Hearthstone Devs Working on Wild Engagement Internally, Arena Tweaks, and Ladder
This BlizzCon we had a chance to attend a group interview with some other community sites featuring the one and only Ben Brode alongside Eric Del Priore, Hearthstone's Senior Producer. Here's our top takeaways from the interview and full transcript.
- None of the encounters in Dungeon Runs are from any previously released content.
- Ben doesn't think Standard alone is enough for Arena and they're trying lots of things internally.
- There will be no balance changes with the launch of Kobolds and Catacombs.
- They are currently working on some things for Wild that may help increase the number of players playing it.
- More things will be added for Fireside Gatherings to make them more exciting to go to.
And here's some more bullet points if you don't want to read the full transcript!
- One of the Esports guys at Blizzard has logged over 200 Dungeon Runs and still is having fun.
- Sometimes during development Ben would beat a dungeon boss and they'd make it harder.
- Dungeons are going to continue being tweaked until release.
- They're working on getting arena more balanced because seeing various classes should make more different.
- No ladder changes are ready to be announced yet.
- No dust related economy changes to be announced. Ben touched on things they have done - guaranteed legendaries.
Quote from Ben Brode and Eric Del Priore
[We missed the question here]
BB: The dungeon run is totally separate. Cards from all of Hearthstone's history can appear in the Dungeon Run including the new cards. We've made a set of new cards for the Dungeon Run that we could never make if you were playing them against real players; They're rude but we'll let you do them to an AI. [Completely separate system that doesn't require you to have cards in your collection]
BB: We're super happy with that, I think that was the right thing to do [unintelligible] and the new system feels a lot better. We also made it so you can't get 3 copies of the same card and the first 10 packs of the same set will always contain a legendary which will start your collection off right. Those have felt awesome, but there's one - it's not a change that we've made - we gave away a Death Knight for completing the prologue for the Frozen Throne. You just get Marin the Fox free for logging in plus you get a Legendary Weapon for logging in when the set comes out.
[unintelligible - something about a free legendary event]
BB: I can't say what for sure what the plan will be going forward, but I can say that we're really happy about the things that we've done so far.
Did the Hearthstone team find that the fact that Hearthstone up until now was a multiplayer competitive card game was a barrier of entry for players that expressed interest or was that a thing that was represented by data or anything like that?
Eric Del Priore: We've always had single player modes and many of our expansions were adventures and with Frozen Throne we had missions. With Catacombs, we're trying to figure out what is a fun and appropriate single player experience that fits the theme and the vibe of chasing after all these kobolds that have been sitting under Azeroth for many years. That's really where it came from, it's trying to find a great way to get the feeling, the vibe of the set in a single player experience.
BB: We've been experimenting with roguelike mechanics for a long time.
Without going into specific details or anything like that are there plans for other experimental campaign type things going forward in the future?
BB: I don't know, generally I can't talk about specifics obviously, but I think - obviously this shows we're interested in experimenting. I think it's good to experiment and try new things so it's great. This was a very successful experiment the team has been out of their minds with this. One of the guys on the esports team came up to me and was like, "Yeah, I've played 200 Dungeon Runs so far and I'm still having fun." I was like, "okay, awesome, that's great."
I don't remember hearing about this in the initial announcement, but there's a special card back for defeating the main boss with all classes, right?
BB: If you complete the Dungeon Run with all 9 classes you get a special card back.
Does the guy with 200 wins get a special card back?
BB: 200 runs, not 200 wins! You definitely get better each game, but it's actually fun to lose and try new strategies so we try to ramp up the difficulty pretty hard towards the end and give you lots of opportunities to play it again. It's definitely the most replayable single-player stuff we've ever done.
Will there ever be an offline version of that?
Were you been able to beat the Treasure Run yourself?
BB: I have. This has been in development for a while. Sometimes I'd beat it and they'd make it harder (Laughs). We've been tweaking stuff and will probably continue to tweak stuff until the ship date. I definitely have beat some of the classes, but I don't know if I'd be able to beat it - I'm pretty good so I'm sure I could get the card back.
So there are 48 encounters? So how many of those are super custom - are a lot of them super custom or are more of them simple like Battlecries are doubled? Is there a balance of that?
BB: [unintelligible] You'll try a strategy, make some interesting decisions to get some synergies to build a very powerful deck and use that deck to make yourself feel good about the quality of decisions you've made. Each of the 48 encounters has been crafted for this experience. We're not using bosses from other dungeons, there are 48 new encounters.
