Hearthstone’s Future

SynCaine brought up an interesting point about the future of Hearthstone:

“situation in Hearthstone only ever improves”

Until the the first expansion is released, and what do you think is going to be the revenue driver for the game?

At least with MtG:O, it was understood you were stepping into a P2W arena, where you could pay X to compete with Y. What level you wanted to compete at was up to you and your wallet.

Here, I feel as though Blizzard is trying to hide the P2W aspect (especially in beta), but ultimately that’s what the model demands. Without new cards you don’t keep people interested, and for those new cards to be interesting, they have to be worthwhile (aka; stronger/better).

I think the heavy class-based gameplay is also a balance nightmare as we are already seeing, and I expect it to get worse as the better players create more gimmick decks. Woe is the free player if the FOTM gimmick requires an epic or ten.

While the game isn’t even in Open Beta at this point, I think it is reasonable to start thinking about where Hearthstone goes from here. At the moment, I am sort of worried about the “depth” of the game, although it’s possible that it’s current shallowness accessibility is a feature, not a bug. Then again, I’m not entirely sure.

There are several things working against Hearthstone’s future. The biggest is it’s class system. In a card game like Magic: the Gathering, you can have a robust metagame arising from even the “generic” Core Set (which come out once a year and forms a “base” upon which the near-quarterly expansion sets build upon) because you can conceivably play any card you want; the five colors of Magic have their own class-like themes and mechanics, but you can mix and match to your heart’s desire. Thus, a Black/White deck can play totally different from an all-Black or all-White deck. With Hearthstone, a Paladin’s cards are exclusive to Paladins. You can’t choose to play, say, Avenging Wrath in your Mage deck, for example. Or Divine Favor in your Shaman deck.

A related long-term problem is expandability. I am not talking about running out of mechanics or creatures to reference from WoW or Warcraft lore (although that’s sort of a concern, honestly), I am talking about how many new cards can actually be coherently added. In short, Blizzard is going to have to either create a ton of new cards each expansion, or barely any. For example, an expansion that adds just one common, rare, and epic card to each class will require 30 new cards (9 classes + neutral). While that may or may not sound like a lot of cards, unless these new cards are above the curve or enable entirely new strategies, it’s possible that an expansion could be a total dud for you and the class you enjoy playing despite increasing the total card pool by 10% or more.

Third, as I have mentioned before, the class balance is on a razor’s edge even in a perfect scenario. It is pretty much a given that we will see a Death Knight and Monk class added in an expansion, and they will need to have at least 15 additional, class-exclusive cards and unique Hero Powers. While that can certainly shake up the overall balance structure, it’s not as though your specific metagame will likely change all that much. Because, again, your Mage deck is limited to Mage cards plus Neutral cards; there is no DK “splash” to provide additional depth.

Fourth, it is worth considering how many different mechanics Blizzard is A) willing to implement in this game, and B) can implement in this game. One of the most basic creature abilities in Magic is Flying: a creature with Flying cannot be blocked except by other creatures with Flying, although it can choose to block non-Flying creatures. In the context of Hearthstone, this ability doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, as you have complete control (barring Taunt) to choose whether your creatures attack your opponent or a specific creature. Now, Blizzard could certainly shoehorn it in there – perhaps making the flying creature untargetable by other creatures – but that’s when the devs start to go against their (presumed) mandate towards simplicity.

And that’s just with Flying.

Lastly, SynCaine’s cynicism regarding Blizzard making overpowered cards to sell future expansions is not without merit, even if I would argue that it’s largely unavoidable and not inherently malicious. Power creep happens. Even when “the rules” about costs are nailed down, some options are more powerful/relevant than others. In Magic, a First Strike 2/2 is better than a Trample 2/2 even if they both cost the same amount of mana. A Flying 2/2 is arguably better than either. I have pointed this out before:

Balance!

Balance!

Being a Beast is not as powerful as the other two cards, unless you are playing a Hunter Beast deck. But the more damning implication, IMO, is how the above cards sort of imply that a 1/4 for 2 would be balanced. Or a 2/4 for 2 mana, even. We already have 3/2s with an ability, 2/3s with an ability, 1/3s with a huge ability for 1 mana (Priests, seriously), so a 2/4 for 2 isn’t outlandish rules-wise. And yet it would be crazy OP, invalidating a huge swath of two-drops. The context of the environment is as important and possibly more so than the strict card power rules.

All that being the case, I don’t actually agree with SynCaine that the new player is screwed, as my prior declaration remains accurate: your situation in Hearthstone only ever improves. Six expansions later, assuming no structural changes, you will still be able to Disenchant the cards you don’t want to directly create the cards you do. That’s unbelievably huge in the CCG world. Even if you take the stance that your likelihood of opening one of the “ten or so required Epics” is necessarily diminished (assuming new cards are stuffed into the same virtual booster pack), your ability to guarantee a card is not – you will always get 40 Dust per pack, minimum. Ten packs is an Epic of your choice. You’ll get enough gold in two days of daily quests to buy a pack straight-up, or three if you want to go the Arena route. So, unless expansions are coming out every 1-2 months, you’ll have plenty of time to get whatever cards you need to be/stay competitive without spending a dime.

Spending dimes gets you there faster, of course. But in this context, I’m okay with it.

