19 November 2015

Hearthstone - match-making and bottom-feeding

Most players play every day to win their daily quest. Most daily quests involve winning in PvP matches. Thus, many players end up bottom-feeding: they keep their PvP ranking low so as to win more easily and complete their daily quest faster. That's why 90% of Hearthstone players are below rank 10 in ranked mode.

To reach the number of wins for their daily quest faster, players may want to concede and start another game when they see they have no chance in the current one. There are several techniques to gauge an opponent and the likelihood to lose:

  • A golden hero protrait indicates the player has won 500 games with that hero. It is a veteran player, most likely with lots of good cards.
  • Decks composed of 4+ legendary cards, especially Sylvanas, Dr. Boom, or Alexstrasza, are from players who spent a lot of money.
  • Purchased heroes means the player has certainly spent a lot of money on card packs as well.
  • A legendary card back indicates the player was dedicated enough to reach the top .25% of the player base.
  • Old card backs indicate the player is a veteran, and must have good cards.
  • Heroic dungeon card backs are awarded for clearing a dungeon in heroic mode, which requires many good cards.

Having players with different skill levels playing together is problematic. Veteran players tend to have better cards and more skill than beginners. As a result, beginners may frequently go on long loss streaks. Loss streaks are very unpleasant, and come to mind faster than win streaks. So when players talk to their friends about Hearthstone, they are more likely to complain than to brag. That won't encourage their friends to start playing.

There are solutions to bottom-feeding. One solution is to pool beginners together so they don't get beaten up too quickly. Another solution currently in place in Casual Play, Tavern Brawl, and legendary-rank games, is using a ranking hidden from players such as MMR. Hiding player's rank from them prevents them from knowing where they stand, and the average skill and cards to be expected from their opponents. But players can easily cheat the system and drop their MMR by conceding games before they even started.

A great solution would be to consider both the player's ranking (as is currently the case) and the rarity of the cards in their deck. In fact, websites listing Hearthstone decks already take into account the rarity of the cards in a deck by providing a dust cost. Epic and legendary cards cost a lot of dust, and are either useless (and therefore unused), overpowered (and therefore always used), or the keys to unlocking synergies in a deck (which is where the game is interesting). I think it would make sense to at least take them into account when matching players together.

18 November 2015

Hearthstone - grinding for cards

Players who spend $0 in Hearthstone (whom I call free players) can only obtain new cards from coins. Coins come from daily quests. Most daily quests involve winning 3-5 games against other players. Because PvP involves so much luck, winning games is about trying long enough. Thus the only way for free players to obtain new cards is to grind. How long is the grind for new cards?

The first step in obtaining new cards is unlocking the Naxxramas and Blackrock dungeons. How much time does that take a free player? Each dungeon costs 3500 coins. Daily quests give 50 coins per day, so unlocking them both takes 5 months. And that is assuming that during these five months, the free (yet dedicated) player is not buying any card packs with coins. I could understand that the less committed free players would quit out of desperation. Blizzard may have realized that too, so they introduced two new ways to obtain card packs: Tavern Brawl, awarding one pack per week, and Watch and Learn, a daily quest awarding a card pack for spectating a battle.net friend winning a game. Watch and Learn actually killed two birds with one stone, since it also was the first (and still is the only) incentive to socialize.

Once the dungeons are out of the way, free players receive a card pack every other day. After 3-4 months, nearly all commons and half of all rares have been acquired. But players eventually need specific legendary cards to increase their win ratio. How much time does it take a free player to get a specific legendary card? Since a legendary card costs 1600 dust, and a card pack awards 90 dust on average, it takes a free player 5 weeks to gather enough dust to buy one specific legendary card. And that is assuming that the player trashes all cards found in packs, including those of rare, epic, and legendary rarities. If they keep the epic and legendary cards, a card pack only awards 39 dust on average, and obtaining a specific legendary card takes 6 weeks.

Not all legendary cards are worth keeping. Competitive decks require 2 to 4 legendary cards, ie 5 months of grinding. Moreover, there are 9 classes in Hearthstone, each with different legendary card requirements. Since Blizzard releases new cards every 6 months, no free player can seriously think of collecting all the cards in Hearthstone.