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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

[Heroes of the Storm] Free to spend $40

Today Blizzard announced the Heroes of the Storm Founder's Pack, finally granting eager fans a means to get into the Heroes of the Storm beta if they weren't lucky enough in the lottery, a popular streamer, press, or the friend of a Blizz employee.

So you know how thousands of players (including) have been patiently waiting for half a year for their name to come up in the lottery to play the Heroes of the Storm beta? Guess what?! You don't have to anymore, if you're willing to cough up $40. Now before anyone accuses me of not wanting a business to make money, let me say that Blizzard is free to use whatever model they want, and I, as a consumer, am free to point out methods that look greedy or opportunistic. There are plenty of ways to make buckets of money without making your consumers feel terrible about giving it to you. I'm not here to say "A company should only make enough to keep their lights on" but do mean to say "I think I'm getting nickel and dimed." Believe it or not, consumer goodwill, aka consumer OPINION of your company, is a cornerstone of business. We even have huge sections of law (anti-defamation, trademark) dedicated to protecting that goodwill.

This move chips away at my goodwill towards Blizzard.

I'm a big fan of Blizzard's games. I've played WoW so long I narrowly missed the statue cut-off. I've sunk hundreds of hours into the collective Diablo franchise, and was eagerly looking forward to Heroes. Even I, a fan, have to accept that Blizzard is no stranger to leveraging their name. They know they can get away with $15 subscription fees and a box fee every other year where no other game could. They can get away with Hearthstone having a punishing f2p model for new players. They are no saint, but this is the business world and they don't have to be. They also aren't the first company to do this, Everquest Landmark springs to mind. H1Z1 is essentially doing this too and caught plenty of flak for it; though at least H1Z1 is releasing under full knowledge that it's truly in alpha whereas Heroes could have been released a year go. But this choice brings to mind that old question your parents used to ask, "If all the other companies jumped off a bridge would you too?"

But that also means we, consumers, can complain when a game that is supposed to eventually be free-to-play and is already being criticized for how glacial the in-game earning ratio is (thus nudging players towards RMT) has decided it's a good idea to charge all those patient customers $40 to skip ahead in line. This is a game that is already holding professional competitions. They are competing in official tournaments for prizes in a game that the consumer public can't even play. This makes Blizzard look opportunistic by promoting their f2p game heavily (by letting streamers, etc play and promote it) then charging people to get into it early because they are tired of waiting.  It is disappointing to me that this is the model companies are heading towards, where they hold off release of a free-to-play game so they can charge people to get in "early" (aka, when it should have actually opened).

Frankly the value for your money doesn't even seem that good. In addition to beta access, you get 3 characters, 3 skins, 2500 gold, and 1 mount for $40. In SMITE, a competing MOBA, I can spend $30 to unlock every single character in the game, forever. Currently they're at 62 characters, so that's less than $.50 per character and the value only gets better with time. A new player in League of Legends can unlock 20 champions for roughly $27. Neither of those games, which are in direct competition with HotS, is charging you to play. The real value of the Founder's pack is the beta invite, and Blizzard knows it.

I agree that paying for early access for a game can be a fair practice, even if the game is going to be free. For many indie companies this is the only way they will ever get off the ground. Blizzard is not one of those companies. They'll make plenty of money selling characters and skins to the players that would LOVE to be playing right now. Instead, they "offer" to let people pay $40 to get in now, which also undermines player faith in the lottery system and makes Blizzard look greedy.* I mean, why let people in with the lottery, especially since we don't know it's numbers, if we can instead get them to pay? How do we players know that the lottery invite tap isn't going to get closed off now that there's a monetary incentive? This makes players feel like their patience was worthless; that it was all a ruse by Blizzard to stoke the fires of excitement only so they could pull the rug out from under us and start charging for access.

To end this wall of text, it was somewhat cold of Blizzard to activate the Heroes of the Storm icon on everyone's launchers, which historically has been well known to be an indication of getting into the beta, only to use the new page to sell the founder's pack.

Thanks for generously offering me the opportunity to give you money.
*All businesses are greedy, but it's important that your customers not see through that illusion. When they do, they start resenting giving you their money.


  1. Well, the comparisons with Landmark and H1Z1 rings a little hollow given what I have read about Heroes of the Storm, which sounds like it might be close to done, as opposed to barely ready for internal alpha testing, as the SOE products were when they started asking for money.

    Still won't buy it though.

    However, I think Blizz missed an opportunity here. If there had been a WoW mount as part of the package, I bet it would sell much much better.

    1. I agree completely. I put Landmark and H1Z1 in there because at least from one perspective they did the same thing. But you are absolutely right that they are also much earlier in development, thus justifying (I think) the early access price.

    2. Wait, are you saying the farther the game is from launch, the more charging for access is justified?

    3. It's very situational and depends on the game; but to a point yes. If a game is say 2 years from opening (and is not otherwise acting as though it has already opened) I don't mind paying to access it if it is eventually going free-to-play. There are of course nuances; I have to actually be getting some amount of game for my money (I mean, paying for a login screen isn't value). On the flip side, if a game is virtually ready for release and they're charging an access fee just to draw out the period before opening, I don't see it as valuable. Additionally, the shorter the period until the game officially opens, the less you're getting for that early access.

  2. HotS is garbage if you are a fan of League or Dota2. It's a dumbed down game with a horrific cash shop. $40 gives you 3 champs 3 skins and a mount because mounts are $20 alone. And you use them hardly at all. This is a money grab by a company who doesn't need the money.

    I didn't feel bad giving SOE money, because they might actually need it. EQ 1 & 2 aren't the cash cows that WoW is. And H1Z1 was a game/genre that I was really interested in. Landmark was a bit much when they were charging $150 or whatever it was, but I didn't bother with that as I wasn't interested.

    End of the day, people will end up buying what they want if they have the money, and the people who sit around discussing this are wasting their breath. Money talks more than bad PR.