On April 2nd, Blizzard will be releasing Hearthstone’s Blackrock Mountain Adventure content. This is the second adventure, and third set of new cards introduced since its official release last March. Hearthstone now boasts a total of 566 collectable cards. These cards come from five different sources; the cards you start with, two types of packs and two adventures. Up to now, those that have been playing Hearthstone have been able to keep up with the steady flood of new cards Blizzard has sprung upon them. In fact most are happy about the speed in which they release new content. The problem Blizzard will soon face is how evolve Hearthstone and keep current players happy without alienating or overwhelming new players.
Currently Blizzard recommends new players purchase Expert Packs to get started. While these packs hold some good cards new players will quickly find that in order to create some of the popular deck archetypes they need cards from all the expansions. In most cases if a player needs a card they can craft it from ‘dust’ acquired from disenchanting other cards they own. Some cards however, cannot be crafted. Many of these cards are very powerful and they can only by acquired through purchasing Adventures. That is a total of 61 cards to date that cannot be acquired through crafting or packs. The more adventures Blizzard releases, the greater the number of avenues to acquire cards increases. This will obviously lead to confusion to those who join the Hearthstone community in the future. Another issue is that Blizzard’s Hearthstone Adventure model doesn’t allow players to purchase the ‘wing’ of the Adventure that contains the cards they desire. Instead, the wings must be purchased in order. So if you only want one particular card from the last wing of an adventure you’re going to have to pay for the whole thing. While financially this model makes sense it’s not user friendly in the slightest. This issue will only be exacerbated the more new content is released.
While currently the game seems to be fine it’s about to experience a large influx of new users. At Pax East Blizzard announced that they are in the Alpha stages of bringing Hearthstone to Smartphones. A game that is beloved by critics and consumers alike, Hearthstone is bound to be immensely popular on this platform. With a possible adoption of many new players Blizzard is incentivized to keep things as simple as possible. They are however, on pace to release 150 new cards each year. With a growing player base and card pool Blizzard needs to implement a solution soon to marry the two.
So how will Blizzard solve this problem and what direction will they bring Hearthstone? They have been very outspoken about their insistence to keep Hearthstone’s UI as simple and clean as possible. This is not a completely popular opinion among the fan base. The 35 million players who have put countless dollars and time into the game are looking for the opposite, more complexity. Spectator mode has been released for a few months now and tournament organizers are still forced to use overlays and other home remedies because it simply isn’t good enough. There are still only nine different deck slots, forcing players to take screenshots of decks and save them on their computer. The game’s ladder format has also been highly criticized because it encourages players to play decks that result in fast games, in order to rank up faster. These are a just a few issues the community would like rectified.
If Hearthstone were to slowly ban older cards from play on ladder, this would allow new players to not be overwhelmed by the sheer mass of content.
A possible direction Blizzard could go is to borrow concepts from other Trading Card Games (TCGs) such as Magic: The Gathering (MTG). MTG has multiple modes, some of which only allow the player to build decks with cards from certain expansions. If Hearthstone were to slowly ban older cards from play on ladder, this would allow new players to not be overwhelmed by the sheer mass of content. It is possible however, that this solution will anger older players who have spent time and money acquiring these cards. Blizzard also needs to find a way to allow players to acquire cards from the adventures with ease. Currently if a new player wanted to know where to get the card ‘Sludge Belcher’ they would have to go online because all the cards from the adventures do not show up in craft section of your card collection. Even something as simple as an in game list of cards and how to acquire them would be incredibly helpful for new players. The card collection in its current form is messy and difficult to navigate. Blizzard may also be able to use power creep to its advantage. Power creep occurs when the new content released for a game is more powerful than the previous content and shifts the balance of the game.
Making new content more powerful pleases new players because they won’t feel left behind. It also spurs current users to purchase this content because it’s an upgrade over what they already had. This is a delicate process though because making the new content more powerful too suddenly can make the old content obsolete and not worth purchasing. Whichever direction Blizzard decides to take Hearthstone it seems clear they are going to have a difficult time catering to everyone.