"We absolutely don’t think players are stupid." Ben Brode Talks About Fiery War Axe

"We absolutely don’t think players are stupid." Ben Brode Talks About Fiery War Axe

Two days ago we got some great news; card nerfs are coming to Hearthstone! Since then, there has been much discussion and outrage within the community about these changes. One card in particular, Fiery War Axe, and the way the change was presented gave way to a vocal consensus that Blizzard thinks players are stupid.

This is not at all the case, as Ben Brode, the Game Director of Hearthstone, explains.

  • Cards are being nerfed for power-level reasons or to help curate the evergreen set, not because players are stupid.
  • Players are able to memorize cards and associate their stats and effects by the art alone which makes mana cost changes better.
  • Changing the cost makes it immediately obvious a card can't be cast at that same cost anymore - no green outline.

After the article was posted to reddit, Ben spent some time today responding to players. A recap of his responses can be found below.

  • If they have a couple of possible changes for a card that are reasonable, they'd prefer to do the cost change.
  • Warsong Commander was nerfed without a cost change due to cost being the 'soul of the card'. The team has learned over time.
  • If they felt a 2-mana 2/2 Fiery War Axe was ultimately better for the game, that would have been the choice.
  • Ben does not believe the Fiery War Axe has been killed off. 3-mana 3/2 weapons have been used in the past with disregard to the effect.
  • Too many Basic and Classic cards are showing up in decks to keep Standard different enough each year.
  • Players may never get a chance to re-memorize a card after a nerf due to no one playing with it anymore, which can lead to mistakes.
    • This is another example where cost prohibiting play can be in favor of the player.
  • Ben doesn't mind if players make mistakes and learn from them, but it's a benefit when you can make things intuitive.
  • In some ways, Ben regrets the way they announced the Fiery War Axe change.

All quotes used in this roundup from Ben, from both GamesBeat and reddit, can be found below.


GamesBeat Source

Quote from Ben Brode

I always love to read discussion about Hearthstone, and there’s been a lot of healthy back and forth about the pros and cons of this particular change and the timing of it.

However, some of what I read in the community response seems to be a core misunderstanding that we are nerfing cards because we think players are confused by them (and therefore we think players are stupid). I want to be super-clear — these cards are being nerfed for power level reasons, or because we are curating the set of evergreen cards to help Standard feel fresh and more fun with our yearly standard rotation. The language about certain changes being more disruptive than others was related to why we decided to make one change over another, once we’d already decided to make a change.

We absolutely don’t think players are stupid.

I, like a lot of players, have memorized every Hearthstone card. If I show you a picture of Arcanite Reaper, I bet you don’t have to read the card to know that it’s a 5/2 weapon. Art becomes a shortcut to game mechanics. When we change the underlying game mechanics without changing the art, players who don’t read their cards every time they play a game won’t notice that one of the words on the cards has changed.

I want to make this clear — we don’t think players are too stupid to read their cards. We think players have the capacity to memorize thousands of cards’ text and recognize them by art alone. Nobody double-checks Arcanite Reaper to make sure it’s still a 5/2 weapon each time they cast it. That’s nuts. That’s why it’s less disruptive to change mana cost than Attack, Health, or card text. The card is literally not castable or highlighted green any more, and that makes it obvious that a change has been made to players who have every card memorized.


Reddit Sources

I think he's effectively saying "all other things equal, it's preferential to change mana costs rather than anything else". If there are two changes proposed to a card that have near-identical consequences on gameplay, change the mana cost.

That is the case. Sometimes we don't have choices that are very equal, but if you have a couple options that would all be reasonable changes, we tend to prefer to change the mana cost, for players that have memorized the card already. (Source)


Why was Warsong Commander's nerf defended by saying her mana cost was intimately tied to the 'soul of the card'?

Blizzard; consistently inconsistent.

Or we learn over time. Is it better to be consistent if you're wrong? (Source)


I'm going to be pulling my hair out when I (having memorized all of the cards) try to play my 2 mana 3/2 Fiery War Axe on turn 2. Certainly my 2 mana 3/2 Fiery War Axe will be playable on turn 2 after the next patch, that's how the card is. If they change anything about it, how will I know? I will only ever remember a 2 mana 3/2 Fiery War Axe when I look at the art.

The green highlight makes this less of an issue.

Keep in mind, this is just a minor upside when comparing two potential changes to Fiery War Axe. (Source)


"Huh, why didn't this work? Oh this card changed. I now know this for the rest of my hearthstone career". Thats how that goes.

I spoke a bit more about it here, but yes, it's super minor.

If we felt like (2) 2/2 was better for the game balance, we definitely would have made that change instead. We've made a lot of changes that were definitely not intuitive. (Source)


/u/bbrode Ben Brode, you are wrong about this fiasco. Let me be VERY clear about this:

  • We understand that the reason you nerfed FWA was for power level reasons

  • We understand that players recognize cards by their art and don't re-read the card every time to make sure the card hasn't changed.

