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Can F2P never be Fairplay?
by Andreas Ahlborn on 02/27/14 05:37:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Hearthstone start screen

Having started playing the Hearthstone Beta and having a reasonable amount of fun with it, I wondered if I am being conned into thinking the F2P-model Blizzard implemented is fair.

For anyone who does not know the inner workings here a short draft how it works:Everyone gets a starter deck for free, and there are basically 3 play modes:

1.Practice which teaches the basic rules against an AI opponent

2.Play: which is mainly used to level your character and get medals for performance

3.The Arena, where you have to draft a deck from random cards and enter into a mini tournament

Teasing  the Arena is clearly the core of the monetization model:

The Arena ist the only place in the game were you are able to win all 3 of the games currencies: Gold, Dust and Cardpacks. Please note that I consider a cardpack some kind of currency in the Monetziation context. (In Gamemechanics terms a cardpack is equivalent to random loot).

The Arena can be entered in by either paying 1,79$ or 150 Gold.

There are some misconceptions about the relationship between fairness and probability in the Monetaziation models of F2P-games that I will try to tackle in this Blog.

Randomization is considered „fair“ per se, because no one can expect „special“ treatment, all players are considered equal before Lady Luck.

The part where randomized loot (Cardpack-contents in the case of Hearthstone)  is distributed is pure gambling.

While some consider gambling the evil twinbrother of gaming I will try to find some merits in it and I think that –when implemented thoughtfully- it can actually heighten the sense of „accomplishment“  if done right and lengthen the gameplay experience without degrading in a thoughtless grind.

There is only one problem: there is this weird status quo inside the F2P- scene that drop rates (chances) have to be kept from the customer.

From the developers/publishers side the advantages are obvious: if the drop rates are too generous they can easily be tipped in the games favour, without the player even noticing it.

Just think about this for a moment, would you play a game like Roulette or the Lottery where the casino/state could introduce new numbers for convenience? Or bet on a dice roll where you don`t get to know the amount of sides it has?

If you are encountering such an „obscure“  system what is the more reasonable assumption you should make: the system is fair (you can expect a certain value fort he money you invest) or that you are being milked?

I would argue, the latter, which leads me to the following conclusions:

1.Transparency is a necessary precondition for entering the Fairplay-game-state

2.Paradoxically enough a game which gives someone a 50% Chance of winning (coin drop) can be considered fairer than a game which secretly gives someone a 60% chance of winning but does not make this number public

3.For the F2P-industry to earn back trust of the general public it should make all their gambling-related drop-chance numbers available for all customers and should see that it installs some kind of independend certified inspection system that verifies these numbers.

What does that mean for Heartstone? Hearthstone obscures its drop rates, so it must be considered a game which doesn`t fulfill the requirements to even enter the „is-it fair?“ discussion. As long as the numbers are not disclosed, I personally will stay away from it.

The next step of F2P-franchises  in getting out of the ghetto of suspected fraud –in my opinion- should be to grant their players informed decisions about the number crunching inside their games, and if ist worth their time, effort and money.

Strangely enough I started this text to evaluate the fairness of the monetization model of Hearthstone and realized that –at its current state, with obscured numbers- it isn`t even worth the effort.

There must be F2P-games out there in the gamespace which grant their players informed decisions about what they get for their moneys worth, I guess I just haven`t found them yet.


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Comments


Michael Joseph
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In F2P the players don't play, they get played.

What are the goals of F2P? We know that two key early goals are to overcome discoverability problems and achieve lowest possible barrier to entry in a competitive market.

So the fair F2P game creator says "I want to get players across that initial threshold of finding, downloading and playing the game. From there, it is my responsibility to create a great game that customers will want to buy the full version of."

This is really a DEMO model where the demo and full version interoperate in a multiplayer environment such that players can upgrade from demo to full with a single one time purchase and with no requirement of restarting the game and losing any progress. The transition is seamless and the monetization model is completely transparent.

For the rest of the F2P developers, alongside overcoming discoverability and achieving low barrier, "free" is a lure to an immediate player manipulation system.

Bees2Flower vs Flies2Trap

When F2P first started to pop up, I thought the networked demo model (even if networking just applied to distribution and DRM and not actual multiplayer) would take over and so I predicted that all games would become F2P in order to compete. But I had no idea what others had in mind for F2P and I had no idea that F2P would usher in a wave of the most unethical monetization schemes and game mechanics the games industry has ever seen.

