Hearthstone: New Blizzard vs Old Blizzard

TL:DR – Hearthstone is the perfect example of New Blizzard, and the perfect example of why I miss Old Blizzard so much.

It’s still Blizzard, so they still have the whole polish thing going. For a great example of this, open up Trion’s Glyph, then open up Blizzard’s Battle.net. They both do the same thing (try to be Steam), but it’s immediately obvious that one is well-crafted while the other is a clownshow.

Hearthstone has that polish. As a mobile game its well done and ‘works’ as you would expect a game to work. It has a ton of nice touches like bringing back classic Warcraft sound bites and themes, and there is just well-executed detail all over the place. The PC port of Hearthstone isn’t bad, but it’s bare-bones and very minimal; it’s very clear Hearthstone is intended to be a mobile game that also happens to run on your PC.

Hearthstone also has Blizzard’s easy of entry design. It gets you in and playing quickly, and ramps you up well. This again is critical in the mobile space given the amount of competition, and the expected patience/time the average player will have.

Where New Blizzard steps in is the depth and longevity aspects. Hearthstone is a very, very dumbed down version of Magic the Gathering. The number of difficult decisions you need to make in an average game is rather minimal (a scary number of games don’t even require one), and even deck building is heavily neutered compared to MtG.

For example, in MtG you have colors, which Hearthstone replaces with classes. Only classes lock you into one set of cards. No mixing. You then fill out the rest of your deck from a ‘open to everyone’ stack. This alone cuts heavily into deck building, and ultimately deck variety and strategy.

Another example; deck size is 30 cards with a max of two of the same card (one for legendary super-power cards). MtG (perhaps back in the day, its been a while) had a deck limit of 60, with a max of four of the same card (max 2 for certain cards in tourney format). On the surface this might look like it comes out to the same thing, yet it’s not. Plenty of decks benefited by having just one copy of a card, but still using that max of 60 as an advantage. All of those decisions are gone in Hearthstone.

The fact that you can’t trade cards in Hearthstone is a giant removal of ‘gameplay’, and it’s replacement (crafting) is a math-tax test of idiocy.

There are likely hundreds of other examples, but at the end of the day Hearthstone is just a much simpler, much easier card game, and that poor and short-sighted design kills its longevity as mastery comes rather quickly.

Now some might argue that because Hearthstone is a mobile game, it has to be simple and shallow. “That’s what works in mobile SynCaine!”. Except that’s not actually true. The most popular and profitable mobile game out (for years now) is Clash of Clans. CoC has Blizzard-level polish and easy of entry, but it also has Old Blizzard design in terms of depth. If you want to just pick the game up and derp around, you can do that. If you want to dive into the deep end, the game has one. Hearthstone doesn’t, as was made embarrassingly clear at the world championships.

If we move past Hearthstone and look big-picture, since when is Blizzard the studio that produces middle-of-the-road titles? Because that’s exactly what Hearthstone is; it’s a good-enough mobile game, but it looks like an SOE product compared to top mobile games like CoC. Heroes of the Storm, the upcoming MOBA title, sounds like a good-enough game that again won’t really compare/compete with League of Legends (another game with Old Blizzard levels of quality/design). Overwatch turnout out to be a good-enough TF2 clone won’t be a surprise. WoW going from vanilla/TBC to Cata/MoP? Old Blizzard vs New, and the sub numbers reflect that.

For whatever reason (talent drain, resting on past success, the Activision merger) Blizzard isn’t the company putting out instant classics like Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo 1-2 anymore. Instead we have been getting decent/meh titles and WoW updates, which is what’s most disappointing. I miss Old Blizzard.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Clash of Clans, Diablo 3, League of Legends, Random, Rant, Review, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Hearthstone: New Blizzard vs Old Blizzard

  1. Scree says:

    I didn’t watch the finals of the Hearthstone championship because I entirely agree with your assessment of that title. I’m awaiting the PVE component to HEX with much anticipation.

    Why did you consider the finals laughable specifically? did something occur that made you think that immediately?

    • SynCaine says:

      Because even as someone with a few days with the game, I knew what they were going to do/play. Even the announcers were calling what was going to happen a turn or so before it did, because the game on many levels is paint-by-numbers simple.

      Compare that to the LoL championship, where the announcers (who overall are head and shoulders better than the Hearthstone guys) not only had to use replay, but even during the replay were surprised/shocked by some of the decision making (ignoring the whole twitch reflex aspect which is apples to oranges here).

      Another example; during champ select the announcers were sometimes guessing at what the teams were doing strategy-wise, while during deck select everyone knew exactly the deck being used soon as a hero was selected.

