Hearthstone is Blizzard’s first non-hit, that’s important

Let’s keep talking about Hearthstone, if only because talking about it is way, way more fun than playing the game, and because HS is IMO a perfect example of New Blizzard in a nutshell and perhaps a good indicator of things to come.

Latest post from Az can be found here, where he admits that HS made $5m or so in revenue. Respect for that. Also if a game has an interface designed for one gaming platform, and said interface is constrained for other platforms, that’s a port Az. HS being as awkward with its UI on the PC is because the game was designed as a mobile app, as Blizzard continues to remind us. That it’s mostly failed as a mobile app (unless we consider a AAA developer hanging out in the 50s in revenue as success now, but more on that later) and instead somehow has a decent monkey following on PC doesn’t suddenly make the game a for-PC designed title, sorry.

“But Syn, HS is like really, really popular on twitch, with some people even getting like, a few thousand views! It must be making a truckload!”

Yes, because twitch views = money, as we can clearly see by WoW being a fraction of HS on Twitch. Guess that drop in subs must be like a 99% drop if the oracle that is twitch is to be believed. Who needs dodgy financial reports; the famewhores and their sheep can’t be wrong!

(Since calling them famewhores seems to confuse people; the term is a play on the more common term ‘instawhores’, the ‘models’ who will do basically anything for a ‘like’ or ‘follow’ on Instagram or beg for attention on other social media platforms. If you don’t know what I’m talking about with that, how new to the Internet are you? Anyway, some (not all, relax) of these streamers are little different, taking every opportunity and basically doing anything for attention, no matter how much personal respect and dignity has to be sacrificed for said ‘like’. If you are entertained by that in a non-mocking way, we likely wouldn’t be friends in RL.)

Jokes and stupidity aside, and now that we have confirmed that, while profitable, HS is a little footnote amongst such giants as WoW, Destiny, CoD, Skylanders, and… well basically everything not called HS over at Activision, let’s talk why someone like Az and others still sees this as a major victory for Blizzard.

Blizzard, at least prior to HS, wasn’t a studio known for making ‘me-too’ products. They weren’t the studio putting out flawed, poorly designed titles that were barely a blip on the gaming radar. When Blizzard made an RTS (Warcraft, StarCraft), those games defined that genre and became the standard. When Blizzard made an action-RPG (Diablo), that series become the standard, with everyone else making Diablo-clones. When Blizzard made an MMO, well we all know that to many the MMO genre is WoW.

So why, just given the above, is a Blizzard release that has failed in its intended market (mobile) basically given a pass or even seen as a great thing? Why is it crazy to say a Blizzard mobile game SHOULD be competing with other top mobile games? Let’s look at this this way; bigger barrier of entry and harder hill to climb, the MMO genre back in 2002 with EQ1 being the top title, or 2015 with CoC? It’s not even close, and remember back in 2002 everyone though the 500k subs mark was THE top a title could achieve in the ‘niche’ market that was the MMO genre, so don’t bring up how dominant and mainstream CoC is today; for all we know in 2020, 2014 CoC will look just as dominant as EQ1 did back in its prime. The point being, a major AAA developer like Blizzard not only can, but absolutely SHOULD be making a top-tier mobile game (imagine how great it would have been to get a real Blizzard-quality mobile game? I’d love to play that!), not something lost amongst the dregs of the app store.

Again, prior to HS, every other Blizzard release not only competed with the top titles in those genres, they generally dominated and set a new standard. HS is the ONLY title released by Blizzard to not only fail to live up to that standard, but not even come remotely close.

That high Blizzard standard and track record of delivery has value too, a great deal in fact. How many people bought the originally flawed Diablo 3 because it was a Blizzard game? How many people might not insta-buy the next Blizzard title after that experience? How many people played HS and had the perception of “everything Blizzard makes is awesome” shattered? So yes, HS itself is profitable (mostly based on the likely fact it cost next-to-nothing to produce and had free advertising due to being on battle.net, but hey, details), but how much brand damage has the title caused by being a below-average-at-best title?

