WoW! Thoughts! — On the Price of Time

Thoughts on the value of our time as suggested by the prices Blizzard has set for their goods in Hearthstone and WoW.

November 21, 2022.

That is the date when I am currently estimating I will complete my collection of Hearthstone cards.  It is an extremely conservative estimate.  It assumes I will earn roughly 50 gold per day, (just about the minimum from a basic 40 g quest reward and then 10 g for every three wins), and then can spend 100 g on a new pack of 5 cards every other day.  Those packs are guaranteed to contain at least one rare card, so if I wind up with a pack of cards I already own, I can disenchant the four common cards for 5 dust each and the one rare for 20 dust, for a total of 40 dust per pack as a minimal baseline (if my luck is terrible).  At that rate, it will take over eight years to accrue enough dust to create all the remaining cards I need.

Then again, as I only need 113 additional cards, I could simply buy 23 5-card packs for roughly $33, and with an obscene amount of luck obtain all the cards.  The estimates are not equitable ($33 if I am extremely lucky compared to eight and a half years if I am extremely unlucky), but these sorts of numbers shine a light on the decisions Blizzard and its players are forced to make regarding time and money.

As a free-to-play game, Hearthstone has to incorporate time into the equation of cost.  Blizzard has walked a fine line in validating the playstyle of anyone looking to spend a modicum of money, pricing packs in such a way that purchasing one is only a minor investment.  (Packs can be purchased in groups, ranging from 2 packs for $3, up to 40 packs for $50).  An unlucky Hearthstone player would claim a mere 40 dust from each pack.  At that rate, 2,726 packs of cards are required to acquire all the cards.  Figuring that players can get 5 packs of cards through quest rewards just from playing, that leaves 2,721 packs of cards to be purchased, at a total cost of $3,402.31.

It would take an unfathomable amount of bad luck to have to spend that much money, but that is the highest amount that Blizzard can yield from any given Hearthstone player (not counting arena runs, which provide value in that players are paying to play while earning a variety of performance-based rewards).  The valued whales who would do this are few and far between, but it is not uncommon for players, especially when starting out, to invest $50 for a base set of cards from which to build their initial decks.  That is more akin to the purchase price of a standard AAA game, but is still significantly greater than my thrifty $1.99 investment for an arena run (And even then, I only participated to claim the Golden Mekkatorque card, which was a waste in hindsight).

Perhaps the best way to look at Hearthstone is not how much money it will cost to complete a collection, but rather how much time it would cost to do so without spending anything.  Rather than lament that it will take years of questing to buy all those 2,726 packs, one may wish to thank Blizzard for offering a task that will keep him or her occupied for about a half hour a day for the foreseeable future.  At that point, the investment is effectively nil (aside from basic computer maintenance,) and eventually, one would have every card in the game without dropping a penny on it.  Then again, that estimation is false, because within that time Curse of Naxxramas will be released.  Curse of Naxxramas and any subsequent adventures will cost gold or money to complete, further delaying a completed collection.  It will be interesting to see how much Curse of Naxxramas will cost.  Players are presented the decision of stockpiling their gold now, in advance of purchasing the adventure, or continuing to assemble their collection.

Blizzard is also forcing players to examine just how much they are willing to consider their time is worth with World of Warcraft’s level-90 character boost.  As Blizzard prepares for Warlords of Draenor, players can boost one character (be it new or existing) to level 90, which is the minimum starting level for the impending expansion’s content.  The intent is that anyone who may have played and left WoW can return, immediately joining their friends in the new content.   The boost is also available as part of a Warlords of Draenor pre-order (which costs $50) or separately for $60.

