Q: More established CCGs have had to start instituting rules around which cards are eligible for tournament or other play modes. MTG limits you to the last three expansions, for example. Is that on the cards for Hearthstone?
Eric Dodds: That's certainly speaking to the larger problem where there's one group of players who wants us to be releasing content on a regular cadence because they want to see something cool and new, and there's newer players who could easily be overwhelmed by all of this content. If there was one big topic that we're talking about internally, that would probably be it. We haven't settled on "here's the thing that we're going to do to solve the problem", but I can tell you that I'm sure that it won't be all that long before we figure out exactly what we need to do and start talking with you guys again to get that out there. Because it is a real problem and it's something that we're doing a lot of thinking about.
Q: Is the combination of fast-moving development and highly engaged audience (and I'm thinking mainly of the segment of your audience that's known for flinging barbed comments around) a dangerous, inflammatory one?
Eric Dodds: One of the biggest challenges, which I think is sort-of that, is that we have this wide variety of players we're trying to hit. We have the hardcore players that we're trying to get content out for, we have players that are just playing casually, and when we're throwing content out quickly they get kinda fussy about it. We have players who love building decks, we have players who don't want to build a deck, they just want to go into Tavern Brawl and encounter the crossroads given to them so they can just play a pre-constructed deck.
We have players who just hang out in Arena and don't do any of this stuff. So we have a lot of players all over the place, and we certainly are always listening to the people on the forums who are talking to us and it is important, it's just that we have this huge number of different players that we are trying to please. It is our blessing in a lot of ways, because we have so many players, but it's also our challenge because we do have so many different types of players.
Q: Do you see new gameplay modes like MTG's Commander or other single player / casual focus modes coming to Hearthstone in the future?
Eric Dodds: That is a timely question because just this week, for our Tavern Brawl, we released a cooperative Tavern Brawl. Instead of playing against your opponent, you are playing WITH your "opponent" against a boss. That's really what we are using Tavern Brawl for. It's fun because we're providing all these different modes for the players and providing a wide variety of different players with something that is cool for them, but at the same time we are trying things and going, "We think we can do a cool cooperative mode; we think something like this might be cool. Let's put it out there and see what the player base thinks."
The feedback so far for that co-op mode so far the feedback has been very positive. When we get feedback, we certainly think about that in terms of what we're doing next. Who knows what form that thing will come out in! We had a thing called the Great Summoner Competition where, whenever you play a spell, you get a random minion of the same cost. In The League of Explorers we have a thing called the summoning stone which does the same thing because we really liked that mechanic. So, it's way too soon to know where we're going next with that, but I will guarantee that we are going to be having some conversations in the office in the next week or two about how much people like it and “what are we going to do about that?”
Q: How is the game doing financially? Is it going to plan? Do you find yourself having to tweak the way the game works in order to satisfy financial goals?
Eric Dodds: It's working great. The funny thing about this is from the very beginning my belief has been, "We're gonna make a great game, you're going to be able to play it for free and have a good time playing it for free, and some people will love it enough that they will give us some money and it'll work out great for that reason." I, personally, play for free, because it is super important that that side of things is super fun to play. On the business side, it seems to be working out just like I hoped in that there are some people who really love the game and are really willing to pay us and that's perfect.
Q: The Secret Paladin playstyle seems to be particularly divisive at the moment, with lots of people playing it and lots of vocal opposition in various forums. How is that style seen internally? Is it a problem? New secrets in League of Explorers seem to suggest that you're a fan of the mechanic.
Eric Dodds: Secrets are a fun mechanic. We don't have them in all the classes, because we want to make sure that if you're someone who doesn't like them particularly, you can play a class that doesn't have them. It is really interesting to set up a mechanic where my opponent doesn't know what the right thing to do is, and they sort of have to test the waters to see, or they can just boldly assume and sometimes be right, and sometimes have things go horribly wrong.