Moving past HS itself, what does the delivery of HS hint at for Blizzard’s next title, Heroes of the Storm, which is already not exactly blowing down doors as the next big thing? Is HotS going to be called a success by some if it has to fight tooth and nail with some random minor game for the coveted 4th or 5th spot in the MOBA genre, accomplishing a tiny fraction of the success LoL see’s, much like HS is today compared to CoC? Is that what New Blizzard is now, just another Ubisoft or any other second/third tier studio putting out something we maybe pick up for a few weeks before moving on and forgetting them entirely? If so, that’s a huge, huge drop from what Blizzard was in the past, and sooner rather than later Blizzard titles won’t automatically attract attention based on the studios previous track record.

And that, ultimately, is the real story of interest related to HS. The game itself, other than getting a chuckle at some of its sillier aspects (famewhores, world championship of dice rolls), isn’t all that important. It’s a footnote. But the low expectations for the game (at least from the outside by people like Az, as I’m not sure Blizzard is thrilled to have launched a mobile game that isn’t moving the needle in the mobile space, and is just a marginal success overall) and being the first non-hit title for Blizzard, is in my opinion a significant event and worth discussing.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in iPhone, Random, RMT, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Hearthstone is Blizzard’s first non-hit, that’s important

  1. I probably missed this because CCGs bore me, while the obvious avarice of the constant booster pack cycle thwart any latent interest that gets past boredom, but who is the market leader in the online CCG segment? Are the more traditional games that moved from physical cards to the app store (I see Nintendo actually has a Pokemon CCG app up on iTunes) clearly beating Blizz on this front?

    Basically, if Blizzard isn’t winning, who is?

    • kalex716 says:

      This is a very important question to answer.

    • SynCaine says:

      If I filter the app store by card games, HS is #15, behind mostly casino games, but also WWE Immortals, Injustice, and just above Heroes Charge (whatever any of those are).

      If I filter the MMO genre by games with spaceships, EVE is #1!

      But to me mobile is the same as MMO. Both are genres of gaming. When I open my iphone I don’t think “which mobile CCG am I going to pick now”, just like when I’m at my PC I don’t think “which MMO with spaceships am I going to play now”.

      This is even more true for mobile gaming IMO due to the general accessibility of things and the time per session needed.

      CoC doesn’t compete against other build-base/deploy-troops mobile games, it competes against the rest of the top 10 mobile games, period.

      Limiting HS to just mobile CCG is a bad excuse IMO, especially because at that point even the MtG:O comparison can’t be applied (as invalid as that is for other reasons)

      • So, failure because you consider Candy Crush Saga a competitor? Color me dubious.

        • SynCaine says:

          Why? Because the gameplay is different? So is EVE not a competitor to WoW because of massive gameplay differences? I mean, Candy Crush has more in common with HS than EVE does with WoW, right? So does gameplay have to be WoW/WoW-clone similar for games to compete?

      • kalex716 says:

        I will agree with you, that if Blizzards goal when they spec’ed out hearthstone, budgeted it, and planned it out was to be at the top of Mobile app stores, they’ve failed.

        Somehow though, I suspect their goals versus what your vision for success is are wildly different. Interesting nonetheless, I will admit…

        You do know that mobile is an entire platform? That is significant. Its not a friggin Genre dude.

        • SynCaine says:

          So basically for the first time ever, instead of making gaming (not genre) defining games (Warcraft wasn’t a successful RTS, it was one of the most successful GAMES of its time. WoW isn’t a successful MMO, its a monster regardless of genre. Diablo 1 and 2 were top games those years, period.), everyone at Blizzard was just like “eh, lets see if we can make a top 15 in the cards category app”? Really?

          And if the answer to that is yes, Blizzard really was aiming that low despite using the Warcraft IP for this game, then that just further proves my point that New Blizzard is horrible, only this time the point is not just in comparison to Old Blizzard, but anyone even slightly above Zynga.

  2. Sofie Hansen says:

    Funny how “Which means Hearthstone is anywhere from $292m to… er, $5m.” turns into $5m for you.

  3. JJ Robinson says:

    Reminder, D3 launch was a pretty big bomb, as judged by your standard of Blizzard successes. The real-money AH was an unmitigated disaster. It’s fair to say, Path of Exile has surpassed D3 in the action RPG arena, while allowing others to succeed, too.

    Cata and Mist of P were both solid at best. In fact, WoW subs declined within a month or 2 of each release, after little or no boost to previous sub numbers. Again, definitely not a huge success.