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Posted on November 6, 2013, in Hearthstone and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I think your concerns about class balances are sound and valid but when it comes to your example of “flying” I really do not see how it can compromise the simplicity of the game. After all we have the Feary Dragon that s untargettable by hero spells or powers (except AoE), your example of flying would be basically the opposite. As such I do not see how things suddenly became more complicated.
    And since we are talknig about simplicity we can add that maybe Blizzard does not care about making the mechanics more complicated as the expansions roll along. After all that is the way WoW went as far as mechanics are concerned so saying that because Blizzard wants a simple card game now implies that it must be so for all future is something I simply (pardon the pun) can’t buy.

    On ano ff note I still do think that the drama about the Northshire Cleric is a bit over the top because let’s face it while it requires some luck to deal with it immediately as it has been played all the Northshire Cleric states by being on the board is: “I want to go for a card advantage race” (Great play your gnome or buzzard or what have you ASAP) and “I might not heal my hero with Lesser heal” (Great, hero damage can be something to think about for the next turn or two) + you can abuse the card draw (read healing + recurring low damage) by buffing up your Lightwarden/ Enrage cards or you could even silence it with either a 0 (as a priest) or 2 cost card.

    • Actually, a Turn 1 Northshire Cleric on the board states “You won’t be playing most of the 1 or 2-drop creatures unless you want me to get card + board advantage.” The most advantageous play on Turn 2 is nothing, assuming the Priest doesn’t have a 2-drop handy. Otherwise, you cast a 2/2 or whatever and he gets 1 damage + 1 card for 2 mana he wasn’t going to be able to use anyway. Maybe you cast a 3/2 to prevent the free damage, but unless it’s a Faerie Dragon it will likely die to Smite.

      Of course, not playing anything on Turn 2 simply makes the Priest’s late-game cards all the more powerful.

      • I agree that you won’t be playing 1-drop minions, but not because of Northshire Cleric. Most 1-drop minions are not worth playing, period. They simply don’t contribute enough to be worth a card.

        The few exceptions to this rule either can be played even with a Cleric on the table (Clerics of your own, Flame Imps, Blood Imps, Mana Wyrm-Coin-Mirror Image opening), or would be held back until a later turn anyway (Timber Wolf).

        As for 2-drops, I wouldn’t let the threat of removal discourage me from dropping a 3/2 as a response to the Cleric. If he Smites or Pains my Ooze / Apprentice / Raptor / Juggler / whatever, that’s a 1-1 trade and that’s one fewer removal spell that he can use later. He doesn’t develop his board position and I can just drop a stronger threat (a bear or Scarlet Crusader) next turn.

        Finally, I think that the impact of a first-turn Cleric is somewhat overrated. Yes, if everything goes perfectly, you can ping an opposing minion on turn 2, heal and draw a card… which means that you effectively got a slightly beefier Novice Engineer for 1 more mana. You don’t really get a massive advantage until you draw two or more cards – which is why saving the Cleric for later and dropping her on the same turn as you unleash a Holy Nova may be a smarter choice.

  2. I think you raise some really valid points. I’m actually trying really hard to ignore the metagame in Hearthstone, because my strong suspicion is that I’ll come to conclusions like the ones you did about how impossible balance seems, especially in the long term. I’m already having fun so why ruin it by dissecting it.

    Thought I admit I did look up a mage deck after failing dismally at creating one myself for a daily quest.

    I feel like the class spell restrictions are absolutely required to keep balance in check. Comparing Magic’s multiple mana colours to Hearthstone’s choice of a single class reminds me heavily of comparing WoW’s original “free-for-all” talent trees to your choice of a single spec granting you a predetermined selection of spells. Same pros, same cons for each.

    I think they made the right call. Restricting cards to one class allows us to have more powerful cards in the game. I mean imagine the balance nightmare of a single deck containing, say, Priest “when a minion is healed” cards alongside those Warrior cards which deal 1 damage and grant 2 attack. That would be OP.

    • You’re right that the strict class distinctions allows for “OP” cards to exist in a context where they are actually kinda balanced. But it comes with a hefty downside.

  3. “so a 2/4 for 2 isn’t outlandish rules-wise.”

    I think that’s a bit of a stretch. It seems pretty clear that the existing standard for the 2-mana slot is 5 points of attack and defense total (generally 2/3 or 3/2). Every single 2-mana minion card that goes beyond the 5-point limit has a hefty drawback attached to it (Succubus, Millhouse Manastorm, Ancient Watcher, Doomsayer).

    As for 1/4 for 2 mana, see Armorsmith (Warrior only).

    • Right, but those 2/3s and 3/2s have abilities too, which is generally worth one mana by itself. When they don’t, the card is strictly worse in every way outside of one class’s combo deck.

  4. I don’t think that running out of new mechanics will be a problem for two reasons:

    1) Mark Rosewater once said that all Magic mechanics are just variations of kicker and split cards. And yet, Wizards keep releasing hundreds of new cards every year. There’s plenty of design space available even if Blizzard sticks to tinkering with existing basic components.

    2) The digital nature of the game means that developers can add all kinds of cool/weird stuff that would be very problematic in a tabletop game. If you want to split the battlefield with a raging river in Magic, you’ll need a text box with a small font and confusing rulings. In Hearthstone, you just create an actual river. Preferably one full of lava.