While all these years tend to blend together, back in 2014 when Blizzard was still releasing their quarterly World of Warcraft subscription numbers, the whole gaming industry knew that the great behemoth, like all MMOs, was in decline. At that tme, with Diablo 3 not yet out and Starcraft 2 sales bottoming out, it looked like Blizzard was in a spot of trouble, but over the next two years, they would make a series of genius moves into new game markets, and the first of which was with Hearthstone.
Warcraft has always been a valuable and franchise-ready world full of memorable characters and ever-expanding lore. It won a number of people over with the RTS games and hooked them by the millions with the MMO. When you put as much effort into a world and its lore that you need for an MMO, it would be a shame to waste it. That was the first clever step that Hearthstone took advantage of. It took a world millions of past and present World of Warcraft players know and loved, and then combined it with another gaming hobby the WoW players often had – playing Magic: The Gathering.
While Warcraft already had its own physical Collectable Card Game (CCG), it wasn’t doing well. In fact, it had never done well for the sole reason that CCG games get expensive. You buy packs to get new cards and build new decks, but a few dollars per booster pack adds up fast so players typically stick to one game and Magic: The Gathering is typically the popular choice. However, Blizzard turned the Warcraft CCG into what many want Magic: The Gathering to be someday, a successful online platform where they could both collect cards and pay against other opponents.
They made an interface that not only looked amazing, but one that could work on more than just the PC.
Hearthstone’s real genius was that it allowed Blizzard to move into the profitable mobile and tablet markets without making a game that would abandon their PC roots. Of course, all of that for the enticing price of free wasn’t a bad move either.
The world still wonders when the day will come when World of Warcraft will go free-to-play, but it seems Blizzard has a firm grasp on how to do it as they continue to show with Hearthstone. You can play, earn in-game gold from matches and doing quests, then that gold can be used to buy booster packs of cards or entry tickets into arenas. Of course, as with all free-to-play games, the money is made when players get sick of grinding out gold and instead spend a reasonable amount of real money for gold instead. The prices are kept low, but the money the developer makes from each player adds up.
Of course each new expansion comes with new heroes from the lore and new cards to keep the game increasingly interesting just like Magic: The Gathering, but without all that pesky face-to-face interaction and the high learning curve. As you still get all the satisfaction from it with a fraction of the price and the international interface, this has make Hearthstone the superior CCG.
Creating a CCG is a bold move, but creating a digital CCG is a daring gamble. However, Blizzard took it and it turned out to be the first of many genius moves on their part as a business and game development company. Hearthstone released into weary seas and then spread like wildfire by taking a brand everyone in the gaming world recognized, priced it at a price everyone could afford, and delivering a type of game that wasn’t yet completely oversaturated with other hit titles.
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