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Heroes of Hearthstone: Marketing Overload

Come in, come in!  Welcome to Heroes of Hearthstone a weekly column about Hearthstone:Heroes of Warcraft, Blizzard’s new free-to-play collectible card game based in the World of Warcraft universe.  We’ll be covering many topics such as deck suggestions, the eSports scene and new updates.  This week I’m looking in-depth at the closed beta and the marketing overload that Blizzard has been using to ensure that you know about their spanking new game.

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If you’re a frequent visitor to YouTube or Twitch then you will without a doubt have seen Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.  The game, which is currently in closed beta, is being blasted across the whole of gaming media.  Articles are being written about it, videos are being made about it and popular League of Legends streamers are streaming it during their downtime.  It’s almost impossible to escape Hearthstone.  It also turns out that if you’re very unlucky, it’s impossible to play Hearthstone too.

With this marketing overload, more and more gamers are desperately trying to get a beta key.  There are two ways to do this, opt-in to the beta through your Blizzard account, or sign up for one of the few giveaways that are floating around the internet.

Blizzard normally sends out a wave of beta keys for both North America and Europe roughly every weekday (ironically they’re not sending out a beta key on the weekday I’m writing this).  I’m not too sure how many beta keys are included in each “wave”, but if you’ve opted-in to get a beta key you will get one at some point.  Blizzard has said that they will invite everyone who has signed up for the closed beta before Hearthstone goes into open beta.  They also said that open beta might start in December, with Blizzard’s Aratil stating:

“Our number one goal right now is to get Hearthstone into open beta as fast as possible… if everything went according to our initial plans, Hearthstone should already be in open beta now. However, the reality is that we ran into a number of significant issues resulting in where we are today… our current target is to enter open beta next month, but that is largely dependent on how many issues we are able to address by that time, and can very easily slip into next year depending on the situation”

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Whilst Blizzard did announce that they hoped to go into Open Beta in December at this year’s BlizzCon, given that it’s nearly Christmas it’s looking more likely that the Open Beta will begin in January.  Hopefully Blizzard will have invited everyone to the closed beta before Christmas, however it is unknown if this will be the case.

Getting a beta key through Blizzard only requires one thing, patience.  Ultimately the big problem lies in trying to get a beta key from anywhere else that isn’t Blizzard.  There is such a high demand for beta keys that there is a discouragingly large amount of fake beta contests opening up.  These fake contests are normally set up by single people who require people to watch their stream, or subscribe to their YouTube or Twitter accounts in order to enter the contest.  A lot of the times these are fake, and a beta key is never even given out, however sometimes the prize giver will give a fake key raising the prize winners hopes only to dash them instantly when they attempt to claim it.  It’s a special kind of cruel.  It’s even more depressing when you consider that the only way I know these fake contests exist is because they’ve happened to me, countless times.

Naturally I managed to somehow get a beta key a while ago, through one of Blizzard’s beta key waves, and have been playing ever since, however I will never forget the desperate attempts that I had to go through in order to actually obtain one and I feel for anyone who has yet to get a beta key and is still trying.  Keep fighting on my warriors!  One day you shall succeed!

Being disappointed by a fake key is one thing however scams that potentially endanger a consumer is another.  People are desperately trying to get a beta key to play this awesome, fresh, new game, and they will do anything to play it.  Even if it means downloading viruses onto their computers.

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Indeed where there is demand, there are scams and in Hearthstone’s case there are a lot of scams.  Whether it’s a scam requiring the player to download a “beta key generator” or a scam requiring the person to input personal details in order to get a beta key, it’s incredibly disappointing that so many of them have appeared in an attempt to capitalize on the demand for Hearthstone beta keys.

Normally these scams wouldn’t be an issue however the marketing for Hearthstone has been so aggressive.  Almost every gaming website or YouTube channel has been making content about the game, be they walkthroughs or discussion videos, every content producer you know is making content about the game.  Hearthstone is in your face pretty much all the time, no matter what part of the internet you try to escape to.

Don’t get me wrong, this has been excellent marketing by Blizzard, the issue is that it came to soon and at a time where the game isn’t in a state to be played by a mass audience.  Making people want a game is all fine and dandy however making potential consumers want to play which isn’t even available to play, yet at the same time making it seem as though everyone else is playing it, comes across as mismanaged.

It’s understandable why people would go to great lengths to try to play the game.  It appears as though everyone, and I mean everyone, is playing Hearthstone so naturally people feel left out and they want to join in on the fun that everyone else is experiencing.  This is further exacerbated by the free-to-play nature of the game.  There is no pay wall, the game appears to be incredibly accessible.

It’s different if a game is purchasable.  For example, I could be super hyped for next Mario game however I can pre-order it and even pay in advance for it.  This way I feel as though I’m doing something as a consumer.  Not only that but everyone else won’t be playing the game whilst I have to wait for it, both consumers and reviewers (with reviewers having embargoes to stop them talking about an unreleased game)) are in the same ball court, with both having to wait to get their hands on the product.

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At the end of the day it’s not like this has been done out of malice, as Blizzard isn’t offering people the opportunity to buy a beta pass (a commercial opportunity which I find absolutely despicable).  In fact it appears as though Blizzard didn’t anticipate the huge positive reaction and interest that Hearthstone would receive, but then again this is a bit naive.

The issue with a marketing overload such as this is that for players who aren’t able to be a part of the fun, it creates a very frustrating experience for them as they try to find a key in order to be a part of it, leaving a sour taste in a consumer’s mouth as they enter hundreds of contests, which may or may not be fake.  This sort of effect can be more harmful than helpful, creating a negative association with that particular consumer and the game.

What can be done to fix the situation?

Well, nothing really.  If Blizzard isn’t able to open the game up to the mass market, then they’re simply not able.  Blizzard could attempt to tone down their aggressive marketing, just whilst all the closed beta keys get sent out, however this point seems kind of mute and not one that any company would ever want to do.

For those players who are still desperate to get into the beta then you needn’t worry as in the latest patch notes, which was realized on the 18th December, Blizzard said the following:

“we’re not planning on too many additional patches between now and open beta, so we’ve also decided to take this opportunity to make a couple of changes to some Mage cards…”

So for all of those who are patiently waiting hopefully the open beta will be hitting real soon!  One thing I can tell you, for all of those waiting to get into Hearthstone, is that I can guarantee you that it will be awesome when you do finally get to play it.  Well, unless you’ve been waiting for several months in which case it might be a bit of a disappointment.  That’s aggressive marketing for you!

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