      The Hearthstone championship looked/sounded a lot more like a stream of the TicTacToe world championships than a Chess tournament, basically.

  2. Asmiroth says:

    Do you think this has more to do with non competition rather than lack of talent?

    I mean, why bother trying to take a piece out of LOL top tier niche play when there’s a million reasons to aim for the casuals? Seems more like a marketing decision than a gameplay one.

    It’s not like a top-tier LoL player will swap games. They are invested. They’d leave if the current game turned to scrap. CoC is the same. Plenty of other games with similar depth (or variants) but you can’t pull them out of their investment. Least until CoC pushes them out.

    • SynCaine says:

      Not sure I follow; both CoC and LoL already aim (and directly hit) casuals. Both games have tens if not hundreds of millions of players.

      I’ve made this comparison before, but the difference between EQ1->WoW and CoC/LoL -> Hearthstone/HotS is that while EQ1 was a tough game to get into that WoW exploited and benefited by making things more accessible (not WotLK ‘accessible’), both CoC and LoL are already accessible and cater to a massive audience, one that Blizzard is now also trying to reach.

      Reaching them with an equally accessible/polished, but shallower game is a… strange approach to say the least.

      • Asmiroth says:

        LoL does not aim for casuals. It aims for a complex system that punishes casuals. Casuals play(ed) it for lack of options. As the MOBA field expanded, people moved on. Not having a sub means that it’s quite hard to track movement. And for clarity, my definition of casual in this context is low skill level.

        Blizz has moved away from complex and integrated systems, that required thought and investment and towards the more instant gratification side of things. I’m of the thought that this is a concious decision that had more to do with perceived money intake rather than a lack of design skill. By not focusing on the complex system, which are admitedly niche, they focus resources on the largest group of players.

        I’m thinking back to the whole Firelands issue in WoW. After 6 months, less than 10% saw it to the end. Less than 1% did it on Heroic. LFR came out after, with faceroll mechanics. I’m sure their heat maps showed that they were spending 75% of their time on content no one actually used. Hard to explain to the Activision overlords.

        • SynCaine says:

          30m+ players play LoL monthly man, so unless you think LoL has somehow created a market of 30m+ hardcore players, its a casual-friendly game. And ‘lack of options’ and ‘moba’ doesn’t compute, its the most crowded genre out right now (with the number two title, DoTA2, being even deeper/harder yet still capturing a player size of at least a 3rd of LoL).

          As for releasing dumbed down games being a Blizzard business strategy, how is that working out for WoW and it’s declining player base? Was the easy-but-deep WC3 a problem for Blizzard? SC2? Would you call either of those games ‘niche’ because they had depth under the polished surface?

          You know what’s harder to explain than unused MMO content? Declining sub numbers because you turned a game all about retaining players into a kiddie-pool of depth that allows people to jump in for a month or so before jumping back out.

        • Asmiroth says:

          Ok, I’m obviously not making this clear enough. LoL has a high skill cap right? Just like CoC. That takes dev time and resources. When you’re first out of the gate, then ya, feel free. There’s no competition. Both games hit the boom, just like WoW did when it launched. Games that come after cannot compete with that level of complexity. It’s a solid reason why we don’t have another EvE.

          SC2 is a good example of this too. The only RTS competition was SC. There are entire channels dedicated to that game alone.

          So if anyone is going to try and take a foot in the market, why in the world would they spend any money on a complex game when there’s piles of money to be made from a simple one? Are you arguing that if Blizz made a high skill cap MOBA that they would make more profit (not income, profit) than a simple one?

          And using WoW as an example of declining subs, move on. It’s still number 1. By a factor of 10 above EvE, your shining example of a great MMO. The same company that made Dust, a cancelled MMO and laid off a quarter of their staff. Clearly they have great devs that know the secret sauce.

          At least use FF14 as an example of a real MMO getting more subs with a more complex design.

        • SynCaine says:

          You are being very clear, just not making a lot of sense.

          First, neither LoL nor CoC were ‘first out the gate’, just like WoW wasn’t. All those games came into competitive markets, it’s just that their level of success makes that harder to see today. But thinking that in 2003 EQ/EQ2 and the half dozen other MMOs out weren’t competition for WoW is some massive revisionist history. CoC wasn’t the first big mobile game. LoL wasn’t the first MOBA.

          That little detail aside, what you are saying is because CoC exists, it’s smarter to make a simpler game with hearthstone, just like because LoL exists the smart move is a shallow MOBA in HotS, right? Why spend money making something that has legs and could last. Cash in quick!

