Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fixing Hearthstone #4: Plans Are Like Spoons: There Are None

You might be wondering, after the posting of Fixing Hearthstone 3a (, what happened to Fixing Hearthstone 3b?  I’d started writing a post about Value Town #27, essentially an hour of fanbois protecting their Blizzcon invites by serving up cream puff questions to Ben Brode, who spent the hour demonstrating that he can count everything he knows about CCGs on no hands, when the non-fix to Unleash the Hounds was announced.  Since then, it has occurred to me that Ben Brode not knowing anything about CCGs is a symptom of a larger issue: Blizzard had no plan to get Hearthstone to this point, and Blizzard has no plan for Hearthstone in the future.

That’s a bold claim; consequently, I’m going to use posts from Blizzard MVPs, Blizzard community managers, and Ben Brode himself to prove it.  Quotes will be italicized inline in the text as well as links provided so the reader can verify for themselves that I’m not making this garbage up.

Let’s start with Blizzard community manager Zeriyah, who posted a large CYA post about the community managers not being very responsive to the community (  In doing so, she let the rank and file Hearthstone player know exactly how much we matter:

The Hearthstone World Championship is also really exciting for us. It's given our passionate players an excellent chance to test their skills and shoot for the opportunity at being crowned the Hearthstone World Champion at BlizzCon. If you feel you've got what it takes, try entering a community tournament that offers a seed to the Championship Qualifier!

“Our passionate players”?  The immediate corollary to this statement is that, unless you are willing to netdeck Hearthstone as a full-time job and “compete” in brainless, soulless, 1 v. 1, netdeck v. netdeck, coin flip, fake sports, you are persona non grata in the eyes of Blizzard.  Is it any wonder that the feature set for Hearthstone is so woefully inadequate, when in the eyes of Blizzard, the only players that are passionate are players who play the worst mode in Hearthstone?

Here’s a little advice for Blizzard.  Netdecking is a Pox.  You had the chance to crush the Pox but chose to get a bunch of free marketing for your CCG at the expense of integrity.  CCGs are a social activity regardless of whether they are played in groups of 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 or more.  To claim those of us who refuse to play the worst mode of your game with a base set that doesn’t comply with the Card Balance Philosophy post made 5 months ago are not passionate is an admission of Blizzard’s catastrophic ignorance of CGGs and the people who play them.
In the same vein, we go to a couple of Hearthstone MVPs, Mand and Sar.  Sar in the past has posted some thoughtful things about card balance and other topics.  Mand, on the other hand, is your typical Blizzard MVP: an intellectually dishonest, abusive sycophant.  Mand decided to construct a psychological justification for Netdecking (  I’ll leave it to the reader to deconstruct the fallacy, suffice it to say that any analogy that draws out both Octale and Hordak must be complete nonsense.  Let’s start with Mand:

Every CCG ever made sells you on that idea, and none of them live up to the promise in competitive environments. Take your "This totally worked great against my friend's little brother!" deck to even a local tournament, with any physical TCG, and you'll get utterly destroyed.

“That idea” is the idea of individuality in deck construction.  This is more evidence of Blizzard’s ignorance toward what CCGs are.  More to the point, Mand is ignorant to what Ranked is in reality.  There are 3 ranks that matter: Rank 20 for the card back, Legend Rank for the card back, and Top 16 for the chance to get squished by a Twitch streamer in a feeder tournament for the world championships.  Absolutely every other game of ranked that’s played is just a coin flip grind.  Also, if Hearthstone’s feature set were complete, many players wouldn’t mind so much that Ranked is a cesspit of Netdecking, because those players would never play it, preferring Friendly play, which would be deeper and more engaging than Ranked could ever hope to be.

We get the same kind of flavor from Sar, but with a bitter edge:

Agreed. Simply put, even if they don't "like" net-decking per se, I'd wager they wouldn't be complaining about it if they beat most of them.

Sar is trying to put his words in someone’s mouth, but I don’t know who they are. The principle for being against netdecking is simple enough: In a game as shallow as Hearthstone, deck construction is at least half the game; therefore, taking a shortcut in deck construction is closer to an athlete taking steroids to a chess player trying to emulate a specific strategy.  Blizzard made a conscious choice to sacrifice the integrity of their CCG for free marketing from netdeck websites.  Blizzard also continues to choose to not fix their base set.  As a result of those 2 facts, I choose not to get suckered in to being forced to play the shallowest variant of a shallow game.

