Dean "Iksar" Ayala popped in this afternoon for a Hearthstone Q&A session on Twitter. As usual, here's our recap of all the important points and a full transcript of the event.
- All previous Q&As from Dean can be found under our "Iksar's Community Q&A" topic.
- Anything covered in the previous Q&As will not be covered in the recap but will appear in the transcript below.
- As usual, not everything in AMAs becomes a real thing in Hearthstone - keep that in mind!
- We are likely to continue seeing disruption cards, but maybe not the level that Mindrender Illucia was.
- Dean feels that disruption has been received better than they had expected.
- We see disruption thanks to the team being more pro-risk than in prior years.
- They are more accepting of higher-complexity cards even if we sometimes end up with negative emotions.
- They are currently exploring what a two-set narrative might look like for 2024.
- Note: This means that two sets would tie in together, not that we'd be getting only two sets.
- They have been talking to the WoW team about possibly doing a canon universe "thing" but those talks are early.
- They are working on creating a small team to work on Hearthstone's onboarding and winback experiences.
- It is "somewhat rare" for them to create cards late in a set's design to combat parts of the meta.
- They would rather nerf powerful cards than to point players to a 1-trick pony.
- They are still open to adding more Tribes to the game, they just need an expansion theme that makes sense for it. (In response to Undead as a tribe)
- Forged in the Barrens was when they first wanted to do something like locations.
- Champion cards were minions that had activateable effects. They were too flimsy.
- Alterac Valley was the second time they wanted to try these activatable effects, but the first real locations test. They didn't find any fun card designs.
- Sunken City was the last attempt they tried location cards that didn't release, but they ran out of time to solve UI issues.
- Locations took up 2 slots on the board for "many months" and had a socket that you could place a minion into.
- Locations in this stage would only be active when a minion was in them.
- When the minion died, the location would lose durability.
- Top decking location cards in this iteration felt bad if you had no minions.
- "Would love to do something with that tech someday." (Source)
- Right now they only work on one or two updates at a time.
- Their eventual goal is to work on big Battlegrounds updates like they do Hearthstone set expansions - 3 at a time.
Game Mode Success
- They evaluate the success of game modes through a lot of data:
- Are players playing this mode?
- Less or more than they did previously?
- Do our consumer surveys say players love this mode?
- Does this mode generate revenue?
- Once we understand those questions, we still have to make a decision on how to support. The question usually isn't whether we should support something or not, it's whether the talented people supporting that thing could be better utilized elsewhere or not. (Source)
Dean the Game Director
For those unaware, Dean was promoted to Game Director recently!
- Dean has encountered some new things, but mostly the job is things he was already comfortable with.
- He wants to spend 70-8)% of the time refining what they already have and the rest of the time making new stuff we might not expect.
- Even with a larger team, its harder to make new features because when they do add new stuff, they need to keep people around to work on it.
- Delight and surprise was one of the original Hearthstone values. I hope to live up to that. (Source)
- Dean now works on planning stuff for the longer-term (1-3 years away).
Dean Ayala's Q&A #45 Transcript
Quote From Dean Ayala
Hearthstone AMA #45 1:00PM - 2:00PM PST Ask me a question about Hearthstone! Or Design! (or anime…or elden ring) https://t.co/UOtcE98SRj (Source)
@IksarHS Would you like to be on “Do you know Hearthstone?”
@RarranHS @IksarHS Can confirm it's pretty fun (Source)
ok time to see how many of these I can storm through in an hour… (Source)
@IksarHS There's a lot more disruption than we're used to seeing in the upcoming set. Does this indicate a larger shift in design philosophy, or was this purely in reaction to Stormwind?
@NautThatMeta Team is generally more pro-risk than we have been in the past. Accepting of more complexity and more high-emotion cards even if sometimes those emotions are negative. We've learned more in the last year or two of card design that we did in the many years previous as a result. (Source)
@NautThatMeta We'll probably skew more towards less complexity but I feel like disruption has been more welcome than I first imagined. Will probably keep printing, maybe just not at an Illucia level of power. (Source)
@IksarHS First of all, how you doing? Second of all, in a scale 1-10, how excited are you for next expansion? Third and final, how far ahead are you guys in the planification of sets rn? Best wishes chief!