John Owens
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Seriously?

I thought it was inevitable that would happen as the F2P model relies on a very small percentage paying a lot more than they would have if just paid up front to offset the people who don't pay.

In the beginning when only a few games where F2P then F2P meant that a larger numbers of players would play your game because relatively your game had less barriers to play i.e. cost however once everyone went F2P then it was inevitable that advantage would no longer be the case so therefore you had to monetize the smaller percentage that paid more with the same amount.

The is the reason why F2P advocates can argue all they want about F2P design not having to be evil but developers unfortunately to make a profit find that they do.

The unlock everything for the same price as the upfront cost i.e. demo mode just doesn't work with a F2P game. You have to choose one or the other.

Kai Boernert
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What I find interesting in this aspect are the few F2P (eg Tribes ascend) that allow a once time pay to unlock everything forevery. The pretty much follow that demo concept in that regard.

Ian Griffiths
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Will someone please, just for a moment explain WHY these things are unethical!? I have made this comment half a dozen times in different threads an no-one has explained why common free-to-play mechanics are 'unethical' or at the least, 'more unethical' than paid gaming practicies.

Ara Shirinian
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These sales propositions are unethical when the terms of the deal are obfuscated or misleading, so that the player accepts the deal basically on false terms. Not all f2p interactions are unethical or inherently so.

Tuomas Pirinen
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I am in agreement that showing the probability rates of any randomized drop chances to the consumers would be a great thing (even if they are changed as player could make on-the-spot decisions easier), however, I have to say that evidence does not point towards consumers turning away from the model due this: just look at King.com with their 400 MILLION+ active monthly players. That is a large chunk of the population of the entire planet.

As for F2P games that give clarity to what you get for your money: League of Legends has no random variables when you purchase stuff, and neither does Path of Exile.

Andreas Ahlborn
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"I have to say that evidence does not point towards consumers turning away from the model due this"

Hopefully they will. I believe in a slow but steadily growing Impregnation of customers which won`t tolerate any obscure B*shit F2P-models impose on them.
The Facebook/whats app Protest is a sign that even heavily social network-addicted users are starting to think about once "elitist" Privacy concerns. So why shouldn`t something similar be possible in the F2P-space.

As the saying goes: It has to get worse before it gets better.

Tuomas Pirinen
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It will be very interesting to see what happens. Right now F2P is gaining massive ground on all fronts (PC, mobile, and even console). We shall see how things stand later into 2014.

My preferred solution would be unified ethical standards for F2P so there is a level playing field. I would hate to see great F2P games hamstrung.

But as ever, consumers will vote with their feet and wallets. In the end, the choice is theirs. It is not like there are no alternatives.

John Owens
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Unfortunately F2P is a race to zero on steroids.

Even though long term it won't be good for anyone once some companies do it (and if they're first it makes a lot of sense in the short term) it's very hard to resist.

Jamorn Horathai
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I'm don't agree that a game must disclose random drop rates in order to appear fair. A good example (which nicely parallels Hearthstone) is of other physical collectible card games like Magic the Gathering. Each booster gives you 15 cards: 1 rare, 3 uncommons, and 11 commons, however you never know what the cards will ever be.

I don't think the "drop rates" for each rare card is listed anywhere but people don't think that this is unfair. You can also argue that Wizard can tweak the drop rates by packing less of a certain rare per 1000 packs or something to reduce the "drop chance" of that particular rare card. I don't think people view these card packs as unfair. I may be wrong though.

Andreas Ahlborn
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You are partly correct with your criticizm, Hearthstone has also a guaranteed drop of "at least" one rare per pack.

But should we regard this information as useful in the context of the whole pack?

A Pack consists of 5 Cards and so it seems with the information "at least one rare card" we have gathered useful infomation, when in fact we did not. This model of disclosing some vague information and hiding the valuable information (how for example the probability between common and epic cards is handled) behind it, might be an established Status quo in the TCG Scene, but if we look closer, the information is equivalent to the information:
4 unknown cards + 1 rare card.

