Moving a bit out of my regular content, today I’ll talk about Heroes of the Storm’s sales. I’ll start with explaining what has happened, my point of view as a player and finally my humble ideas on how HotS sales may be improved. You can skip the first part if you know the game and move to the final part if you just want to hear what I propose. Otherwise, get ready for a long read!
For those new to the topic, Heroes of the Storm (henceforth HotS) is a MOBA style game developed and published by Blizzard and uses a free2play game model.
The game started with selling stimpacks (Experience and soft currency boost) mounts and skins exclusively with money, while having a single “master” skin per character that’s unlocked via gameplay. Heroes could be purchased with money or with the soft currency. Finally, a limited selection of portraits were unlockable by leveling certain characters. The skins in HotS cost more than a skin in, say, League of Legends. Considering the style of HotS enables more details and effects and it does utilize them, honestly I think the difference is sort of understandable. One thing to remember from this era was that once you purchased or unlocked a skin or a mount, you’d also unlock all “tints” and there would always be 3 of them, e.g a skin may have a red, a blue and a green recolor.
Once the game’s “2.0” version was launched, everything changed. First, the game started utilizing an in-game hard currency plus a crafting currency. The amount of cosmetics also increased drastically: Banners and sprays (which have limited visibility), have emote packs, many more portraits, more skins and mounts and more color tints. Everything was now in either Lootboxes (which drop any time you level a character, which happens pretty often as experience requirements are mostly flat) or possibly bought directly. If players get duplicates from lootboxes, they get some crafting currency, which then can be used to craft whatever item they want. The soft currency is still used to unlock heroes and a few mounts. More importantly, it’s used to reroll lootboxes up to 3 times if the player isn’t satisfied with the content.
Finally with the recent Alextrasza patch, some skins are now exclusive to the hard currency. I don’t know if this is permanent or they’ll be up for grabs later.
Through the first era, I made some purchases, mostly to support the game as it was free2play and I spent a lot of time on it. More importantly, I felt like I had so many things I could purchase. At some point, my interest fell off and I stopped, returning at 2.0 and I rarely feel like spending despite the increased amount of inventory. The only thing I end up buying is pretty much stimpacks. Why?
Well, I guess the first reason is because I can unlock it. HotS may have the most generous system I’ve seen in a similar game: You get a box per level and you can reroll up to 3 times to get something you like! And if all else fails, you get the currency to craft things and even as someone who works 9 to 5, I can build up shards (crafting currency) for a legendary level item pretty fast. The problem is, I also end up keeping my shards around 1–2 legendary cost and just buy small things while using my gold to reroll. So the ecosystem is very player friendly, which may sound good but too much of player friendly hurts the company and that eventually may hurt the resources flowing into the game and thus, the players.
Another reason is because I used to feel better when I paid for a skin and got all the three tints but now, unless you buy a pack, you only get one tint. And packs have 3, but there are always separate tints. Even outside direct payment, let’s say you want to craft something: You have to choose between the tints! And if it’s a legendary item, this create indecisiveness, which also stops you from paying with either. And having shards also stops you from buying things because if you have shards, you can use them to unlock things.
A final note are the weekly sales. Each week there is a sale that, in addition to being expensive, according to messages on Reddit and also my experience, doesn’t really resonate with anyone. It’s a nice touch that the cost of items you own in a sales package will be deducted, but in the end I always see items irrelevant to me.
In the end, the system sort of pushes you to make big decisions, which puts you in a saving mode for anything above epic items and stops you from paying.
In my opinion, making some skins pay-only is a bad idea because it does not address the underlying problems: Devalued perception, the catalog presentation and the broken spending cycle; henceforth mentioned as 1,2 and 3 respectively. Before I go on, I’d like to note that the numbers in examples will be arbitrary. Actual research would have to be done for the sweet numbers.
One idea that could help with is to change the price of tints. Example, currently it costs 1600x4 to buy 4 tints of a legendary skin. What if the first one costed 1600 and then the rest would cost 1000? Or maybe with each purchase the costs of the rest drop by 1000. Similarly, they could also bring less shards if found as duplicates to compensate the balance of shard flow. Loss is more unwanted, so keeping more of our existing currency will hurt us less than gaining more from duplicates. While shards are not monetized, spending calls for more spending and the mindset will also trigger more purchases.
Another idea would be to make direct skin purchases unlock all existing and/or future tints, even with a possible option. For example, let’s say you buy a particular skin with 5 tints at 500 gems right now for a single tint. I believe that’s “around” 5€ worth but remember: Exact numbers are not the point. So what if costed 400 gems for a tint, 600 for 3 “base” tints and 700 for all of them? Realistically they wouldn’t pay for all skins separately anyway, so this way they may be encouraged to pay bit more. Or simply a system as suggested for crafting in the above paragraph may be used.
One thing players call for is to improve the weekly sales. Maybe with possibly smaller boxes. The content is already expensive. Don’t make me spend 20 bucks every time I purchase something, give me smaller boxes (even if it’s a medium one it’ll be reduced enough via existing items.) I mean, you already spend more because you can’t buy the exact amount of gems anyway.
Weekly or not, the packages can be improved overall. If you know GoG, their system works pretty well: There is a BIG sale with a theme. For example, all Terran-themed skins. If you buy all (say) 20 of them, you get a massive 70% discount. But you can customize it and each item you take out will drop the discount by 3% so if you only buy one, you get 10% discount. The amount is, I believe, re-arranged depending on how many items you have before hand to prevent unwanted situations for both parties.
A final idea would be to go for the personalized sales: The game processes my purchases and offers me discounts depending on that. If I bought human-looking skins for every zerg, maybe it’s a good idea to suggest me another one rather than simply offering the weekly package which may have many zerg themed skins.
All in all, from the business side of things, I think Blizzard’s system is really very generous and not really sustainable normally… except that they have a great artists at hand. However, Blizzard is not good at the whole free2play thing and HotS is their only example. HS is closest but it’s a TCG, which is a system settled long before the game. So I think Blizzard is struggling and they made an amateur mistake: Putting paywalls. While I don’t mind it and it may help, I hope they’ll see there are much less restrictive paths they can take that will make both sides happier on the long run.