I was inspired to write this article after seeing a Reddit comment on /r/Hearthstone saying how the new expansion of 50 packs costs more than the entire new FPS game called Overwatch. This is increasingly stupid because 50 packs won’t even get you 20% of the expansion most likely.
Compared to other genres such as action adventure, FPS, platforming, heck even monthly subscribing MMOs, strategy games in my opinion seem to take the peak of being the most expensive type of game to play. While there are cheap or free to play models, the sheer quantity of money you can possibly spend on strategy games can be through the roof.
On March 22nd, Hearthstone increased the cost of card packs in EU and Asia, much to the outrage of the global community.
Looking at the origin of strategy games, three different models come to mind that spawn such crazy values.
The first is the collectible card collection method. By this I look to specify the way players obtain cards in these games. Games of old such as the TCGs Magic the Gathering and Yu-gi-oh and the games of now such as Hearthstone and even Crash Royale give the player two options to obtain cards. The first is through a random pack of sort and the second is by overpaying for individual cards you desire. Both methods seem completely damned in value. The worth of a pack in Hearthstone for example can be either a pinch of dust (99.9% of the time) or thousands. The variety of pack value is nuts and the yield of one is often not worth it. The high cost of an individual card makes more sense to me in a trading card game with physical merch since there are also physical limitations to copies that can spike value. But in a digital card game, especially one without trading with other players, it seems silly to spend thousands on one game. This is easily possible in Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering.
The second model comes from expansion packs. Mainstay games like Civilization are not safe from rounds of nitpicking extra bucks here and there. Often I ask myself, especially with cosmetic upgrades, why couldn’t X feature just be the base game like the old days? (looking at you Mario Kart 7 Deluxe). Fire Emblem Awakening, Nintendo’s first 3DS game to receive DLC has expansion packs which combined are worth over $50, more that the cost of the game itself. Where I deem it worth considering the expansion is if I felt the price I paid for what I already got was acceptable. Breath of the Wild is a game that comes to mind that looks to push non free DLC in the future. DLC in a strategy or fighting game is a lot more valuable in my experience than one of a single player experience. For example, I doubt Civilization expansions would be nearly as valuable if you couldn’t play anyone with that extra DLC attached. In fighting games, you can play new characters with others, which can enhance the variety and freshness. But in STRATEGY games, not only do you get to play this expansion with others, it gives you an edge. Referencing Hearthstone and MTG again, many players feel if you want to feel relevant, you have to maintain this edge.
The third model is rotations. Rotations affect strategy games differently for the game. In League of Legends, different characters get buffs and nerfs such that it strongly encourages players to obtain a good variety of characters in their relevant positions so that they can pick the flavors of the month when it’s “their turn.” A character you adore could get nerfed to the ground tomorrow, and as a result you might be looking for another way to win. In Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering, new expansions will cycle out yearly. This means your perfected polished deck will be unplayable in a standard format in due time. Thus it’s this cycle that generates more cash.
I’ve often wondered if strategy gamers are simply used to forking over wads of cash for board games or trading card game experiences. “Knowing your market” can mean strategy gamers are simply willing to fork over more cash. Modern day strategy games of course employ strategies that make it worthwhile to stay relevant in a strategy game. Having systems like “first win of the day,” or quests that award “winning games” instead of playing games are ways that games trying to prioritize winning over playing. There has been a shift in this notion I’ve noticed. As the strategy market continues to get saturated, competitors like Heroes of the Storm, Duelyst, and new random quests in Hearthstone now award players for simply playing a certain amount, not winning. I am curious if strategy games can continue to support lucrative costs as strategy game players get more options, more frustrations with games of old, and of course more aware of the inevitable paywall.