I may have been the only person in video who sees Hearthstone for what it is, an Emperor sans dignified coverings. I wanted to like it very much. My wife was willing to play it with me, even though I have 20 years CCG experience on her. There’s a significant problem, though, the game isn’t done yet.
What do you mean Hearthstone isn’t done?
I mean that Hearthstone is missing several key variants that it would have if it were a physical table top game, but may not ever get in the online version because the Return on Investment would be very, very low.
You see, I’m as much a World Champion Hearthstone player as I am a World Champion Formula 1 driver—I’ve played CCGs before, and I’ve driven cars before, but neither in a particularly competitive environment. I also firmly believe that deck building is at least half the game in any CCG, and more so in Hearthstone, given the simplicity of the mechanics.
This means that Ranked mode is utterly valueless to me as a player. Playing netdeck, after netdeck, after netdeck, for 400 hours before finally getting to play the progenitor of the deck everyone is playing sounds boring as hell. It's also impossibly boring in practice. Oh look, a fifteenth straight "Zoolock" – sure to raise my pulse to slightly above flatline, before I consider tying myself to Oslo's subway tracks.
Of course, the return on investment for forcing the focus of players on rank is high. New cards are out, and everyone who wants to make "Legend" rank for the chance to get into a qualifier in the hope of making it to the World Championships complete with a trip to Blizzard's Anaheim Flea Market will shell out on the week of release.
The card design screams RoI as well. If one isn't going to watch the meta like a hawk, then one must grab as many of the above the power curve cards as possible, aka the "Good Stuff" strategy. The thing is most of the above power curve cards were Legendary rarity, leaving the player to decide whether to chase the power cards by massively overspending on packs, then disenchanting the 25 copies of terrible cards to craft the couple of power cards they were missing. Again RoI trumps player experience to an enormous degree. And if I am honest, rightly so.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
A brutally simple adage, if ever there was one. Many in the Hearthstone community are perfectly happy with the empty promise of grinding to the World Championships or to Legend rank card backs. I'm the last person in the world that wants to take that experience away from them.
What I am advocating is Blizzard adding a new experience for players like me. A separate experience where I can play online with many friends at the same time, recreating some of the nostalgia I have for Magic: the Gathering from my college days. Most importantly, I want to keep my circle of in game friends small; I want to have the freedom to be creative in my deck building; and I want to not see the same boring as hell bullsh*t in the same environment over and over and over and over again. Variety is the spice of life.
My opponents will say I will want to change the cards based on how they affect multi-player Hearthstone. This is not true--the system I'm advocating for would allow specific cards to be "banned" in the lobby during game creation, so groups of players can create their own house rules. House rules which will do the job the game designers are either unwilling or unable to do: get the power cards inline with the rest of the set.
The system I want is brutally simple, yet there's nothing to motivate Blizzard to even try to add multi-player variants to Hearthstone at all. Hearthstone has League of Legends level of popularity, and until players wake up and smell the coffee, Hearthstone, like League, will never, ever get finished or fixed.
A'ight genius, what's your plan?
My plan is to start simple. Give players an option to create a lobby for an Attack Left, Defend Right game. Spells and hero abilities can only be cast by the attacking player on their defending player. When a player is reduced to 0 HPs, attacking and defending proceeds as if the defeated player wasn't there. Lather, rinse, repeat until one player remains. That player is the winner.
Let that game mode sink in for a couple of months, and collect tons of data. When do deck sizes become too small? What does the deck limit of 2 mean for deck building in the new environment? How long do games of 3, 4, 5, or more last? How many games are being played, and has there been a statistical jump in revenue from either card buying or Arena entries; put another way, are people buying cards to be more competitive in their local multi-player environment.
Given a successful demo, add the other variants: 2 Headed Giant, Emperor, Grand Melee, "Rainbow" (there can only be one of each class), just to name a few. The next challenge is to tackle multi-platform support for multi-player Hearthstone. Finally, rake in new profits from players who will buy card packs to keep up to date so they can dominate their local Hearthstone scene.
My hope from the time I got into the Closed Beta for Hearthstone was Hearthstone was going to follow the modern Blizzard game release formula: Rush a game out the door; finish the game in the first 12-16 months after release; drop a final product that's gold on the community; profit. Either the business people believe there's not enough money to be made in multi-player Hearthstone or the technical people have put such a high price tag on changing Hearthstone to support casual CCG variants Blizzard is reluctant to dedicate teams to both creating new cards as well as new play modes and variants.
Given the game's popularity, there's no reason for Blizzard to even investigate doing what I'm suggesting, which is a disservice to both themselves and CCGs as a whole. I very much like the concept of Hearthstone. I just wish the feature set was complete.