Finally, Ben Brode decided to tell us all about whether or not the design team chooses to use the word “Random” in card text (  It is explained that they use the word “Random” when the game chooses from a visible zone, conversely, they don’t use “Random” when the game chooses from a non-visibe zone.  To this point, I’m following along.  I have concerns, which I’ll explain in a minute, but I understand the concept as it is being explained.  Then, Ben drops this ditty:

These rules can be broken, though. For example, if you add the word “random” to Lightwell, it becomes very hard to parse its text. “At the start of your turn, restore 3 Health to a random damaged friendly character.” There are just too many qualifiers. You’ll learn that it’s random after playing with it, and that’s ok with us. At least, it’s better than long and confusing text. Some cards include the word ‘random’ even when they don’t need it, like “Sense Demons” and “Mind Vision”. These cards are simple, basic-set cards, and for some reason the word “random” just feels better on these cards. 'Feel' is really important to how we write cards. Consistency is important, but somewhat less so in a digital game where the computer handles the rules for you.

Um, what?  As a CCG designer, consistency and transparency are your number 1 goals, especially given I’m forced into Ranked if I want any cosmetic rewards or forced into Casual if I want progression through quest completion.  So what do I mean by consistency?  I mean consistency in the way the cards work on the field; I mean consistency in the cards between each other; I mean consistency in the distribution of cards by rarity across the mana range; and I mean consistency with the Card Balance Philosophy document published in January.  Blizzard has failed in all these aspects at one point or another.  If the rule is that a card is supposed to have “Random” in its text if the game chooses from a visible zone, then every card where the game chooses randomly from a visible zone should have “Random”.  If the high health, low attack, taunt option for a minion is to the left in a given card, then it should be that way for every card that has the option of summoning a high health, taunt version.  The base set is way too Legendry focused at the top end of the mana range, and there are too many powerful common and rare minions at the bottom end of the mana range.  Finally, there’s Leeroy Jenkins, who been acting in direct violation of the Card Balance Philosophy document for 5 consecutive months.

Even if we accepted ambiguous card text, in what mode, exactly, am I supposed to do the discovery?  I can only complete quests for gold in Casual and Ranked, which are played against strangers.  It’s widely known that Ranked is a cesspit, and if I were of the inclination to attempt to obtain one of the ranks that matter as described above, I’m certainly not putting myself at risk of de-ranking by doing my discovery in Ranked mode.  Similarly, if I have to play against strangers of questionable ethical caliber, then I’m going to do whatever it takes to complete quests in the minimal amount of time, so discovery in Casual mode is out.  Friendly mode would be the place for discovery to happen; however, friendly mode simultaneously has no incentives and is missing all the casual CCG variants where my friends and I could do the kind of discovery Ben is talking about while getting some amount of progression out of it. [Authors note: Friends is plural, meaning more than 1; thus, 1 v. 1 games are not against friends.]

Finally, the “Random” post gives no indication that any thought has been given toward mechanics that might be added in the future.  Here’s a thought experiment for you:  Does a Lightwell target the character it heals?  In theory, based on the rule for “Random” in card text, it should, but without inclusion of “Random” on the card, it is left in doubt.  From this, we can only conclude that there isn’t going to be minion or spell that says “If this minion is the target of a spell or ability, give it <x>.” You know, mechanics that would add depth to a deplorably shallow experience.

Clearly, no one at Blizzard has ever heard of or played a casual CCG variant.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t do someone’s job for them without compensation, but in this case, I’ll make an exception:  Ben, Zeriyah, Mand, and Sar, please read the link for comprehension while ignoring the variants that don’t apply to Hearthstone.  Then, for the love of all that’s holy, finish your game.  Recognize that 99% of your customer base is not going to world championships, and their combined buying power out paces the world championship field many times over.  Recognize that CCGs are more than fake sports, more than netdecking, and more than 1 v. 1 encounters.  Show us you know something, anything, about CCGs.

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