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hearthstone Design Insights with Ben Brode

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Ben Brode posted a video to YouTube yesterday that highlights his position as the senior game designer on some of the issues releasing new content in Hearthstone can create. The video is brief - only seven minutes long - but touches on some of the hot-button issues around the community in recent memory (power creep, the new player experience, etc.).




If you have time to watch the entire video, it's embedded below. If not, here is a brief summary:


- Two different types of players have strong feedback: Brand new players, who Brodes says correctly feel that Hearthstone is a lot more daunting than it used to to get in to, and current Hearthstone players, who are worried about power creep.


- Power creep means the team either make a card that is inherently better than an old card, or make a card that increases the overall power level of the game. The example given was Warsong Commander and Battle Rage, whose attractiveness was largely driven by Grim Patron. Another example was how Loatheb and Sludge Belcher made the 5-slot more interesting, whereas previously Azure Drake was among the only playable 5-drops.


- Brode says they have a commitment to players to keep the game fresh and exciting. They 'have to' shake up the meta, which requires making powerful, exciting cards. It's important for the health of the game to stay on a trajectory to accomplish that. You have to make powerful cards, or the meta doesn't change.


- The Hearthstone team doesn't want to sabotage the long-term health of the game to make it exciting in the short term.




Here is the complete video:



Brode committed to further videos in the future. Is this something you're excited to see from the Hearthstone development team?

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I am absolutely excited to see these videos. This particular video was great. I'm glad that the Hearthstone team is aware of these issues (both power creep and the daunting experience for new players), and I'm glad that they are being discussed regularly. I'm not surprised that he doesn't yet have answers because these are both very difficult issues to solve.


Power creep is inevitable to some extent, although I think Hearthstone has done a good job combating it thus far. The TGT cards, on the whole, are not more powerful than previous releases. They introduced new mechanics that are keeping the game fresh, and they introduced a few powerful cards that will see a lot of play. But these powerful new cards are not inherently better than powerful old cards, in my opinion. One example of obvious power creep is Magma Rager versus Ice Rager. Magma Rager is a 3-mana 5/1 minion while Ice Rager is the same mana cost but has an extra health stat at 5/2. Ice Rager is clearly superior, although still too weak to see any serious play. This type of power creep, which is a slight upgrade to an unplayable card, should not be problematic.


Since individual cards from new sets have not been, as a whole, inherently better than old cards, I assume most of the complaints regarding power creep are in regard to the entire meta. The meta as a whole will, undoubtedly, continue to become more and more powerful as new cards are introduced. The more cards that exist, the more options we have to tweak our decks and the more powerful the decks will become. For example, a Control Warrior deck with all cards at its disposal will undoubtedly be more powerful than a Control Warrior deck restricted to pre-Naxxramas cards. This is just common sense. The individual cards on their own merit are not necessarily stronger, but the combination of different cards, made possible by new releases, is what makes the deck better. This is an issue for players that collected cards at the beginning of Hearthstone's release but, for whatever reason, do not have newer cards in their collection. 


The new player experience is also a daunting issue, and will only become a bigger and bigger issue as time goes on. While I was excited for the new TGT expansion, I was honestly hoping it wouldn't come as soon as it did. I wanted more time to improve my current collection before worrying about even more new cards. This is obviously a first-world problem, as I really have no logical reason for "worrying" about a card game that's meant to be fun, but I'm probably not the only person to feel that way. 


MTG addresses these issues by rotating sets of cards out of "Standard." Thus, older cards that are no longer in standard are no longer allowed in most events and tournaments. The huge drawback here, of course, is that your old cards suddenly lose a lot of value. Does anyone think Hearthstone will take a similar approach someday? This would help new players catch up since they would only need to worry about collecting the newest cards. However, it would hurt older players who spent a lot of time collecting those cards, obligating them to continue to collect cards in order to keep playing. MTG also has the "Legacy" format which allows cards from all sets. Perhaps Hearthstone will also end up with different formats? A ranked play ladder restricted to newer sets, and another ladder for everything? This issue isn't that problematic yet, but down the road...

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Just readjusting the old pack cost would help. make classic packs cost 50 gold and GvG packs 75 gold. That way new players can catch up with classic and GVG cards faster. Also maybe reduce the cost of Naxx. Subsequently the dust value of classic and GVG cards would have to be reduced as well. This would ensure people who have been playing for a while wont abuse the system by buying classic packs to get dust for new cards. It may cost blizzard loss in some revenue short term, but attracting new players would mean more people are playing your game and hence more people will spend money on next expansion. 

Alternatively add more classic pack rewards like every 7th win in brawl gives you a classic pack. 

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