In principal when you buy a pack, you buy 4 unkown cards and get the 5th card (the rare) for free. The trick is making your mind believe that it has information about the whole system (the 5-part-cardpack) when the "real" cardpack consists of the 4 unkown cards plus the rare bonus card (which relates to the real cardpack like the free football you might get on the gas station.

To elaborate the example: Would you fill up gas on a station that says: Pay 5$ and get some gas (we won´t tell you exactly how much) and get a guranteed bonus football?

Why do we need exact numbers to make informed decisions?
Every time some customer hits the F2P wall he/she should be able to calculate its thickness (what it will take to get to the next level).

Example: In Hearthstone there are around 40 Legendary cards, a lot of these cards are almost instawin cards. I have found that there is a certain breaking point in the Ranked Leveling system where you simply can`t compete against opponents with some of these cards, now if I could "estimate" how much time/money someone would have to invest to get one of these cards I could make an informed decision about whether it is worth the effort, but since Blizzard doesn´t make any statements about the probabilities they use regarding their rarity drops I must either have blind faith (I will be lucky and my next drop will be a legendary) or simply quit (which I did).


Jackson Lango
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"Example: In Hearthstone there are around 40 Legendary cards, a lot of these cards are almost instawin cards. I have found that there is a certain breaking point in the Ranked Leveling system where you simply can`t compete against opponents with some of these cards"

Trump recently hit legendary with his "free" mage deck that has no legendaries, and Reynad just put out a deck that's also relatively cheap (in dust) to make. Legendaries can give you tactical advantage, but I've played plenty of games where they have not been gamechangers at all.

Kenneth Blaney
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Wizards of the Cost dropped the "hardness" of cards (given as the comparative number of times it appears on a print sheet) as a feature some time ago. As such, every rare is equally likely to appear in a booster pack as any other rare. That said, they dropped this around the same time they adopted color coding rares and uncommons.

Andreas Ahlborn
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@Jackson

The argument that High-Level players are able to compete without legendary cards is shortsighted imo. Because even if I do not utilize legendary cards in a current Deck I must be able to anticipate these cards from the opponent to defend myself properly againgst them.
And how do I get there? By playing these cards myself on ar egular basis. So I have no doubt the players you mentioned have practiced a long time with their complete Legendary card collection to develop counter-strategies against them.
These High-Level strategies are simply not available for players who get crushed by a turn 8 Ragnaros on a regular basis.

Corel De
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To appear fair, I am not sure. But to be fair, yes it must. For a start, it is unfair advertising. Wizards advertises in the boosters the drop rate of the mythic rares and foil cards. Blizzard doesn't tell anything about epics and legendaries rates. And the amount of games you have to play as a free player to get a certain legendary (by drop or dust) is just sick.

Manipulating odds for each card doesn't make any sense, in MTG you can buy and sell cards, the demand of certain cards will go up and down as they see use in constructed formats. And you cannot forsee which cards are going to be the most demanded while the set is available. Wizards makes money selling boosters, not cards. Blizzard on the other hand sells cards.

Vadim Yeremeychuk
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I am wondering why everybody who does not like F2P appeals to game developers, but not players? Will those people send petitions to governments soon? I think it should be explained to players community first of all.

Indeed, modern F2P provides one of the most advanced manipulation methods which sometimes used by marketing people, bankers, politics and scammers. But don't you think that such training will help people to avoid real-life problems with minimal risk? I see the huge benefit when F2P games show to the society how cheated he was in real-life and how manipulative it is. If lots of people discover advanced F2P tricks, we may receive much more confident and mature society. So, let's stay positive. F2P will evolve together with gamers community.

When you're offered by banks to pay more loan interest than for a house itself, is it really ethical? When you select from 2 politics for 5 years, is it a kompu gatcha or 'black box' on the long-term? Do you know what % of political promises will be implemented? Isn't all political system a money based game in the end of all, but not a skill based game? When we discuss gamedev and F2P, I believe we should not ignore the world we're living in.

TC Weidner
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umm, its why I left investment banking, I had ethics, you cant have ethics in the banking world these days.. Its just sad that this moral decay and this money extraction business model has made it into this industry.

Paul Wrider
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Comparing F2P drop rates and gambling odds is a fallacious argument, as F2P guarantees a return on the user's investment, while gambling does not. While you may think not advertising drop rates is unfair, it's not like playing roulette. And casinos do revise slots odds all the time.

