Cool Hearthstone Dad, Dean Ayala, was on Twitter this evening with a simple prompt: Ask him questions about Hearthstone, receive answers. We've gone ahead and recapped all of his wonderful insights down below.
Thanks for coming out and sorry if I didn't get to your question. Let's make this a Wednesday thing.
Classic Set Rework
- "It's complicated and will be answered soonish. It's a good change."
- Team 5 wants to see more modes like Battlegrounds where players can jump into a game immediately.
- "Is there a mode we can create that you just click a button then you are playing a game with your cards? How can we make that compelling."
- Battlegrounds is still growing in popularity. It is massive.
- Duels is receiving an update soon.
- Duels will continue to be a limited number of sets with rotating sets.
- Malygos was on the Hall of Fame list 2 or 3 times but always slipped in last minute.
- Gadgetzan Auctioneer dodged nerfs for a couple of years.
- Life Tap was discussed early on to be changed completely. They didn't have a good idea for a replacement.
- Dean was happy with how Mysterious Challenger turned out, initially not believing how powerful it would be.
- Dean also "whiffed" on the Spirit Claws power level. He was not happy about that outcome.
- Void Ripper never saw much play but it is one of Dean's favourites.
- Animated Broomstick has been discussed but it's interesting and makes the game different.
- Dean has always wanted to put Maximillian of Northshire in the game.
- "(Card) generation has gotten a little wider than we'd like but it's not a forever thing. Next year should see less, rotation should help."
- Inspire as a mechanic was weak on purpose. They weren't sold on the gameplay and had no time to redesign completely.
- Handbuff in Mean Streets of Gadgetzan could have been stronger. They did not get the power level right. A better Legendary may have helped.
- Shadow Priest is being explored again. A sort of different direction Dean thinks players will like.
- Dual-class will likely be used again. Dean wonders if Hearthstone would be more fun if dual-class was always a thing.
- Having a graveyard interests Dean. Good theme and design space. Not sure how to visualize it or worth additional UI. It would have to make the game more fun.
- Dean wants to see more esports stuff in the client.
- The main problem is they have more stuff to do so it is on the back burner.
Game Design & Development
- Huge teams have more processes in place which is why some stuff doesn't get out as fast as it could.
- A simple task in Hearthstone becomes even more complicated when you factor in additional platforms.
- Power creep is natural as it is a side effect of wanting to make new things fun.
- Windows for patches can be very small. Sometimes, they come out at inopportune times (i.e. middle of an esports event) because it would take much longer to get out otherwise.
- Nowadays, they try to nerf cards in a way that doesn't make a whole deck feel worthless.
- With Hearthstone being older, they are more comfortable making more balance changes because the players can handle it.
- Nerfs are almost always directed at metagame health and overall player experience.
- Buffs are generally weaker at changing a metagame for the better, so they do them less.
Dean's Favourite Card Designs
- Defile - Because it's an excellent example of depth and simplicity in harmony.
- C'Thun - Because it introduced many new players to synergy. Falling in love with card games comes from that moment you realize it's not just a bunch of cards, it's a deck that all comes together. A deck with a plan perfectly mastered. It's a very simple and straightforward build-around (play the c'thun cards then play c'thun) but because we gave it for free it was the stepping stone for many people from basic mage to their first synergy deck.
- Dire Frenzy - Because no particular reason, just a card I loved playing. Lots of control decks in the meta at the time so choosing the right thing to frenzy was often a critical choice.
Dean's "Dumb" Idea
Do we get anything for being top ranked in BG or Standard? Would make me wanna grind more tbh, like a coin or jacket or idk, small things would be really nice tbh
I'd actually love to do that, but that unfortunately isn't my area so I can't say. I have always had this REALLY dumb idea though…. (Source)
We make a bunch of jackets and give them to the best players in each region on some cadence. Maybe every month, maybe every 3 months, whatever. (Source)
We do this for every new person. However, when someone wins a second time, we send them something custom and ridiculous. Like a 10 foot long Hearthstone sombrero. (Source)
And if they do it more times, the gifts get progressively more ridiculous to the point we're sending a flame-printed Hearthstone branded PT Cruiser or something. (Source)
It's compelling to players because rewards. Also compelling to fans because of wanting to know what the next ridiculous prize is. Worth it to us because the prizes are so silly they get lots of coverage and it's decent marketing. (Source)
Okay, that is my dumb idea. Thank you for listening. (Source)
Ask me a question about Hearthstone and I will try my best to answer. More likely I can answer your question if it relates to game design in some way, but can give other questions a shot.
