Hearthstone is a great game, but it isn’t perfect. I’ve spent a lot of time playing over the past few months – probably more than I should have. In that time, a few things kept cropping up that detracted from my overall experience that seemed like they shouldn’t be too hard to fix. Here’s a quick look at three simple ways to make Hearthstone more fun.
Golden portraits are cool. I was excited when I reached 500 wins for the first time, on my Shaman, and all of a sudden my character and my totems were shiny and animated. I was again excited when I reached the threshold on Priest, and then again on Druid, rounding out my three favorite classes from the time that I started playing the game. It felt good to be rewarded for my dedication.
What doesn’t feel good is the feeling of wastefulness I get now when I play those same favorite classes. Because I have already earned my golden heroes, I feel like I ought to play others, even though I don’t enjoy them as much.
It’s a weird and minor thing, I know, but when incentives exist, people will respond to them. I feel like the incentives now encourage me not to play my favorite classes, and that kind of sucks.
Thankfully, though, this is an easy problem to solve. Currently, when you earn your golden portrait, the XXX/500 win counter simply disappears. Your wins are no longer counted, so they no longer feel like they matter. But if that counter simply changed to a win total with that class instead of vanishing entirely, each win would still feel like it was building toward something.
Even if there aren’t any new rewards like the gold portraits, people would still feel accomplished when they crossed certain thresholds, like 1000 wins. Incentives matter, even if they’re as small as just a number going up.
Speaking of incentives, the ranked ladder is rife with troublesome ones. Everyone who has played or watched Hearthstone for any length of time is probably familiar with the community sentiment with respect to aggressive decks. Decks like Warlock Zoo, Hunter, and MechMage are referred to by derogatory nicknames, as are players who choose to use the decks.
The community frustration with regard to these decks has a number of factors, but a huge part of the sentiment comes from how popular they are on the ranked ladder. A few months ago, before the Starving Buzzard nerf, I played against nearly as many Hunters as every other class combined.
This popularity stems from a combination of the power level of the decks themselves (which is an issue outside of the scope of what I’m talking about here), the low cost of building them, and the speed at which the decks can complete games. It’s the latter factor that I’d like to touch on here.
Let’s assume, for a moment, that every class has perfect population distribution on the ranked ladder. That is to say that there is one Hunter for every Mage, one Warlock for every Paladin, etc. This is obviously not true, but just imagine it for the sake of a thought experiment.
Now let’s assume that every class takes an average of ten minutes to play a game, except for Hunter and Warlock, which take five minutes. Now if you jump into the queue, even though there’s a perfect class population balance, you’re much more likely to play against a Hunter or Warlock, simply because at any time there are more Hunters and Warlocks who are available opponents because they finish their games more quickly. More of the total games played include Hunter or Warlock than any of the other classes.
Now imagine that some of those players of other classes realize that Hunters and Warlocks are more efficient at completing games. Imagine that they recognize this is a valuable characteristic on the ranked ladder, since what matters is generating a win-loss differential over time to climb ranks. If you have the same win rate with Hunter or Warlock as with Priest or Warrior, you will get to a higher ranking over the same period of time, simply because you are able to complete more games.
As more players realize this and shift to playing the faster decks, the representation of opponents in the queues further shifts even more toward aggressive decks. This leads to a lower variety of play experiences, and understandable frustration among players who repeatedly run into the same decks.
Now I’m someone who can appreciate a good beatdown. I don’t think there is anything wrong with aggressive strategies being good, or even being the best, as long as there are good tools for players to use against them. But the nature of the ranked ladder – rewarding strictly win rate differential over time – provides such strong incentives to play aggressive decks that they have a stifling effect on the environment and frustrate the player base.
I’m not sure what the best way to mitigate this problem would be, but I’d love to see something to mitigate the incentives for playing fast decks. I always feel foolish when I’m laddering with anything but a beatdown deck, because it feels like I’m just spewing the value of my time. Perhaps there could be a bonus reward for winning games over a certain length, whether in time or in turns. It could be framed as “Epic Victory” or something similar, and could possibly give a bonus star for every five games you win that last longer than the time or turn threshold.
I don’t think it would take a lot to move the needle, but I think it’s important that there be some kind of incentive to play something other than the fastest decks, because right now there’s every incentive to try to play the shortest games you can.
More Deck Slots
This is obviously far from an original idea, but I think it’s an important one worth revisiting. I absolutely understand the design decision that Blizzard made originally to only allow players a limited number of deck slots. Keeping the game simple and accessible for new players to avoid overwhelming or intimidating them is important. That philosophy is certainly a big part of why the audience of Hearthstone has grown so quickly, and has attracted so many players who had never tried collectible card games before.
That said, as the game grows, so do the needs of the player base. With every content release, new cards inspire new decks. While nine deck slots may have been sufficient for the initial pool of cards, now every class has multiple different directions it can go, and a single slot for each is insufficient. Right now, I have two different versions of Priest, three different versions of Druid, and one deck for four other classes. I often want to try new decks I read about online, or experiment with different versions of the decks that I already have without having to rebuild them every time. Nine slots is simply not enough.
I can respect the desire to prevent new players from feeling overwhelmed with scroll bars or multiple pages of decks, but it’s easy enough to design the interface such that they’re never confronted with the additional deck slots unless they go looking for them. Additional deck slots could be a purchasable item in the store, or unlocked by reaching a total combined class level, or a certain total number of wins. They are countless ways to preserve the new player experience and cleanliness of the interface while still giving experienced players the opportunity to explore new ideas. Besides, you can already shift back and forth between Basic Decks and Custom Decks. How much more difficult could an extra page of Custom Decks really be?
This issue will only become more pressing as new content as released. I believe Goblins vs Gnomes alone pushed us past the threshold at which the deck slot limit reduces my enjoyment of the game, and I hope to see a way to save more decks very soon.