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HearthstoneDec 2, 2020 6:48 pm CT

Everything the new Hearthstone progression system did wrong

In digital collectable card games like Hearthstone, reward tracks, boosted by battle passes, are a great way to do monetization. It’s certainly much better for players than randomized loot boxes, gacha-style pulling, and other more predatory alternatives — and it’s good that Hearthstone chose to add a reward track for its new progression system. But sadly, the implementation of that system has been done terribly.

Players now receive less gold and fewer rewards than they did before — especially if they’re trying to play the game without dropping any real money on it. The actual progression is not satisfactory enough, with too much fluff and too little substance. And the game is dividing its playerbase more than ever before.

So just what’s wrong with Hearthstone’s new Reward Track — and how could Blizzard fix it? Let’s take a look.

Players earn less gold than before — particularly free-to-play players

This issue is pretty self-explanatory, and most Hearthstone communities are already having a field day with it. If you’re out of the loop, complaints about players getting less gold are loud — much louder than what would be reasonable, in fact — but I digress. Even though the complaining has been extreme — and made browsing your favorite Hearthstone communities quite annoying, in all honesty — those people aren’t wrong. Their complaints are absolutely legitimate.

So legitimate, in fact, that Blizzard has already taken notice, and addressed the issue with a hotfix to add more gold to the track. But for a large number of players, it’s still not enough. The removal of the small, but constant reward of 10 gold you’d get from winning three games and the 50 or 60 gold from daily quests are sorely missed. The experience you earn on the Rewards Track doesn’t compare.

And the ungenerous gold dispensation isn’t the only problem with this new system — far from it.

The rewards are lackluster — and it’s hard to see them

This may sound minor, but having to click through multiple pages — 11, at present — in order to see every reward you’ll eventually get is actually an enormous psychological barrier. Experience is also shown on this rewards page, but nowhere else, so it’s unclear how much progress you’ve made towards rewards as you play. Your quests, and how much experience you can get from each, is on another screen. And finding out how much experience you can get from achievements requires you to go into yet another screen and individually click on each achievement to see if it grants experience. As you play, it’s not clear how much experience you’re earning, how close you are to the next reward, and what that reward is.

If all of this were easily visible, we would know what we’re working towards and how close we were to it — that way, players would have something obvious to be excited about. A simple scrolling bar that players could drag with their mouse (or finger) could let us quickly see upcoming rewards. A straightforward list or screen of achievements with rewards would make it easier to see what our goals should be to earn experience. Having to click multiple times and scroll through several pages? It’s a small but notable barrier that makes the system more difficult to understand.

The also has a great many reward levels — 50 at present. The downside of having so many levels is that many of them need to have rewards that are hardly exciting. Most levels reward a small amounts of gold or perhaps a pack, and you don’t get those rewards automatically: you need to constantly return to the rewards screen and click on everything you’ve earned. Earning experience from achievements is similar: once you’ve completed the achievement, you have to go to the achievement UI and click on it to get the experience it grants. In the old system, you just got gold when you earned it. Even something as simple as a “collect all rewards” button (including achievement rewards) would be much better than having to navigate through multiple panes in order to take all your loot.

The rewards themselves can be pretty lackluster as well. Beyond packs and gold, you can get a few cards, but the best rewards — new Hero skins — require you to spend an extra $20 to buy a Tavern Pass. To make the rewards (particularly the free rewards) more exciting, they should also add dust and more cards — some epics, some legendaries, some golden variations of either — to the track.

And I’ve already talked about this, but there is one thing that one of Hearthstone’s main competitors, Legends of Runeterra, does very well: having a multitude of different cosmetic rewards. Besides card backs (that you actually get a full view of while playing), in that game you can also collect emotes, pets, and even entire boards to play on. Meanwhile, Hearthstone pretty much only has card backs (that you can’t get a full view of while playing) and Hero skins as well as the brand new introduction of skins for The Coin. Seriously?

More exciting rewards would definitely make players far more compelled to keep progressing. And speaking of that…

The progression system favors Constructed play

The new system caters to Constructed players more than everyone else, such as those who mostly enjoy Battlegrounds, Duels, Arena, Tavern Brawls, or the solo adventures. Some of the quests — like “play three games with certain classes” — only apply to specific modes, and those quests much more plentiful than, say, Battlegrounds-specific quests. This ensures that Ranked players will have a leg up in progression, and players who don’t enjoy Ranked that much can feel forced to do it just to complete those quests.

Even worse: the new Tavern Pass — which boosts the XP you receive to help you progress faster in the track — is unattached to Battleground Perks, which you need to purchase separately. This means Battlegrounds players — who can complete very few quests — are even further behind.

The truth is that we shouldn’t need to purchase multiple passes. There should be a single pass that’s good for every kind of player who wants to drop real money in order to receive benefits. Players should be encouraged to play the game in all of the modes it has to offer, and that should always allow them to make progress at a reasonable pace.

The overwhelming community sentiment at the moment is that the game is being too stingy with its rewards, and forcing players to spend money if they want to keep playing as they did before. While I agree with the sentiment, it’s important to express feedback in a rational way, without attacking developers and community managers who likely have no say in these business decisions and only want to make the best game possible.

And right now, the Rewards Track just doesn’t do that. The system is more complicated and less rewarding, particularly for free-to-play players and anyone who doesn’t enjoy Constructed — and that doesn’t make for fun gameplay.

Blizzard has further addressed some of these concerns on a new blog post.

Originally posted 12/02/2020. Updated on 12/07/2020.

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