    HS is still early, but I’d be willing to bet it’s very successful financially. A lot more than $5 million in revenue…

    The fact that Blizz isn’t dominating says more about the state of the industry than Blizz. There are more developers out there, more platforms to access games, and more gamers. That last of which is typically over looked. New gamers expand the scope of the market, allowing games like CoC to thrive.

    • carson63000 says:

      The only standard by which D3’s launch was anything other than an enormous success is number of forum whiners. It was critically acclaimed, broke opening day sales records, and went on to be the top selling PC game of 2012.

      • SynCaine says:

        Correct on the above, but I should have been clearer on my point about HS/Blizzard. HS isn’t the first ‘bad’ release to hurt the brand. As JJ wrote, D3 hurt, causing Blizzard to roll the whole AH fiasco back. Cata/MoP hurt to the tune of 5m subs.

        But as Carson wrote, DESPITE being bad/flawed products, those still sold like crazy. HS is the first Blizzard title to see minor success (and outright failure outside the PC).

    • SynCaine says:

      “The fact that Blizz isn’t dominating says more about the state of the industry than Blizz”

      Bethesda is still an auto-buy studio. Rockstar is pretty damn close. Valve?

  4. Anonymous says:

    So why, just given the above, is a Blizzard release that has failed in its intended market (mobile) basically given a pass or even seen as a great thing?

    Once again, it’s a ridiculous comparison to go from dominating a specific genre (RTS, MMO) on a specific platform (PC) to saying Blizzard should be dominating “mobile.” Even if you could directly compare wildly different gaming archetypes (which you can’t), the market is entirely different. You can’t play Hearthstone for 5 min and accomplish anything, whereas most mobile titles won’t let you play that long with reaching for the wallet. Upgrade any air defenses in CoC lately? Nevermind how Hearthstone’s “mobile performance” is limited to tablets with WiFi right now.

    As Wilhelm asks, who is doing digital CCG better?

    • Anonymous says:

      Bah, for some reason that post is labeled as anonymous. -Azuriel

    • SynCaine says:

      That HS sucks as a mobile product (can’t be played in short bursts) is part of my point, and a design failure on Blizzard’s part. And it’s Blizzard that calls the game a mobile game; it’s not like I made that up to make my point.

      CoC is dominant across all it’s platforms. So are most other successful mobile titles. They are, very much, dominant mobile titles. Not just dominant city-builder mobile apps, or dominant mobile CCG app. Why does HS get a pass, because Blizzard didn’t know how to make a mobile title that would be successful, so it doesn’t count?

      (BTW you most certainly can ‘play’ CoC for long periods of time. During a clan war I’ve had the app open for hours straight, and seeing as how we often reach the viewer limit, I’m not the only one. I’ve also, more than once, had the game kick me off due to the 6 or 8 hour online limit. Just sitting there watching your air defense timer tick away is simply playing the game wrong, nothing more.)

      • Azuriel says:

        The entire narrative breaks down once you realize which came first, i.e. the PC version. Did they make certain design decisions with mobile space eventually in mind? Maybe. But the core conceits of small decks, no decisions during opponents’ turns and so on would have remained the same. And while there is depth sacrificed, the gains from approachability and straight-up playability more than compensate IMO.

        I mean, have you ever played a Magic Online booster draft? You’re in it for either 15 minutes or for 3+ real-time hours. Meanwhile you can stop a HS Arena draft midway through, or just play two games that night, or whatever.

        If Blizzard just wanted to cash-in with any mobile game, they would have released a Battle Pet or Garrison app. Then again, that would likely cannibalize part of their WoW revenue.

        • SynCaine says:

          Again, Blizzard, not me, continues to refer to HS as a mobile app. Did they once mention during the earnings call that HS is a PC game, that they also just happened to throw mobile a bone with? No. And what future plans do they have? Further expansion into mobile.

          Yes, the fact that HS is on PC is the reason the game is even as successful as it has been to this point, no doubt. Its an outright failure in the mobile space, both from a design perspective and from a revenue perspective, but that doesn’t change the fact that Blizzard aimed HS to be their entry into mobile. And it doesn’t change the fact that due to the game being designed with mobile as the target, it’s PC version is as crippled as it is (UI, graphics, etc).

