Monday, August 26, 2013

Hearthstone - MTG meets WoW?


If you haven't already heard, Blizzard is releasing a new online collectible card game called Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. While the flavor of the game is pretty well-established, the gameplay is kind of new territory for the developer. Blizzard's past successes with titles like Diablo II, Starcraft, and World of Warcraft (to name a few) set the bar for their genres - so I think a lot of people are going to have high expectations for Hearthstone.

Will it live up to those expectations? It's too early to tell, but they already have some tough competition. Magic: the Gathering Online has been around for a while now, and Mojang (of Minecraft fame) has Scrolls, which is starting to gain a following. This isn't a new situation for Blizzard though - the MMORPG genre was already going strong with titles like EverQuest when they released World of Warcraft... and we know how that turned out (it was a massive success).

 I've watched a few Hearthstone gameplay videos, and it looks like a lot of fun. Here, see for yourself.

 It's fast-paced, exciting, and strategic, and that's going to make for a good launch. In the long term, they've got to come up with a way to keep the game fresh and exciting after players have built and played decks thousands of times. With Magic, the answer to that is new card sets featuring new mechanics. While that's a great way to add to the game, I've come to really dislike the release schedule of Magic sets. They add 3-4 sets a year with each set ranging between 150 and 300 cards, along with a number of extra products that add twists to the game.

I played my first game of Magic right before The Dark was released, and I've gone through selling my collection and coming back to the game a number of times. I haven't had interest in Magic for several years now, mainly due to the feeling of being inundated with so many cards. I just can't keep up with that pace. Knowing that the digital equivalent is now on the same release schedule as the paper one, I wouldn't play MTGO if I was given an account full of goodies because I know a year down the road there will be hundreds of new cards to chase - and this will happen continually as long as the game exists.

This is what I hope Blizzard will be able to avoid with Hearthstone, somehow. Now, I'm not against expansions - I enjoy new toys to play with as much as the next guy - I'm against expansion overload. If they can keep away from that and still provide new play experiences once in a while, I'd be happy. Another difference between Hearthstone and MTGO will be the ability to actually win new cards via standard gameplay. Hearthstone is announced as being a Free-to-Play game where you can buy new cards for real money (like MTGO), but you can also win new cards as you play games. Realistically speaking, I'm sure you'll have to play a ton of games to earn cards after a while, but it's at least an option.

The other important thing to note about Hearthstone is that this is also Blizzard's first game using the Free-to-Play model. It's already been announced that World of Warcraft will ultimately go F2P sometime down the line, but they want to make sure their timing and business model is right. Hearthstone is going to be Blizzard's way to learn what will work for them in the F2P market, and that alone makes it an important title for them.

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