With the Arena, it seems like you guys have a lot going on there as well. Is the plan going forward to continue to innovate on it where it will be normal for a while and then you guys will do something super wacky like you've done now rather than just make changes to the regular mode so it'll always be interesting going forward?
EDP: With Arena, we're always trying to find new ways to make it interesting for players. After dual-class completes we'll go back to the Arena that you know and hopefully love from beforehand. We're going to continue to make card tweaks there, but we'll try and do interesting things with Arena going forward as well, but I don't have anything specific to share.
BB: The philosophy for Arena, and I think for the game in general is that change is fun. You can play something so many times and then be ready for something new. That's why we release new cards and new modes, and new Tavern Brawls, and all that. I think that there are opportunities for the Arena. Obviously, this dual-class thing was awesome - It was such huge shakeup. So I think there's opportunities to do things like that in the future.
Has there been a communication issue with what people are expecting arena to be? In other games there is a base mode that gets tweaks until it's really, really good. Rather than what you guys are actually doing where there isn't this base mode but you're doing really wacky changes.
BB: It does get changed by virtue of being in the Standard environment. I'm not sure that's enough change for the Arena, obviously we've made a lot of tweaks. We talked about synergy things for a while and we were excited about that initially, but the community feedback for that wasn't that great overall so we backed off on that. We're trying other things.
There's a lot of room to improvement on the Arena, so internally we've been trying a lot of things. A lot of them haven't panned out very well so we go back to the drawing board a couple of times. Some of those might be fun for a week but not forever. I think there's just different opportunities, right? If we find something that fits that category then we'll turn it into some kind of event or if we find something that just improves [the experience] then we'll try that as well.
One of the biggest ones is balance. The more balanced it is, the more different stuff we'll see. So if we tweak up or down the card drop rates or balancing cards then you're not just seeing Mage every game, you'll see all nine classes hopefully more evenly, so that's one of the things we've been working on. For a lot of different points like the way we design cards at different rarities, or skews of the rarities, or individual drop rates.
So you probably can't say too much, but obviously Legendary weapons are going to be really, really powerful and from what I understand they have 0 Attack so you can't attack to reduce durability that way and their activations don't reduce durability so people are going to want to get rid of these weapons. The only real way people like doing that right now is Harrison Jones, so unless Harrison Jones is in every deck, is it safe to say that there might be more weapon related things coming this set outside of Legendary weapons?
BB: We're not really talking about what is in the set, but I will say that the two weapons we've revealed so far have no attack. That's not event the majority of the Legendary weapons. We didn't want to give the casters the traditional weapons because we wanted to make sure - there are strengths and weaknesses of different classes and this is my thing - so Warrior and Paladin and some of the other classes that usually have weapons, they'll have attack, they'll work like weapons. You'll swing with them in a normal way, but in a way that's powerful and exciting, but they won't work like the ones we've seen so far.
So it depends right? If the Legendary weapons that get played are the ones that have Attack and can spend themselves out, they'll have an effect on the game for a while and you won't necessarily need Harrison Jones or Gluttonous Ooze. But the ones that don't have an Attack and just sit on the board for a while, Dragon Soul does have the ability to peter out. You have to have three spells to summon the dragon. You aren't going to have 50 spells in your hand, you're eventually going to run out of dragons and spells. Aluneth, drawing three extra cards per turn, is going to run you out of cards in your deck pretty fast, especially if you can't get rid of it. We knew how these cards would go and so we designed accordingly.
Do you have any plans to increase dust income?
BB: We've done a lot of things that have affected that obviously, like more Legendaries, increasing the chance of getting a Legendary in your first 10 packs. We haven't announced anything besides that.
Do you have any plans to revamp the ranked ladder?
BB: Yeah. [Eric, you've been working on that.]
EDP: Ben has talked a lot about ranked in the past. We've got a number of different goals that we want to change up with the ranked system. We feel like for a lot of players there's either way too much progression or way too little progression. If you're a Legend player you move all the way back to 15 every single month and you have to play a ton of games just to get back up to the point where you're having competitive matches again.
Comparatively, if you're a new Hearthstone player or a lower skilled player then you're faced immediately with all these players that are just going to crush you off the bat until they advance forward. So we're really trying to address that system. We want to make it so that players are getting better matches and ranked on a more regular basis. It's something the team is actively working on, but we don't have any announcements in terms of what changes [we'll be making].
