Heart of the Cards: Why Blizzard can, and should, make a CCG

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

By on March 25, 2013 at 1:03 pm

So out of nowhere, Blizzard turns around and decides to announce a free-to-play trading card game. They’ve already got one collectible card game (through a partnership) in their stable, but hey, that doesn’t matter — now they’ve got two.

Well, at least I now know why all the Blizzard staff had such cheeky looks on their faces at Federation Square whenever someone brought up PAX East. We figured it wasn’t going to be Blizzard All-Stars, since everyone was happy to talk about that.

The reaction since then has been less mystifying. Card games, especially collectible ones that cost a pretty penny, are not particularly well understood or appreciated by the more “hardcore” gaming community. I’d argue that people prepared to spend $20 to $30 acquiring a single piece of cardboard are just as hardcore as those who buy the latest graphics cards straight after release, but that’s an argument for another day.

I know the above is an act, although if you’re going to argue that a lot of responses haven’t contained equal parts confusion and disbelief to what is shown in that video, then kindly show yourself out.

People look at Blizzard and see this rich, vibrant history of deep, long-lasting PC games. They look at games that changed the industry, games that created careers for gamers. Then they see a card game and go “what the hell is this Blizzard can you go back and make an actual game already”.

What elitist rubbish.

Some history

A bit of honesty and openness, if you will. My history with collectible card games began in the late 1990s thanks to Microprose, who produced to date what is still the most faithful and interesting recreation of Magic: The Gathering.

It’s better than the recent Duels of the Planeswalkers games just as a straight game, thanks to the fact that it has an in-game, semi-sandbox, world for you to explore. It’s more fun for MTG players too, since the older cards are broken as all hell. Like the one that lets you take another turn after your turn. Or the card that makes you start another game in the middle of your game. Or any one of a hundred cards that are so laughably overpowered that it makes you wonder how they were ever printed in the first place.

I was just a kid when I first came across Magic though, and I didn’t have the money to explore the game further beyond some old cards my parents thought I might enjoy as a present. It was enough to get a few of my friends hooked though, and some of them continued playing further.

One actually ended up enjoying it so much he began playing competitively. While I left the game behind and started exploring how far I could go with Counter-Strike 1.6, he did the same with Magic. I was lucky enough to go overseas once, but my friend managed to get a spot at Wizards of the Coast’s fabled Pro Tour, which allowed him to tour Europe playing nothing more than a collectible card game.

Aaron Nicastri was later named Rookie of the Year in 2008 and built up quite a formidable reputation within the Australian Magic community that lasts to this day. I actually got back into the game a couple of months ago for the release of Gatecrash, and asked some locals if they knew my old friend from high school. “He’s like a god,” one told me.

So even though I wasn’t an active player, I tried following the scene a little thanks to the efforts of my friend. That’s not particularly unusual and I was quite grateful later on, because there were a lot of developments worth following.

Gamers should appreciate all games

One of the lessons was that you can learn an awful lot about events management and tournament structure simply by observing others.

For years, Australian events of all persuasions were wedded, if not conjoined at the hip, to double elimination brackets. Bracketmaker was the website of choice back then. Most websites have their own in-built bracket support that can cover multiple formats, and Challonge is more flexible than Bracketmaker ever was.

But back then you either used Bracketmaker or a piece of paper, so double elimination it was. Group stages got pulled out for big events, and single elimination if organisers were tight on time. That’s just how things were.

The problems that this caused, however, was that double elimination doesn’t offer good value for money. Half of the players or teams attending will have dropped out by the second round, having paid the full entry fee for only two or three matches/sets.

For years I argued to administrators about finding formats that better suited the bottom 50%. You need that groundswell of players and teams to make events viable, and the thought winning should entitle you to four times or even five times as many matches for the exact same of money never seemed like the best solution.

It took a long time before it became practical, but the answer eventually came from Magic. In their tournaments, organisers have to deal with hundreds of players — around 900 took part in the recent Sydney Grand Prix — over the course of a few days. It’s a similar timeframe for an Intel Extreme Masters or Major League Gaming event, but double or even single elimination is obviously not going to work.