@HolyKnight077 The furthest in the future sets we're working on in some capacity are the first two expansions of 2024. No card design work is done but we're exploring what a two set narrative could look like. Talked to the WoW team about possibly doing a canon universe thing, but very early. (Source)
@HolyKnight077 This early on, the first thing we think of has a <10% chance of being the thing we actually do. We're just starting on some interesting narrative ideas very early. (Source)
@HolyKnight077 Also, I'm great. 10 excited for next expansion! At this point, I'm mostly a manager, future planner, so my excitement is mostly due to being so proud of all the work @Songbird_HS and team have done on the set. They really care and have done such a good job (Source)
@IksarHS I've been looking at the definition of discover and it says about adding a card to hand, but that's not always strictly what happens, are there any plans to change the definition in-game/in-site? [img from playhearthstone] https://t.co/vGxd3RNBP2
@gtluizmoratelli Hearthstone rules have always been more about 'best words to help players understand' vs 'exactly correct in all circumstances'. I think this text gets Discover across even if it doesn't represent the exact definition across all card interactions. (Source)
@IksarHS What’s it like being Game Director now? What kind of direction do you want to lead Hearthstone in?
@BionicDoor Job is good. Some new things, a lot of the things I was already comfortable with. Generally speaking, I'd like to spend 70-80% of our time refining what we already have and the last 20-30% making new stuff you might not expect. (Source)
@BionicDoor We have so much content upkeep in Hearthstone it makes it hard to do new things. Whenever we make a new mode, there is more content upkeep there, which means less time for new stuff. (Source)
@BionicDoor While the team has grown, we don't actually have much more bandwidth to make new and exciting features because most of what we make requires us to stick around and continue making it indefinitely. (Source)
@BionicDoor So we're taking stock of what players love and want us to improve (or create) and make sure we're spending our time there. There isn't any major revelation here, but looking at things like the monthly card back and asking if that artist time is better spent making something else. (Source)
@BionicDoor Delight and surprise was one of the original Hearthstone values. I hope to live up to that. (Source)
@IksarHS a concern that’s come up in some circles is the rate of meta churn and change lately, especially with this expansion. between 23.2.2 and .6, there were 36 new cards and 32 changes in 40 days. do you have opinions on this cadence, consider it an issue, and/or have plans to fix?
@RidiculousHat We're definitely in a new world. We used to view card changes as a negative thing we'd only do when the positive was so great it outweighed the negative of change. These days, I'd say the 'negative' of card changes is viewed as a very minor thing. (Source)
@RidiculousHat And it causes us to make a variety of small-upside changes. Final design (@Chakki_HS, @AlecoGereco) are certainly aware of this change in mindset. I'd leave it to them on how they think it's going. (Source)
@IksarHS Is it common to create cards for an expansion late to combat or help a portion of the meta? An example which may fit this category is Skulking Geist for Jade Idol, but were there are other examples or cards created for a similar purpose but not released?
@Kross3d_ Somewhat rare. It's more common for us to make changes to not further power up an existing powerful archetype. Generally speaking, it's better for us to just nerf the powerful thing than point players to 1 thing they need to use to beat it. (Source)
@IksarHS A mechanic I'm surprised hasn't been explored more is hand revealing. Ex. A 3 mana 4/4 that has the drawback of revealing the left-most card in your hand while in play. What is it about that mechanic that makes it tricky/unexplored design-wise?
@TimRizzo Hand revealing is more interesting as a concept than it is in practice. Having unknowns is good. If you know what your opponent can do, it usually means you have less interesting choices to make. (Source)
@IksarHS any chance of ever having new set arena cards a few days early in arena. It was done in the past a long time ago (dont remember how many times) and would be cool to play with some of the new cards a couple days early
@EliteLeafHater I think there are some tech probs with this nowadays. Can check with @Celestalon and @themattlondon to see what they think. We have a '.0' day where the patch is live but the cards aren't ready. Then we have a 'content unlock' day that is the expansion launch. (Source)
@EliteLeafHater @Celestalon @themattlondon I think the old way we did this was to have the cards from the expansion live in arena after the .0, but before the content unlock day. (Source)
@IksarHS Hey Dean! I’m just wondering if you can provide some background on locations. How/when did the idea for this card type come up in the design stage? Any inspirations? Were some harder to design than others? Are there any other card types in development right now? (Long shot 😅)
@lil_robitussin1 First iteration of locations happened in alterac valley, but we didn't find anything very fun in design so they were scrapped. Second iteration came in sunken city, but we ran out of UI time to solve some UI issues, so they were scrapped. Final version is finally here! (Source)
@lil_robitussin1 Locations went through an incredible amount of playtesting and were loved and hated then loved a few times over. @Songbird_HS might have some of those stories. (Source)
@lil_robitussin1 @IksarHS The first first iteration was technically Barrens. We tested "Champions" that were minions with activatable effects, but they were too flimsy. Tried again in AV and Sunken City, and ended up with Objectives. Then we finally decided to do a new card type in MaCN officially. (Source)
@lil_robitussin1 @IksarHS For many many months, Locations took up 2 spaces on the board and had a socket that you would put a minion into. Locations were only active when they had a minion in them, and they would lose durability when the minion died. It was cool, but was really difficult to do thing. (Source)
@lil_robitussin1 @IksarHS Top-decking a Location with no minions in hand just felt awful. They looked pretty cool though. Would love to do something with that tech someday. (Source)
@IksarHS It has being said that there is, usually, 3 expansions being worked on at different stages at the same time. How is the cycle of big updates for battlegrounds? Is it one at a time or do you have a few being worked on at the same time?
