Hearthstone: What Is “Design Space”?

Jan 31, 2016
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And why does that design space seem to matter so much to Hearthstone’s players and developers?

When talking about Hearthstone and the decisions of the development team, many players, having come from Magic the Gathering, base their views and expectations on the way Magic is handled. Wizards of the Coast has a very close interaction with their community, even letting them design the occasional card to make it into the game. Hearthstone, and, by extent, Blizzard, on the other hand, does not have a very good interaction with its community. Developers such as Ben Brode rarely speak out or assign changes to already-published content despite massive community outcry and requests for information. This is a pattern with Blizzard, as they have behaved similarly with the communities of their other games, from World of Warcraft to Starcraft 2.

However, when changes are eventually assigned, such as the Warsong Commander nerf, the reason usually given is a cryptic “The card limited design space.” Design space, then, is the visualization of the future of Hearthstone that the developers have. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with the TGT expansion, it’s not always an accurate one. However, since they are at the reigns of the endeavor, the ideas of the Hearthstone developers are the ones we, as players, must come to accept.

Why Does it matter?

Design space matters so much to us because it is unchangeable-only the developers of Hearthstone can do that. However, we can still complain about it in forums and subreddits because that is a place firmly out of the control of designers and in the hands of players. And it’s hard to know what to expect from Blizzard’s plan for the game. We’ve seen tremendous ups, such as Goblins versus Gnomes and the League of Explorers expansions, which brought strong new cards that increased the versatility of all sorts of decks, but we’ve also seen downs, such as the Blackrock Mountain and The Grand Tournament expansions, of which most cards are relegated to gimmick-only decks. With the uncertainty that follows close to each expansion over its actual effect on the game, it may be time to for the Hearthstone developers to borrow even more ideas from a familiar game: Magic the Gathering.

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Wizards of the Coast underwent similar problems with balancing their game in early expansions, with many previous cards also creating a limited “design space.” Their resolution to this problem created a solution to another problem: having to lay down large amounts of money to be competitive due to the rarity of previous expansions, especially if at least a year had gone by. The solution has been revised a couple times since then, each time increasing the scope and allowing players with different card sets (points of entry into the game) to still play with their collections against others with similar collections and experience. The solution? Simply divide expansions into format, and remove old expansions from the “Standard”, or current, format. While requiring players to purchase many new cards or packs every time a set releases, this format makes it much easier for new players to get into the game, since they only have to obtain a comparatively small amount of cards to be competitive at the level it currently takes owning nearly all Hearthstone cards to be. In addition, expansions would have to be much bigger, to allow more variety to be available with each expansion.

Of course, our older cards would still be useful, but in other formats, allowing players of even collection strength to match against each other. For once, it would be a fun change for all players. Just a thought, Blizzard.

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Andrey Sanin
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Having played Magic for 10+ years and been around Hearthstone since beta, I've been around various card games for a while now. I love Blizzard games and spend most of my gaming time playing them, but well polished indie games also bite chunks into my time. Follow me on Twitter: @wordoverload
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Nice.

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