Owning up to our past mistakes — an update for Hearthstone and other card game players

Gil Tov-Ly
May 5, 2020 · 5 min read

Update: The author of HearthArena sheds some light on his current development status, and clarifies his position around ads

This post is long overdue — it’s about owning up to our past mistakes, and sharing an update to the Hearthstone and card games community about the state of the Overwolf platform in 2020.

In early 2016 the HearthArena app was launched on Overwolf. It was an innovative companion app, and was considered a must-have app by many Hearthstone players. And indeed, HearthArena saw major adoption from the community, logging over 3,500,000 installs to date.

Yet back in 2016 Overwolf was still forming as a platform for 3rd party app developers. The platform was still buggy and sluggish, with many platform-y features sorely missing. Everything was new and early, app developers were basically figuring out stuff as they moved. Building in-game apps was something they had no previous experience in, and there weren’t any “best practices” to follow. Some apps had poor quality and UX, with some even causing performance penalties like FPS drops or ping spikes. To make things worse, we at Overwolf did a poor job at communicating the differences between the platform (Overwolf), the apps on it (HearthArena), and what we as a platform can and cannot fix.

We should have done better (and there’s no real way to sugarcoat it)

The startup life is filled with “hustle” and “fake it till you make it”. There is an ever-present “move fast and break things” mentality, and the rule of thumb says “first ship, then fix based on feedback”. It makes a lot of sense, as the users know much better than you what they really need, what’s broken and needs fixing and what is actually just fine.

But Overwolf is an open platform, not a mobile app or a website. Things like stability, performance optimization and quality of life issues are not “nice to have” that can be fixed later — they’re a must. We were wrong to ship the platform too early, before we could properly guarantee that we won’t screw up game experiences. By shipping a half-baked product we’ve also done a disservice to developers who built product on the platform. We were the ones who poisoned the well with bad first impressions, but our partners are the ones who still face community backlash regarding their choice to build apps on Overwolf.

We did a poor job, we should have done better. And for that we’re sorry.

Modern day Overwolf

Trust is easy to lose and hard to gain back, and over the past years we’ve been working with vigilance to fix Overwolf. It took us a while, and a fair bit of effort — but the buggy and sluggish platform is long gone. We’ve massively improved performance on the Overwolf side, to the point that our overhead is practically zero. However, the apps themselves may still cause performance issues, and we’re developing measures to track that so we can communicate it to gamers in real time.

We also screen apps to verify they’re aligned with the terms of the game developers — which is why no gamer will ever get banned for using an app on Overwolf. Modern Overwolf is a robust platform — with a good balance of offering rich tools and features for developers, while maintaining a good experience for gamers.

Fixing HearthArena and Overwolf

HearthArena in-game app, built on Overwolf

The HearthArena app and the Overwolf platform weren’t ready for the massive adoption, and back in 2016 many Hearthstone players ended up having a shitty experience. We can use the feedback we got back then to outline the major changes that were introduced to the Overwolf platform in recent years.

The main feedback we got from Hearthstone players was:

  • Why do I need a stupid launcher? Why can’t this be more like a standalone app (with a desktop icon etc.)
  • Fix the performance issues
  • Remove all file leftovers after uninstall
  • Let me opt out from ads-related data-tracking in one click
  • No app pop-ups
  • Remove ads

What we’ve done in recent years:

  • Every app has its own desktop icon, and can be launched using winkey (no need for an Overwolf launcher)
  • Uninstalling fully removes everything
  • We’ve massively improved performance on the Overwolf side
  • One-click opt-out from ads data sharing is being rolled out in the upcoming platform patch patch 148
  • We’ve asked the HearthArena developer to remove the browser popup, and he’s working on a new build for his app

What we can’t or won’t do:

  • Guarantee a 100% bug free experience. Everything in the app is being controlled by its creator (=not us). We can make recommendations, and we often try to help devs improve the quality of their apps, but we can’t order developers what to do
  • Remove ads. Integrating ads or not is a decision made by the app creator. In many cases ads are what keeps these apps alive, so by watching an ad you’re actually supporting the developer. We’ve also added a subscription feature devs can integrate into their apps — so that gamers who wish to see no ads or get premium features could support the app directly by paying a monthly subscription
  • Offer apps as standalone, without having Overwolf installed. Our commitment to game developers is that our tech won’t be used to create cheats. Therefore, Overwolf needs to be installed so we can monitor integrity and performance, and be able to remove apps in case game developers ask us to

What more do we plan to do in coming months:

  1. Change the app process name from OverwolfBrowser.exe to appname.exe
  2. Provide user alerts when apps cross different CPU/RAM thresholds
  3. Continuously working with our partners to iterate based on user feedback

We’re in this for the long run

We’re gamers, just like you. We care about every frame, every millisecond of server ping and our game experience overall. There is still room for improvements in the platform, but we’ve made tremendous progress in recent years.

We’re adamant to keep improving. If you’re experiencing any issues with the platform or apps — please let us know. We’d love to look into it ourselves, or update the app creators.

Overwolf Blog

Built for creators by creators. Overwolf is the guild for in-game creators that empowers them to create, grow, and monetize in-game apps and mods.

Gil Tov-Ly

Written by

VP Growth at Overwolf

Overwolf Blog

Built for creators by creators. Overwolf is the guild for in-game creators that empowers them to create, grow, and monetize in-game apps and mods.