          Except for SC2, that was still a deep game despite plenty of other RTS games existing. And D3, deep again in a market with plenty of action-RPG games. But you are also suggesting that its good business to lose 5m subs, because hey, you still have 7, so going simple and dropping 5m was a better decision than staying at a decent depth and sitting at 12m, or going further up, right?

          And yes, if Blizzard made an Old Blizzard quality MOBA or mobile game, they would make far more profit than they will make with Hearthstone and HotS, because shallow titles are very limited while deep ones reach WoW/LoL/CoC status. You know, status that made Blizzard what it was originally.

        • Asmiroth says:

          The argument is that it makes more financial sense to enter a saturated market with mass appeal and less investment, in order to turn a quick profit, then sell microtransactions out the wing wang.

          You’re under some odd impression that the high end skill cap is what’s supporting the actual market, when there is years of evidence that the opposite is true.



          LoL with 30m players brought in $620m. WoW made $210m in microstransactions, not subs, and with ~6m players. They made over a billion dollars if you combine subs. A faceroll game, with 20% of the user base in LoL, and they made double the cash. Even LOTOR and SWTOR both beat out EvE.

          I honestly wish that what you said was true. We’d get better quality, an honest progression in the genre and games that lasted more than a month.

          Blizzard doesn’t build games for gamers. It builds games for shareholders.

        • SynCaine says:

          Lets leave the laughable clickbait out of this shall we?

          But in summary, you would choose to be the investor/stockholder of the more casual, ‘mass market’ Hearthstone/HotS/current-WoW, while I prefer to be the investor/stockholder of the little hardcore niche of CoC/LoL/TBC-WoW. Best of luck.

  3. wopz says:

    I think you do not make a fair assessment of Hearthstone. Card variety will increase over time (next expansion is bringing 120 cards with a new variety open to all classes). Look at what happened with the meta after Naxxramas. The deck size is similar when you count lands.

    I agree with the general statement that Hearthstone is a simplified version of MTG. I simply do not see it as a disadvantage.

    As for being simpler games in general, SC II is the most taxing RTS at competitive level that I know. Probably one of the most taxing games at competitive level.

    I recommend watching Kolento play to see some of decision making involved in Hearthstone.

    In any case, as I mentioned, simpler does not mean worse. I do miss a Warcraft themed RTS though :)

    • SynCaine says:

      Simpler doesn’t always mean worse, no, but it can be. Hearthstone IMO is.

      You bring up deck size and lands, but in MtG how many land cards (and what kind) you put into your deck was a critical player decision, and varied greatly from deck to deck. In Hearthstone that entire concept doesn’t exist, and instead every single game is the exact same; one default ‘land’ for both players each turn, without fail, automatically played for them.

      That IMO is a perfect example of a game made worse by being made simpler.

      • wopz says:

        I think they are different games aiming at a different public in a different time. I enjoyed MTG back in the day but was quickly overwhelmed by the quantity of cards, their price and the endless possibilities for deck building.

        I find the accessibility (in terms of time needed to achieve a certain level of skill, money spent, average game length, etc.) of Hearthstone a breath of fresh air.

        At the end of the day, these are games meant to entertain. Not everyone is looking for an overly complex card game. I would understand your criticism if Blizzard was aiming at creating one and the end result was Hearthstone. However, they clearly opted for an easy to play, relatively easy to master game with a good F2P implementation.

        In addition, they seem to have developed it with very limited resources and a relatively small investment.

        I still think Hearthstone will evolve into a richer game once there are more cards. I agree that the complexity is well framed and while it may increase it will reach a plateau at some point.

  4. Alleji says:

    Have you tried arena, Syncaine?

    I’ve been playing Hearthstone for a year with some short breaks and still not tired of it. I only play arena. I do find constructed absolutely boring and agree with you there: deckbuilding in Hearthstone is basically non-existent and playing against the same 5 meta-decks above rank 15ish gets monotonous quickly.

    But in arena your deck is different every time and your opponents’ decks are different. Instead of using 20% of the total card pool (which is really small right now – agreed), arena consistently uses 70+%. The games themselves also require more decision-making because they generate more different situations.

    Yes, there’s no responding at instant speed, no mixing colours and no crazy combos, but the combat in Hearthstone is much more interesting than MTG’s “turn things sideways every turn”. (I played MTG actively from Invasion to Ravnica and occasionally for a couple more years after that.)

    I think you’ve just decided for yourself that HS is a casual game for mobiletards and not willing to give it a fair shot.

