Apologies, this is not a witty or funny post. Mostly it's a rant and I'm just looking for advice at this point. TL;DR the game is an unregulated slot machine and it's breaking me.
I started playing ESL around May of this year and quickly got hooked. I hadn't tried a digital collectible card game before, but as a fan of Magic the Gathering and Elder Scrolls games, it seemed like a great little time waster to pick up. I remember promising myself to never spend any money on this type of game – I was well aware that the opaque, limitless purchasing mechanics emblematic of the free-to-play mobile-centric post-capitalist entertainment industry amount to little more than futile gambling. But I did anyway.
All I wanted at first was to buy the actual products, i.e. the pre-constructed decks, as I surmised it would take many months to afford them all with in-game gold. Grinding out the arena at the time didn't allow me to make the sort of progress that others were touting – mostly because I was (and still am, honestly) pretty shit at the game.
Buying all 10 precon decks costs about €65. That's an average €6.50 per 50-card or 75-card deck, and if you come from paper CCGs, that's a decent deal. Also, brand new video game releases retail for just about that, it's how a company recoups their development costs, so I was happy to pay to play.
Buy all the decks, get most of the cards, git gud and profit. Boy, was I naive. With a tiny percentage of all cards in the game actually owned with these purchases and further essential cards locked behind the €20-each pay walls of the two story expansions, alarm bells started to ring. But okay fine, we've all heard about the absurd admission price for competitive Hearthstone play, so let's drop €40 more, get all the content to actually be able to enjoy all the content.
It wasn't long until I had not only bought all the cosmetic and supplementary content (a further €75), but also started going after the 60-pack bundles at €70 a hit. After 4 or 5 rounds of this frenzied madness, I was left with an average 80% card completion across all main sets, and after dusting the excess, an amount of gems just shy of 10k. Nowhere near enough to craft the rest of the cards, as most of the missing ones were legendaries. When was the last time you spent way over €500 on a video game and didn't even get what you wanted?
Allow me to briefly compare apples and oranges to make a point.
In a 15-card booster pack from MtG (digital or not) you get the most powerful card type in the game (a rare) guaranteed, whereas in ESL's 6-card pack you are guaranteed only at least one blue, which is two tiers below a legendary. An ESL pack costs €0.85 in the largest bundle, assuming a €70 down payment, so on average you are paying a minimum of €0.15 per card for what is usually a trash common, in total netting only a hundred or so gems once you have collected most whites, blues and purples.
Superficially price-wise, this is comparable to MtG's secondary card market, but with 25 years less history and 16,000 less cards. With what I spent on ESL, I could easily buy recent, competitive, trade-able MtG cards in numbers many times greater than all the playsets of the entire Legends card collection. Any in-game gold you could be spending on a card pack in ESL also buys you any other piece of core content, so eventually you will be compelled to spend some money to get anywhere. Yes, obviously all games of this sort work similarly now (even MtG's own Magic Arena, to a certain extent), but for me the incongruity of these two worlds is rather shocking and it's particularly jarring for a game as modest as ESL is.
Quick aside: recently, most of my (admittedly inefficiently) accumulated virtual gold was spent on the FrostSpark cards, coinciding conveniently with the start of the daily Festival of Madness deals that command more often than not large gold (or exclusively cash) prices for manufactured scarcity of recycled content. Madness, indeed. The latest deal now amounts to an infinitely repeatable 1k gold (€8) roulette pay-in, and I do not believe it coincidental that the release of a new story expansion is right around the corner. But worry not, all content is available for any player to purchase with free in-game currency!
All I'm really trying to say is that I have a severe case of the sunk-cost fallacy.
I somehow need to justify to myself having spent €500+ on nontransferable digital fluff, since I have not gotten €500+ worth of enjoyment out of this game, and probably never will. I need to stop, but the ache of having gambled away a month's rent so fruitlessly keeps me awake at night.
Sure, I should've just remained strict and not spent any money, but I'm genuinely curious, what does it take to actually be able to afford all the shop items with gold, assuming an average player with normal skill and free time? Yeah, one can laugh at how small my actual financial investment has been compared to outliers, but it's not an insignificant amount of money and what does that say about how this game is designed when spending many hundreds upfront only unlocks a fraction of its contents, subject to luck?
What can I do personally to break the cycle and get over the grievance of my monetary squandering? How can I look beyond this fallacy and perhaps even rekindle my love for the game again?
© Post "Help – I have an unhealthy relationship with this game" for game The Elder Scrolls.
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