Hearthstone vs Other Online CCGs: What Blizzard Did Right And What Can Improve
Hearthstone is the first globally successful digital collectible card game (CCG) and it has been pretty much unchallenged over the longest period of time. With big developers like Bethesda and CDPR bringing out their A-game into the digital CCG market, let's take a look at how Hearthstone fares against some of the newer arrivals in the genre and what Hearthstone can learn from them.
What Hearthstone Did Right
Well timed mobile launch: One of the biggest advantages of Hearthstone is that the iOS and Android launches happened at the right time, there was nothing worthwhile to challenge the throne in the mobile CCG segment and there could not have been a better time for our beloved game to launch. With a simple UI and a low learning curve, Hearthstone is a game that's easy to pick up for any age group and it's quite entertaining to play on a mobile device as well.
RNG: Randomness in Hearthstone is something that a lot of us frown upon but it's also the source of entertainment for the casual crowd. Being able to pull off wins you have no business winning or drawing the right answers from cards that randomly generate other cards to nab you a victory.
Characters you can relate to: A lot of us grew up playing old school Warcraft RTS games or World of Warcraft. Even aside from the digital world, Warcraft has plenty of comics, novels and even a physical CCG game. Being able to play with characters we grew up with in form of playable cards adds a nostalgic touch to Hearthstone and it's something that draws people to try out the game.
Easy to pick up: There are CCGs that offer a more complex experience and cards have several lines of text, but Hearthstone caters to a more casual crowd and it's a much easier game to pick up and have fun with. The automatic mana system instead of manually playing mana cards like other games is a big plus for people new to card games. The implementation of the Standard format also means that there is a limit on how big the card pool will be over the years, making it easier for new players to pick up the game in the future without having to worry about catching up on several years worth of content.
What Hearthstone Can Learn From Other Games
Rewards System: When the game was launched, we had access to only the Classic set and the rewards system was fair enough for getting hold of a decent collection. Over time the card pool increased significantly and with adventures gone and three expansions a year becoming the norm, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get enough gold to amass packs and build a decent collection. New players could benefit greatly from a slightly better reward system.
The Elder Scrolls: Legends and Gwent: The Witcher Card Game have really good reward systems that allow you to build up your collection way faster with wins offering you dust and cards along with the usual gold as well. Removing the 30 win cap from Hearthstone could be possibility the devs can look at since there is a human limit to how much you can possibly win in a given day anyway, making it pointless to have a cap on how much gold you can earn in a day. While we do have access to the Arena format, not everyone enjoys playing with randomly generated decks and they'd rather play with their own cards.
Pack Opening Experience: A big problem with Hearthstone is the number of viable cards we have each expansion. With dozens of legendaries and epics coming out each year, and only a few of them being viable – it is very hard to get the cards you want. Gwent from CDPR allows you to choose the highest rarity card in a given pack. It works exactly like the Discover mechanic from Hearthstone, you are given 3 choices and you can choose which Rare/Epic/Legendary you want for your collection. It makes collection management a whole lot easier as you can avoid bad cards or skip cards you already have.
RNG: One of Hearthstone's most polarizing attractions is also its downfall at times. While experiencing wins riding off on your luck can be fun at times but there is too much that depends on your luck of the draw and there are games where even after playing every turn correctly you might lose. While it doesn't affect the casual player base much, seeing professional tournament matches being dictated by RNG can be frustrating sometimes and the game does not necessarily reward the better player 100% of the time.
RNG can be implemented without being inherently a major factor in deciding games and toning down the amount of randomness in the game could possibly be a step in the right direction. Ragnaros the Firelordwas a major offender in the past and many such cards still exist that swing the game too much based on random outcomes. Gwent, that was recently launched by CDPR has been receiving praises from current and ex Hearthstone players like Lifecoach, TidesofTime, Noxious and SuperJJ about how the better player in a given game is the one who is going to win most of the time and you cannot just snowball your RNG outcomes to victory.
Better Ranked System: The current ranked system is very grindy and in the early season, everyone from Legend players to people who just started out with the game get bunched towards the same ranks. It can easily be solved by having a MMR based system or simply reducing the number of ranks people drop when the season resets. With most of the player base hovering around Rank 17 and below, it feels like there is little incentive for the casual player base to climb higher in Ranked Play and having a better structured rewards system can raise the interest levels of players greatly.
Despite other games doing some things better than Hearthstone, it is unlikely Hearthstone is going to lose its crown in the foreseeable future simply because it is not easy to get into a card game and people who have already invested several hundred hours into the game would not want to grind a collection back from scratch all the way again for a new game, which is a big factor that makes the player base loyal to Hearthstone. The Hearthstone community is also great in forums, streaming websites and it's a very fun game to watch as well. But the game does have its flaws and there's a lot of scope for improvement for Blizzard to look into to keep the game entertaining and fun for the player base.