Heroes of the Storm 2.0: Economy, Cosmetic Content, & Progression Analysis
TL;DR: On April 25th, Heroes of the Storm (HoTS) made a pretty massive update to it’s metagame economy, cosmetic content, and metagame progression systems. Not only has Blizzard introduced multiple new features as part of its HoTS 2.0 update, but the features build off of each other in a way that I believe has helped increase the stickiness of HoTS and encouraged the ‘just one more game’ feeling. While the core gameplay has not been changed, changes in these other systems could help bring back players back to HoTS (revivals) and increase both engagement and retention of existing players.
Metagame Economy: HoTS has made several important changes to its metagame economy:
- (new!) Gems are a new hard currency can be purchased for cash
- (new!) Shards are a new soft currency that are rewarded through loot chests
- (new!) Loot Chests, similar to Overwatch, grant access to all cosmetic content available in the game. In addition, they can also include Heroes.
Cosmetic Content: HoTS has introduced several new categories of in-game content that can be purchased with currency or earned through Loot Chests. The addition of this new content has effectively 10x’d the amount of content available and enabled their new loot system.
- (new!) Announcers, Voice Lines, Banners, Sprays, Emojis, Portraits, and Skin Color Variants
- (new!) The ‘Loadout’ feature enables you to save customizations on a per-hero basis
Metagame Progression: The metagame progression system has been significantly revamped
- Hero and Player level cap have been removed
- Player Level is the accumulation of all Hero Levels
- Loot chests are rewarded upon both Hero and player progression
- Rewards are prominently shown as part of player progression
- Progressions is emphasized throughout the client
Why do I think these changes will increase stickiness (engagement and retention)?
- The single biggest change is the introduction of Loot Chests as a reward for Hero and Player progression. The Loot Chest grants cosmetic items that were previously locked behind a paywall, or simply unavailable, and increases the rate at which you can acquire in-game items without paying money. When you get a duplicate item from a chest you receive shards, which can be used to purchase cosmetic items.
- The reason why I believe Loot Chests increase stickiness is because they are predictable; specifically, you know at which point you’re going to earn a Loot Chest, so you have something concrete to work towards. This provides a ‘carrot’ to work towards and instant gratification upon opening a chest. HoTS also somewhat prominently shows you which rewards you’re closest to collecting next, which gently encourages you to play another game to earn them.
- The dual progression system makes the metagame loop ‘feel’ tighter. With every game it feels like you’re making meaningful progress either through your Hero or Player progression and your next chest. In addition, it feels like you’re being rewarded frequently just for playing. I’m not a very high level, but since HoTS 2.0 has come out I’ve typically received 2 Loot Chests per play session.
High-level change in how content is earned from HoTS 1.0 to HoTS 2.0
I’ve summarized what I believe are the metagame loops of HoTS 1.0 to HoTS 2.0 below. The biggest change is that purchasing Heroes with gold and getting content through Loot Chests are two loops with different rewards.
Heroes of the Storm 1.0 Metagame Loop
Heroes of the Storm 2.0 Metagame Loop
The following is a deep dive into the new aspects and changes to HoTS as part of the HoTS 2.0 Update.
Skip down to the bottom for my takeaways and conclusion…
(new!) Gems are the new Hard Currency and can be purchased for cash. At the lowest purchase option, each gem is worth about 1 cent.
(new!) Shards are a new Soft Currency. Shards can be granted as an item in Loot Chests and are also granted to players if players receive a duplicate item from Loot Chests. Shards are most comparable to Credits in Overwatch
- Interestingly, the relationship between gems and shards is not linear. It actually seems exponential with a cap at 1,600 shards (for items that can be purchased with gems). I’ve included a chart below that shows the relationship between Gems and Shards based on items that can be purchased for both.
- It’s important to note that a lot more content is available to purchase through shards than gems, which will require players to buy or farm loot chests to earn the shards necessary to purchase higher-end items. In this regard, Blizzard is driving players to buy Loot Boxes as opposed to enabling them directly purchasing a lot of content.
(new!) Loot Chests are very similar to Loot Cates in Overwatch.
- They can be purchased with gems and earned as part of Hero Progression, Player Progression, and Quests.
- Loot Chests come in four different tiers: Common, Rare, Epic, and Hero-Specific (I’ve included the reward schedule below)
- “Each chest type is guaranteed to award at least one item of that Chest’s rarity level or higher, though even standard Loot Chests have a chance to contain Rare, Epic, or Legendary items”
- Loot Chests can be re-rolled 3 times for increasing amounts of Gold (250, 500, and 750 Gold).
This is the content I received from a recent Loot Chest. You’ll notice two items are duplicates, so I decided to spend 250 Gold to reroll for new items.
