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Hearthstone’s Eric Dodds on why new cards need to scare him

A Fireside Gathering at Blizzard's Heroes of the Dorm tournament earlier this year.

A Fireside Gathering at Blizzard's Heroes of the Dorm tournament earlier this year.

Looking much farther into the future, what are the big things you’d like to do with Hearthstone. What would it look like in five years time in your ideal world?

One of the things that’s been interesting for us is that we’re constantly evolving our plan based on: “We think we’re going to do this… Hey, it worked really well.” For instance, we put Tavern Brawl out and our plan is to continue to support and do more cool stuff with it, but a lot depends on whether the community embraces it. If so, lean into it more, and if not, maybe see if there’s something else we should be working on. The overall structure of Hearthstone is in a pretty good place as far as we’re concerned. There’s definitely tactical things that we are thinking about all the time. I mean for instance, I should say that the community is of course excited about having more deck slots. That’s the sort of thing that we always talk about.

I’m not the one who brought it up this time!

Yeah, I know! But that’s the sort of thing that the community definitely talks about, and we talk about how should we address it and how we can integrate it with other things we’re doing. I should also say that the Fireside Gatherings program is something we’re very excited about. I could see down the road us doing more stuff with Fireside Gatherings because the feedback has been phenomenally good as far as people getting together and talking in person with other people playing Hearthstone.

...if we’re making cards and some of them don’t scare us a little bit, we’re doing it wrong.

You’re not telling me deck slots are five years away, though.

I am not telling you that. It is definitely a concern that we’re very aware the community has, and it’s definitely something that we are talking about it in our day to day conversations.

As a design guy, does the existence of the mobile version restrict you at all in terms of what you can do because everything has to be fit onto a phone screen?

So far it hasn’t actually been restricting us. I mean, it affects us in that when we’re talking about a new feature, like Tavern Brawl, we have to put in UI for the PC and tablet version, and then when we do the phone version we have to make some changes to it, so there is extra work. But so far, there hasn’t been something that we go “hey, we’d love to do that, but oh we can’t really do that because of mobile.” In some ways it’s actually been very healthy for us, because one of the strengths of Hearthstone is that it’s not over complicated. There’s not too many options, not too many features, and it’s a great reality check for us to make sure we’re doing the right thing as far as introducing new features at the right rate.

I feel like the current meta is a little stale, so now is the right time for new stuff. Are you looking forward to the community entering another great period of experimentation?

Yeah. One of our phrases that we use internally when we talk about making cards is that if we’re making cards and some of them don’t scare us a little bit, we’re doing it wrong.

Hearthstone Blackrock Mountain Emperor Thaurissan

Emperor Thaurissan [from the Blackrock Mountain set] is a good example of a card like that.

Yeah, it’s very important for us to go “okay, we’re pretty sure this is okay, but it’s a little bit crazy at the same time.” So we’re continuing that going forward, saying “okay, we’re trying to balance it” and at the same time “wow, we think this will work, but it’s going to be exciting because it’s something a little bit new, a little bit crazy.”

How do you gauge the success of a set? Is it like the number of cards that enter regular rotation? Is it the cards that get experimented and then discarded? Because there’s been that debate about how there’s tons of cards in Vanilla which just don’t get played. Kripparrian made the argument that you should improve some of those cards, and it does feel odd to me that there’s such a huge number of interesting cards with great art that don’t get used. So when you’re putting 132 out now, is there a sense of “well, if only 20 of them enter regular rotation that’s bad”?

It’s a good question, but actually asking it exactly that way is not something we do, because what you’re talking about is probably “hey, in ranked play, with serious decks, which of these cards end up being in rotation?” And partially we don’t really know for sure which will be in rotation, but the bigger answer to that is there are a whole lot of different ways of playing Hearthstone. Are these cards exciting in Arena? Some of them are exciting in Arena and not as exciting in other modes. Is there a Tavern Brawl where, oh my god, this card is amazing and let’s me look at the game in a whole new way? Or is there a card that—I’m a mid-level player and I see it and I dream of this awesome deck that I could build, and I build the deck and once in a while it works, but if you look at the highest level of competitive play maybe it doesn’t see play there. That’s a totally valid and awesome card as well, so really we look at a wider spectrum of players, and ways to play the game, as far as whether a card is successful.

Hearthstone’s The Grand Tournament expansion will arrive next month. You can pre-purchase a bundle of 50 packs at a discounted rate now within the game client. We'll have something special to show you on Friday...

As an inveterate Hearthstone addict, Tim spends most of his time trying to explain why all Priest players are degenerates. The rest of his day is spent playing Destiny 2. Seriously, he's on it right now.