The most important question we can ask ourselves is “what’s next for HearthStone?”. In this series we’ve talked about HearthStone’s Marketing and even its Monetization, but we’re most excited to watch what HearthStone does next to solidify their position in the market. I am still getting messages from those who believe HearthStone is doomed to fail, but I reached out to some friends at Blizzard who confirmed my belief that HearthStone is in fact one of the most profitable new IPs of 2014. The long term survivability of the game will determine whether it is able to keep up with the bigger franchises.
A difficult component to manage is introducing new content to the games sphere without destabilizing the players. Players will constantly be seeking new cards and modes of play, but competitive players will struggle with understanding and incorporating new content in the middle of a game season. Magic the Gathering gives us the notion that this can be done even in a competitive card game. Each year new cards are released into the gaming sphere and players are required to incorporate the new additions.
At the core of any Blizzard game has been a rock solid set of game mechanics (Starcraft, Diablo, WoW) but a lack of fresh new content. HearthStone has obviously realized that new cards will circulate the game shortly, but unless the game feels relatively new each season, player’s interest in the game will stagnate. The real desire I have for the game is to cycle through the “core” decks each season. Right now, there are roughly 4 major decks in circulation in high ranked play. Merloc, Hunter Control/Zoo, Warrior Rush/Agro and Paladin Control). My perspective would be to nerf the core decks of a specific season for at least the next season to give a chance for new decks to become embraced. Even if the old core decks find a way back into circulation a year later, it’s about having a community develop new ideas together that really gives life to a franchise.
It wouldn’t be fair to ignore the fact that HearthStone has already released details on their first HearthStone expansion “Curse of Naxxramas”. Thirty new cards will be available in this new expansion, but instead of being purchased outright or even thrown into the existing MTX system, Blizzard is creating a small campaign mode designed to earn these cards. From a marketing/monetization perspective this is really interesting! Generally a monetization designer looks at the value exchange principle (packs of cards) and looks to maintain the perceived value to customers so they are willing to pay $2 for a pack of cards now, and $2 for a pack of cards in 2 years from now. Since the cards are to be earned through a single player gameplay system, we see Blizzard whole heartedly embracing a retention attitude with respect to their customers. They are more interested in having them stay interested in their franchise then treat them as a money tap which is able to be drained every so often. If you think this is the status quo practice in the industry, read the last post Misha did about Elder Scrolls Online. For a free to play game, Blizzard is really intelligently understanding the product life cycle of HearthStone and is actually acting according to it! Their development of new content, which some might argue doesn’t encourage players to spend more, is aimed to encourage further retention of their current customers and acquisition of new customers.
Frankly, I see HearthStone is somewhat limited in the long term from their design side. While the regular play and arena seem robust, they are really the same game mode dressed up differently. I’ve never seen a game succeed long term without innovating the actual gameplay style itself. League of Legends has recent been adding a numerous new game modes into the circuit which have not only augmented the play styles available to players, but also supplemented new ways for players to practice specific gameplay components. Here’s how:
Aram mode puts 5v5 in a narrow choke corridor forcing players to learn team fighting dynamics without the option to go back and heal and purchase new items. Without having full health each time a fight starts, players learn the limits of their champions and are given a risk free way to learn.
Ultra Rapid Fire really disturbs some players at first, but beyond its zany game play mode is the true gem of practice. The point of the mode is to drastically reduce all cool downs on items, summoner spells and champions skills/spells.
I could name others, but it would feel like a plug for League of Legends, so just appreciate how much Riot has invested into giving players ways of practicing specific areas of their game. Yes, one could make the argument that the Arena forces players to use semi random decks and compete using skill over deck. In my experience the random deck creator gives you an overpowered deck with ample Legendary cards or a crippled deck with no synergy between the cards so I’m skeptical as to if this is really a great practice mechanic.
The current build lacks variety and, as some have compared, has the same complexity as a cereal box game from 15 years ago. I think this is fair given the fact that the game is in full release, but I still think the game has a ton of growing room as evidenced by the upcoming expansion. The game modes are extremely limited, but expected since it’s a mobile compatible. I’m definitely going to continue watching HearthStone and I suggest any game marketer to do the same!