BB: It's a big focus right now, so it's not going to be forever. I don't know if "Blizzard Soon" is the right word, but it's something we really care about. There's another important factor in the ranked system which is that specifically new players get a bad experience in ranked. In our Casual mode, they're pretty highly ranked, they win about 50% of their games when they first join Hearthstone which I think is great. It maybe falsely increases their confidence so they go into ranked much sooner than they were when we first launched.
It took about seven days to get into ranked and now it takes like three. Their win rates are much lower than they were. So we have a big problem for new players in ranked. Our current approach to revamping the ranked ladder is to make it better for the players who are very engaged, but our second phase of that will be to help that new player experience. I think that's important also, but it isn't part of our first round of changes.
Is there a particular class that you're excited about this expansion? Even if you can't say why yet.
BB: Yes. (Laughs) I actually really like the card Crushing Walls, it's super fun to me. I don't know if we showed off the animation but it's totally satisfying - It just crushes the minions from the side. I've been playing the Hunter deck recipe from Knights of the Frozen Throne with Deathstalker Rexxar so I'm looking forward to some more Control Hunter cards.
In the previous patch you took a chance to nerf some cards, Win Axe and Innervate. Is there anything coming out with this expansion that you have your eye on, any class cards you have your eye on? Are you planning on maybe making some changes?
BB: Nothing will be changed with the release of Kobolds & Catacombs. I think generally, Standard is most fun when it's changing. There are cards in Basic and Classic that are so powerful and archetype defining that you'll see the same archetype every year after year after year, unless something changes. I think Freeze Mage is an example of this. Freeze Mage is great. It's a fun deck to play. It's very skill testing, we like Freeze Mage. The questions is should that deck archetype be in every year of standard for all of eternity? I'm not sure. It might be fun to have Freeze Mage go away and then come back with a different play-style.
That's the goal of the Basic and Classic sets - to be powerful and give players opportunities to get into the game easily. Right now they're the most poewrful sets by far. So there's a little room there to help increase the health of the Standard meta over time by putting a couple of cards into the Hall of Fame. Cards that are of that category that create those kinds of decks forever, those are the ones we're looking at for a Hall of Fame rotation next year.
Obviously you guys added Wild sets back to the store and that was obviously a pretty big deal. How has community reception of that been? Have you guys seen an influx of Wild players since that happened? Did it make a noticable difference as far as the people that are playing it?
BB: I tend not to look at the sales numbers basically so I don't know how successful it's been at those things. I will say that we are passionate about increasing the number of people playing Wild generally. We have some things that we are working on internally that we have not announced that I think will help with that more, but also the format gets more fun every year anyway.
I think there's a cyclical nature to when we release a set. Some players play a lot of that format and want something else and Tavern Brawl is fun for that, Arena is fun as an outlet also, Wild is really a great place to go when you feel like you've played enough Standard and want to try something different. So us continuing to support it and doing things like making Wild sets available again is stuff that we want to keep doing.
Can you talk about any future plans for Firesides?
EDP: Fireside Gatherings have obviously gotten a lot of attention lately with Nemsy coming out. We're really focused on all of the feedback that the community is giving us and trying to figure out how we can make a much more positive experience for our players across the board.
There's been a number of folks that have commented on the amazing time they have playing Hearthstone in person with their friends or with people they're meeting and getting to share their love of playing Hearthstone with, but we also know there have been a number of folks who have showed up to Fireside Gatherings and it's at someone's house and their door's locked and that's not great; Or they're just spamming events that aren't really real. So our focus right now is we feel like Fireside Gatherings itself is an awesome experience and we want to make sure that we're preserving that as best we can.
A lot of the changes we're making in the short term are going to be focused on improving a lot of the issues that we see today. We've got a bunch of other changes we want to make to Firesides over the course of the next year that will hopefully make it even more exciting to go to.
BB: It's transformative. The difference obviously, like we've all played board games with our friends or whatever and it's awesome. Playing Hearthstone is really fun online, but it's totally different playing Hearthstone in a room of other Hearthstone players who are probably going to play each other.
There's also different types of things that we can do that you just can't when players are playing online against each other. So one of the examples is we made a 3v3 brawl because you can have a device that you pass back and forth between your friends against another team that's passing it with their friends. You can't do that online, so that's just the beginning of, I think, a ton of different gamemodes we can introduce only for Fireside Gatherings since we know people are there in person and other ways to play that are impossible in real life, but hyper-exciting in real life.