Booty Coffers will be given for free, new players will earn rewards quickly and will be rewarded for learning the basics of many heroes. The new system really adds to the feel of tangible rewards for progression in a way that the old system is currently missing.
Older players will be rewarded with Booty Coffers retrospectively for every few Hero levels they have, and a cap on the number of retrospectives has been mooted at 70. People are upset about this: there is no reason to be. Players who hit the cap will, as Solid Jake says at the start of the post, get lots of free stuff.
So… why is there dissatisfaction? In short: the system implements some of the more cynical parts of the microtransactions from Overwatch and elsewhere, in a game which was formerly praised for its direct approach to microtransactions.
Let’s start with more trivial problems. Between gold, gems, shards, and actual real money, there are now four total currencies you need to keep track of if you want to stay informed about your Heroes of the Storm account. This is silly. I think it’s needlessly confusing. Overwatch and Hearthstone both manage fine with less (Hearthstone has Gold, Dust, and $$$). These different currencies all have a clear purpose in Hearthstone, but with players forced into the $ – gems – Booty Coffers – shards conversion in order to actually buy a skin they want, things are getting silly. We already had a currency which can be obtained for free in the game, and gold would have done a perfectly good job instead of shards. You earn shards from Booty Coffers and gold from Quests. There are too many systems trying to do similar things. They could – should – have been unified, and I think it’s a mistake by Blizzard to confuse matters.
Now, let’s harp on those shards some more. If I wanted to just buy a Legendary skin today, I’d go to the store and pay about £15. Fine, sounds good to me. Legendary skins now cost 1600 shards each, not counting the triple you have to pay if you want every colour palette. Current word is that Booty Coffers yield an average of 10 shards each, and 12 boxes cost about £10, so if I want to obtain 1600 shards I need roughly £160 of microtransactions [source]. And yes, I can now “earn” shards for free and hence gradually build up my shards count to minimize that cost, but the same would be true if gold were the only free currency. And to top it all off, if I do get a Legendary skin in a random crate, it doesn’t disenchant into even nearly enough shards to buy me an equivalent thing. That just feels bad; underwhelming, even.
Now, I don’t care how much “other stuff” I get in those Booty Coffers if what I want is Thing X. This can simply be fixed my making anything be purchaseable with real currency (or gems if you insist). This effectively puts up barriers to making an informed purchase, which is not consumer friendly. But all of these issues are small fry compared to the bigger issue.
Booty Coffers are deliberately and transparently designed to be compulsive. Free Booty Coffers at launch is designed to get older players acquainted with the new compulsive system. Is this that bad? Yes – once players buy and experience “paid” content, they are much more likely to pay for it again. The addition of the random factor disproportionately targets a younger audience, psychologically speaking. If that isn’t deliberate, it’s naive. If it is deliberate, it’s cynical. Now, some critics attacked Overwatch’s Loot Boxes for nickel & diming players in a £60 game, but the case of Heroes of the Storm is that it’s free to play. Nobody’s arguing about whether microtransactions should be in the game. There’s even a solid point of view which holds that free to play games come with the expectation that the player will be nagged for microtransactions. Fine. But there’s a point where expectations are exceeded and respect for the players is eroded. I think that the current system sits squarely on the line of what shows appropriate respect to the player.
Let’s not forget that where there’s a compulsive system, there are people who become compulsive. Compulsive people are not having a fun time, and should have their interests defended vigorously. If systems can minimize the damage they do to people caught in compulsive behaviour, I think that’s a moral basis to demand that they do so.
In the Tweet above, Bakery is referring to accusations that Blizzard paid its community figures to say positive things about the new systems. I don’t believe that; people who do are either hoplessly cynical or deliberately exaggerating. But I do believe that people who derive their financial success from the future of a game are more likely to see the good bits [less likely to focus on the bad bits] of a change which will probably increase the profitability of that game. Balance patches are one thing: real money economics is another.
I finally want to make the point that in suddenly announcing this change away from the old system which demonstrated a lot of respect for the player, Blizzard has shown that they might not deserve a strong level of trust. I mean – as many free market idealists will point out – they are a corporation and exist to maximize their profit. This does not give them a moral carte blanche. They are not my friend. They do not need my trust, and I feel justified in renewing my healthy skepticism of their respect for their customer base.
I am getting free stuff which I didn’t ask for, great! There are some brilliant additions coming in the next month. But I am losing a system which I respected, and which respected my agency and ability to make informed purchasing decisions. Nothing which is free is really free. I have gained something I didn’t want, and lost something I did.