This weekend, my wife got her first glimpse of Hearthstone and has yet to relinquish the family computer. At this point in time, I am forced to wait until everybody falls asleep before I can get in a round of Hearthstone myself. Needless to say, she is rather impressed with the game. After I explained the free-to-play nature of Hearthstone, she rightfully wondered: how does Blizzard make any money?
For now, there’s the card store. We’ve seen a lot about the game play prior to the beta release of Hearthstone, but up until now the in-game card store was a bit of a mystery. There have also been speculations about the price per pack, and that question now has also been answered.
You can purchase one pack of cards for every 100 gold earned in game. The first 100 gold is earned by unlocking all 8 heroes after the mage. Other gold is earned through questing and winning random match-ups. In addition to in-game gold, cards can also be purchased for real life money, as Blizzard goes to great length to explain.
The smallest purchase possible is two packs of cards for $2.99. Other options are 7 packs for $9.99, 15 packs for $19.99 and 40 packs for $49.99. Each pack includes 5 cards, and guarantees at least one rare card. For players using the Diablo III real money auction house, here is an interesting bit of information: any funds in your Battle.net account, including money earned through Diablo auction house sales, can be used to purchase card packs.
Once those funds have been exhausted, Blizzard will automatically bill the remainder to the credit card associated with your Battle.net account. At present, the in-game store will only allow you to bill the credit card that is already connected to your account. If you prefer to use a different card, you need to make the change in your Battle.net account first. Hearthstone will not allow you to switch cards through the game interface.
If you are worried about family members accidentally running up a huge amount of charges for card packs, it is required to enter your Battle.net account purchase, although not an authenticator code. At this point in time, card packs cannot be gifted to other players.
The purchasing experience is very smooth. If you want to give it a try, the risk is very low. As a “thank you” for helping test the in-game store during the beta, Blizzard will also grant you a gold card version of the Gelbin Mekkatorque minion. The card becomes available immediately, and is yours to keep forever.
You will not get to keep the cards you purchase during beta, but you will get credit for every pack purchased and get to open a similar number of packs when the game goes live. Note that only the exchange of one beta pack for one “live” pack applies: it is not necessarily an equal monetary exchange. If the price per pack changes for the live version of Hearthstone, you may find that you spent more or less money in beta for each pack than players will when the game officially launches.
It remains to be seen if players purchasing packs will experience an immediate advantage in one-on-one competition. Blizzard has stated many times that they want to avoid a “pay to win” scenario. Part of this beta testing period will be making sure that this is indeed the case.