So they use Swiss Play instead, which lets them work through hundreds of players while still facilitating those final matches that make for a good climax. It’s a perfect format for BYOC lans, since the lower players get a large amount of games without having to worry about bad maps or matchups.

There’s plenty of other examples as well — streaming overlays, production at events and general time management — that can improve the games we all currently enjoy. And I’m not just talking about CCGs either. The mechanics for board games have been used to underpin video games for decades.

And the intelligence and experience gained from making video games can translate into a good card game as well. That’s why the response to Blizzard’s announcement has irked me so much.

What if this new free-to-play CCG is actually good? What if, and considering how big a developer Blizzard is, its development doesn’t actually stop the company from developing “proper” games? And what if it turns into something that can actually dovetail as a fun feature in all of Blizzard’s other games that makes them even better?

Nothing’s guaranteed, obviously. But instead of having a legion of tears across the internet about how Blizzard could have been making WarCraft 4 or adding more updates to StarCraft or some other comment completely detached from reality, let’s give the world-class developer some slack and see what they come up with first.

18 comments (Leave your own)

I know I said it in the other thread, but I can’t stand Francis. I don’t care if it is an act, it’s too eerily close to people I actually know in real life to actually be funny. About the only reaction this guy gets out of me is an eye roll and a groan.

Anyhow, I kind of think it’s good to see Blizzard trying things outside their current game types. A developer who doesn’t diversify goes stale and eventually dies. A healthy company is willing to try something new on occasions. I’d be kind of interested to see how this turns out.

 

vcatkiller,

just fyi this is what the actual person is like when he’s not playing Francis. If you compare it to what Francis says you can see what he’s doing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2NTxSyb_uQ

 

Yeah I did look at one of his other clips where he wasn’t acting like a complete tosser and he’s actually quite good to listen to. It’s just when he does the whole “Francis” persona that I’d rather not listen to him.

 

So, there’s a “Wizards of the Coast Pro Tour” and Magic players want the world to stop laughing at them? The mind boggles.

I’m certainly not one to dictate what other people do with their computers or their time, but I’d sooner throw my computer out the window than install a CCG. I just don’t get why you’d play a card game (or board game, for that matter) on a gaming device. Surely this will remove the only face to face contact some people have with the outside world?

In all seriousness though… what is the appeal of taking the physical aspect out of a card game? As far as I’m concerned, gaming is for doing things you can’t do in real life. Though there are probably plenty of Sims players who would disagree, as apparently buying a beside table is the deepest and darkest fantasy of the casual gamer.

 

ooshp: In all seriousness though… what is the appeal of taking the physical aspect out of a card game? As far as I’m concerned, gaming is for doing things you can’t do in real life.

well the point of doing it is to allow people to play all over the world that otherwise couldn’t. However, with Magic Cards they allowed you to transfer over real world cards to the game.. If its pure digital that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me (reminds me a bit of Star Trek conQuest Online from back in the day… that too didn’t do well commercially but generally had great gameplay).

This could still be great to play, but I question its commercial viability.

 

You activated my trap card.

 

Micro transaction supported card game… no we do not need more of them, it’s a cash in on an existing fan base nothing more for a very small development cost they are going to make a ton of money, people should steer clear of this lest they encourage other companies to follow suit and then all the world will be left with is triple A devs throwing out cheap easy to make games with an absurd micro transaction cost required to get the “complete” game.

/rant

 

spooler,

Alternatively get everybody on board with the provision that nobody actually spends real cash. At all. Just play with the cards given and earn new cards through gameplay. It would be fun to see Blizzard’s response if they’re spending cash keeping servers running but not seeing a cash return. It would probably make the game sink faster I’d think.

 

Hit the nail on the head with this article. I was experiencing the same feelings towards peoples reactions.

Apparently it’s “Cool to hate” these days.

My initial impression was one of curiosity. Signed up for the beta. I’m happy to check the game out and see what they’ve done with it.

As for “Why bother making a computer version of a card game?”.

Why not? The cards are simply a mechanism of conveying information to the player. It also provides the player with an easily understood analogue to the real world, through a shared lexicon. e.g. “Deck”, “Hand”, “Draw”, “Shuffle”, “Deal”, “Discard” etc.

Not to mention you get all the house keeping taken care of for free. I’ve actually come to prefer playing the digital version of MTG. Less headaches when tracking everything in a game. Not to mention easy player matching, any time of the day or night.

 

vcatkiller:
spooler,

Alternatively get everybody on board with the provision that nobody actually spends real cash.At all.Just play with the cards given and earn new cards through gameplay.It would be fun to see Blizzard’s response if they’re spending cash keeping servers running but not seeing a cash return.It would probably make the game sink faster I’d think.

That too is an option, yea I can’t see them keeping it running out the goodness of their hearts :P

The problem is gamers are incredibly weak willed (see every boycott on a game ever) and will cave and buy shiny things.

 

@Ooshp, Dunno about you, but my house can’t hold 100′s of thousands of players at a time, maybe you have a mansion /shrug. If it’s online, and I wanna play a CCG not bymyself, there’s a very good chance there is someone else out there in another TimeZone thinking the same thing. My friends might not be awake at 2am in the morning and want to come around to play some Hearthstone. This way I can still play with my friends, even at a LAN, and still play with people online anytime I choose.

Seriously looking forward to this, already signed up for beta, hoping I get in!

 

I guess if they make an online CCG LAG won’t affect the gameplay, unlike some other recent Blizzard titles

 

Can I resume games from Hearthstone replays?

 

Reading the comments and a skim over the article and its title tell me that nobody knows about the WoW TCG. Its actually a card game licensed by Blizzard (made by Cryptozoic iirc) which has expansion packs that follow the actual WoW franchise. There were raid decks where you could play ‘against the deck’ with friends to simulate raids and of course player vs. player deck battles. It was great fun and from all the stuff I’ve seen about Hearthstone is that it is basically an exact digital port of the WoW TCG game.

That being said I personally loved the TCG and think this would be good fun!

 
James Pinnell

The only problem I have with CCGs is that they are predominantly designed to be Pay To Win. Like real life, there is an element of skill based around deck creation, but those with the ability to buy ridiculous amounts of cards are able to create the best possible combinations thus put themselves ahead.

So being able to simply buy, rather than earn, decks means that there will be a distinct line in the sand when it comes to a balanced playing field. Hopefully Blizzard take this onboard.

 

ooshp:
So, there’s a “Wizards of the Coast Pro Tour” and Magic players want the world to stop laughing at them? The mind boggles.

I’m certainly not one to dictate what other people do with their computers or their time, but I’d sooner throw my computer out the window than install a CCG. I just don’t get why you’d play a card game (or board game, for that matter) on a gaming device. Surely this will remove the only face to face contact some people have with the outside world?

In all seriousness though… what is the appeal of taking the physical aspect out of a card game? As far as I’m concerned, gaming is for doing things you can’t do in real life. Though there are probably plenty of Sims players who would disagree, as apparently buying a beside table is the deepest and darkest fantasy of the casual gamer.

Some online CCG’s include elements that aren’t possible in a face to face paper game. I used to play one called ChronX which had a few, one of the main ones being stealth which is 100% impossible as paper.

MTG:O also has a great deal of appeal over the paper version. For example you aren’t limited to when your friends can play, or Friday night Magic, but instead you can play at 4am in your underpants if that’s what you want to do. You also have easier access to trading, and of course a wider player pool to play against. Playing against that one guy with his pure red burn deck over and over can get boring.

Not to say that computer based CCG’s are better, just different.

 

James Pinnell:

So being able to simply buy, rather than earn, decks means that there will be a distinct line in the sand when it comes to a balanced playing field. Hopefully Blizzard take this onboard.

They did, they’ve essentially added draft rules.

Depending on the success of this you will probably see multiple formats pop up over time that will appeal to all the niche player types.

 

What ever happened to that one that Notch was developing? Go belly up?

 
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