In general, secrets are great. It's really interesting to play them, and it's interesting to play against them when you don't know what's on the other side and you have to try to play around them. In a lot of cases, you know what secrets they're likely to be running, or because of the tactical situation. So it seems random, but often I actually know or have a good guess what you did. That's where casual players like myself fall apart: the meta game's complexities seem to factor into this game style more than some other mechanics.
I totally agree that secrets are one of our somewhat more advanced mechanics, because for them to really work you have to look at a secret and go, "Well, it could be this, this, or this… I think it's probably this." And you do have to have some experience with the game to get to that point.
Q: Are players clinging to their established decks or embracing the new cards that come with each expansion?
Eric Dodds: It's funny, there's a wide variety of players that play this game. There are some players who go, "I'm going to go to the Internet and whatever the Internet tells me is the best deck, I'm going to play that deck." And those decks change over time. From The Grand Tournament, there are a number of cards that end up getting used in high-level tournament play, and people play those. Of course, for some people, what they want to do is, "I want to make the most interest deck I can, or the deck that wins in the weirdest way I can think of. So, there certainly are new cards coming in from these different sets, but it really depends on the type of player what cards they gravitate towards as far as any given set.
Q: What's your go-to deck?
Eric Dodds: I play a lot of Arena – perhaps more Arena than Ranked – but I definitely play Ranked. What have I been playing recently... I've been playing some Shaman. Shaman is probably one of my go-to decks. Shaman, Warrior, and maybe some Paladin are maybe the three decks I've been playing the most recently. I'm probably more Shaman-y / Warrior-y than Paladin-y, but...
Q: In early conversations about Hearthstone, the idea of being able to trade cards between players was discussed and quickly dismissed. Now that time has passed, has there been any thought of revisiting that decision?
Eric Dodds: No. The basic issue with the trading card environment hasn't changed, which is if I'm a new player, and everybody is getting a fixed value for disenchanting a card, I feel safe disenchanting. If there's a fixed value for buying a card, I feel safe buying a card. But if I'm a new or even mid-range player and there's a trading environment, really I probably don't feel like I know enough to get good value for "I'll trade these cards for those cards" or "I'll pay you this much dust for that card" or whatever the environment would be – I'm not going to feel like I'm smart enough to make a good deal.
So, either I'm not going to want to engage in that environment because I don't feel like I know enough, or if I'm a newer player I'll probably be taken advantage of. And I think anybody who played collectable card games in the early days of any collectable card game has a story where they were taken advantage of by somebody where they had something that was valuable and they traded it for something not very valuable.
Really, we want to have an environment where it feels really safe for a new player to make one of those decisions. Lastly, one of the things you do worry about in a trading card economy is that often a lot of the value of the cards goes to the most valuable cards in the set, so it's like, "Oh yeah, commons; those are valueless. Oh yeah, uncommons; those are valueless. But these three cards are worth $50 each" or whatever it is. And as a player, what you really want is “I want to get rid of my commons and uncommons and get some sort of fair value for it”. Not zero, which is what you get in a trading card economy. And the exchange rate for the cards you're not excited about and the one you think is cool is often so huge that it's just this enormous barrier to getting to where you want to get.
That's why we went with the disenchanting and crafting economy, because it lets you get rid of the cards you didn't want, get reasonable value for them, and get the thing you wanted without it being extravagant.
Q: Now that it's firmly established, are there opportunities to use the Hearthstone brand outside of the game itself? Like in a board game, a physical version of the game, other forms of entertainment?
Eric Dodds: I suppose it's possible. I'm not a business person, so I can't speak to some of the branding. I can speak to us making a physical version of the game, and that's something that we don't have any plans to do, because the game was built around the idea of being a digital game and we embrace that. So any physical version would just not be as good as the digital version – it would just be a worse version of it, so there's not really any interest in doing that.
◆ Alan attended BlizzCon courtesy of Blizzard.