We write this article with heavy hearts, as Blizzard and Hearthstone bid farewell to Hearthstone’s game director, Ben Brode. He departed from Blizzard this week, which he announced via his Twitter. Brode’s departure means far more than just a mere developer change– For Hearthstone, this marks a truly significant turning point: The end of memes.
Before Un’Goro, Ben Brode was a developer who interacted occasionally with the community. Hearthstone had long received criticism for having developers who never communicated, not the least of which came from my own writing. Looking at Hearthstone alongside Blizzard’s other games, there was a sore lack of communication regarding development manifestos. This was at a time where Overwatch had Jeff Kaplan putting out developer insights about the game constantly. It was difficult for Hearthstone players to see those interactions then witness how their own game was neglected.
At that point, players were receiving balance changes on average once every six months. The game was in a state of unbalance at… Well, pretty much every single point since release. But the balance changes stopped entirely when beta ended. Needless to say, the playerbase wasn’t happy, and something had to change.
Un’Goro changed everything. With Un’Goro came Ben Brode’s greatest contribution to Hearthstone. Un’Goro: The Journey. This masterpiece took Ben from ‘neglectful developer’ to ‘neglectful developer that can rap’. Suddenly he was seen in an entirely new light! This wasn’t an incompetent man letting his game die, this was an aspiring rap star stuck in a boring job. This single nearly three minute long video made up for the years of quiet, the years of unbalance, and the many ignored requests. Brode showed us who he truly was. And it wasn’t a card designer.
Truly though, long before Un’Goro, Brode did contribute something else. Designer Insights. Back in September 2015, Brode himself began to put out videos discussing the developer side of things. Pretty much exactly how Overwatch did (perhaps a bit less depth, but Hearthstone has had far fewer changes). It was exactly what the community was looking for. The first video was in response to the community’s anger regarding reveal schedules. They were angry enough to force change, and it came in the form of Designer Insights.
These Designer Insights were monthly, give or take, for five months. Then they stopped for half a year. They came back with a hastily thrown together video about why Reddit was wrong about how bad Purify was, before the card was released. Turns out the card was pretty much exactly as bad as everyone thought, and was only used in a few Ancient Watcher meme decks. It was also the first card to be excluded from Arena, because of how terrible it was. That video was released in August of 2016. Since then only six Designer Insights have been released, three of which were under three minutes, and four of the six were just announcing new features, rather than addressing community concerns. In other words, Designer Insights have all but died.
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Fitting, Hearthstone is Dying Too
Hearthstone is dying. I’m not being a naysayer or a doom prophesier, Hearthstone is, objectively, dying. The number of viewers and players for all events and at all times are lower than they have been in years past. Personally, almost all of my friends have stopped playing. The cost barrier to entry is so high that virtually no one is picking up the game, so everyone who leaves is a permanent reduction in players. Balance continues to be nonexistent, driving players away in droves.
Reddit in particular used to go in cycles. A set would be released and everyone would be excited for two months. Then they’d get bored and start complaining for a month. Then the new set would be revealed, and a hype train would start up. Repeat. Now, a set is released and people are upset on day one. The forums see much less traffic and consist of constant complaining for three months. New cards start to be revealed and the hype is much lower due to the incessant negativity. Though I’m being melodramatic, it would take a fool to not see a downwards spiraling trend.
The biggest problem, top to bottom, is a lack of action on the part of the developers. For a game like Hearthstone to die is actually appalling. I say this because it has literally no good competition. There isn’t a single other card game on the market that has any consistent playerbase. And yet Hearthstone is so mismanaged that players are moving on to entirely other genres. I want a good card game, but I’ll often settle for not playing anything over playing Hearthstone, and many players feel the same way. All we want is frequent balance changes and some discussion from the developers. Also a price reduction, but that’s not likely to happen.
I’ve been ranting a lot here, and most of the things I’ve been discussing have very little to do with Ben Brode. He may have been the game director, but I’m not so naïve as to think that means he has much to do with the direction of the game. However, regardless of the input that he had, he brought Hearthstone down in one major way. He was too damn likeable.
What? He was too likeable? Let me explain. Ben Brode is a master of getting people to like him. His raps, his infectious laugh, and his generally happy demeanor are all just nice things to see. It’s hard to think of him and be upset, he’s always happy. Which means that, in a lot of cases, he isn’t receiving the hate that many in his position would receive. He’s the figurehead of Hearthstone, a game that deserves hate, and yet he doesn’t receive it. I’m not advocating for a hate-train, but when one already exists, perhaps something should change.
So what do I want to see from the new guy? I want to see change. I want to see real tangible differences in the Brode era and the whomever-the-hell-they-hire era. And if there aren’t any changes, I want the Hearthstone community to stand up and tell the new guy that they are tired of this. Okay, maybe I am promoting a hate train. I just want Hearthstone to reclaim its former glory, and the glory it has no reason to have lost. Balance the game regularly, talk to your playerbase, and make the barrier for entry a lot lower.
And Brode, we will miss you. All the best to you and your future endeavors. But I genuinely hope that your departure ends up being a good thing for Hearthstone in the long run.