Ask a member of the Hearthstone community what their biggest problem with Hearthstone is when it comes to the ranked ladder and you'll likely hear something about the overpowered Pirate package. Many have been calling for a nerf to prevalent cards such as Small-Time Buccaneer and Patches the Pirate, but if the latest uproar has proven anything, it's that the community doesn't actually have a problem with cards being strong. Their issue is with what happens as a result.
Stagnation spells death to any free to play game. If things don't change, new content doesn't release frequently enough, or players don't feel like they have a wide enough experience to justify continued play, they'll generally begin to voice their displeasure.
Such has been the case for Hearthstone over the last month or so following the settling of the post-Mean Streets of Gadgetzan meta.
Game Director Ben Brode was responding to user concerns on Reddit over the weekend and had a few noteworthy tidbits:
"Oh cool, the stats show that in this exact two week sample, Shaman was played this much and won this much and this many pirates were used and so fucking what, who gives a shit? Do you think any of that changes the player's experience, Ben? Really? The players aren't telling you 'I want Aggro Shaman to win 51.2% of the time, not 53% of the time.'"
I don't think it does, and I didn't when I made the post. The attempt of my post was to discuss the issues, given context to players, and give as precise a timeline for a potential change as I can.
One of things I'd seen some players claiming are things like "Shaman is 80% of the ladder." I think my post helped focus the discussion onto the real issues. If '80% Shaman' the issue, the solution is very clear. If the problem is, "pirates are too good", or "no matter the level of balance, the game stagnates and is less fun after 2 months of a content release", I think you have a different bunch of options available. We've been pitching some internally (what if you get bonus stars for winning with the worst class?), but discussing what the problems are with the community gives us opportunities to hear new ideas from players.
Nerfing cards is a seemingly obvious solution to reduce stagnation - does that mean we should always nerf cards at the 2 month point, even if, in the future, the game is otherwise balanced? Last time we nerfed cards, it felt like the amount of stagnation didn't change very much. The meta settled very quickly into Midrange Shaman. That could be poor choices of nerfs on our part, but we did nerf 7 cards that were seeing a lot of play.
"Not to mention, Ben, we've seen how you use stats before and based on this, I for one don't buy for a second that you didn't wait until you could find the most favorable-looking sample you could get to bring us the news"
I chose to post the Pirate statistics because I think they are unfavorable, and I was hoping to prepare people in case we nerf their favorite Pirate deck. I think 50% pirates is too high. I tried not to offer my personal feelings on the data, letting it speak for itself, but I think that was a mistake. I should have just made it clear that we're not happy with that number.
We usually tend to look at the meta over a two-week period. And we usually tend to look at folks in 3 buckets: Legend; Rank 5-ish and up; and the whole population. We didn't look at several data ranges and pick the best case. We just looked at our normal data views. Were there specific pieces of data that looked especially 'cherrypicked'?
"Stop trying to be right"
I certainly do not believe we've made only correct decisions that we now need to force down players throats. I really do believe that exposing some data and sharing our philosophies can foster constructive discussion about solutions.
I understand that posting a blog talking about the problems and not fixing the problems also contributes to this feeling like we are trying to convince players that problems don't exist. I was hoping this bit at the end would help with that.
"We are working on the ability to stream balance adjustments (and other content) directly to players' devices, but until we have that ability, we need to release a client patch to make a change to a card. Our next patch is planned for around the end of this month. You can expect an announcement from us regarding balance changes either way in the week or so leading up to that date."