If you know me at all, you don’t know me primarily as a PC gamer. In fact, I’d say you would be more than likely to see me playing a console game, just by virtue of the glut of Japanese-style action games that flood said platform. My favorite games list contains a whole lot of those games in deference to their Western counterparts.
However, in recent times, I find myself dedicating far, far too much time to the Blizzard game ecosystem, all revolving around Battle.net. Having gotten into Hearthstone recently and then diving headfirst into MOBAS with Heroes of the Storm, I honestly haven’t played much since those games came into my life. Thanks to World of WarCraft, those free-to-play games remained firmly planted in my mind for days on end. “Free to play?”, my dumb brain thought – could they be worth a shot, or will I sink into an abyss of money spending for no real reason? So I clicked on the buttons, and I don’t feel very bad about it.
Blizzard, at least modern Blizzard, makes competitive multiplayer games accessible to a wide audience, and at a slight discount. Yes, you could complain that Hearthstone requires a high sum of money to obtain all the cards, but you can play perfectly well without them (and about three distinct legendaries, which will take you a few month to make or some cash). Compare the cost of entry to Magic: The Gathering, and you will absolutely hate yourself for playing card games on physical media (booster boxes make me shudder). Heroes of the Storm offers a free hero rotation, expensive heroes ($9.99), and lots of content, but there’s still eight maps to play with plenty of strategic variation. In the end, you replace money with time, and hopefully lots of updates/patches help you feel like your sunk cost is worth it.
That’s where the daily quests come into the picture. Introduced first in World of WarCraft, circa The Burning Crusade, daily quests exist to give players rewards for completing minor tasks every day. Because they are “daily”, you are incentivized to get the free stuff (Apexis Crystals back in Ogri’la amirite!?) by doing the mundane task (say, kill X amount of Y). If you don’t do the daily, the daily still comes around again (hence the term in the every idea), but you missed out on the free stuff. In MMOs, this is a lot less tangible – since you already pay a subscription fee in WoW, the daily quests offer rewards that make you better at the game, but at a long enough timetable where you’ll still pay a subscription fee AND play the game constantly.
In Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, the daily quests seem much more insidious. Both games provide you with one daily task, and you can store up to three of these; fail to leave an open slot, and you lost currency for that day. Each daily quest offers a certain gold amount, and gold in both games translate to real currency to buy real money things. In Hearthstone, 100 gold buys you a pack of five cards; most dailies range from 40g to 100g, each one more time consuming based on the gold accrued. You can “re-roll” one quest a day, and hopefully get a better one. Five cards might not seem like a lot, but since the game already provides a full set of basic cards, any additional cards offer new options in a 30 card deck. Each one is also guaranteed to have at least one rare card, and these tend to be the best cards in the game by a wide margin, so doing dailies helps you out a lot for free! One also offer a whole pack for spectating friends who win a game, which requires no effort on your part.
Heroes of the Storm does something similar with its gold accrual. In the early game, playing the game a few times gives you enough in-game gold to purchase several heroes right off the bat. Daily quests augment this gold gain at player level 6, and they work much in the same way as Hearthstone. However, given that they sell “heroes” and “costumes” instead, it’s much easier to accrue gold for buying real money stuff with gold. In the same way as Hearthstone, however, you need to keep your quest log empty to optimize gold here; since you cannot re-roll quests, you need an empty quest log to ensure you obtain the highest gold gain quest, Play 8 Games for 800g. I somehow obtained this three days in a row, which translates to 2400g. The highest cost hero goes for about 15,000g (the newest one), with the second most expensive at around 10,000g, so this is no inconsequential sum. Along with that, leveling heroes to 5 (with their own experience bar) gets you 500g a piece, and continuing to up your player level earns additional 2000g rewards all the way up to level cap.
I can tell you, from first hand experience, that optimizing your gold gain in both games turns into a meta-game all its own. How do I spend as little time in the game while maximizing my gold gain? I set weird arbitrary goals for myself, and proceed to finish them through a combination of the best real money deals (Weekly Sales for HOTS, and Amazon currency kickbacks for Hearthstone at around the tune of 30%) and astute gold shopping. For example, Heroes of the Storm prices most heroes below the $9.99 heroes (the $8.49 and lower) at lower-than-real-money gold cost. For example, the $8.49 people cost 7,000g, and the $6.49 people cost 4000g – as such, buying them with real money is just a waste for a fully playable character, but buying them with gold represents real value and money saved.
For me, then, dailies give me incentive to play when I otherwise would not, just from the weird way people’s minds want everything – kudos to the social psychologists at Blizzard, I suspect! Still, it can cross the line – remember that I had to play 24 games over the weekend just for the gold gain, and that can become rather tedious. It can provide structure, or a level of awful obsession just for free stuff. You might need to play when you don’t want to play all that much, and that’s where dailies turn to the dark side. The highest gold gain isn’t always the most efficient gold gain…but playing during a 100% XP weekend, can you stop if you don’t want to optimize? Literally, you trade your time for free currency, when you could just as easily spend money. Therein lies the trap – spend money or spiral into the hole of playing a game until you don’t like it any more. I, thankfully, avoid this pitfall through real-money transactions, but that can’t be true of everyone. That time could be spent better elsewhere.
Free to play games literally ask for us to trade time for money, which is a luxury I will gladly oblige – I like the games enough to partake, and parse my time out for their quick games and enjoyable mechanics. But what of the person who simply keeps playing the game far beyond his/her own limits, to continually pump their time into a sunk cost which, beyond a certain point, provides little benefit? When video games turn into a job, then we’ve certainly missed the point altogether. Instead of investing the one resource that we can’t get back – time – we need to understand the costs and benefits of using our time and money for unfit purposes.
In the book of Haggai, we see the prophet speak to the remnant of Israel who recently returned from exile due to the beneficence of Persian King Darius Hystaspes (or The First). They begin building the temple, and then lose their nerve somewhere along the way due to external forces (recounted in Ezra). God, obviously, wants to see his temple rebuilt, but the people do not see the benefits or the risks to investing more time and money…so they build up their own houses instead. They direct their gains, from God, for their own purposes, and waste their time given by God for His purposes. Not surprisingly, Haggai’s message speaks directly to their impulses:
2 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘This people says, “The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt.”’” 3 Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, 4 “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?”5 Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways! 6 You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”
Paneled houses were a luxury of the ancient world; it cost time AND money to build that kind of structure circa 520 BC. Instead of investing their time in God’s specific request, they dally about with whatever they want while gaining little. Daily quests, and such engagement measures, can prove to be black holes of time if we don’t manage ourselves properly. It is like putting your wages into a bag with holes – some of it is bound to leak out. My recommendation? Be cautious, and play games you actually enjoy or get something out of them. Otherwise, you’re just passing time towards a whole lot of nothing. You may find that time wasn’t well spent at all, and you directed it towards unsuitable purposes.
7 Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways! 8 Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the Lord. 9 “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the Lord of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.”