@vitor_lamartine One or two at a time still. We've had almost a decade to refine and build playtesting time into expansion making schedules, but we've had to play a great deal of catchup with bg content create. Our plan is to eventually be the same as expansion sets. (Source)
@IksarHS How’s progress going for your list? https://t.co/D2tUIoT1Rx
@lamri247 Pretty good actually…. Only a couple of these are released or close to released, but definitely working on things from this list….. (Source)
@IksarHS Surprised we didn't get the Undead tribe with the new expansion theme. Do you expect Undead to ever join Hearthstone or is that a tribe that's too vague in it's meaning and would cause a lot of dual-tribe overlap in minions? Similar to how people talk about the Pirate tribe.
@Eggolas_ Undead aren't really a Revendreth thing. We're definitely for the idea of adding more tribes, just have to get to an expansion theme that warrants it. (Source)
@IksarHS Rapid fire! 🔥 🔹How’s your role changed as Game Director? 🔹How do you evaluate the success of each game mode? And related, how do you decide on the amount of resources dedicated to support each game mode? 🔹When’ll we see a new Tavern Brawl? 😅
@ben_heathstone 1. More future planning stuff (next 1-3 years) and less right now stuff. 2. A lot of that is data. Are players playing this mode? Less or more than they did previously? Do our consumer surveys say players love this mode? Does this mode generate revenue? (Source)
@ben_heathstone Once we understand those questions, we still have to make a decision on how to support. The question usually isn't whether we should support something or not, it's whether the talented people supporting that thing could be better utilized elsewhere or not. (Source)
@ben_heathstone 3. I honestly don't know…. Tavern Brawl is a good example of something we pumped the breaks on to use that time elsewhere (things like duels, book of X content, more new stuff in dev). @themattlondon might know! (Source)
@IksarHS What's your opinion on Attack on Titan's most recent season? Do you think the time skip served the story or hurt it?
@fusrohdaniel I feel like it's really hard for entertainment of this quality to stick the landing. I enjoyed the latest season, but it was a bit tainted by the fact I thought it was ending forever only to be tricked into being yet another part season. (Source)
@fusrohdaniel I just want more Levi…. (Source)
@fusrohdaniel To answer your question, though, I thought it was pretty good! 8/10! (Source)
@IksarHS What impact do you think the success of Elden Ring will have on the next generation of open world rpgs if any?
@pelinal1415 Medium impact. I think people undersell how difficult it is to pull a game like Elden Ring off. You aren't handheld, it just so happens that literally any direction you go in has something interesting. (Source)
@pelinal1415 The interesting part of a game world is usually a small % of it. The rest of it just looks pretty and you are escorted along the interesting path. If you remove the escort, now all of a sudden 80-90% of your game world needs to be interesting to support a player doing anything. (Source)
@pelinal1415 Elden Ring is a masterpiece, don't get me wrong. They were able to create this massive world and I could explore almost anywhere in it and be delighted by what I found. I have a hard time seeing many studios pull this off. (Source)
@IksarHS Would you ever consider doing some sort of card design podcast/workshop with @maro254? It'd be really cool to hear from lead designers of two of the biggest CCGs think about the craft, what you have in common and what you do differently etc.
@adam_noodelman @maro254 I had thought about copying (and crediting) @maro254 by doing a '10 years, 10 lessons' talk about Hearthstone. He did a '20 years, 20 lessons' talk that I think might be the best design talk I've ever heard. (Source)
@adam_noodelman @maro254 Probably not, though. Rosewater is an incredible writer, storyteller, and speaker. I'm more into…. clever use of internet memes… stuff like that. (Source)
@IksarHS Have you ever played a game of Hearthstone, got tilted by a card and wondered "why did we ever make that?" And if yes what card?