    • SynCaine says:

      Yea Arena is the best mode, just like it was in MtG:O. But unless you pay, you are forced to play the other modes to fund arena, which is understandable from a business perspective but sucks the same.

      The actual game after selection is still extremely limited though, and not just because of card pools. You still don’t make a lot of decisions, it’s mostly “use monster when the game gives you enough power, hold 1-2 cards to counter the other player dropping a monster, hit until someone is dead”. Sometimes if the stars align a situation comes up that makes you pause and really think, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

      All the other limits exist as well; what hero you are using, what hero you are facing, the ‘one land per turn’ automation, the complete lack of counter-play when it’s not your turn, the lack of strategy beyond “deal damage to enemy hero” (no mill decks, no stasis decks, etc), the knowledge that your attack phase is 100% in your control, including the knowledge of whether your opponent has played a ‘secret’ and the odds of what it is (given hero limits and secret costs).

      I think it has been given a very fair shot honestly. It’s a shallow, fun-for-a-bit little time waster of a game. That’s just what it is, and that would be fine from most studios, but I expect something of higher quality from (old) Blizzard.

      • tithian says:

        At 7+ wins in Arena the gold rewards allow you to re-draft for (essentially) free. You can even do the dailies in arena, so no need to play constructed at all. Several streamers and most pro players do just that and are essentially F2P.

        If HS is as brain dead as you say it is, surely it is entirely possible for you to dominate in that mode and essentially play for free.

  5. Whorhay says:

    I never played in an official Tournament but I thought the rules in MtG were that your deck had to be at least 60 cards, larger being perfectly acceptable. And I thought it was 4 card limit for most cards, unlimited for regular lands, and 1 for specific cards like Black Lotus while they were still around. I started playing right when Fallen Empires came out and stopped around the time that Tempest came out I think.

    • Thomas says:

      There are ‘Legendary’ cards which are typically big named characters/places that you can only play one of

  6. Azuriel says:

    It’s a bit of a reach to claim that Blizzard is going for the CoC crowd instead of, you know, the Magic Online crowd. Not sure why you don’t see the EQ –> WoW; MO –> HS symmetry other than a stubborn desire to fit it into some overarching narrative. What are the similarities other than that they are both F2P mobile games?

    But unless you pay, you are forced to play the other modes to fund arena, which is understandable from a business perspective but sucks the same.

    Unless you are actually good at the game, in which case you can play Arena all you want by winning 7+ times. At the 10-12 win range, you start getting enough gold for two Arena runs. If you like Arena but suck, sure, you might be “forced” to win a couple of games of Constructed every few days to play again.

    • SynCaine says:

      Ah right, I forgot Blizzard was aiming at the 300k or so at its peak MtG:O crowd, great point. Surely they don’t want any of the other mobile players currently playing anything but MtG:O (a not mobile game…)

      As for the arena, wouldn’t it be great if the game was less luck based, and getting 7+ wins was more up to skill than the dice? That would be a pretty fun game.

      • Azuriel says:

        Kinda like how Blizzard was aiming for EQ’s, what, 450k peak? ;)

        As for Arena luck, it’s amazing how lucky all those Twitch streamers are, yeah? Trump, Hafu, Guardsmanbob, Krip, and all the rest should really put down the game and start buying lotto tickets.

        • SynCaine says:

          Yes, that’s exactly what Blizzard was aiming for with WoW, per Blizzard.

          But what you are saying with Heathstone is that Blizzard’s matchmaking is so poor, that not only can it not keep the majority of people around a 50% win/loss ratio, but it’s in fact so broken that plenty of people are not only significantly above 50%, some can easily achieve 12/14 wins consistently?

          Math tax fail on your part, lies, or another example of subpar design?

        • Azuriel says:

          Err… what are you talking about now? If you are referring to Arena matchmaking, people are matched based on their record of that run, e.g. the 8-0 player with other 8-0 players (not sure if the losses matter). This is no different than the average MtG draft, other than it not being locked to the same handful of players.

          In any case, you’re moving the goalposts. Skilled players win more, which indicates it’s not all that random.

        • SynCaine says:

          Except the goalpost was never that there was no skill, or are we back to you missing the word “almost” from before?

          And I see the issue is indeed math tax; if an 8-0 players an 8-0, how many 7 or 12 win players are there, on average?

        • Azuriel says:

          The (new) goalpost was this:

          As for the arena, wouldn’t it be great if the game was less luck based, and getting 7+ wins was more up to skill than the dice? 