          If it was a PC-first and mobile second game, it would look, feel, and play (in terms of how you interact with the game) much differently.

        • Trego says:

          “If it was a PC-first and mobile second game, it would look, feel, and play (in terms of how you interact with the game) much differently.”

          Yes, it would be shitcanned like Titan was. How would that be good for Blizzard again?

  5. cirdanx says:

    “How many people might not insta-buy the next Blizzard title after that experience?”

    Good point.

    The only Blizzard game i´m looking forward to is Legacy of the Void. Not exactly because i´m a huge SC2 fan (i still think the first game is better in every (objective) way. But just because i want to see how it ends and hope it won´t be at last a bit satisfying, though i have my doubts and fear they have written themselvs in a corner.

    But the reason for this is not only HS, so far i have been disappointed by every release since Wotlk. WoW xpacs aside, SC2 and Heart of the swarm were not bad, but also didn´t really impress me in any way, i guess my biggest grip was the writing. D3 is so supbar. HS and Heroes are short time fun and lack the depth to keep me on board and i expect their little team shooter to be the same.

    As much as i like their old games, i was never under the illusion that Blizzard is the best game dev out their or that the shit gold. To me they are like Apple these days, overrated, getting credit for stealing the ideas from others and a blind eye when fucking up and a horrible fanbase.

    But thats just me i guess ^.^

  6. carson63000 says:

    Given that basically everyone else in the world has praised Hearthstone’s UI as being the best yet seen for a digital card game, you might like to add some details about what is so “awkward” about it?

    • carson63000 says:

      p.s. just want to say that while I argue with everything you say about Hearthstone, I am very much in agreement with your predictions regarding Heroes of the Storm.

    • SynCaine says:

      The lack of keyboard shortcuts.

      The fact you can’t “X out” of any window, or keep a window open without it being in the ‘front’.

      Nested one-way windows.

      The ‘return’ key not functioning as enter for menus/selection, with again no option to change this

      Esc not functioning as a back button.

      Basically everything about the deck builder.

      Basically everything about the crafting interface.

      The in-game scroll bar having limited-to-no functionality.

      Do I need to keep going?

      • carson63000 says:

        So basically you want to play it with a keyboard and can’t.

        I understand your opinion, although I don’t think it is one that very many people would share.

        • SynCaine says:

          So with the majority of HS players playing on the PC, not many of those PC players would like an interface native to PC? Can’t say I agree on that one.

          Also the deck building UI is horrid overall, not just ‘because mobile’ horrid. Now granted, deck building isn’t a huge factor in HS, but imagine if it was?

        • Trego says:

          I’d like CoC to have a better PC interface so I could play it on the PC too(without breaking any rules, which is the real problem there), while we’re building a wish list. But, I’d settle for a shitty port to PC (being legal) so I could play it on my 4k 30″ monitor with a fancy mouse, instead of blowing attacks on my shitty iphone 5 due to having giant fingers. Would supercell declaring the already extant porting mechanism legal make CoC a PC game? The answer is, I don’t give a rat’s ass what category you call it, in a vacuum,, that does not affect my life in at all; but the fact that playing CoC on my PC is possibly bannable does–and the idea that mobile and PC games should be kept separate and have vastly different interfaces seems to be behind this fact.

          Now, let me answer your question: “So with the majority of HS players playing on the PC, not many of those PC players would like an interface native to PC?”

          My answer is that the problem with your categorization is that idea is probably why there isn’t a legal CoC port, and that problem is much more significant than the hypothetical promise of a better interface for the PC version of HS. You are solving small problems by creating larger ones, focusing on the situation in a game that you have yourself admitted to believe is small and a failure, and ignoring the problems it creates in the games you believe are successful and meaningful. I suppose this is the real reason your posts about HS bother me, I don’t really care about HS, but I do care about the negative effects of your larger premise.

        • SynCaine says:

          100% serious, you lost me with that reply.

          From the part I understood, I’d bet good money that if SuperCell ported CoC over to the PC, the UI would have more work done for it to fit the PC than HS has (which is about zero), because at this point based on recent examples, SuperCell is far more talented than Blizzard.

        • Trego says:

          Not sure how I lost you, but I agree with your reply.

  7. Esteban says:

    ‘Mobile app’ really isn’t a genre.