Rory McCarthy
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I don't see how it couldn't be construed as gambling.

Gambling isn't just losing money it's also defined as:

* taking risky action in the hope of a desired result.

But if we do take it as losing money then yes it's still gambling.

The system Blizzard have set up is a precursor to real life gambling. In most cases users will lose the value they sought from the system (a rare they needed) by spending money and getting nothing back in return (they might get a negligible amount of dust back to make the card they need but they are still losing what they thought they might get).

Andreas Ahlborn
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@Paul

"Comparing F2P drop rates and gambling odds is a fallacious argument, as F2P guarantees a return on the user's investment, while gambling does not."

I can`t speak for every F2P out there but in Hearthstone there is certainly no guranteed ROI.

If I buy 2 card packs for 2,69$ the longer I play the greater the probability that the "guaranteed" rare cards that drop from the packs are already in my collection, since there is a maxAmount of 2 doubles I can use in a match, the 3rd drop of the same card is clearly "useless". And the option to turn it into dust is clearly not attractive since the exchange rate is 1:5 (for 5 dusted rares I am able to craft one new rare).

If you consider buying 6 card packs for 8+$ as a guranteed ROI (because after the 5th doublette I am "guaranteed" to craft a card I might have use for, be my guest.

Rik Spruitenburg
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I think what Paul is saying is that every pack has at least 5 cards, which you could disenchant into 40 dust. So the pack always has something of value.

Paul Wrider
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Correct - you may not love what you get in return, but in a casino, 80 - 90% of the time you get nothing.

Rob Fleming
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From a Marketing and Consumer perspective, I see no problem with a F2P model for a game like Hearthstone. It makes perfect sense. On the marketing side, games like Magic and Yu Gi Oh have proven time and time again that consumers will purchase "booster packs" once they start playing. It's like christmas. Your playing off a consumer's drive to collect and possibly get a chance to find something special. As Jamorn said above, Magic goes as far as guaranteeing you get something "good" in ever pack. Hearthstone does the same, correct?

Without credible numbers to back up any statement I make, this is all conjecture, but... I seriously doubt the bulk of Hearthstone players care about the F2P term and percentages. If they've played a card game in the past than they have a basis of what is expected for this game as well. Start with a basic deck, buy boosters until I can make the deck I want.

It really is interesting to see everyones take on this on both sides.

Daniel Cook
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I've worked on games that used public drop rates initially. We ended up making those values private for a very simple reason: The drop rates were a source of massive drama whenever balancing changes occurred.

In your typical sources and sinks economy, the drop rates are one of the more reliable levers for keeping the game balanced. We changed ours quite often.

Min-Maxing players had a strong habit of protesting these changes loudly. Months of anger by thousands of players over numbers changing by tiny fraction. This was one of the biggest toxic topics in the community.

So after much unpleasantness, we hid the info. That specific toxicity disappeared. People still enjoyed the game and in fact, the mystery of loot drops was reintroduced. Rare things became (for many) something exciting instead of yet another grind target. One large community relations issue solved at very low cost.

Sometimes these issues are not some giant evil amoral scheme...that's player theory crafting not game development. They are just practical ways of managing a very large and very volatile community without losing all sanity.

All the best,
Danc.

Voldemaras ZT
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But isn't there a difference between, for example buying packs for real money and fighting some boss in MMO to get the drop?

In one case I'm playing the game and drops happen. If I didn't get what I wanted I go for another try at the boss.

Another case is stuff like card packs. Many games make low rarity cards very easy to get and players generally pay money only to get epics/legendaries/whatever which might or might not drop from the pack because nobody knows the percentages. It doesn't involve grinding or playing or repeating some in-game tasks, you basically pay money and hope for the best.

I don't know, it feels like in second case players should know what are the chances on pulling high rarity cards.

Andreas Ahlborn
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" I've worked on games that used public drop rates initially. We ended up making those values private for a very simple reason: The drop rates were a source of massive drama whenever balancing changes occurred."

The same is true whenever your random CAshOnDelivery-Shooter balances weapon stats. For every information you get out there you will receive heat from the vocal minority. But does that mean you should let these people dictate what you want to get out to your regular customer?

Daniel Cook
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It turns out that the folks that are interested in these numbers are not your regular customers. They are instead people playing a radically different game of their own invention. It may be the forum game. It may be a specialized personal variant of a min/maxer game. So the person you think you are helping is actually not being helped by the proposed solution.

