BlizzCon 2013: Hearthstone Fireside Chat

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During the Hearthstone Fireside Chat panel at BlizzCon 2013, Lead Designer Eric Dodds and Technical Designer Ben Brode discussed the design philosophies behind Hearthstone and the future its development will take.

Dodds opened by discussing how Hearthstone’s development team differs from Blizzard’s other teams. While the WoW and Diablo teams have upwards of 60 members, Hearthstone’s team only has around 15. Tackling a project with a smaller scope than Blizzard’s time-honored franchises allows the team to be more focused.

The dev team had a few design goals with Hearthstone: they wanted the game to be deep, but still accessible to everyone. They wanted the game to have the great flavor of the Warcraft universe, with an added charm and whimsy that would make it unique. They wanted to capture the feeling of playing a physical card game as much as possible. To that end, they went through many iterations of what the game would look like and showed us the progression of the game board as it moved further away from a traditional video game battlefield. At some point, they took the “physical” too far with their deck builder, which was a visual mess of cards.

The team aimed to make Hearthstone play fast, with matches that would end in about 10-15 minutes. They sought to ensure that, win or lose, players still had fun. And they wanted the cards to be easy to understand — a player should be able to read a new card and immediately know what it does.

The design philosophy behind the cards was to keep them simple, but give the depth through interaction with other cards. From a flavor perspective, the team wanted the cards to be connected with WoW and its lore in a “visceral” way.

An interesting figure thrown out was that 44% of the most-skilled players have spent no money on the game, a figure Blizzard touted to assure us that it doesn’t take money to be a top player. Also, the “first turn advantage” observed in Hearthstone — ie, how often the player who acts first wins — is similar to that of Chess, at around 53% at low-level player, and even better balanced at higher level.

Hearthstone’s future will see revisions come to ranked play to make your progression easier to understand. Those who participate in a one-month season of ranked play will receive an card back, and a new card back will be issued for every season. The team also announced a reconnect feature, which was met with applause from the audience.

Apart from card expansions, Blizzard will also release smaller content updates called “Adventures,” which they’ll be able to release more often and more quickly than expansions. These Adventures may change the metagame, but will not introduce new mechanics the way an expansion might.

Over one million beta invites have been sent out for Hearthstone so far. The game will be going into open beta “next month.”

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