What were some of the cards over the years you came closest to nerfing (permanently or otherwise) but didn’t?
We discussed the idea of changing the Warlock hero power very seriously in the early days of Hearthstone but there was never a good idea for a replacement. (Source)
Is there a specific card you thought was going to be a bust but it ended up being major player in the meta or in the general community?
What are some common misconceptions about game design you see players complain about that are really a result of things being too complex to program/implement?
Why something doesn't come fast enough is a common one. When you work on a huge team you need approvals from people who have no free time, get QA to do a pass when QA is fully booked, then get approval from third parties like Apple or Google. (Source)
We often know what we want to do but working on a multiplatform behemoth of a game like Hearthstone makes simple work take way more time than it would take a small dev team on one platform. (Source)
It can often make small indie projects appear more in-tune with things like game balance or bug fixes. Big teams on big games want that, too, it's just more complicated than we'd like. (Source)
Is there a general direction you take when it comes to counteracting powercreep in battlegrounds? It feels currently as though it's relatively unchecked; three overpowered things come in, one gets nerfed, and the power level keeps rising.
Power creep is somewhat natural in any live service game, not as a design choice but as a side effect to wanting to make new fun things. If perfect balance on launch is unrealistic and worst case is you release new things no one interacts with, then what is the alternative? (Source)
We're a live service game so if something is out of whack we'll adjust it after the fact, but there is no where in Hearthstone we intentionally create new things with the intention of making them much more powerful than everything else. (Source)
We'll make a new hero or new tribe and we'll make a prediction of where that new thing will land on the power scale and ask ourselves if we're okay with that. If we're not, we adjust. Sometimes something is REALLY fun in playtest and we'd like it to be very strong. (Source)
Sometimes something has a more niche gameplay that is potentially frustrating so we don't want it to reach peak levels (George is a good example). (Source)
But over time, if you keep wanting to make impactful things you always have to compete with the last thing you made, thus increasing power over time very slightly. It makes the oldest thing you made feel out of date. I think it's more likely we'll continue to adjust those old… (Source)
things than do a sweeping nerf of what is available. Gameplay is still fun (in our opinion!) so rebalancing in the name of power creep I don't think is going to result in more fun. At some point that might not be true and we'll take a harder look at a big sweeping change. (Source)
with the rise of bgs and the addition of duels, hearthstone really feels like it's transitioning from a game to a platform. how has the team adapted in terms of structure, how has the codebase held up, and how has your day to day and year over year life changed because of it?
BGs are massively popular, it's fun, it's growing. We are trying to adapt ourselves into the thinking there can be multiple products under one umbrella. There are challenges with this our game wasn't originally designed to solve, but luckily we plan on being around awhile. (Source)
Codebase is not really my area, so I'd be waving my hands around not really saying anything of substance if answering. I'd view duels as normal Hearthstone with a twist, like Arena or single-player, easier to manage. (Source)
My day to day is very different, but mostly because I manage 14 designers and my main job is to be there for them in addition to making decisions on random things that need a decision. (Source)
What is the rationale behind dropping a nerf patch right in the middle of the most important tournament in CN server? The nerf of edwin and boggspine was introduced hours before the 2020 CN championship final between syf and XiaoT, with basically no advance notice.
I am honestly unclear on the details of this because I don't personally do these checks anymore (I used to), but sometimes the timings of a nerf don't line up how we'd like. We've done nerfs mid-tournament in the past. (Source)
WIndows for a patch are small, especially if they are before a client patch on the way. Sometimes if we don't do a balance patch on a Friday the next time we can do it is 1-2 weeks later. Ultimately we have to make the best call for the majority audience. (Source)
What steps in the design process have a bigger impact than you feel it gets credit for? Any unsung heroes on the design team who’s work/ideas you think we should be paying more attention to?
So many unsung heroes. @swingsy is a big one. Mega-talented engineer that is responsible for making so many of the things you love work. When I don't have the answer to something at work sometimes I CC Seyil and say 'he probably knows, he is smart'. He always knows. (Source)
Also we have a narrative designer named Val that is killer. Does a lot of writing for things like flavor text or story content, big influence on the characters we create. (Source)
What's your favorite mechanic/card that never quite had enough power to see much competitive play?
