If you've ever wondered what "Live Content", "Final Design", and "Systems" means within the context of Hearthstone's developers, you're in luck! Dean "Iksar" Ayala has taken to Twitter to write about the different groups on the Hearthstone team and explain how they all overlap and work together; What a bunch of great trivia!
During the thread, which ended in a call to join the Hearthstone team, Dean also called out Hearthstone's Battlegrounds mode and how the team knows we're all thirsty for more regular content. The team as a whole has been very busy with Mercenaries and updates to the progression system but once that calms down, they plan on supporting the mode even more!
Even more regular content updates for Battlegrounds? Sign me up!
So if you're a nerd like me and love getting to learn about behind-the-scenes Hearthstone, you can read his mega-thread of tweets down below. Some additional formatting has been added since Twitter is a horrible medium for anything lengthy.
The design teams of Hearthstone: A very long thread for prospective applicants and Hearthstone enthusiasts.
Depending on who you ask, there are somewhere between 3 and 7 design teams.
The reason it's complicated is that some of those groups work together as a shared resource.
Initial, Final, BG, and Systems operate under the same leadership structure and share people based on workload. They attend the same weekly team syncs and share information regularly.
This means that if you work in Initial, it is pretty common to swap to Final/BG/Systems for months at a time while it would be very uncommon to swap to Live Content or UI (totally different skillset for UI).
Live Content and Mercenaries are also under the same leadership structure, though Mercenaries has operated as a strike team. You can think of a strike team as a totally separate game team within a bigger game team.
A design team is comprised of all designers (and maybe one producer) while a strike team is comprised of all the disciplines you need to make a full project. Art/Design/Production/Eng etc.
The goal of a strike team is to get all members focused and integrated on one core goal (ship mercenaries). Outside of strike teams, a normal week might mean working on a few totally different projects.
UI is the third big design group. They touch every nearly every project in some way because Hearthstone is a very UI/UX focused game.
Works on card expansions, starting from scratch. The early stages of an expansion mean pitching an idea and getting it approved. From there, it means designing the core mechanics, deck archetypes, and individual cards.
Initial Design will create characters, write art descriptions, VO, and work alongside UI, FX, and engineering to uphold the expansion vision while managing scope.
The final product of an expansion for Initial Design is a complete set of around 170 cards. 135 for the expansion and 35 for a miniset that releases 2 months after the expansion ships. This all takes place in a 16-week cycle.
After the 16 weeks are up, the expansion lead will stick around to guide the expansion to completion and work on it part-time while the rest of the team moves to the next expansion. They will do things like direct VO and do PR towards release.
Ultimately responsible for the cards we decide to ship to players. They take all design that is fun in theory and make sure it is fun in practice. Like Initial, the core function of this team is to design fun cards, mechanics, and archetypes.
In addition to that, Final is responsible for understanding what the experience will actually translate to after we inject these 170 cards into the meta. For that reason, the team is made up of world-class Hearthstone players and deckbuilders.
Final is usually referred to as the balance group because they are also in charge of final expansion balance and live-game card balance. While this is true, it's a small portion of the work required.
(Also, before Arena/Wild Roast me, those places are also taken care of by final. We just don't generally create new content specifically for those modes so I didn't list)
We're still figuring out the right pipeline for creating BG content. Right now, this team is a rotation of 1-3 designers who are working on 'major' .2 patches, 'minor' .4 hero patches, and live-balance updates.
We know there is appetite for more regular BG content and we're figuring out how to make that happen. Recently our team has been pushed to the brink with things like progression updates and mercenaries, but we plan on supporting BG further soon ™.
Historically, Systems has been 1-2 people. Currently, there is only one full-time systems designer but we've had people from Initial flex into systems work recently because of progression/achievements/rewards updates.
Systems are things like rewards, progression, matchmaking, new player experience, returning player experience, rank systems, achievements, cosmetics, etc.
Going back in time, Live Content was originally responsible for Tavern Brawl and Fireside Gathering content. When every Tavern Brawl had to be new, there was a ton of work in just those two things.
Nowadays, Live Content runs duels, single-player, a huge chunk of the narrative/writing, and continues to own Tavern Brawl. They are the team chasing down what the big next thing could be while other teams are (mostly) focused on supporting what we've already built.
We split Mercenaries off as it's own project where designers on that team are solely focused on shipping that game mode. We did the same thing with Battlegrounds before folding that team into the larger design group post-ship.
Because Mercs is a new project, they have had a number of different designers at different stages. They started with 1 (as most teams do) and have ramped up many new designers as we get closer to ship. Excited to share the project when it's ready
UI touches almost all design projects on Hearthstone. On some game teams, UI is a support group. On Hearthstone, the UI team are key stakeholders in nearly all decisions we make. Due to this, UI tends to hire for design skillset first and art skillset second.
And finally, even though there are many different groups we still find time to talk and help each other every day. Many different skillsets, but still one team with the same end-goal. JOIN US NOW