In the rerolled chest not only did I get three NEW items, but I also received 20 shards. That’s a win from my perspective.
Gold is predominately used to purchase heroes, but can also be used to re-roll for chests (as noted above)and limited mounts. Gold is earned through playing matches, gaining levels, and completing quests. Changes to gold from 1.0 to 2.0:
- Gold was required to purchase Master Skins for a price of 10k gold
- Gold could previously be used to purchase select mounts
The new content was very clearly modeled after the Overwatch content acquisition system. Only a limited amount of the new content can be bought for cash (gems) outright. All content (except Heroes) can be earned through Loot Chests, or purchased with shards farmed from Loot Chests.
(new!) Banners are new to HoTS. When you defeat an enemy camp, merc, or objective Banners are automatically placed. Many banners are simply color variants of the same banner, which allows HoTS to provide a lot of banners.
(new!) Sprays are effectively identical to the sprays in Overwatch. They allow you to drop an icon on the battlefield at any time, and each spray seems fairly unique. There are two types of Sprays: Static and Animated. Anecdotally, I’ve rarely seen sprays used. I think they’re ‘cute,’ but currently have very limited utility.
(new!) Announcers allow you customize the default announcer in the game, similar to DOTA2. Announcers are also one of the most expensive new pieces of content that have been made available. There currently aren’t any ‘Rare’ announcers; only Epic and Legendary.
One thing that is unique about announcers is that they are the one customization feature that isn’t ‘shown’ to other players, so it’s difficult to see how popular or widely used they are. I personally bought the Tassadar announcer when HoTS 2.0 was released and haven’t bought a new announcer since then, but have enough shards now that I will carefully consider which Announcer I might want to purchase next.
(new!) Voice Lines allow you to change the ‘phrase’ you can trigger on your Hero in-game. They’re effectively taunts. Each Hero has a ‘default’ Voice line and 4 additional voice lines that can be purchased or earned through Loot Chests.
(new!) Emojis enable players to customize expressions through in-game chat. I’ve found emojis to be fairly unintuitive to use. First you have to ‘favorite’ emojis you want to use in-game through client chat. Then, in game you have to click the heart button in-chat to select the emoji you want to display.
Similar to sprays, I’ve seen limited use of the Emojis. Among the MOBAs I play, I’ve found players to be the least ‘chatty’ in HoTS, which is why I probably see these used so infrequently.
Heroes are the characters players play HoTS with. While the Gold cost of Heroes has remained the same, the hard currency cost of Heroes has decreased by at least 25% as part of HoTS 2.0. For example:
- HoTS 1.0: 10k Gold Heroes Cost $9.99
- HoTS 2.0: 10k Gold Heroes Cost 750 Gems ($7.50 if you only bought the $5 gem bundles)
Skins (and Skin Variants) allow players to change the look of their Heroes and have no impact on gameplay
- New Skin Variants have been introduced for all player base skins and skin lines. This has enabled HoTS to effectively 4x the number of ‘skins’ players can either purchase or be granted through Loot Chests.
- All base Hero skin variants are made available to players for free.
- In HoTS 1.0 players could purchase Master Skins for 10,000 Gold after reaching Hero Level 10. The Master Skins are now available as Rare skins, purchasable for 100 shards.
While Master Skins enabled players to prominently display their dedication to HoTS, I believe Blizzard has backed away from Master skins for a few potential reasons:
- Acquiring Master Skins was super grindy, even if it did provide a huge gold sink for high-level players. This might have meant that a smaller than intended player base actually purchased them.
- Players who did purchase a Master Skin had little incentive to buy any other skins for that Hero.
- The HoTS team got better at making skins, and the Master Skins were no longer the most desirable skins.
Mounts allow players to travel around the map faster while out of combat and are one of the more novel cosmetic features in HoTS. The primary change in HoTs 2.0 is that Mounts can now be purchased with Shards and earned through Loot Chests. Similar to Skins and Banners, each Mount has multiple color variants, which enables HoTS to multiply the amount of content available.
(Change!) Portraits allow players to customize their player profile and are not shown in-game.
- In HoTS 1.0, Portraits could only be earned through Progression and Achievements
- In HoTS 2.0, Portraits can also be purchased for shards.
Stimpacks are used to boost your XP and Gold earned when you play games. The price of stimpacks haven’t changed, but they can only be purchased for gems now. The price for the stimpacks are below:
- 7 days: 400 gems (Approx $4)
- 30 days: 1,000 gems (Approx $10)
- 360 days: 9,000 Gems (Approx $90)
The changes to the progression and rewards system might result in an increase in Stimpack purchases. This is because Loot Chests are rewarded based on Player and Hero progression.