If you haven't run an online game, it can be hard to describe the social pressure that players put on developers. There are lots of ways to work around that pressure (mods, community rules, hidden info, etc) but each and every one of them has a minority that wishes the world was a utopia designed to their exacting standards. The human condition is the ultimate design challenge. :-)

Corel De
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And drop rates are the main lever to adjust monetization in Hearthstone, both arenas and packs. Are you telling us that companies only modify odds like drop rates to balance the game?. It's not that doing it makes them evil, it's that believing they don't makes us naive.

That said, I don't think they modify any given single card drop rate. But yes, I do think they don't disclose legendaries and epics rates because they are adjusting their monetization model and want to keep doing it to maximize profit, which by the way isn't the fact I find amoral nor evil.

Seth Robinson
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Random loot drops are an incredibly fun part of the gaming experience - and I don't think transparency is a requirement. However, a "bought drop" is a different story - "Pay $1 real cash for a random loot drop pull on the slot machine" does equal gambling with two differences:

1: Unlike Vegas, the odds aren't posted on the machine, player is generally uninformed
2: In many cases it's children with overly trusting parents who are playing and the games themselves are rated 9+, not 18+

Not a great combination. If gaming companies (or platforms) don't start self regulating these things (yeah, right) it's only a matter of time before the US gets its own "gachapon anti gambling in games" laws like we've seen here in Japan.

Will Hendrickson
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I guess the real question is:

Is Blizzard padding the paying-players decks?

Almost certainly.

Is it unfair for them to not disclose drop rates?

Only if they are *not* padding them for paying players!

Once money is involved, the player cannot trust the developer except in the case of full disclosure. Period. There is just too much incentive to use dishonest practices.

Biz W
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Drop rates aren't even the problem... especially when they are identical no matter whether you spend money or not.

The real problem is the high penalty when you convert cards to dust. Since the game is nowhere close to completion, everything you currently buy is overvalued. Years from now the card pool will be so much larger, the balance will be different, and the great cards of today can't be easily translated to the great cards of tomorrow.

Blizzard gets away with this because there is literally no competition in the market. Multiplayer strategy games, especially turn-based ones, are in a terrible state. I can't even think of a single other pure strategy game that offers a decent multiplayer experience except stuff like Chess.

That said, Blizzard are doing some things well. When they make a balance change, they give you a 100% refund on the cards that got modified. Other developers don't even do that much and just pocket the money you spent on items.
And when you compare it to something like Magic, Hearthstone might be a bargain.

Jan Lorig
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I agree with many of the points mentioned here.

When entering the Beta, I was very skeptical to begin with if Blizzard would be able to make it, having experienced the Diablo 3 auction house...

Determined not to spend any money, I got all my packs simply by completing quests and winning arena and ladder matches. And all of them more or less contained crap, very often even the same cards I got with the pack before. Because of that, the only reason for playing was climbing the ladder and not getting better cards which kinda bored me, as I am more of a collector than of a competitive player. Therefore I stopped playing the Beta after about 2 months.

It had nothing to do with the legendary cards being overpowered or anything like that, the balacing and the game mechanics felt good to me and most of these cards could be beaten easily or even used to your favour with free cards. The problem was that I as a non-paying player felt like being treated second-class. In a business environment, you don't ever want that to happen to your customers, otherwise they will either turn on you or go to another source better suited to meeting their needs. It does not matter if there's really any number tweaking involved, if a great deal of your players feels cheated, you have a problem.

Another question that comes to my mind is if paying players get better "random" cards in the arena or if everyone has the same chances here.

I wonder why Blizzard is able to pull it off with Starcraft 2 and the free Arcade.

Michael Parker
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Drop chances:

25% Chance of Rare (Additional +1 Every 4 Packs)
15% Chance of Epic (1 of Every 6.67 Packs)
10% Chance of Golden Common (1 Every 10 packs)
5% Chance of Legendary (1 of Every 20 Packs)
5% Chance of Golden Rare - 1% (1 Every 20 Packs)
1% Chance Golden Epic (1 Every 100 Packs Cards)
0.25% Golden Legendary (1 Every 400 Packs)

Also, What Biz W said - they should encourage much more crafting of cards but right now due to massive disenchant costs you are heavily discouraged from disenchanting, match this with the fact that due to card rarity and, the optimal thing to do is simply save to craft legendaries and never craft anything else, which definitely isn't the most fun thing to do.

