Hearthstone developer wants to know: What would bring you back?
Senior Hearthstone Game Designer and Lead Balance Designer Dean Ayala asked a simple question on Twitter. If Hearthstone used to be your main game but isn’t anymore, what would get you to come back? The response was overwhelming— 2500 replies and 100+ DMs. He claimed to have read them all. While I don’t have access to his DMs, I wanted to look at some of the recurring themes in the replies.
Nostalgia: Take me back to my younger days
Many replies suggested bringing back specific cards, un-nerfing cards or bringing back specific decks. Some missed the early days of Hearthstone with Freeze Mage, and Control Warrior. Others missed Aggro Shaman. I don’t understand these people, but I had a blast with Patron Warrior and I wouldn’t mind seeing its return. Yogg Saron proved another popular choice.
I attribute some of these feelings to nostalgia. The game has changed but so has the environment around it. Even if the developers brought these cards or decks back, the game is different now. Netdecking — copying a deck from a site on the Internet — is far more prevalent now than in the early days of Hearthstone. Multiple sites publish information about the best cards and decks.
Freshness: Shake up the meta
A big theme in the responses is the need for freshness and replayability in Hearthstone. This took on many forms in suggestions ranging from more expansions per year, to rotating the Classic set, mid season rotations, to more frequent balance updates. Rotating refers to taking a set of cards out of Standard play.
It takes the community two to four weeks after an expansion or balance change to figure out the best cards and best decks. Those get published on various sites like Hearthpwn or Hearthstone Top Decks hungry for clicks. Players copy them and they become the dominant decks. You see the same cards and same decks over and over and the game becomes stale. You can guess 90% of your opponents deck just from the class.
The Classic set contributes to this too, as it never leaves Standard play. It helps define the theme of each class but because it’s always there, it adds to the feeling of staleness. Oh look, I died to Kill Command. Again.
Hearthstone also has a wealth of PVE content. Most of it rewards you for beating it he first time, but there’s no reason to repeat it. The current PVE content, Rumble Runs, even lacks a way to show you which Shrines you’ve defeated it with. All PVE content is weighted against you to make up for the shortcomings of the AI which further discourages repeat attempts.
Ayala also heard from players who reached the pinnacle of Hearthstone and have nothing left to do. They have all the golden portraits (awarded for winning 500 ranked games with that Hero). They have enough gold and arcane dust to craft every card golden when a new expansion releases. They’ve made Legend multiple times. While these responses represent a small percent of the player base (even reaching Rank 10 puts you in the top 25% of Hearthstone players), every person’s pain point is valid.
Some suggested adding Achievements for more replayability. The developers could look at World of Warcraft’s achievement system. All areas of WoW have achievements and Hearthstone’s implementation should as robust. Different achievements in Hearthstone could encourage playing all the various modes like PVE, Arena, and Ladder. An achievement for winning a ranked matched with odd conditions like no spells or not costing more than 5000 dust could give players a reason for going off the beaten path. They could create meta achievements like finishing all PVE content to give players long term goals like the current reward of golden portraits do.
Cost: too pay-to-win?
One theme in the replies the developers need to pay close attention to is people talking about the costs. Hearthstone is a Collectible Card Game (CCG), and cost is one of the features of the genre. It’s what kept me from getting into Magic: The Gathering as a physical CCG. In Hearthstone, its disheartening to play against an opponent who plays Legendary and Epic cards left and right. There’s a palpable sense of never having had a chance. You brought a butter knife to a gun fight where your opponent had a howitzer. The changes made to the new player experience should help, but they do nothing for someone who started before the changes were made.
Match making should help with some of this but its inevitable a player will run into an opponent with a far larger collection. MMR transparency is another suggestion Twitter provided. If the person dropping all those epics had a similar MMR to you, it might make you feel better that even with their huge collection they aren’t really all that much better at the game.
Another idea would be to limit the dust cost of decks at certain levels. It’s something like a salary cap. Legendary and Epic cards cost more dust. Maybe put a 5000 dust limit on games above Rank 20. That would limit those decks to one or two Legendary at most.
New Modes: Tournaments and Tavern Brawls
Some of the responses suggested adding new modes. These modes could address both the issues of replayability and cost. The most frequent one cited was tournament mode. While some did add specifics, most didn’t give many details as to what they wanted to see out of a tournament mode. The problem for the developers as they try to take these suggestions and turn them into actionable items is defining what tournament mode means. Players may have several different and mutually exclusive ideas as to what “tournament mode” would entail. The devil is in the implementation details.
Tavern Brawls are good examples of what new modes could be. You could have existing Tavern Brawls overlap providing more options, or make some of the more popular Tavern Brawls permanent. Many of the better Tavern Brawls don’t require any collection to enjoy.
One of the best modes in Hearthstone is also one of the most underplayed. Arena is a fantastic and fun way to play. Here again, the size of your collection isn’t relevant. One reason people don’t play more Arena is it has an entry fee for every run, either gold or real money. Despite what the Internet will tell you, most players aren’t able to go infinite (consistently winning enough gold to pay your next entry fee). Arena becomes a gold sink. I think a free Arena mode with lesser rewards, separate from the current one, would be a solid addition to the game, and address some concerns.
Stats and replays: Show me how I did
Another common suggestion was to include statistics and replays. I’m a data geek so I’d love to see more stats in game because, right now, players have to go outside the game for stats. Anytime a developer sees this behavior its a clue there’s a feature your players want. Hearthstone could report things like how each deck does against a specific class, or how I’m doing overall — wait, I probably don’t want to see that last one. Hearthstone could improve reporting on what cards are missing and how many cards from any given expansion you still need.
Replays would work similar to the existing StarCraft 2 replay system. They would allow players to self scout and see the mistakes they made. It would also allow players to share cool moments with the greater community.
Decks and strategies: let us tech
While sounding similar to the cries to bring back specific decks or cards, some responses wanted to bring back certain strategies. Over the last couple of expansions Hearthstone has gotten better for Combo decks and worse for value based control decks and fatigue decks. A Combo deck is where you play a series of cards on one turn and they combine (combo) to create a powerful effect which wins the game. Jade Druid marked a death knell for this game plan, and its continued to be weak every expansion.
Combo decks have their place, but they work best when there’s a tension between using the combo pieces defensively to keep yourself alive and using them to complete the combo. Current Combo decks separate the combo cards from the survival cards removing this tension. Mecha’thun and Uther of the Ebon Blade both have combos which literally read, “win the game.”
The game lacks proper “tech” options for combo. Tech means adding cards to your deck to make your deck stronger against a specific strategy. For example, in Malygos Druid to make it stronger against Control decks, you’d add a Greedy Sprite and The Lich King in place of Wrath and Wild Growth. To make it stronger versus aggro, you’d add a second Wrath and Zillax in place of Innervate and Faceless Manipulator.
I can tech against Aggro — aggressive decks which try to overwhelm you quickly. I can tech against Control — slower decks which try to control the board, and play big expensive minions. I can’t tech against Combo, except for a few Warlock cards. Even then it’s a prayer to RNG.
Value based control decks and fatigue decks happen to be the decks I enjoy playing the most. Mirrors are interesting with back and forth swings, and multiple strategic decisions. They feel satisfying win or lose, but I also understand the sentiment of frustration playing a twenty minute match only to lose to what feels like the RNG of card draw sometimes.
Defining the problem is only the first step. It’s a critical one, but only so much as it leads the team to workable solutions. It will be fascinating to see how these suggestions shape the future expansions of Hearthstone and if they can bring back former players, and entice new players to try the game.
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