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An Awesome, But Poorly Monetized Game

Michael Bitton Posted:
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Blizzard’s “hero brawler” (MOBA), Heroes of the Storm, is perfect for someone like me. I love MOBAs, particularly League of Legends, but I can’t justify rolling the dice, hoping not to be matched with trolls when those troll players essentially waste 40 minutes of my life at a time with each match. Heroes matches take, on average, 15-18 minutes, so even if your team is full of trolls or things just aren’t going right, the nightmare won’t rob you of your entire evening.

Of course, it also helps that the game is just fun to play. I’ve written about how much I enjoy the game in the past, but it’s definitely worth repeating. Blizzard’s done a great job creating what I like to call the “Hearthstone of MOBAs” in Heroes of the Storm. It’s a fun, streamlined, but still nuanced experience.

The main issue holding the game back right now is how Blizzard has decided to monetize Heroes. The game’s monetization was something worth discussing in the past, but things were in flux, as Heroes was in technical alpha after all. Anything could change. Now that Blizzard has performed the game’s final player data wipe and give out refunds, I’m not so sure. They’re still calling the current test phase ‘technical alpha’ and it’s true that not just anyone can play the game at the moment unless they have been invited, but Heroes is, by my judgment, “out” for all intents and purposes. Once you’re done wiping player data and you start really taking money from players, your game is out.

With the above in mind, I feel it’s now an appropriate time to critique the game’s business model. Heroes of the Storm is a free-to-play game that leans more towards the League of Legends way of doing things than DOTA2’s free heroes model. Heroes can be purchased with real money or in-game gold and there are also mounts and hero skins available for purchase, though these can only be purchased with real money.  Charging real money for mounts and skins (cosmetics) is completely fair game and while it would be nice, I don’t think every MOBA should have to follow DOTA2’s all-heroes-are-free model going forward, so I don’t take issue with the fact Blizzard charges for Heroes. 

The issue with charging for heroes in this particular title is in the implementation of the model. Unlocking heroes with in-game gold is extremely grindy in Heroes of the Storm. Unlike, say, Hearthstone, where a good player can put together a budget deck and rank up through the ladder, or earn enough gold from simple daily quests to tear through an arena run, both paying for itself and unlocking additional cards and dust in the process, Heroes of the Storm is far more stingy.  And yes, I know Hearthstone has its own problems here, but at least it’s far more manageable.

Starting out, you won’t necessarily feel it. Leveling up your account from 1-15 brings with it a steady influx of gold at certain milestones and you’ll be able to supplement this with some daily quest rewards along the way. Additionally, leveling up a hero to level 5 will reward you with 500 gold. It sounds like you’re getting a ton of gold just by playing, but these rewards are all finite, save for the daily quest gold, and with only a single new quest per day, you’re not really earning all that much.  Assuming you refuse to purchase heroes for real cash, even that 500 gold per level 5 hero would then be dependent on which heroes Blizzard puts into its free rotation every week. Duplicates obviously will make earning that gold harder.

Once you’ve exhausted all your reward gold (leveling up characters and your account) all you’ve got left are daily quests that award you anywhere from 200-800 or so gold (you only get one of these per day) and a paltry 20-30 gold per match.  Pre-wipe hero costs varied, but new heroes cost 15,000 gold their first week and 10,000 gold thereafter. Layered on top of this are ‘master’ skins which can be purchased for 10,000 gold once you’ve leveled up a hero to 10. As you can see, the gold costs are simply untenable for anyone looking to fill out their roster in any sort of reasonable amount of time. Sure, you need to grind in League of Legends if you want that new 7800/6300 IP champion, but it doesn’t take nearly as long as it would in Heroes of the Storm. It seems as if free players are given enough gold for one or two newer heroes or a couple of older heroes and then you’re basically consigned to the free rotation unless you are willing to partake in a glacial grind.

I’m not of the opinion that Blizzard should have to give away the entire game for free, but between skins and mounts (and who knows what else down the line), I feel there are enough things to monetize in Heroes of the Storm that unlocking new heroes should be a bit more approachable for the less hardcore players. I have no issue picking up the characters I want for cash if I like the game enough (and I’ve already purchased every character I’d want to play), but it presents an awkward situation when I’m trying to get a friend not as open with their wallet to get into the game.

Having to tell friends that they should probably take a page out of Smaug’s playbook and hoard their gold for their absolute favorite characters can be really deflating for someone who is excited to play. I imagine there are quite a few players out there who have learned this the hard way, and while I’m not privy to what Blizzard needs to get out of Heroes of the Storm to keep it afloat and profitable, I can’t help but feel the tuning is just way off at the moment.

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB



Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB