Hearthstone Game Director Ben Brode and Game Designer Dean Ayala are taking the proverbial stage today on Twitch to host a live Developer Insights video. This is the first time the studio has hosted one of these videos live and it's likely a result of a lot of negativity as of late. Blizzard has announced that topics are to include the new player experience, the ranked play system, and the state of the game. The studio also asked community members for questions to answer during a Q&A session. We selected the best from our Facebook, Twitter, and comments here on Hearthhead and sent them off last night.
Want to watch it for yourself? It's being hosted over on the official Hearthstone Twitch channel. If you can't turn in, no worries, we'll be providing live updates to this post as they happen.
See you at 9 AM PST! Remember to refresh this post for updates.
Update 8:52: The stream is officially live with a countdown clock to 9:00 AM.
- Ben says this is an experiment and a bit different than what they've done in the past.
- "I think we should do more of it in general." - Brode
The New Player Experience
- Win-rates and matchmaking for new players has some weaknesses.
- Most players follow the usual path of introduction: AI, Casual, Ranked.
- Some go straight to Ranked and those are the players that experience the most issues.
- Ranked is "probably not ideal" for new players.
- The Casual matchmaker has been much kinder to new players.
The Ranked Play Ladder
- What Is Working
- Very clear how the system works.
- Increase in skill is matched to increase in rank.
- Not Working
- Grindy-ness. Feels the same every month.
- New player experience.
- Can we make it better using the same system?
- Looking at increasing the number of bonus stars.
- Could also make seasons longer, but a month feels natural.
- Also thinking about introducing break points.
- Making it so that once you reach a certain point you can't go back below it that month.
- Don't want to inflate Legend rank, etc.
- Currently stops at Rank 5. Maybe let it go all the way to Legend.
What's your current progress on Arena?
Dean says they're doing a lot at the moment. Lots of long term plans. In the short term, they might make Arena Standard. Could also decrease the amount of commons so you'll get more rares and epics which should help balance the mode a bit.
Starting in early February, Blizzard is going to release the Top 100 Arena players. Must have at least 30 runs and it will display the highest average number of wins.
Increase swingy cards, decrease vanilla cards.
Brode says some of these are already implemented, Blizzard just has to find the right patch to release them.
If you move cards to Wild, would you ever consider undoing previous nerfs?
Wild meta doesn't change as much with each set, which is okay, that's why they have Standard, but buffing those cards would put make meta shifts even less likely.
They learned that previous nerfs, specifically the first round of Standard nerfs made them unplayable in Wild as well.
One of the problems is the many states a user can be in. Some only know it pre-nerf and came back because it was changed, some only know it post-nerf and for them Blizzard would be changing the card again.
Are you happy with the Gadgetzan meta?
Meta had a lot of experimentation and then Pirate Warrior rose up, roughly 30% of the meta game at first but it fell off.
Then Shamans and Rogues started using Pirates and Jade decks got popular too. The population of the former is a little higher than they're comfortable with, but it is stabalizing. Dean says if it doesn't change, he expects they would do something about it.
Dean thinks Paladin and Hunter will see a lot more play over the next sets as they get more synergistic cards for the Grimy Goons mechanic. "As long as the meta slows down a little bit," says Ayala.
Top deck and the 11th best deck are within three percentage points in winrate.
Has your stance on reprinting cards changed?
Problem is Wild since you'd have two copies of the same card.
Brode doesn't think there's been enough time. Has to be the exact right moment for a reprint.
How do you balance card design for new players?
Back in the day, Hunter was by far the best player for new players and one of the worst for high ranked players. As a result, Blizzard made more skill intensive cards to help balance this fact.
How big is Team 5? What's your workday like?
Team 5 is now over 70 people, Brode thinks they'll grow "significantly larger." They've been doubling in size just about every year since launch.
Brode normally starts with a meeting about the global community. They then do a team standup where everyone discusses the next patch and their long term plans. their accomplishments last week, and their goals this week.
Sometimes they playtest and Brode continues to meet with different parts of the development team.
Ayala mostly coordinates between the teams and works on balance testing.
Do you have things in mind with gimmicky cards like Weasel Tunneler or do you just like giving people tools?
The latter, Dean says, they don't want those things to be buildarounds. They're just fun for people to play with.
What do you consider a healthy meta? And what warning signs do you have that it's not?
What the community says, what the developers feel, what the metrics say, etc.
There are very few decks that have ever eclipsed 55% win-rate. What gets dangerous is when the meta is made up of 20-25% of the same archetype. At its peak 40% of games were Undertaker Hunter.
Pirate Warrior actually had this same problem, but only over a few days before the meta selfcorrected.
What card from Gadgetzan has been the most surprising?
They were a bit surprised that the Pirates worked out in so many different classes. They expected it to be good, just not as widespread.
Patches the Pirate being played in all weapon classes is a success even if the Pirates are probably a bit too strong.
Are you satisfied with Wild?
They are. Brode says the next Standard rotation will really help. It's currently only two sets off of Standard, it will soon be five sets removed.
He wishes there were more Wild events, admits that maybe Blizzard has to promote it some more, but he's hopeful that over time they will emerge.
Are you concerned about wording inconsistency with old cards?
Yes! They have been working on this with every major expansion.
Brode acknowledges Druid of the Claw and its consistency issues.
Consistency is important, but not the "prime concern" says Brode. As long as people understand how these things work it's technically okay. Usually they're good about this and obviously they want to be better, but it's not the end of the world.
Can you talk about your design goals for the Paladin class?
Paladin has a lot of healing and its hero power. So in general there are late game Paladin decks and token generating decks. It also tends to be a class that has buffs for its minions.
When Reno Jackson rotates out Paladin should be one of the best healing classes out there according to Ayala.
Brode asks if we like the Live Stream Q&A format even if they aren't announcing anything.
Do you? Let Blizzard know on social media and talk about it in the comments below!