Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 31, 2013
The second coming of collectible games?

Most people know me as a blogger about MMORPGs. But if you look at my avatar on my blog, that is actually an image which dates back to my previous activity on the Magic the Gathering Online forums. It is photoshopped from my avatar on those forums and a MtG card, and was given to me as a prize for winning a forum poll on who was the most helpful contributor to the forums. I have spent most of the 90's playing Magic the Gathering in paper form, and was a judge at one World Championship. So my background is as much collectible card games as it is about MMORPGs, only that the former is less well known.

I am telling all this because of Hearthstone. I am not in the closed beta and didn't have opportunity to try it yet. But I couldn't help but notice that there is a strong buzz around the game. I consider it extremely likely that Hearthstone will be Blizzards next big thing. While Wizards of the Coast more or less botched the implementation of the online version of Magic the Gathering, and many companies had mixed success with online collectible card games, I do believe that making a great online collectible card game is playing right to Blizzard strengths: Taking known concepts and polishing them to a great game.

Furthermore collectible card games work extremely well with another modern fashion: Free2Play games. Even Mojang is considering changing Scrolls to Free2Play. The collectible cards business model is well established since the 90's, and accepted by most people, although it always had a whiff of Pay2Win to it. It is a lot easier to make an online game from a franchise that always had people pay for more stuff, than to convert something that used to have a different business model into Free2Play (e.g. EA's new Dungeon Keeper which is Free2Play, and heavily criticized for it by the fans of the old game).

Assuming Hearthstone works well and is very profitable, what do you think will happen? As always other companies will try to clone the concept, or use it with some modification. Magic the Gathering spawned a multitude of similar games, and Hearthstone will probably do the same. Selling collectibles is inherently extremely profitable, just look at the success of Skylanders. A wave of games with collectible content may well be on the horizon. Maybe I will even get the MMORPG with collectible card elements I have been talking about for a decade.

I'm in the HS beta (and -sadly- I'm helping the Skylanders business too, my 2 sons go crazy for them). My first impressions: I loved the idea of playing a card game with a WoW theme. Also, daily "quests/achievements" are nice to keep you hooked up with the game.

But at the end of the day it's just another card game. Yes, it's cool. Yes, it's about WoW and yes, it's fun. But it's a card game, where -once again- you will need to buy cards if you want to be competitive. There are tons of similar games for mobile devices, for example.

As a typical Blizzard game, it also needs some grinding: having various "classes" you're supposed to level them, running games over and over to win matches and gather cards/money (unless you decide to pay and insta-buy new cards).

You can craft cards too, where "crafting" means you destroy useless card to collect dust and spend the dust to "make" a new card. Great cards are obviously expensive, we know the deal.

I liked it, being in the beta was nice, but I honestly found more interesting Card Hunter. Being a Blizzard title this game is obviously a lot mroe polished and rich of little detalis (animations, effects, ...).
I don't think it can really be 'big thing' in Blizzard's terms, in that it's hard for me to believe that a CCG could ever (again, not sure about MtG) approach the popularity and demand of certain of Blizzard's popular franchises.

Still, if they can bring back a bit of cerebrality to computer games, good luck to them!
I have not try HS yet. But i noticed the populatity that this game already has, e.g. streams are full of it.

I just recently crossed Solforge. It was invented by 3 former Pro Tour Players and they have been consulted by Richard Garfield.

It is their second game, after Ascension, which was Ascencsion. Ascension was a board game (Card game) and had an IPAD version of it.

Solforge has a lot of new and intersting mechanics, that could not be easily transfered to a board game.
I'm in the beta as well, and after about a week I've already pretty much stopped playing. This is NOT due to the fact that HS is a bad game; far from it. However, as Rugus pointed out, as the end of the day it is just a card game.

If you're a fan of CCG's, then I do think you'll really like HS. It's polished, easy to pick up and fun to play. However, I don't know if there's enough here to capture those new to the genre and get them to actually spend $$. Maybe if/when they release a tablet version (honestly not sure why this wasn't done from the start; it seems tailor-made for an iPad).
I am in the HS beta as well and while its neat it gets boring within the first week.

However, there is another game, Might & Magic duel of champions which is a significantly better online ccg. I highly recommend checking it out.
I played the Heartstone and I found myself bored. There is nothing else to do just start another game, that is fun for only so long.

The games are over very quickly and I found the game to be extremely unbalanced. By the fifth turn one can get destroyed by extreme combos that if not immediately neutralized can take one out within about two turns.

