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Blizzard unveils Hearthstone, a free-to-play collectible card game

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Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (Credit: Blizzard)

Through games like World of Warcraft, StarCraft II and Diablo III, Blizzard Entertainment built a real-world fortune. Now it's about to see what happens when it gives a game away for free.

At the PAX East convention in Boston, the company unveiled Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a free-to-play collectable card game set in the well-known Warcraft universe. And in very un-Blizzard-like fashion, you're not going to have to wait a couple years to try it out. A beta of the game is due out this summer.

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Hearthstone: Heroes of WarCraft (Credit: Blizzard)

The game’s cards will be based around central heroes from Warcraft's nine classes. You'll play against AI foes, friends and other online players. The game will come with a limited number of cards, with booster packs of five cards available for $1 each. Initially, Blizzard plans to have about 300 cards available.

Duplicate cards can be combined to make more powerful versions, opening up some customization options for players. Blizzard also says the game will suggest cards you might want to put in your deck.

While Blizzard's entry in the free-to-play space is something of a surprise, it's one that makes sense, given the success other publishers are seeing there. EA's free-to-play game The Simpsons: Tapped Out, for instance, earned $25 million last quarter on iOS devices alone. Wargaming’s premiere title, World of Tanks, sees the average U.S. player spend $7.50 per month on microtransactions, making long-term players much more valuable than those who purchase a single console title. CEO Victor Kislyi says the game currently has 50 million registered users in 200 countries, who make an average of 3.5 million item purchases each day.

Combine those numbers with the number of dedicated Warcraft fans and Hearthstone seems like a no-brainer.

Hearthstone will be playable on the PC and Mac initially, but the developer is already working on an iPad version that will come post-launch. Players can sign up for the beta immediately (or, if they're attending PAX East, will be able to play it this weekend).

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