Hearthstone Interview: Producer and Director Discuss RNG, Balance Changes, and Meta Development

Alongside the reveal of Hearthstone's Year of the Raven, DualShockers sat down with Yong Woo and Ben Brode to discuss broader topics in the game's meta.

As the Hearthstone community buzzes about the new announcements for 2018’s Year of the Raven, DualShockers sat down with the game Senior Producer Yong Woo and Game Director Ben Brode. Outside of the main changes being introduced in the new season, we wanted to chat about the more general aspects of the hit collectible card game, how changes are made, and what is in store for Hearthstone’s future.

One of the larger announcements for Year of the Raven is the retirement of some classic cards into the Hall of Fame. Unlike the shift of entire expansions into Wild – the anything-goes mode – retiring cards to the Hall of Fame are normally bigger undertakings because these are considered part of the core series.

With this in mind, we asked what goes into the decision of Hall of Fame-ing a classic card versus the more anticipated nerfing to something less powerful. Brode responded that the main motivation is to do their best to preserve the classic core set. However, they have to balance this with giving avenues for people to keep enjoying their meta-deck archetypes.

To use the present example, one very common Hearthstone strategy is the “Handlock” archetype (or Hand Lock, Control Lock depending on your community). This strategy relies on a high-quantity card hard and bases the strategy around that, effectively balancing low-health along the way.

According to Brode, when Molten Giant was nerfed to require a higher Mana cost – a decision made to keep the Standard play competitive when the balance was shifting in Handlock’s favor – it had the unfortunate consequence of ruining archetype play in Wild. So in this case, it was seen as a better swap to simply retire Molten Giant and un-nerf him back to his original form.

Speaking more broadly to Standard versus Wild gameplay, Brode mentioned that both modes exist. According to the development team, Hearthstone’s success relies on being new and working in fresh new strategies. However, leaving Wild mode in the mix lets people stay in touch and grow increasingly powerful strategies. Though, that’s not to say that Brode doesn’t miss Reno Jackson as a play option in Standard.

On top of that, we asked the Hearthstone team how they go about looking at card balance – is it based on the meta data from cumulative games, or do they look at the high-tier championship matches and seemingly unbreakable strategies?

Brode mentioned that it was a bit of both — in essence they both play to each other. While changes have definitely been made to play based on overly successful strategies in the Championship league, other times the broader meta data will highlight that otherwise successful combinations are so high-skill that they have a much higher failure rate than you would see in the competitive scene.

Also, when asked if Blizzard would make that kind of data more available to players, Woo mentioned that they hear us but there is “nothing to announce right now.”

Apart from some of the broader strategy, DualShockers’ David Fenster asked the important question: “What did I do to get on the bad RNG list?”

Besides Woo affirming out suspicions that he is being explicitly targeted with bad rolls (sarcasm), Woo and Brode both mentioned how important RNG is for the game even as a psychological boost for players. While there is definitely frustration that comes out of RNG, it is at times helpful for gamers to have that in-game boogeyman to blame outcomes on. It is much easier for people to swallow a string of losses when it is blamable on RNG over a poor strategy – even if the latter is more often the case.

Hearthstone’s Year of the Raven will kick off fairly soon this year, according to the most recent announcement. In our chat with Brode and Woo, we also touched on whether a console port of the hit series was in development or if they had considered a Hearthstone Classic (similar to the recently revealed World of Warcraft Classic). Hearthstone is currently available for Android, iOS, and PC.

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David Fenster

A gamer since he was old enough to push buttons and a programmer for over 15 years, David Fenster can "see the code" in games. While today he uses his programming skills to write web applications, he intends to someday revolutionize the world by inventing morph ball and portal gun technologies. His favorite games are the Xenosaga series, Heavy Rain, and The World Ends With You because they are "story-driven and imaginatively unprecedented."

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