Also it takes a very long time to save enough dust to craft legendaries (unless you disenchant lots of potentially useful cards). Some rough estimates - I've won 800 arena games, at a guess I've lost maybe 400, each game takes 10-15 mins, thats somewhere between 200 and 300 hours of play I guess, and I've had enough dust to craft 3 legendaries and received 3 others from packs, and I'm averaging 7-8 wins per arena. So I guess if I play for another 300 hours I should have "the essential legendaries".

Once you've played for a while, every pack you open is essentially just 40 dust because you've got all the cards already. At 1600 dust for a legendary thats 40 packs from dust alone - then in reality it's less due to the bonus extra rares / epics / golden cards (if you disenchant the golden cards).

Andreas Ahlborn
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I know these numbers, but deliberately didn`t present them, because they are in no way backed by the developer. To my knowledge they are sampled by the community via spot tests, which are not more than "educated guesses".

And more important: with the general "politics" of being able to "adapt" drop rates on-the-fly they are misleading.

Michael Parker
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So, now you know the odds, do you feel like the game is now fun?

I would wager not. You are right there are problems with hearthstone and legendary cards in constructed, but I don't think the biggest problem is hiding drop rates in packs.

The problem is that legendary cards are too powerful and it feels very cheap when you lose against them when you've only just started playing (regardless of whether player skill comes into it or not - it FEELS cheap). Cards like Deathwing, Ragnaros, Ysera, just "feel" overpowered. Plus the fact that several legendaries fit into almost every deck (e.g sylvanas), so they are basically "must have" cards. This, combined with:

- Crafting cost of legendaries being too high
- Disenchant rewards being too low
- Constructed format very limited in options (no option to play other players without legendaries, no quick tournaments)
- Good players deliberately hurting their rating to farm bad players
- It takes many many hours to reach the top rankings

This is why I never play constructed (I just play arena).

Rik Spruitenburg
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I'm still confused by the title of the article, which then seems to be about the odds of getting a card you want, and if they should publish those odds. Fair to the guy trying to play for free, or fair to the whale?

F2P can be fair, but it's not fair in a PVP game if spending money helps you win. And here that is all spending money does, get you more cards so you can win more matches. Might as well sell hit points.

Andreas Ahlborn
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To clear that up: with "Fairplay" I´m not even touching on the subject if "Hearthstone" is PAy-2-Win. (which I believe is the case). I`m solely interested in the question if Blizzard can be trusted about their "metagame" which is getting money from their customers, because they made an entertaining game or if their metagame is "obscuring" their agenda.

Basically it boils down to the question, if the Developer made a F2-Coop game (the company sees its customer as someone it is interested to keep happy) or a F2-VS. game (the developer wants to squeeze as much money as possible from him)

Scott Lavigne
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"Fair" depends on how you frame what the game is, doesn't it? What service does the game actually provide? I think it's pretty easy to argue that in the case of Hearthstone, one of the services is gambling itself. Just as Valve has been successful with crates, people are REALLY into the excitement of opening packs in Hearthstone. This is apparent if you look through Hearthstone streams. There are vods from popular streamers that isolate not their tensest matches but points where a viewer donates $50 for packs and requests they be opened on stream. Even vicariously, people apparently get quite a thrill from the suspense (and the visual/audio effects related to the cards appearing). These stimuli are meant to be a reward in themselves, and people are obviously happy with them.

Andreas Ahlborn
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" These stimuli are meant to be a reward in themselves, and people are obviously happy with them."

I won`t deny the points you are bringing up, Blizzard is obviously a seasoned developer when it comes to delivering eye-and-ear candy. But reducing the game to the -granted- joy of opening cardpacks is imo insufficient if I want to evaluate the overall "degree of Fairness". Any Adult would probably agree that opening xmas presents 24/7 will get lame pretty fast.


Scott Lavigne
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And yet the game is still very popular and active 6 months after the beta begun with no new content. Given, it's only been like a month since it's been open beta, but the viewership for the game on Twitch over these months speaks volumes itself. I imagine a fair portion of the playerbase simply enjoys that it's a card game that they don't have to pay to build a collection on (even if the collection building is slow). I don't think it's more complicated than people enjoy card games, and a digital (free) one is filling a niche that wasn't previously filled. There are some other digital TCGs out now, but Hearthstone is the one with the most publicity by far.