A number of changes have been made to the metagame progression that tie directly into the changes to the metagame economy and new content. In multiple locations throughout the HoTS client, including the end of game screen, players are shown their Hero and Player progression, and how close they are to achieving their next reward.
- Uncapped Hero and Player progression means you’ll never hit a ceiling where you won’t be able to earn additional Loot Chests
- Player level is now the accumulation of all hero levels
- Increased Hero XP requirements at lowest Hero levels slows early Hero progression and requires more games for players to play as a Hero in ranked games.
- Decreased Hero XP requirements by 75–80% at higher Hero levels will result in more frequent rewards at higher Hero Levels.
- Player Progression and upcoming rewards are prominently shown as part of the Player profile and in the Quests pop-up window.
The Player Progression screen shows you how close you are to receiving your next Player Rewards.
You can sort your Heroes list by the Champions that are closest to leveling up.
The End of Game screen shows you what you’ve earned from playing in the most recent match and your progress toward rewards.
- Carrots: Changes to the reward schedule along with with the addition of loot chests provides something more concrete to work towards than the previous rewards (gold), which felt less tangible. This change provides me with an incentive to get in ‘just one more game’ that I previously didn’t have.
- Ceremony: Opening Loot Chests and the instant gratification of receiving content feels pretty good, even when most of the content is the lower-tier content. The ability to re-roll a Loot Crate for Gold when I don’t like what I got is also a nice touch, and provides another Gold sink.
- All the stuff: Lots of new content added in a relatively short time frame gives me hope that HoTS will be able to deliver a lot more content in the future. In addition, it’s unlikely that the HoTS team would have been able to go down the Loot Chests path without effectively 10x’ing the in-game content.
- Purchase Agency: With the introduction of shards, there is definitely less agency in your ability to purchase content. While Blizzard probably wants me to purchase crates to earn the shards I needed to buy that shiny new Announcer, I’d personally like the option to purchase the premium content directly.
- Plastic Toys: Some of the new content can feel ‘cheap.’ Specifically, some of the emojis, portraits, and color variants. The likelihood that I’ll spend any shards on these items is very low unless I just run out of things to buy.
- Limited Utility: While I’ve equipped the Sprays on my characters every game, they’re not something I actively think about using. I think the HoTS team should re-evaluate the sprays, how they’re used in game, and what their purpose is.
- Emojis UX: Emojis are cute, but the UX for using this is not intuitive. I literally had to google how to use emojis in game, and found the answer on reddit.
- Master Skins: I think Master Skins should have been kept as an exclusive skin or made into a special color variant exclusive to those who earned them prior to the 2.0 update.
What would I change?
Make more content available for purchase through gems. Some of the higher-tier content requires a lot of shards to purchase. While I understand Blizzard’s rationale for doing this, I still think they should provide players with the option to purchase content outright.
Add mid to high-tier portraits, color variants, banners, and emojis.
- Portraits: I’d like to see animated portraits similar to the gold foil Hearthstone cards.
- Pattern Variants: I’d like to see high-end color variants or special patterns for skins. For example, the Celestial Steed is effectively a high-end skin variant of the default Horse mount. A similar pattern could be applied to other skin variants to make them stand out more.
- Banner: Blizzard has already provided us with animated sprays. I think adding animations or effects to banners would also be a good idea as long as they don’t clutter the playfield.
- Emojis: All emojis are currently in a 8-bit style and don’t appeal to me personally. I’d like to see emojis with more production value or a more serious tone.
Improve the utility of Emojis and Sprays:
- Emojis and Sprays currently see very little use in-game and don’t have much utility. I’d like to see additional applications to use these features to get excited about them.
- I’d also humbly recommend just adding emoji packs as part of the the Hero loadout. Setting each emoji as a favorite is a pain and they’re separated from all other in-game cosmetics.
In conclusion, I think the new metagame changes as part of the HoTS 2.0 update are a major improvement for HoTS. I believe the addition of new content, loot chests, changes to the rewards schedule, and modified progression system will help to re-engage the player base; specifically, I would expect at least an immediate bump to revivals, increased engagement, and HoTS may see increased retention over time.
The biggest question for me is whether these changes will help with the overall engagement with HoTS over time, especially with no changes to the core gameplay. With the new updates, I have found myself more invested in HoTS. I like having something to work towards, and the Loot Chests ‘carrot’ has kept me playing when I otherwise would have disengaged. I’ve even started playing some ranked games and have enjoyed those more than the Quick Match mode. If the changes to the metagame system encourage increased engagement and that in turn results in greater investment in HoTS overall, then I would call that a win for that team.