The Legacy of Hearthstone, Its Gameplay, & Developers
Hearthstone, the massively popular and successful collectible card video game, was first launched for PC and macOS in 2014. Mobile versions soon followed, and the game became a massive hit. As of 2017, Hearthstone earned its parent company, Blizzard Entertainment, a reported $40 million each month. As of the end of 2018, the game could count 100,000,000 player accounts. The game is so popular, there actually exists a thriving market for ready-made accounts, in which players post their complete collections and login information up for sale. While Hearthstone cannot claim distinction as the first digital trading card game, it has become, by far, the most successful.
Development and Gameplay
Development of Hearthstone began in 2008, and it would take six years before the production team released the game into the wild. For inspiration, Hearthstone drew upon real-life trading card games, Magic: The Gathering (MTG) in particular. In MTG, players build decks comprised of cards that originally come in randomized packs. Since its inception in 1993, MTG has grown, expanded, and thrived through the release of dozens of expansion sets, and the development of multiple worldwide competitive circuits. The story of MTG and Hearthstone actually came full circle in 2018, a point we will touch upon later.
Like its physical progenitors, Hearthstone players build custom decks of a set number of cards. New cards are also acquired through the purchase of digital “packs.” Certain gameplay mechanics are also strikingly similar, such as the use of limited resource called “mana” to cast spells, and the deployment of creatures to attack your opponent’s in-game avatar. The difference between Hearthstone and physical card games, however, is its existence purely in the digital realm. When players perform actions in the game, digital representations spring to life. There are also systems to prevent players receiving the same cards over and over in packs.The pack system actually serves to explain the larger part of the game’s success. Players can purchase these supplemental packs with both in-game and real-world currency in what’s known as a micro-transaction. Despite the controversial nature of micro-transactions, Hearthstone has become a veritable cash cow for Blizzard. It also has established a sizable presence as a popular eSport, in which players compete for both cash prizes and personal distinction.
Hearthstone is also tightly related to Blizzard Entertainment’s other online behemoth: World of Warcraft. Hearthstone takes it lore and imagery from the Warcraft universe, so that it arrived with ready-made familiarity for many potential players. Two key factors contributed to Hearthstone’s initial and continuing success: accessibility and charm. Just a few months after its release, developers expanded its accessibility to smartphones and tablets. Cross-platform compatibility means players can partake in matches with opponents on any other device. Gameplay is short and intense, perfect for a mobile session. The different cards in the deck represent a huge cast of various magical acts and creatures, which opponents play against one another through the use of their mana, a limited resource that determines when and what cards a player can deploy. Throughout a match, the game maintains a casual, jovial atmosphere through its imagery, music, and sound effects.
As Hearthstone became wildly successful, it naturally inspired a slew of imitators. Some of these were based on the lore of other game franchises, such as the Elder Scrolls-themed Legends digital card game. The most interesting competitor to Hearthstone, however, is a recent arrival, and represents an unusual kind of mutual-inspiration. As stated above, Hearthstone derived much of its design and gameplay mechanics from Magic: The Gathering. In 2018, the company behind MTG, Wizards of the Coast (WotC), released MTG: Arena. WotC has released multiple digital versions of its iconic card game, including MTG Online and Duels of the Planeswalkers. However, Arena is a separate beast altogether, one clearly designed to tap into the success of Hearthstone and blaze a pathway into the world of eSport competition. Arena sports slick graphics, intuitive controls, and fast gameplay directly modeled on Hearthstone.
Despite its recent release, Arena already has the markings of a runaway hit. Player reviews have been glowingly positive, and the game has quickly risen to become the second-most watched digital card game on livestream, second only to Hearthstone. Whether Arena can ever topple Hearthstone from its lofty perch remains to be seen. There does exist one major mark in Arena’s favor: WotC’s parent company, Hasbro. The largest toy company in the world, Hasbro has thrown its full weight behind Arena, to the extent that it plans to pay out an estimated $10,000,000 prize pool in 2019. No other digital card game, not even Hearthstone, has received that kind of backing.
Another interesting addendum to the legacy of Hearthstone comes from the efforts of the game’s former director, Ben Brode. Along with other former Blizzard employees, Brode founded a new company called Second Dinner. Recently, Second Dinner announced a large investment backing for yet another digital card game set within a universe rich in lore: Marvel. Can webslingers and mutants compete with the likes of orcs and wizards? Only time will tell.