Does Hearthstone have too much RNG?

If you've followed competitive Hearthstone at all, you're probably aware of the section of the community which loves to point out instances of randomness to try and discredit player's moves or choices. This came to a head during the Hearthstone World Championships where Pavel had multiple instances where RNG appeared to play a huge role in his victories. This doesn't invalidate the incredible amount of effort it took for him to win the entire thing and it turns out that he didn't really rely on RNG any more than the rest of his competitors did.

At BlizzCon, we talked with Game Designer Dean Ayala and Senior Game Producer Yong Woo about RNG, bringing variety to Hearthstone, and what improvements lie ahead for HCT 2017.

What are your thoughts on RNG? It's fun to watch, but when you're playing it can be frustrating. What's Blizzard's path forward?

Dean: Some amount of randomness is great. There's some amount of randomness in Discover and [that] is widely accepted by most people. I think that when you get into randomness that's very, very high impact [is where it feels bad] especially on cards that feel like they're auto-includes.

Tuskarr Totemic was just, "Put this into every Shaman deck." When it rolls a Totem Golem and then I win the whole game off of that, that's the sort of randomness that isn't so great.

I would argue, in the championships, there was a moment where [Pavel plays] Babbling Book into Polymorph and there's a lot of randomness going on there. But Pavel opts into that scenario. He puts Babbling Book in his deck because it gives him spells like Polymorph that he needs. And that kind of randomness, while high impact [is different because] Babbling Book is not an auto-include in every single deck.

The choices that you make when deckbuilding will sometimes reward you and very rarely does something like Babbling Book snowball you.

I think randomness like that is also really pretty cool.

Yong: It's a calculated tradeoff. He could have easily drawn a Shatter at that point and that's an implication of him having made that decision.

"I'm going to add this card, it could potentially pay off, it may not. Is it worth it for me to add it to my deck?"

In this case, he decided it was worth it for him and it paid off.

Dean: Randomness is always something that we're going to have in the game one way or another.

We're obviously monitoring it.

We agree with stuff. We released Tuskarr Totemic, there's a really, super high impact randomness there. Every Shaman deck plays it and it doesn't feel that great to lose to, it doesn't particularly feel that great to play [either]. It's something that we failed to recognize before the card went out.

Are you two familiar with Day9's recent video? He talks about the numbers of the cards. The basics of it is the feel of the game.

I like how you've captured the feeling of Gadgetzan. I like how you were talking about the Patches deck and how it's a very difficult deck to play.

One criticism, especially with the rampant rise of Midrange Shaman, is that it's a "very straightforward deck," but I say that with quotes as it has its subtleties. Is there some kind of overall philosophy to perhaps create cards like Patches that allow you to play not just straight up on-curve and get a bit more creative in playstyle?

Dean: Of course. It's important that there's both. There's definitely space for minion based decks.

I think Druid has played a game where they played on curve throughout the game and you won games with that kind of deck.

We won't continue to make stuff like that but on the same token for classes like Priest, they have their minion oriented deck (dragons), but on the flip side of that, it's important for us to have reactive style decks. They're fun for me to play and they're fun for a ton of different people. A lot of people like to hold back cards and then do two or three card combos and be really reactive to what your opponent does. I think those decks tend to be, it's probably true, they're a little bit more difficult to play. It's a lot harder to understand what the right thing to do when I have three cards in my hand and it's to not play them. Or [in another case] what are the right circumstances I should play them versus I have four mana [just] play the four mana thing. And like you said there's a lot of subtleties to a lot of these decks.

We are seeing decks like Freeze Mage, Malygos Druid, and Miracle Rogue - these decks exist and people are playing them now. There are a lot of decks out there that require a lot of thoughtful processes to get through.

But yeah, we're making both. It's actually something that goes through our head a lot.

We don't want to make a bunch of minion based decks [so] that you're playing minions turns one through six because that just makes the game feels similar if every deck you play against is like that. It's strictly against what our main goal is, which is variety, and variety doesn't just mean a variety of classes it means a variety of styles.

It's something we actively discuss when we're making cards like Potion of Madness where you're holding back and waiting for the right scenario. I think there will be a style of Priest that does that.

Talk about World Championship 2017. I think overall people liked how it was this year. There was a lot of criticism from pro players that a lot of points were gathered through small tournaments and open cups. Is there a general sense of rebalancing the points in 2017?

Yong: Especially with the cups, one of the challenges was that it was a weekly system. It could potentially feel grindy and it just made you feel like you needed to farm these cups on a weekly basis.

[We are] turning that into a monthly cadence where your best performance throughout the month is what determines your points instead of having to farm weekly cups. I think stuff like that will really help. We have a dedicated esports team looking into this.

Overall I really do feel like in 2017 the points spread will feel more skill testing and fair and more inclusive as well. I think [we have had] a more lopsided point distribution which was very stressful for certain players like [when] placing first place versus second place or maybe tenth place had such a dramatic spread in points that maybe it's not actually indicative of your skill gap at that point, but just the circumstance in which you got the points.

The other thing we're doing, for instance, is we got a lot of feedback from the community for replacing the regional preliminaries with regional playoffs and that will be played on the swiss format. I think things like that will really help the most skillful players have more chance to get more points in a fair way and then prove themselves in a fair way and make it to the open championship.

Dean: In terms of the cups, it feels like there are a couple things that are at odds.

We don't want people to feel like they need to grind every single cup, every single week and be playing Hearthstone at every second of their lives.

But also, the fact that cups exist and people are having these tournaments is really, really cool. So we wouldn't want to implement a system that makes it so that people run fewer cups.

[We don't want people to be saying, "Cups aren't cool anymore, don't run these cups," because it's cool that they're doing it. It's just the fact that motivating people to just grind it out isn't exactly the best experience.

I think having the high watermark is sort of cool so once you obtain whatever level of points you can just be done.

I think a lot of the player feedback, at least that I got personally, was people that didn't have the time felt like they kind of got screwed over and the people that did do it were like, "My life is basically [playing Hearthstone]."

So hopefully the change helps a little bit.

Yong: I'm really excited about 2017 HCT overall.

We're working even more closely on the esports team. We're going to be synchronizing the global championship with content cycles. I think that's going to be really awesome.

Every time you go to a global championship it's going to be a new set of cards so that will feel really fresh. I'm really super excited.

More From Our Interview

Want to read more about Mean Streets of Gadgetzan and Hearthstone in general? Check out our previously published snippets.

 

Mean Streets of Gadgetzan Guide

We're now halfway through our interview, but we still have plenty of juicy topics left to cover. In the meantime, you can head on over to our official guide for more information on Mean Streets including all of the revealed cards, gameplay, trailers, and more!