Muses: Hearthstone and Expectations

It’s been funny watching tweets, articles, and discussions about Hearthstone, the digital collectible card game Blizzard announced at Pax, over the past weekend. The reactions to the game’s 1 hour presentation were lukewarm, and unsurprisingly so. However, over the course of the days since the announcement, I’ve watched a rather dramatic shift…

Disappointment

I think the real problem with Hearthstone has nothing to do with the game itself and everything to do with the announcement. Let’s set the stage here:

  1. Blizzard talks about an exciting new project they’re eager to announce.
  2. Blizzard is a company who virtually never gets on stage at conventions other than Blizzcon to announce games – I can’t remember the last game that wasn’t announced at a Blizzard event.
  3. They have a full hour-long keynote presentation. Not only that, but it is the opening act of PAX East.
  4. Blizzard has an almost unblemished record of successful games(some would argue Diablo 3, but overall I think it was a success)

With a setup like that, how could expectations not be sky-high? People went into that conference looking for a revival of Starcraft: Ghost, something new about Blizzard All-Stars, some completely new console exclusive IP, etc. etc. etc… and then they sit down and Blizzard announces a minimalist title developed by a team of 15-ish members within Blizzard, and what’s more it’s a free-to-play digital collector card game and you’re sitting there for an hour watching that.

Of course people were disappointed and angry. It’s only logical – Blizzard had only themselves to blame. They set people up for something big, and showed off quite possibly the worst thing they could have presented in an hour-long standup presentation.

Let’s face it, the presentation was exceptionally boring. I mean, ccg’s aren’t exactly an exciting spectator event. They’re much more fun to play than to watch… and people were sitting in (probably) uncomfortable seats watching this for a full hour. And then, at the end – to make it even worse – they have a shoutcaster casting a game and having to explain every card as he does so. To be blunt, I wanted to fall asleep.

I cannot fathom what made them think that this was a good idea – that is to say booking a headline standup presentation to reveal Hearthstone. If they were almost anyone other than Blizzard(or Valve, Bungie, or Irrational), this might well have killed any chance of people caring about the game.

Excitement

But if you look at peoples’ opinions of the game now, nearly a week later, everyone seems to be talking about having a blast playing it on the floor, or how it’s a really cool idea… where’s the disconnect? Well, it’s simple: CCGs don’t showcase well. But Hearthstone puts a lot of things that a lot of people really love in an easily accessible place: it’s a ccg, it’s free to play, it’s got a good online matchmaking system, it has shoutcasting tools, it’s all digital… it really takes all of the barriers to entry out of the ccg genre and makes it just available. And, even better, it’s Warcraft – and what gamer doesn’t know Warcraft and have at least a passing affection for it – whether it be from the RTS games of our childhood, the MMO that made MMOs mainstream, or even the fun novelizations…

Everyone knows Warcraft, and a lot of people like the concept of a ccg. CCGs are strategic, they’re addictive, they’re satisfying… and once I’d had some time to think about all of this, I came to the conclusion that I was really quite interested and even eager to give Hearthstone a try. And more and more people began to come to this same conclusion. It’s been fascinating to watch as more and more people switched from skepticism to excitement, from outrage to interest… and I can’t help but wonder if Blizzard wouldn’t have been better off just releasing it via a press kit sent to the major sites. If people had digested it in the 10-15 minutes the info we have now warrants… maybe initial impressions would’ve been better?

Or maybe this was all a part of their plan?

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