Using my own battle tag for Blizzard’s exciting new card game: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, I decided to delve into my own little scientific controlled experiment.
First, a little background information:
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (hereon simply called “Hearthstone”) is Blizzard’s new online collectible card game based on the World of Warcraft lore and characters within the best-selling video game, and loosely based on the Upper Deck CCG based in the same world. Hearthstone was in beta for around six months, of which I was a tester for around four of those. I used my main battle.net account for testing and playing on the battle.net servers for all intents and purposes and uses these same servers and accounts for this demonstration and testing procedures.
April 2014 saw Hearthstone’s first “Live” month of play, meaning anyone could play on a OSX or Windows-based PC to play. Halfway through the season (since Hearthstone seasons – more on this in the next paragraph – last a single month of play) Blizzard Entertainment released Hearthstone for the iPad 2 and later devices. I chose this time to test the common complaint of “Pay-to-win” versus “skill level” within the game itself.
Hearthstone has multiple variances of play styles within the game itself. The main play advertised is known as “Ladder” which consists of 25 ranks with various levels of difficulty ranking throughout each rank from 25 to 1. After rank 1, the player goes into a “Legend” or “Legendary” status, with a specific ranking number after their legend number indicating their placement of legendary placement within the world of Hearthstone players.
The other modes of play within Hearthstone include Arena, which involve choosing random cards to build a deck and playing against other random Arena opponents to see how one fares in a “best of twelve” form of play. There also is a casual mode and practice mode, which helps to test various decks or to help level lower Heroes within Hearthstone, however, after the first few days or for doing the daily quests to achieve the gold rewards, these are largely ignored.
The common complaint I’ve heard throughout the beta and on various message boards was Hearthstone is nothing more than a “Pay-to-win” style of game. This is always a hotly contested argument since Hearthstone is free to download and play, however to purchase new packs in rapid succession, one must pay real money to do so. From what I’ve seen, most people are either for or against the argument, with very few in the middle.
My main account: drtallant#1673, plays on the Americas server in Hearthstone. I spent just over $60 for packs and Arena passes to get the beta card and to see if gaining any extra cards indeed helped with building decks and rising in ladder play. However, even after opening seven legendary cards from the $50 bundle of packs, the most I raised on the ranked play during beta was rank 17.
The April release gave me the idea to do a controlled experiment since it opened the different territories to play against, without the cards and friends list moving with you. This allowed me to start a new account in a new region without having to use a different ID for the test. After starting April with my main drtallant account in the Americas, I logged into the Europe servers and logged in as a new user. I asked my friends playing in the EU to add me to their friends list and started beating the starting Heroes to start gaining gold since the point of the test was to not spend a dime and see how far I could gain on the ladder before the end of the month.
For those of you new to Hearthstone, when you first start the game, you are given a Hero – the Mage, to play against a series of opponents to learn the basics of the game and get the feel for how Hearthstone mechanics works. After the tutorial, by going into the practice mode, a new player can gain more gold to purchase packs by unlocking each Hero, and again by getting each Hero to level 10. All this happens in Practice mode. More gold comes by the way of performing your first Arena game (given to you free since it’s your first time) and the first time you disenchant or “dust” a card in your inventory, you gain bonuses. Also, if you play on the iPad, which I ended up doing specifically for my EU account, you gain a free pack for winning a game against a real player on the ladder while playing on the iPad. These free items benefit those who choose not to spend any money on the game whatsoever. Also, Hearthstone offers daily quests for gold. Usually 40 gold each for winning 2 games with a specific class, but sometimes 60 or 100 gold for more difficult quests, however these daily quests will give you opportunities to play in Arena games and give you packs/dust/gold or simply buy packs right from the store.
The experiment went as follows: my Americas account, which has previously purchased packs on the account, and tournament-level created decks, sees how far up the ranking ladder I can go. The EU account, which does not have any purchased packs, and only uses gold from quests and Arena wins, sees how far I can get up the ladder. This way, the constant in the experiment is myself as a player. The decks themselves change with different cards since I have just about every card save for a handful of legendries on the America’s account, and the EU account has next to none. It comes down to skill as a player.
Bottom line: The Americas account has almost all the cards and tournament decks, the EU has none and decks that barely work. Everything comes down to skill as a player.
The results are kind of shocking: After a month of playing on Americas with the tournament decks, the highest I achieved was 12, and sitting at rank 14, mostly using a form of a rush-Warrior deck. The EU achieved similar stats, ranking up to 13 with a random control Hunter deck (with only one Unleash the Hounds card, since that’s all I own) and a bastardized rush-tempo Paladin deck that’s seen more changes on a daily basis than a high-priced call girl with a plastic surgery fetish. (Deck lists for the decks I used are at the end of this article – or in a later article when I remember to upload the freaking pictures to wordpress like a dumbass. -EDIT)
I plan on doing this again next month to see if the results change, and I’d like to see if any others have similar results.
If any other people wish to do similar experiments or wish to talk about the results, please add me on battle.net or email me. I’m more than happy to discuss science in video games.