    And in the classy post category, I’m afraid Azuriel takes it. Honest correction of figures trumps premature gloating over the lowball.

    That said, you’re probably right about HotS. Next stop: Overwatch?

  8. Dynaform says:

    I don’t think HS mobile numbers are even worth looking at until the phone versions are released.

    Their moba does suck. One play session and I never went back.

    • SynCaine says:

      Unless they completely overhaul the entire UI, HS is going to be an unplayable mess on the iPhone.

      • Dynaform says:

        Pretty sure that’s why it’s taking so long. Is anyone a tablet gamer? It’s either desktop or phone time killer for me.

        • SynCaine says:

          I play a bunch of games on the ipad, yea, and there are a lot of ipad-only games as well. No doubt its a smaller overall market than phones, but its still pretty significant.

  9. Ettesiun says:

    As often I agree on some and is disagree on others. Yes first not giant success for Blizzard is an event by itself. Yes Diablo 3 shatter the invincibility of blizzard.

    I would just disagree on one thing : becoming n°1 in a market full of free game is harder than becoming n°1 in a market of 3 to 4 games. And when the online world was smaller there was a big advantage of being the n1 than now in a market of millions of player.

    I still agree that WoW was a incredible success. Syncain why WoW is still such a success and that nobody can even try to be close to it ? Even now ? What was the magic ?

    • SynCaine says:

      I’ve covered the magic of WoW in the past; perfect storm is the short version. The game was good, SOE handed them the crown on a silver plate thanks to EQ2 being horrible garbage, and no serious challenger arose in the years to follow. Once WoW got rolling, it took an act of god (Blizzard releasing WotLK/Cata/MoP in succession) to slow it down, because in an MMO just having your friends/others playing is alone a major factor to keep playing.

      My point about challenging CoC vs EQ1 is more about the cost. Developing an MMO is very costly, and the overall design complexity is higher (especially back in 2002 or so when we didn’t have as much trending data). Making a successful mobile app is far cheaper, and design-wise it’s not nearly as hard (not to say making the next CoC is easy, far from it, but it’s still not MMO-hard).

      Plus look at the gap between what WoW became and what HS is right now; its miles wide. I’m not saying even old Blizzard could have dethroned CoC, just like I don’t think even old Blizzard could dethrone LoL today. But I’m damn sure old Blizzard would have released a mobile game that was a hell of a lot better, both in terms of design and revenue, than what HS is today.

      Old Blizzard would have given us a mobile app worth playing longer than a month. New Blizzard game us the junk that is HS.

  10. Matt says:

    Blizzard brought $685m in revenue in 2014, and $538m in 2012. Releases for 2012 were D3 and releases for 2014 were D3x and HS. Since D3x can’t be higher than D3, HS is at minimum $150m.

    • SynCaine says:

      Why can’t D3x be more than D3? Someone buying the original+expansion is more money than someone just buying the original, and someone just buying the expansion who already owns the original is basically a wash. Right now both titles are $40 on battle.net. D3 at release wasn’t $80 for the standard version.

      Not to mention the console versions of D3 were not released in 2012.

      (Which is not to say those are the only factors, since Blizzard has other games out that still move units, but just wanted to comment on the fact that, especially fixed up, D3 itself could bring in about as much if not more than it did at release.)

      • Matt says:

        Because it cost less to buy and sold less. As of August last year combined sales were 20 million, with 15 million of those being D3 and 5m the expansion. All 5m copies, assuming no sale prices, amount to $200m, meaning that the UEE has to make about $450m by itself to negate HS. The best estimate I can get for console sales is about 4 million, which at $60 a pop is $240m, and some of those are 2013 sales of the original console release.

        $440m for D3 by itself leaves around $240m for HS plus all other Blizzard games–even if the D3 estimate is low by 20% that still leaves about $130m for HS plus other games. There’s basically no way the math works out to HS being less than $100m

  11. Just as Syncaine I consider mobile gaming to be both a platform and a genre. Hearthstone might a nice game but it’s not a genre-defining game raising the bar for any competition. It lowered the bar.

    But maybe I am just being grrr blizzard because I used to have high expectations. I wanted hearthstone to be a M:tG killer. Instead it was a lackluster game without depth. And it felt like P2W to me.

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