  • We understand that changing the cost of FWA is less disruptive because people are forced to recognize that the card is not castable on 2 mana

The reason people are mad is: Given all of the three things above, you and your team STILL should have nerfed FWA differently. You completely killed the card. If you had changed the text on FWA (can only attack minions, for example) and made the card MORE complicated and MORE disruptive, THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER.

It is more important that you keep cards playable than to keep cards simple.

You and your team's design philosophy is patently WRONG when you choose to nerf cards by method A over method B, for the reason that it is less disruptive to change a card's mana cost.

I don't think everyone believes all of those things, and that was what I was trying to clear up here.

I do think that specific feedback is reasonable. I don't think we completely killed the card, though. People have played (3) 3/2 weapons in decks where the upside goes totally unused, and I suspect that might be true of Fiery War Axe as well. (Source)

If you had changed the text on FWA (can only attack minions, for example) and made the card MORE complicated and MORE disruptive, THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER.

There is a difference between complexity and strategic depth. Complexity is the homework you must do before you understand something. Depth is fun. Depth is choices and strategy and out-thinking your opponent. You can get more depth by adding complexity, sometimes. But what matters is the ratio of complexity to depth. (Source)

It is more important that you keep cards playable than to keep cards simple.

Those are not mutually exclusive, but in this case the goal was to reduce the power level of the card. Too many basic and classic cards are showing up in decks right now to allow Standard to change enough each year. (Source)


I still don't get this. He is still basically saying that he still believes that people do not read or check cards as they play them, If anything it is a very small portion of players that would genuinely make a mistake like when arcane golem was merged there was no doubt a few who were shocked that it didn't have charge.

But this if anything would be a one and done scenario where they see the mistake and change the deck right after. Most players hate losing and losing to a mistake of not knowing a card is something that most players will correct before their next game.

I'm on the camp of the nerfs are fine and that the explanation was fine. But this statement to me doesn't say anything other than what has been said before

I guess the message I heard from some folks was "you think it's less disruptive to change cost because you think we are too stupid to read our cards".

That's just not true. We think players are likely to memorize thousands of cards and play the game without having to mouse-over every card they see to read it every time. It's literally the opposite.

That's the assumption that I was trying to clear up. (Source)


Isn't the whole point of the screen that pops up explaining nerfs in game meant to cover all this? People are obviously going to read this so I don't think this is good reasoning.

That message goes away after one patch, but also, sometimes players don't play the cards after we nerf them. They never get a chance to re-memorize something that became automatic from them after hundreds or thousands of times seeing the art and automatically knowing the functionality. I personally got Arcane Golem in a Tavern Brawl and just played the card and tried to attack with it right away. I hadn't played the card in a year, since we nerfed it. I hadn't even thought about the card anymore. Playing the card and attack was muscle-memory to me.

This isn't a phenomenon everyone experiences, but it definitely happens to players who play enough to develop muscle memory.

It also doesn't matter very much either way.

Just going to reiterate - this is still a minor thing. If we felt like (2) 2/2 was going to be more successful at reaching our goals, we would have done it. But in a world where we have several reasonable options, you have to make a decision, and this is a minor point in favor of a change that doesn't mess as much with players who have memorized their cards to that degree.

In some ways, I regret mentioning it the way we did, because it was such a minor decision point when considering those two options. It had nothing to do with why we changed the card in the first place. (Source)


I haven't been very vocal on this whole nerfing fiasco since I'm giving Team 5 the benefit of the doubt and waiting to cast judgement after the nerfs have actually taken place.

However, they're definitely failing to realize something. Even if a player who's been playing a long time forgets that a core card has been changed in a certain way and makes a fatal mistake, they will learn from their mistake. Team 5 is emphasizing usability and user experience so much to the point where they think players will quit the game over mistakes like this. Even the stupidest most unaware player wouldn't make this mistake more than 5 times before learning the new card.

Maybe there is another more advanced psychological reason that I'm missing that justifies this kind of nerfing behavior, which I would be interested in hearing about.

Edit: Re-reading my post made me realize how many hyperboles I used. Hopefully that doesn't come across as condescending, I just wanted an explanation.

I don't mind if players make mistakes and learn from them.

Making things intuitive is part of good design, though. We could make things very unintuitive so that every thing you do fails on it's first try - there's actual games built around that, but it's generally better to make things intuitive when possible. The game is fun when you're learning about the strategy options and learning from them, not necessarily being surprised by things working differently than you previously memorized. (Source)


Stop saying it, you missed my point.

Changing it is fine.

Basing what TYPE of change to make off of what confuses players is moronic

If we thought 2/2 weapon was a better change we would have done it. We thought (3) 3/2 and (2) 2/2 were about the same at reaching our goal of nerfing the weapon, and in that world, it's slightly better to not annoy players who memorized the card. (Source)

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