I sometimes think about the alternate reality if all the MSOG handbuff cards had costed 1 less, and subsequently ran rampant in the meta
I was just talking about handbuff today. In the case of inspire it was weak on purpose, we weren't sold on the gameplay and didn't have the time to redesign completely so felt safer to not put too much power into it. (Source)
In the case of handbuff, I think they were mostly balance misses. It was fun we just didn't get the power right. That and the Legendary should have probably been better at encouraging having more hand buff cards as opposed to a standalone design. (Source)
When designing powerful, even polarizing cards,(such as Tickatus), what strategies and tools do ya'll use in determining balance? As cards of this nature typically incite player frustration, what standards/properties are focused in designing these types of cards?
Hmm, this is probably a very long answer but the short one is that some people LOVE these cards. Like they play your game because these cards exist. They are mean and they like to do mean things. The idea of destroying their opponent's cards gives them cackle-worthy joy. (Source)
Because of this, we want to make something for that player. Because they can be so frustrating, we don't want them to be too powerful. Mean person that loves mean stuff gets their toy to use but most players aren't regularly exposed to it. That's the dream at least. (Source)
If Tickatus were meta and in 20% of decks, I'm skeptical that is good for us. In the same way it wasn't great for Shudderwock to be the #1 deck or Freeze Mage to be the most popular thing. (Source)
What are some game features (dust econ, tournament mode, games modes, etc.) you/the team want in the game, but are unable to currently implement? What are some of the challenges arise when deciding what gets put into the game and what does not?
We'd like more 'esports' things to be in the client. When it's all out of client it makes it less accessible. I think Fortnite does a pretty good job of this but there are just so many other things we want to do it's on the back burner. (Source)
We want a mode that is easier to just get in and play. Battlegrounds is good at this, what is the card-game version of this. Is there a mode we can create that you just click a button then you are playing a game with your cards? How can we make that compelling. (Source)
Challenges are simple and complex. You need the right people, you need the right vision, and you need the resources. Sometimes you want to do something, but not as bad as you want to do things 1-98. Thing 99 isn't getting made anytime soon. (Source)
Is there any chance priest's card design return to some nice mechanics with healing (like we had with clerig and alchenai), or the direction you want for the class is exclusively random value generation?
no our plan with priest is exclusively not-nice mechanics from now on thank you for asking (Source)
less snarky answer
Priest toolkit is pretty wide from a design view
Tempo-Curve gameplay (Dragons)
Traditional Control (removal into big minions or MC) (Source)
We're also going to re-explore what shadowpriest means, which is sort of a different direction I think a lot of players will like. (Source)
Did you guys anticipate Turtle Mage (Tortollan Freeze/Combo Mage)?
What’s your favorite keyword that you’d like to potentially revisit in the future?
good chance we'll revisit duel-class, I honestly wonder if Hearthstone would be more fun if it was permanently duel-class. Would have to revisit some balance to do it, but it's a great mechanic. Very unlikely this will happen, just a curiosity I have. (Source)
Is there any chance I can buy the maiev portrait ? It’s my favourite one and I was not playing hearthstone back during the year of mammoth, I started mid 2018. I understand not making buyable again portraits from bundles but that one you could Thank you
Our plan is to keep adding old stuff to the shop over time, we've done card backs, I imagine we'll do more of those and some old hero portraits. Sorry no plans currently though :(. (Source)
I think Demon Hunter has too many class identity (ex. draw, cost reduce, efficient face damage, outcast, powerful weapons, etc…) Will those characteristics be refined in the future?
Hard to answer. Ideally we'd like them to have good aggressive decks and good control decks with big demon friends. In order to have both your toolkit needs to be pretty wide. They don't even really have a great control deck even with all these tools at their disposal. (Source)
In a perfect world, they are a little weaker with traditional hard removal and AoE tools than most decks but make up for it through weapon removal and powerful 7+ cost creatures. Then they keep a lot of what makes them great in aggro like draw. (Source)
Hard to make that work, but we mostly agree there is a lot they can do. Making a new class is hard work, trying to adjust in small increments over time rather than do big rework after big rework. (Source)
what is a character you always wanted to put in HS but still havent been able to?
