Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Hearthstone's Perverse Incentives

As I've mentioned, I'm trying to build up gold to pay into the Hearthstone expansion which I think might come out this month. I probably already have enough gold already, but I keep playing and getting more.

Hearthstone has a ladder system. You being at rank 26 and gain ranks by winning games. At better than rank 20 you can also lose ranks for losing games. You can surpass rank one and move on to Legendary but that not very relevant to my discussion today. After a season ends you are reset to part-way down the ranks. For example, if you were rank 14 you start the next season at rank 20, if you were rank 3 you start the next season at rank 17.

This system is not going to be very good at predicting who wins games, but it still should be the case that over the long term playing against people of your own rank should eventually put everyone around a 50% win rate. When your rank is reset, you should find that your win percentage is over 50% until you ascend to the rank appropriate to your skill - to whatever extent such a thing exists.

Now I mentioned before that you can earn 10 gold by getting three wins but get a quest every day for 40, 60 or 100 gold. Obviously the questing thing is going to be your major source of gold. But since questing requires winning games, the amount of time you spend completing a quest will vary based on how high or low rank you are. The more you play when you are not on a quest, the more you will tend towards your "natural" rank and the lower your win percentage will be. That means you'll need to spend more time completing quests.

If you are playing purely for gold playing in play mode or arena mode is never really going to pay off. Byt playing in play mode you are just increasing the time it takes to win your quests each day by lowering your own win percentage.

There are three reasons you might be playing Hearthstone. One is to earn gold - either to build your collection or to pay for expansion content. A second is to rise on the ladder. A third is because you are having fun while you play. Most people are presumably playing for all three of these reasons in various proportions. If you are having fun when you play then it hardly matters that your quests take more play time to complete.

But knowledge of this incentive structure rattles around in my head. I have a maddening drive for efficiency, and lowering my efficiency bothers me even though in this case that doesn't make a lot of sense.

Anyway, to really analyze how much of a difference it makes I'd need to know the average length of a game, the actual difference that ranking up makes to my win percentage, the distribution of the quests, and probably some other stuff. Time to start a spreadsheet, I guess.

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