Perhaps this has always been like that but in the past getting cards wasn't all that easy. Back in the day you had to go to the store to buy packs, then sort through them, or go and trade with people etc. There was actual physical work involved, today all it takes is a credit card. I find that discouraging.

Or perhaps the perception of this has changed.

Today any time I lose I feel that I lost because the other guys spent more money. This may not be warranted or true but I still feel that way - It goes to the psychology of playing you have to have at least the illusion of getting into a fair fight.

We don't fully understand how the easy availability of cards influences the game, and it remains to be seen if a game where at any time you can buy cards shows the same type staying power as the old games that worked on the same principle but had tangible goods.
I am also one of the few that got into the beta. I have enjoyed it a lot so far. I played Magic in high school but couldn't afford it long term. I quit once all my friends split up going to different colleges. I play Hearthstone because it is F2P. I can get a few packs a week just by playing, and you don't even need the best cards to win games. I have so far only used the free Basic cards, and my record is 30-25. The matchmaking is working great even with a smaller player pool.

I think Hearthstone serves dual-purposes though. Of course, Blizzard wants it to be profitable on its own. It is very easy to get into. They hope some players will want cards at a faster rate than 15 a week and decide to spend money regularly. So far it seems very successful. I saw a thread where numerous players already spent hundreds of dollars buying packs or playing Arena. But I think Hearthstone is also a lure to play WoW.

Seeing those old characters and hearing those old sound effects gave me a ton of nostalgia, all these memories of the fun times I had in WoW. I ended up subscribing again. I don't know how long I will play, but Blizzard got at least one month out of me. I have been watching the community, and have seen several others also coming back to WoW. Then these fresh subscribers will be there when the next expansion is announced. It is all part of Blizzard's grand plan.
I've been in the beta a little while, not that long, and I'm finding it really slick and polished, lots of cute references to WoW mechanics and characters.

It's a good fun game, although personally I'm not sure how long it will hold me - not because of any failing in the game, but just because I get bored of PvP-and-nothing-but games pretty quickly. I've never been one for that sort of thing - not Street Fighter-type games, not FPSes, not MOBAs.. I just get bored quickly.

But on your other comment about collectible card games working extremely well with the modern fashion of Free2Play games - I'm not entirely sure about that. Every F2P card game runs smack bang into conflict between F2P gamers who hate pay-to-win, and the fact that card games have always embraced spending money to get better cards.

The other real conflict is: how to combine F2P, earning cards through gameplay, and trading of cards between players? Most (all?) games don't even try - they just pick two at most of those three features. Hearthstone, like MM:DoC, Rise of Mythos, etc., chooses to just leave out trading of cards between players.

It's hard to see how you could have all three without rampant obscene botting.
I've got most of my thoughts down already on my blog (, but the gist of it is it's highly polished, fun, and as someone who played Magic for years seems like it'll have a decent metagame, especially if Blizzard can continue to put out new classes/characters/cards.

I personally have no qualms with the idea that I need to make a small initial investment to get bootstrapped (I dropped ~$20 USD), but I'm also pretty used to that from other CCGs. The base set that you start out with free really is pretty difficult to make a competitive decent deck from. But that $20 was enough to make a constructed deck that could win about 50% of my games.

The real replayability comes from the Arena mode, though, which is effectively a draft, but you're getting random choices rather than drafting from precisely the same pool as other players.

As per my blog post, I have a couple concerns about some of the rule choices they've made (card advantage is kinda insane right now), but I'm excited to play more.
just because I get bored of PvP-and-nothing-but games pretty quickly

I think that will always be the disadvantage of smaller game vs. MMORPGs: A smaller game cannot satisfy all four Bartle types as well as a huge virtual world game can.
I feel that Card Hunter is better game at the moment.

Hearthstone is polished as far as general gameplay goes, but initial hooks to keep playing don't seem to exist, and novelty wears off pretty fast.
Well, Hearthstone and Scrolls are actually aimed at different players.

Scrolls is a game for hardcore CCG fans, while Hearthstone is a casual-ish time-killer, which won't satisfy most CCG fans, but will appeal to players unfamiliar with CCGs.

So, not unlike, for example, FPS series Halo and hardcore military sims like ArmA, I suppose these are pretty much different niches just using the same game mechanics.
Not sure about the collectable element of Hearthstone yet. Considering that I'm winning 75% of my games with the free cards available to every L10, unless you are up against the best players (or doing unranked games), you don't need to buy anything to get. I think the passive collecting will be enough for me.
I'm really hoping it doesn't blow up and become their next big thing, because I'd rather they spent their time on things I'd be more interested in.
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