Maximillian of Northshire. (Source)
How does Team 5 make Hearthstone accessible to new players that are also new to the genre of card games? I have friends who find the game interesting when I play it but when they start a new account they give up because they find it complicated.
Card games are complicated. Hearthstone is touted as a simple card game but in the wider view of games in general it's incredibly complex. We'd like to have more modes like battlegrounds that are click a button and play. Lots of work to be done here. (Source)
Achievements with exp incentivize trying fun and interesting cards/decks, but some achievements (Oh My Yogg! and Shadow Clone) feel difficult/frustrating to work towards . Is this something y’all are thinking about with future xpac achievements?
Yeah, I'd have to talk with our amazing and talented designer in charge of making achievements but I think we'd be aligned to do less like Oh My Yogg specifically. Shadow clone is on the line but most players I've talked to that went our of their way to build a deck for it… were successful fairly quickly. (Source)
For the classic reworks will us players be getting any compensation for the cards getting rotated? Earlier this week we heard that the HOF will be no more. So are we getting anything to replace the dust we’d normally get?
It's complicated and will be answered soonish. It's a good change. (Source)
What are some mechanics that maybe have seemed interesting or seemed good to add to the game, but just the technology wasn’t there or you guys couldn’t figure out how to implement it?
I think the idea of graveyards and interacting with things that died would be really interesting. Thematically it's awesome and I know there is design space. Never sure how to visualize it or if it's worth the additional UI. Asking players to keep another zone in their head… (Source)
is a HUGE ask. One of the biggest complexity adds. We'd have to be sure it makes the game way more fun or not worth doing. Still….. it might….. (Source)
We can't get excited about low ranks on Asian servers because there are a lot of players who use unpleasant aggravating emotes and I have to silence them every time. Can you tell me why you've decided not to implement the ability to silence in Hearthstone's default settings?
People hate this answer, but we take adding buttons extremely seriously. If we added a button every time someone on the team asked for it Hearthstone would be nothing but buttons and menus. (Source)
When we think about adding something new we always ask if it's absolutely necessary and in this case the idea of squelching someone is such an easy action it has never felt necessary to implement. (Source)
You have to be a player that hates emotes, and have been in a game where someone would have emoted you and you had a worse experience because of it. How big is that audience? I sympathize that the audience in this circumstance includes you, but that is the train of thought. (Source)
will you redesign duel mode? I think duel mode deserve better and more
Hearthstone is a live service game and we will continue to addd and adjust duels. Plans to update it soon in fact. (Source)
I noticed that the nerfs in recent two years were much more than ever. In Ashes of Outland, there are even 18 cards that have been nerfed. Will you feel that the frequent nerfs which leads to decks’ weakening would diminish players’ enthusiasm?
We try to make nerfs nowadays that if they affect your deck you don't feel like the deck is worthless. You continue to queue with it at a slightly less powerful rate. As a result of this desire, the changes are smaller and need to come in higher number to reach the same impact. (Source)
Also, our game is 7 years old. When you launch you have all new players who are more averse to frequent change. Our game is not all new players anymore, our population is tons of core users who can handle the complexity of shaking things up. (Source)
As the people who play your game change, adapting to that is an important piece of dev. (Source)
Although I know that buffing cards needs much more work than nerfing cards, from my perspective, buffing the weak classes is more an appropriate method for the players and the game.
I agree it's a more satisfying player moment to buff, it's just difficult to make a meta impact. Buffs are good to address the power level of someone's class that feels ineffective, but they are generally weak at changing a metagame for the better. (Source)
Almost all of our nerfs are directed at metagame health and overall player experience, not the experience of one class. You can do that with the change of 1-2 cards, much harder when trying to buff a class. (Source)
Also the window of success is way tighter. If you have a deck that is 25% play rate, when you nerf your success window is huge. If you overnerf, it's not ideal but still makes a big (generally postive) impact. People stop playing the class and the meta shifts. (Source)
When you buff you are usually trying to take something from a 0-1% playrate to a 3-10% play rate. Anything below is not impactful and anything above risks introducing a too-powerful deck that requires further immediate balance updates. (Source)
Not to say we won't do it, I am in total support of doing more buffs to adjust cards or archetypes that didn't quite make it. I just don't see us using it as a meta balance tool like we do with nerfs. (Source)
How do you end up deciding if a card's effect should be random and to what extent? For example the death rattle effect of sylvanas. It targets a random minion, but it's effect could have also ended up targetting the left most minion instead. How do you decide what's best?
