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GDC Video - Hearthstone: 10 Bits of Design Wisdom

At Game Developers Conference 2015 Hearthstone Lead Designer/Game Director Eric Dodds gave a great talk about ten different design wisdoms the Hearthstone team embraces. Check out the video or jump to the summary

Eric Dodds' talk at GDC 2015 focuses on 10 design wisdoms that the hearthstone team uses to guide their designs. All ten are listed below with a summary of his points around each.

1. Iterate Fast

The first wisdom focuses on the ability for the hearthstone design team to rapidly test new ideas with very little setup or development time. Dodd's recalls early paper prototypes designed with Ben Brode, and the eventual Flash prototype. This prototype was mechanically similar to the final game, and even used as a reference implementation for the development team after initial design was complete.

2. Share the Vision

Dodds reveals 2 of the 6 "stakes in the ground" that Hearthstone team members should always focus on. The game should be "Immediate fun for the new player" and "Allow non-competitive players to thrive". He emphasises that all members of the team need to be able to think like a designer.

3. Simplify

Because CCGs are a complicated game archetype, the Hearthstone team focuses on removing or modifying core mechanical elements of traditional paper CCGs. This includes a lot of the basics such as:

  • Turn structure
  • Resource model
  • Exhaustion (tapped) creature states
  • Defensive assignments
  • Summoning sickness

Most of these classic mechanics have been modified in Hearthstone and Dodds demonstrates how several of those changes have added depth to the game.

4. Keep it Deep

As a followup to the previous point, this keeps design focused on removing complexity without damaging depth. Hero Powers are used as an example of a trade off for altering the resource system of the game. Dodds also emphasises the creation of simple cards that lead to complex interactions.

5. Immediate Fun

This point is geared towards the new player experience and touches on considerations when designing tutorials and introductory content. There is a focus on "learning is fun" but balancing that is important to "get to the main experience immediately".

6. Embrace the Medium

The physical to digital conversion of a CCG put a lot of fundamentals in question. Particularly "response" effects (which the hearthstone team has accounted for with secrets) and creating cards that could only be accomplished in a digital space (like Thoughtsteal or Nozdormu).

7. Don't Change too Much

"Take advantage of the things you don't have to explain to the player" summarizes this point well. Dodds discusses why maintaining the "card" aspect of Hearthstone's design was important and how naming game/card elements with terms people are familiar with gives you extra benefits.

8. Support Player Stories

Dodds defines a player story as "the thing your buddy will tell you [...] about the game last night". The design team's focus is on player stories over narrative stories and how card design emphasises this fact. He also discusses randomness as a strong tool for creating player stories, using Arena drafts as an example.

9. Emotional Design Matters

This point centers around the emotional state of players in all aspects of the game design. In a discussion about card mechanics, Dodds gives three specific examples of "emotionally unfun" mechanics that the design team will not do:

  • Discard mechanics
  • Resource destruction
  • Counterspells

He mentions, discard would be a valuable design tool, but they won't touch it because of the emotional "price".

10. