What's with all the hate over Hearthstone?
By Alex Walker 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.
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.