          As far as average Arena wins, this is about as good data as I can be bothered to dig up: http://www.arenamastery.com/sitewide.php

          4.92 wins average , most common result is 3 wins. Selection bias, blah blah, but considering a player can retire from an Arena run at any time, the numbers don’t have to add up. Oh, and apparently the verbage regarding matchmaking is “as close to,” which is fuzzy enough to further confound the issue.

          Regardless, it’s clear that the average player doesn’t go infinite in Arena, but if you’re above average, you can. Which indicates that skill has more to do with things than luck.

        • SynCaine says:

          Right, so if you are almost double above the average win % all the time, you can break-even in arena. In other words, for most people, they are forced to play other modes if they want to play arena. Glad it took this many replies to get back to my original statement…

  7. maljjin says:

    Fair assessment of the situation. Company changed which lead to product changes. The different market is either a target or a consequence, both are possible in my opinion. The new games might not pleased the older fans, nothing inherentely wrong with it. Yes, it would be disastrous if Blizzard had alienated all its fan base while not leveraging a new one, but that’s not the case.

    As for Hearthstone, I totally agreed it’s built for mobile first and foremost. You’re making me wonder if the simplier making turned me away from the game. I wasn’t able to pipoint the exact reason so far, but this makes sense, specially when I look at my game library with all these euro games, strategy games and sport sims.

  8. Andrew says:

    I believe the dumbing down of their games is simply due to the fact most (all?) of the key decision-makers in the company are 40+ years old. Their priorities have shifted. Whereas a developer in their 20s out to prove themselves will tend to make the most over the top complex, badass, content-rich game they can, I bet the Blizzard heads are more concerned with having a long lunch with friends and leaving the office at 5 to go home to see the kids than they are pushing any boundaries.

    All their decisions in WoW since WOTLK reflect this. Look at talent trees: Blizzard can say whatever they want about “there weren’t enough interesting choices”, etc but the key reason was to make the classes as easy as possible for them to balance. Same way class homogenization became so rife.

    I will stick to games like Path of Exile. A young team of 20 and 30-somethings who are out to prove themselves. Its amazing how a tiny studio can absolutely crap over Blizzard’s massive Diablo 3 team in terms of content and complexity when you have that sort of staff demographic.

  9. Pingback: Simplicity Makes Money | Leo's Life

  10. Thomas says:

    In any competitive game the only limitations are the limitations on how easily the great beat the good. Hearthstone is a young game with a small card pool and an undeveloped meta, but I’ve seen no sign that if you’re better you still can’t reliably beat the people worse than you, thus they have the very best level of complexity.

    The replays in LoL are purely because of the twitch aspect, in Hearthstone you have a long time to talk about each move and each potential move. You can’t compare that with someone looking book at a 5 second situation created on the fly based on mouse accuracy and reflexes.

    And even more, a lot of the ‘complications’ in Magic are very deliberately put in by the developers to make the game _simpler_. When you have 60 cards instead of 30 variance goes up which means a lesser player has more of a chance of beating a better one. The impact of adding one card to your deck is less in Magic than it is in Hearthstone. Having mana-screw again makes the game easier for weaker players, which Hearthstone doesn’t have.

    Chess is the perfect example of the most complex games having the least variance and hidden information, because you’re able to make more decisions based on your opponents reactions. It’s not necessarily about adding more moving parts (Magic is very careful to limit the number of mechanics available to a player in a professional competition with the way set design and standard rotation work)

    If in a years time there’s no-one you can point to and say ‘he could probably beat anyone else in the world’, then you have a problem, but until then we don’t know

    • SynCaine says:

      “but I’ve seen no sign that if you’re better you still can’t reliably beat the people worse than you”

      Depends on your definition of reliable. IMO right now in Heathstone it isn’t reliable, since luck plays such a huge factor. So sure, assuming equal cards, someone better will win more than they lose over a spread of 100 games. Over a spread of 5, or even 10? Maybe not.

      Plus becoming ‘good’ at Hearthstone is rather trivial compared to MtG; decks are extremely limited, not just by class but also by card pool. In-game actions are limited, the flow is always the same (+1 land per turn every turn); just the number of critical decisions per match is so inferior to MtG, resulting in a fairly routine and ultimately boring game IMO.

      Play 100 games vs the meta decks, and its a good bet some of those 100 play out almost identical due to how limited and basic the game is. That simply never happened in MtG, even during second edition when I played.

      Now I’m sure as time goes on Blizzard will add more depth and complexity (as already seen with the upcoming expansion), but right now the game is a snoozefest.

      Edit: Also, “The replays in LoL are purely because of the twitch aspect” is an outright incorrect statement.

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