In the given example, you ask players to think about how they order their minions to play around the extremely small possibility that their opponent might play a Sylvanas. There is so much going on in a game it's generally something we don't want you to have to agonize over. (Source)
Where as with discard effects, we're much more okay with it. You don't control the order of your hand as it's drawn and you only have to start considering it once you draw the card. There is depth there but it's not taking up brain space for at unnecessary times. (Source)
Right-most and left-most tend to be random instead because it can be confusing from what perspective you are talking about. If I told you to destroy your opponent's left-most minion, does that mean from your perspective or your opponent's? (Source)
Will you continue to push Duels as this mix of Wild and Standard where cards from a limited number of sets are allowed in the starter deck? I've really liked that aspect as a returning standard-only player. Also any teases about the next theme for Duels?
no teases, but yes the cards from a limited number of sets will continue and the sets will change. (Source)
as an aspiring game designer who has like 0 relevant work experience, what advice would you give to someone hoping to break into the industry?
Make games, there are many free tools available and all of your competition is already a designer or has already been making their own stuff as a hobbyist. (Source)
Do you think not having every card unlocked improves fun, or is it just an economic model ? And if yes, how so ?
Wacky hipster deck builder here, so in my experience I felt it's been more the later. (I "stopped" arround wild release for that reason)
Honestly, yes. Collecting is fun. Money aside, I think it's generally more fun to collect over time than to have it handed to you the moment you start a game. Not true for everyone, but I believe it to be true for the majority. (Source)
Are there plans to release a 'random hero portrait' option like we have with card backs?
I had a love for hearthstone that somewhat died down over the last years, but I still love to follow the scene. What would be the #1 reason as to why the team never went through with tournament mode?
Tournament mode was high profile because we announced it, but the reason was simple and not so abnormal. We explored a robust new feature, playtested, couldn't find something we felt was quality to release. (Source)
Took a hard look at it and estimated what it would take to change all the things that needed to be changed. Estimated what we'd have to give up on to spend the resources to accomplish that. Wasn't worth it to us at the time, cut the feature to explore other ideas. (Source)
What are your top 3 favorite cards design wise?
I love all my children, here are three that come to mind.
Defile because it's an excellent example of depth and simplicity in harmony. (Source)
C'thun because it introduced many new players to synergy. Falling in love with card games comes from that moment you realize it's not just a bunch of cards, it's a deck that all comes together. A deck with a plan perfectly mastered. (Source)
It's a very simple and straightforward build-around (play the c'thun cards then play c'thun) but because we gave it for free it was the stepping stone for many people from basic mage to their first synergy deck. (Source)
Dire Frenzy because no particular reason, just a card I loved playing. Lots of control decks in the meta at the time so choosing the right thing to frenzy was often a critical choice. (Source)
How is the communication between card designers and software developpers articulated ? For example, when a new card mechanism is to be introduced, what is the process resulting in that mechanism being implemented in the software ?
Our gameplay team is integrated with us, when we're in the office we sit right next to each other. They do semi-regular playtests. They are Hearthstone players and we are somewhat technical so the language doesn't have to be very special. (Source)
Normally our editor has the built-in functionality for designers to create mechanics they want. When that isn't true, we meet with our gameplay team and they build in functionality for us. We speak in plain Hearthstone terms of what we're looking for and they always deliver. (Source)
Looking back at lackeys as they're about to rotate, do you feel that they introduced too many situations where there are chains of discover-discover-discover and nearly-infinite value decks?
I think if we could go back in time we would have cut the dragon discover in place of something else. Generation has gotten a little wider than we'd like but it's not a forever thing. Next year should see less, rotation should help. (Source)
What are the current thoughts on Animated Broomstick? Did it surprise you guys? Has it been on a nerf list at some point?
Was probably the thing closest to getting nerfed that didn't. We discussed it. Ultimately it's still under the microscope but it's an interesting card that makes Hearthstone feel different. (Source)
The gameplay is subjective. Personally I think it's fun and unique but giving anything rush at anytime has it's downsides. Because we are split on our feelings about gameplay and it's not overbearing in terms of power level, felt best to hold off for now. (Source)