Dean “Iksar” Ayala is a Hearthstone Game Director, and he’s been doing 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 Q&A sessions, I went through all of his replies and made 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 #45
1:00PM – 2:00PM PST
Ask me a question about Hearthstone!
Or Design! (or anime…or elden ring) pic.twitter.com/UOtcE98SRj
— August Dean Ayala ???? (@IksarHS) July 18, 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:
- Devs are already thinking about themes for the first two sets of 2024 – no actual card design is done for them yet, but they think about adding a two-set narrative. They also talked to WoW team about doing a canon universe expansion (instead of the usual wacky Hearthstone alternate reality stuff).
- The first version of “location” cards was back in Forged in the Barrens, when they tested “champion” cards with activable effects similar to current locations, but it didn’t work too well. Then they tested the same concept in Alterac Valley (but they didn’t have interesting enough design for them yet) and Sunken City (but they encountered some UI issues), and they are finally adding them this expansion. Early design of location actually took two spaces on the board, and you had to insert minion in between them in order to “activate” them. It was cool, but didn’t play very well and felt bad when you topdecked a location without minions to power them.
- Team 5 tries to be more pro-risk than they were in the past when it comes to card design, adding more high complexity and “high-emotion” cards.
- They intend to keep printing disruption cards, but probably not on the original Mindrender Illucia level.
- They used to consider card changes to be something very negative in the past and tried to do it only if they absolutely had to, but they changed their approach. These days they think of card changes as a very small negative, so they do it more often.
- As a game director, Dean is more focused on planning future stuff (1-3 years ahead) instead of working on the current stuff. He would like to spend 70-80% of the time refining the systems that are already in place and 20-30% of the time creating new stuff players might not expect. The split is this way because there’s a lot of content upkeep in Hearthstone. Making new stuff like game modes is difficult because they want to commit to them long-term so it’s a lot of extra work added. They want to better assess what players want before committing lots of resources there.
- Since they have limited resources, they had to hit a break on new Tavern Brawls to work on other stuff like Duels, Book of X solo adventures etc. There are actually brand new Tavern Brawls in active development right now, but that game mode is pretty low priority and players shouldn’t expect constant new releases like in the past.
- A small team will be formed with a purpose of onboarding new players and retaining old ones. Dean thinks that the systems they have in place aren’t good enough.
- When it comes to big Battlegrounds updates, they are working on 1-2 upcoming ones at the time. With expansions, they had almost a decade to refine the process of creating new cards and playtesting them, but with BG they had to play catch-up.
- It’s rare to add new cards to the set last minute to “counter” some of the powerful meta decks from previous set. If anything, they might change the cards they give to a certain class to not further boost up an already powerful archetype – or just nerf it instead of forcing players to use a counter card in every deck they create.
- They aren’t big fans of hand-revealing mechanics, because they aren’t very fun in practice. If you know exactly what your opponent can do, then the choices you make are less interesting.
- Adding more minion types is something they want to do, but they need a right expansion theme for it.