@OTV98 so many times, so many times it's mostly when I misplay a card I didn't understand and blame the team (in my moment of frustration/stupidity) (Source)
@IksarHS What’s been your favorite deck to play in Marvel Snap? Also what’s your collection level?
@WhyteKnoize I think it's 900-something. I like my Odin/WhiteTiger deck. I mostly play some janky deck that has 2 of each mana cost to complete quests, though. (Source)
@IksarHS How do you feel about the current systems in place in onboarding new players and retaining them.
@PausedReset bad we're currently working on forming a small team to tackle onboarding and winback experiences, what we have isn't good enough (Source)
@IksarHS My wife is 5 months pregnant. Any advice for a future father?
@GamingPatzer it'll be hard but you can handle it also support your wife, she's going through what is basically a major surgery, a major life moment, and the baby is going to need her more than you (Source)
@IksarHS What is your favorite anime fight scene and why?
@Unconkable have to come back to this one…. so many good ones and it's a question about anime so I have to go all out… (Source)
Attracting new and old players back to the game is probably difficult. Hearthstone is simply no longer fresh, no matter how many expansions you dropped, and suffers from comparison with the casual nature of battlegrounds. It may not be as complex (both to watch and play) as LoR, but these auto-chess like games are simply just much easier to pick up.
And then there's the cost. Let's say that the game isn't easy to approach because the game is expensive. Metas can change about 4 times per expansion, and dust compensation may not always be sufficient to pick up the next big thing. Of course, we can argue that for these players they can stay around bronze-gold where most players suffer the same handicap, but here's where it hits hard; in battlegrounds we can repeatedly win/lose and there's no real benefit or gain. In ordinary hearthstone, going on a losing streak hurts, and the wound bite deeper when you're beaten by the many bs cards/strats available.
Which brings me to the point about disruption effects, as mentioned by Dean. As much as we all hate seeing our strats being disrupted by cards like mad duke, mutanus, or dirty rats, there is nothing as silly or as aggravating as losing to bs like Celestial Alignment, Wildheart Guff on 4-5, superb rng Jackpot!, or quest hunters. Even control decks can be countered by being more greedy and playing around their removals. In what shape and fashion does one do against a 40 health druid, knowing you only have 6 or less turns to win or you auto lose.
Its not really about us hating disruption. Its more on team5's design decisions making one sided metas, filled with uninteractive bs. At this point if Mutanus the Devourer discovers two cards to eat from hand and is 1 mana I think the whole community would be in rapture. Ive been facing nothing but quest hunters and celestial alignment/prestor druids for the last week and it sucks. I think I'll just finish up my quest and then close down hearthstone until next week.
I think its fair to say, if their aim is to address the losing player count, focus on making the game fun should be the first, followed by cost and then accessibility. Looking at the new cards though; if druid is anywhere near the top 4 tiers then they've just failed the first objective.
Indeed, and Ayala missing that the titanic amount of self-developing mana cheat is what drives the game is either deliberate or foolish to the point of absurdity. Here's the thing: the most horrific decks that everyone hates facing can also use disruption and they do it better than the decks meant to stop them. The most anti-Druid Priest deck you can build will not be able to use Blademaster Okani as well as the Druid it is meant to face because the latter can flood the board forcing a response that costs more mana than the Priest has to play both said response and Okani. And the why is simple: Druid has more cost-reduced/free crap than Priest so the former is objectively better.
Free stuff seems to be Team 5's meal ticket as the power escalation is a driver for sales, so this may be a case of willful blindness: bringing the game to a point of fairness would be a burden on design resources and might even require re-designing existing assets. Regardless of why it happens, with the attitude we see here, things can only get worse. This wouldn't be the first game where the silver bullet card worked better for the werewolf than against it.
I think the next step for retaining players is to simply make the game easier to get into by lowering crafting costs, lowering the pity timer, and generally being more F2P. I have been really into Yugioh lately and it is frustrating seeing a cool deck and realizing there's no point in trying to make it because it would take a stupid long grind to get. I can only imagine it is the same in Hearthstone.
On a side note, I am really hoping Elden Ring gets a DLC or NG+ gets a buff because I cannot get enough of Bloodhound Step.
I'm very happy that the devs are more comfortable with adding new disruption cards. It's necessary to prevent (or at least prolong) uninteractive games for a healthier meta, and it's basically the Wild format's only chance of slowing down.