Nathan Destler
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I find it interesting that you think taking a gamble without knowing the odds is inherently unfair. Casino games are inherently unfair, because they're stacked against you (roulette is a great example of this, with a 1-36 payout for each number and 38 numbers). That's true whether you know the odds or not. Certainly it's worse if you're told it's perfectly fair (and, incidentally, the 0 and 00 spaces in roulette exist to obfuscate that unfairness), but it's designed to exploit you either way. Hearthstone's card purchasing may or may not be rigged against you, depending on how much you value specific cards, but that's a question of the individual player's utility values which Blizzard has no fine control over, so if it's rigged against you it's probably grossly so, which doesn't appear to be the case. But you explicitly don't care about that. You care about whether players are aware of the gamble, and I don't see how that's relevant. Knowing the odds does not change them.

Furthermore, and this is coming from a cognitive psychologist, you're nuts if you think knowing the probabilities would translate to a better understanding of the probabilities. We, as human beings, are incredibly bad at translating very low explicitly-stated probabilities into proportional expected payoffs. We massively overweight these probabilities (see a whole lot of work by Kahneman and Tversky that I'm too lazy to find proper citations for right now). This is why people buy lottery tickets (which, by the way, is another real-world gamble that people take without knowing the odds). Being told the probability of drawing a legendary card in Hearthstone is not going to translate to more intelligent purchasing behavior, because that probability will be massively over-weighted. Experience, as in most things, is a better teacher than explicitly stated information (although still now perfect, or people wouldn't keep buying lottery tickets). Therefore, the best education you can get about card drop rates is not explicit lists, but rather experience. One could argue, I think convincingly, that Hearthstone packs are easy enough to buy with gold that players have ample opportunity to gain this experience without spending money. So not only do I reject your premise that unknown probabilities necessarily translate to unfairness, I also reject that premise's premise that the probabilities are functionally unknown.

Finally, gambles based on imperfect information are not unique to gaming or casinos. People take gambles without knowing the odds every minute of every day. That describes upwards 99.9% of all decisions anyone will ever make. That doesn't really address the fundamental fairness problem, but if gambles on imperfect information are unfair, they're at least generally within usual fairness tolerances.

Roy Meigs
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My feeling about folks buying lottery tickets is that they aren't as 'stupid' or 'ill-informed' as one might imagine. Fact is, many of these people KNOW that a big payday is their only shot at escape from the limited options their current situations allow.

They might not know that the typical lottery on pays off 50 cents to the dollar, but they do know the odds are against them in most situations, so why would the lottery be any different? Right here we see the difference between 'street' smarts and 'book' knowledge.

As for Hearthstone, I find it almost a perfect mirror of 'real' life regarding 'fairness'. Either in play or arena mode you really have little information about your opponent's true strength or resources. Those with the best equipment have often unsurmountable advantages, whether they've 'paid' for those advantages with money or time. The game makers and few pros are the only ones who will turn a real profit - the 'monetary' rewards go to the select few, which is historically congruent for all humans. I think that life CANNOT be fair. Life IS NOT fair and the more folks attempt to 'remedy' the situation, the more murky and perverse the situation becomes. To generate interest, however, one must design the situation to appear 'fair', or that the player at least has a 'chance'. "We are making all efforts to, blah, blah, blah…"

Where's the 'real' difference between a slot machine's pay-off of 97 or 95%? The game maker still gets between 3 and 5% of the money over the long run, which can be adjusted to even out the books. The point of business is to make money. Business 'policies' are for the business' benefit NOT the customer. TAANSTAFL - There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Most people 'know' this but many like to believe otherwise…

Take for instance the cognitive psychologist. I doubt he can offer his services 'free'. He has to make a living, and thus you can be sure that not only is he looking for new business, but also relies heavily on repeat business. Think about what that means and how he might 'orchestrate policy' to ensure your next visit.

Just as all we go through life with uncertainty, and 99.9% of our decisions are 'gambles', so too no one lives a single day without some really juicy rationalizations about their own behavior and motivations.

Fairness indeed.


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