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Can F2P never be Fairplay?

by Andreas Ahlborn on 02/27/14 05:37:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Hearthstone start screen

Having started playing the Hearthstone Beta and having a reasonable amount of fun with it, I wondered if I am being conned into thinking the F2P-model Blizzard implemented is fair.

For anyone who does not know the inner workings here a short draft how it works:Everyone gets a starter deck for free, and there are basically 3 play modes:

1.Practice which teaches the basic rules against an AI opponent

2.Play: which is mainly used to level your character and get medals for performance

3.The Arena, where you have to draft a deck from random cards and enter into a mini tournament

Teasing  the Arena is clearly the core of the monetization model:

The Arena ist the only place in the game were you are able to win all 3 of the games currencies: Gold, Dust and Cardpacks. Please note that I consider a cardpack some kind of currency in the Monetziation context. (In Gamemechanics terms a cardpack is equivalent to random loot).

The Arena can be entered in by either paying 1,79$ or 150 Gold.

There are some misconceptions about the relationship between fairness and probability in the Monetaziation models of F2P-games that I will try to tackle in this Blog.

Randomization is considered „fair“ per se, because no one can expect „special“ treatment, all players are considered equal before Lady Luck.

The part where randomized loot (Cardpack-contents in the case of Hearthstone)  is distributed is pure gambling.

While some consider gambling the evil twinbrother of gaming I will try to find some merits in it and I think that –when implemented thoughtfully- it can actually heighten the sense of „accomplishment“  if done right and lengthen the gameplay experience without degrading in a thoughtless grind.

There is only one problem: there is this weird status quo inside the F2P- scene that drop rates (chances) have to be kept from the customer.

From the developers/publishers side the advantages are obvious: if the drop rates are too generous they can easily be tipped in the games favour, without the player even noticing it.

Just think about this for a moment, would you play a game like Roulette or the Lottery where the casino/state could introduce new numbers for convenience? Or bet on a dice roll where you don`t get to know the amount of sides it has?

If you are encountering such an „obscure“  system what is the more reasonable assumption you should make: the system is fair (you can expect a certain value fort he money you invest) or that you are being milked?

I would argue, the latter, which leads me to the following conclusions:

1.Transparency is a necessary precondition for entering the Fairplay-game-state

2.Paradoxically enough a game which gives someone a 50% Chance of winning (coin drop) can be considered fairer than a game which secretly gives someone a 60% chance of winning but does not make this number public

3.For the F2P-industry to earn back trust of the general public it should make all their gambling-related drop-chance numbers available for all customers and should see that it installs some kind of independend certified inspection system that verifies these numbers.

What does that mean for Heartstone? Hearthstone obscures its drop rates, so it must be considered a game which doesn`t fulfill the requirements to even enter the „is-it fair?“ discussion. As long as the numbers are not disclosed, I personally will stay away from it.

The next step of F2P-franchises  in getting out of the ghetto of suspected fraud –in my opinion- should be to grant their players informed decisions about the number crunching inside their games, and if ist worth their time, effort and money.

Strangely enough I started this text to evaluate the fairness of the monetization model of Hearthstone and realized that –at its current state, with obscured numbers- it isn`t even worth the effort.

There must be F2P-games out there in the gamespace which grant their players informed decisions about what they get for their moneys worth, I guess I just haven`t found them yet.

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