Dean “Iksar” Ayala is an Interim Game Director on the Hearthstone team, and he’s been doing regular Q&A sessions on Twitter for quite some time now. People have been asking lots of questions about the game’s balance, design, specific cards, mechanics, and so on. Sadly, Twitter is kind of a mess when it comes to such things. Messages are short, you have to create long threads if you want to talk about something in detail, lots of comments get hidden, and it just doesn’t flow right. To make it a bit easier for all of you, just like during the previous weeks, I went through all of his replies and decided to make a summary of his most important talking points.
If you want to read the full Q&A – all the questions and answers – here’s the Tweet you should go to:
Hearthstone AMA #39
4:00PM – 5:00PM PST
Ask me a question about Hearthstone!
Or Design! (or anime…) pic.twitter.com/i9SZsS3rLw
— August Dean Ayala ???? (@IksarHS) March 11, 2022
Below, you will find my summary. It’s still pretty long, but Iksar tends to answer the questions thoroughly and includes a lot of details. I try to ignore “fluff” answers and not repeat points that have been already discussed in his recent Q&A’s, so if you want to learn more, go back to them. And if you want to read his full replies on all topics, check out the Tweet above. Things in parentheses are my own notes/comments and not Dean’s words. Let’s start:
- No year-long narrative in 2022, all three expansion will have different themes and storylines. Similarly, all the new cosmetics (like the ones in the rewards track) will be related to a given expansion and have no overarching theme. One or two of the themes this year are something we would probably expect, one that we don’t.
- Here’s what Dean said about how different this year’s expansion will be compared to 2021’s: “More fine-tune than mass overhaul. More big addition than big subtraction. Less generic hand-wide cost reduction, less otk.”
- He thinks that the next expansion is going to be a fan-favorite – cool cards, flavor, and mechanics.
- Devs didn’t specifically want to design powerful late-game swings and OTKs, it was just a natural consequence of the increased power level of the game. Oldschool “Control” win conditions just simply wouldn’t work, when the power level was growing, new cards had to do much more, be cheaper, more versatile etc. or else they would be unplayable. They’re now trying to solve that problem, but they don’t think that releasing a few low power level expansions in a row that won’t see play is the right solution. They would just have to push bigger, wider balance changes. They actually thought about doing them this year, but they felt that there’s still enough room to work with to decrease OTK and uninteractive strategies through normal means. That said, if it doesn’t work they have long term solutions in mind, but nothing to announce yet.
- The team is working on a way to make reporting abusive behavior from other players (hate speech, threats etc.) easier.
- Battlegrounds menu UI will get a slight refresh, but there is also a bigger refresh in plans that will incorporate new stuff such as a light progression system. But we’ll see it when there is something more complete to show.
- Buffs for some old-school iconic Wild cards are unlikely, because they’re just too easy to overshoot. It’s high risk, low reward because if they buff the card just a little it will still likely see no play, but if they buff it too much, it might dominate the format and end up worse.
- There’s a new internal “modes” team that works on something intensive right now, but in 1-2 months they will start planning long-term future of different “less popular” games modes – Arena, Duels, Tavern Brawl, Single Player. Those modes will all get updates, but probably not major new features in short-term.
- Class identities are something they talk about internally all the time, and it’s one of the things that’s hardest to agree. It’s unlikely we get an external update anytime soon, but they think about updating the identities internally.
- Achievement points are sort of a “high score”, not a currency, and there are no plans to turn them into such. Many achievements already have rewards tied to them they will continue doing that.
- Achievements for the older PvE content (like Dungeon Run) are in the backlog of things to do.
- The Mercs lead is still actively thinking about solutions for the excess Coins problem, but there’s nothing they can talk about at the moment.
- Dean thinks that skill-based matchmaking in Arena would be positive in long-term (to attract more players to the format), but it’s not something that the more engaged Arena community agrees with.
- If a card that was made for Core Set (e.g. Vanessa VanCleef for Core Set 2021) rotates from the Core Set, it will just become craftable if you want to keep using it in Wild format.
- The way they pick themes for an expansion is a big meeting with 20-25 people who pitch their ideas on whiteboard, then people like set lead, expansion lead and game director talk about them and pick the best ones. They mostly focus on what they think the global audience would like to see, but right now they’re trying a more data-driven approach with more research.
- Iksar respected and admired Ben Lee’s (previous game director’s) mindset to push for higher standards and release quality content instead of just doing the bare minimum required.
- Dean’s biggest surprise about Hearthstone 8 years later is that it’s still incredibly popular as a game and successful as a business. When they first launched it, he thought that it was going to be more niche but it blew all the expectations.
- His favorite deck lately has been an autocomplete Big Spell Mage he made just to finish a Quest and now has 100+ games on.