Free-to-Play or Pay-to-Win?: Casual, Hardcore, and Hearthstone

Howard Kenton Taylor
2018 DiGRA '18 - Proceedings of the 2018 DiGRA International Conference: The Game is the Message

“Casual” and “hardcore” are commonly used descriptive terms for games and gamers. While critics have discussed these terms with regards to game design and culture, “free-to-play” games like Blizzard’s Hearthstone add a monetary dimension to such considerations. Players can play such games for free, but success at them often entails purchasing in-game content. These games are sometimes instead derisively referred to as “pay-to-win:” players who spend money win more often. Free-to-play games suggest that casual and hardcore depend on how much money a player spends on the game, in addition to measures like time investment or play practices. I argue that free-to-play games encourage casual players to become more hardcore by spending more money on them in addition to improving their skills at the game, using Hearthstone as a case study to examine the implications of the free-to-play pricing structure on both game design and game players.