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Hearthstone: Applying the Blizzard Touch to the CCG

Genese Davis Posted:
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Only three months left in 2013, which means those anticipated end-of-the-year events are almost here. For me, two of those are BlizzCon and the release of Blizzard’s new card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Being fairly new to card games, I was a little nervous sitting down to play. However, within seconds I was smiling. As soon as the game loaded, it felt as though I’d teleported into a secret world, as if I was actually sitting behind a tavern table, next to cordial, warm folk who’d invited me to join a friendly game of cards.

This week, I got the chance to sit down with the incredibly kind and talented lead game designer for Hearthstone, Eric Dodds. We kicked things off by talking about what excites him as a game designer.

“I love taking a game type or game system and removing the parts that are frustrating. Hearthstone is a great example,” Dodds said. “We took a great game type (collectible card game) and a specific environment (online play) and then tried to remove all of the frustrations and complexities while keeping the depth, variety of play, and engrossing gameplay. “I also love when players feel inspired to tell stories about their game experiences. In Hearthstone, nothing makes me happier than when a player comes up to me and tells me about a game they played. Maybe they had a string of duplicating Deathwings going back-and-forth, or maybe they’d assumed a game was lost until they top-decked the winning card. Whatever the story is, I love it!”

Eric shared details about his position with Blizzard, and his affinity for all types of games.

“I am the lead designer on Hearthstone, and before that I was among the first designers working on World of Warcraft, and was with that team for many years. In my other (non-Blizzard) life, I am very much into board games, indie RPGs, and play PC and iPad games of all stripes.”

I asked Eric about the inspiration behind creating Hearthstone.

“At Blizzard, we love collectible card games and have played them a fair bit over the years, so we jumped at the chance to get to make one ourselves. We figured out the stuff we loved about them and how to keep that, while at the same time pinpointing the things that we were not so keen on and how to get rid of them.”

Next, we took a look at what sets Hearthstone apart from other games.

“First off I would say that Hearthstone has a lot of depth, and at the same time is really easy to learn, and is fun to learn while you are doing it. Other than that, the physicality of the game also makes it pretty different from other digital games.   “One of our important goals was making the game feel very physical, so that when you open a pack of cards or play a card it feels like it is actually being played from your hand. Even our user interface is built to be very tactile so you feel that you are interacting with the box that has the Hearthstone board in it.”

I also asked what type of gamer might enjoy Hearthstone.

“When we were first working on Hearthstone, the goal was to take a collectible card game and to make it something anyone could pick up,” Dodds said. “Over the course of our development, we’ve introduced Hearthstone to numerous people and they would say ‘I don’t play those sorts of games.’ A short time later, without fail, those same people would tell us how much they liked it. In short, I would say that all gamers would enjoy Hearthstone!”

When asking Eric about the most enjoyable moment during Hearthstone’s development process, he referenced not only the players but the onlookers Hearthstone attracts as well.

“I think the best moment is something that is now occurring on a regular basis. Any time someone on our team starts playing the game, slowly other team members who are wandering by will stop and start watching the game as well. Quite often when developing a game, the developers get tired of their own game (they’ve played it for years, after all) and it makes me quite happy that our developers are still loving the game—not just when playing themselves, but also as spectators.”

I asked if any challenges cropped up during development.

“The biggest challenge was to simplify the game and remove the complexity of CCGs, while at the same time keeping the depth that is so critical to making this type of game fun.”  

One of our final topics was the advice Eric might give those interested in becoming a game designer.

“Play a lot of games. Then play more games.  After that, don’t stop playing games and play them for the rest of your life. Find friends you can chat with about games on a regular basis. When you play games, play all different types of games (not just shooters, or computer games—play them all!).  Once you are ready, start making games, and don’t worry too much about the type of game, just start making them and keep making them. The more games you play, and then the more games you make, the better a game designer you will be.”

There is a polish to Hearthstone that is almost impossible to describe. With every click, Hearthstone’s interface delights. You can find Easter eggs everywhere, and the epic blasts of magic flying across the computer screen compliment the intuitive and interactive environment. Can’t wait to play this game with friends!

Hearthstone releases later this year for PC and Mac, and at a later date for the iPad as well. Find all the latest Hearthstone news at the official Hearthstone Community websites:

I’d like to thank everyone at Blizzard Entertainment with an extra special thanks to Eric Dodds.

I’d love to hear from you! Find me at GeneseDavis.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

Every week, Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about MMO gaming, the issues the genre faces, and the power of shaping online worlds.

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Genese Davis

Genese Davis / Bimonthly, The Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about video games, the issues the industry faces, and the power of shaping online worlds. Find her on Twitter @GeneseDavis and GeneseDavis.com