Hearthstone beta "validated" free-to-play approach, Blizzard says

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Blizzard felt like its work to balance Hearthstone as a free-to-play game was "validated" during the game's beta phase, the developer has told Eurogamer.

It was during this time when notable players like Trump began broadcasting their gameplay on Twitch and successfully reaching the game's Legendary rank without spending a penny.

It was an indicator for the team of Hearthstone's balance, that you could be good at the game without splashing out. Seeing it happen was "unexpected but also very reassuring", production director Jason Chayes explained.

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"It wasn't just lip service to say it's free to play and then hit some kind of monetisation gate."

Hearthstone production director Jason Chayes

"We really wanted to make sure that it wasn't just lip service to say it's free to play and then hit some kind of monetisation gate where you had to buy things, so for us making sure you could actually earn all the things you needed to be competitive was something we put a lot of time into.

"Seeing that happen and seeing people construct the decks they need to play at the very top levels of play and seeing that happen through the community was awesome. So overall we felt very good about how that evolved and how in some ways helped validate our approach, and we feel pretty good about the direction that's been heading."

Hearthstone is Blizzard's first attempt at a free-to-play game and something of an experiment for the studio behind triple-A projects such as World of Warcraft and Diablo 3.

Players can buy packs of cards with in-game gold or real world money. In-game gold is generated from playing the game and completing daily quests.

Unlike other Blizzard titles, the CCG battler was crafted by a small team that dedicated themselves to designing a game they themselves wanted to play.

"We have a lot of very passionate people here at Blizzard who scrutinise kind of everything we do, to the point where it gets a little bit crazy sometimes," Chayes said. "Like, even the food in our vending machines, I feel like there's a committee to decide what food should be there.

"We all come here because these are the games that we love to play, and Blizzard for a lot of us is the destination of a career, and so when you end up here and you're really thinking about, what is the game that I'm very passionate about? What is the version of this that I would be playing at home and want my family to play with me?

"And because of this there's a lot of internal discussion about things like pricing and how to we make sure there's good value for when I do choose to buy something, or that I can actually progress as a free-to-play player. All of these are things we have a lot of debate internally about and I feel like it's this crucible where we're trying to understand what's the best implementation we can have, and burn away some of the impurities there to get to a point where we're really happy about it."

If you're struggling to get better at the game, take a look through our essential Hearthstone guide.

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