Before the feature went live, it appeared briefly due to an apparent bug in an earlier patch, which served as Blizzard’s unofficial announcement of what the cost of the boost would be.  It may be a bit conspiratorial, but leaking the price in such a manner served Blizzard well.  $60 is still cheaper than the costs for buying a second account and transferring characters.  On Reddit, DisRuptive1 calculated out that Blizzard is saving players roughly 84 hours of effort by allowing new characters to be boosted.  Some players, with the proper gear and plan, can rush those 84 hours in a week or so, and for them, the $60 is probably better in their pocket.  Some players who play an hour or two here or there may take a year or more to level up, and for them, $60 is a pittance based on the time they would save.

Due to the price, many players with armies of alts were disappointed that they will have to spend so much to take advantage of the feature.  Blizzard responded by saying they want to keep the price high so that the experience of leveling is still valued – they want players to choose that option first, and only use the boost if they are determined NOT to play through the content.  It is an interesting scenario – Blizzard essentially has to decide just how much their game is worth to not play, while offering a service they claim they do not explicitly want to offer.   Yet, regardless of the price, there are players who would pay hundreds of dollars for the service, and all Blizzard has to do is open their hands and receive free money.

It the months since the release of the character boost, furor over the price point has died down..  Blizzard has always maintained a relatively high price point for their features ($20 to rename a guild, $15 to change your appearance, $30 to change your faction, etc. . .) which has helped serve as a deterrent for people arbitrarily jumping to another server or switching to the opposite faction.  Still, all the prior services relate very strongly to character identity and who we can play with – if you don’t like how your character looks, or are restricted by server or faction for who you can play with, there is no recourse other than Blizzard’s services.  The character boost is the first feature which is entirely optional – if you wish to play with your max level friends, you can use the service, or ignore it and grind through the content.

This is also the only service that can be used once per character.  After you are boosted to 90, there is no re-boosting, but you can keep renaming your guild or changing your appearance and paying Blizzard to do so to your heart’s content.  It is interesting to note that the character boost is the most expensive feature offered in Warcraft – excluding Collector’s Editions, its costs more than the base game or any of the expansions.  It is almost as if Blizzard is saying ‘pay us the price of a full game to skip the game that we have spent a decade making.’  Except all that content is still available; players will just be too overpowered to experience it as intended.

Ultimately, it comes down to how badly players wants it.  If someone wants all the Hearthstone cards, or an army of max level characters, they can splurge and buy them outright.  Some people find joy in satisfying their desires, while others find that the work required to achieve their goals is a worthy experience of its own.  Losing with a weak deck, or leveling a character alone may or may not be enjoyable, but the overall costs are relatively cheap so that players are faced with the legitimate choice of how much to spend on these games.

The goblins may say “time is money,” but time is the most priceless currency we have.  Everyone has a limited amount available, and how we choose to spend that time is often more important than how we choose to spend our money. Even so, each player has time and money available in varying amounts, and it is ultimately up to the individual to determine which purchases best serve his or her interests.  As microtransactions and free-to-play games continue to encroach upon the gaming landscape, Blizzard and gamers need to look deeply at what the true price of a game is.

WoW! Blurbs!

The next alpha build is going to switch players to the Alliance starting zone from the Horde starting zone.  I wonder if they’ll have to pay the faction change fee.

Stormwind should be repaired sometime in 6.0.  Just remember, Orgrimmar’s repairs came just before it was turned into a raid…

The Warforged Nightmare is now available on the Blizzard store.  Use the hitching post so that it looks like your whole party spent too much on a spiky horse.

The Blizzcon Art & Movie contests are now accepting submissions.  Is there a contest for writing opinion columns?

The reforging vendor on the Grand Expedition Yak has been replaced with a transmog vendor in the alpha.  I was hoping it would be replaced with wings so the Yak could fly around Draenor.

Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz

Senior Producer

Host of WoW! Talk! and The Tauren & The Goblin. Sometimes known as the Video Games Public Defender. Wants to play more Destiny and Marvel Heroes but WoW is all-consuming. Decent F2P Hearthstone player. Sad that he lost the Wii that had Wrecking Crew on it. Would be happy if the only game ever made was M.U.L.E. Gragtharr on Skywall-US. Garresque on Ravencrest-US.

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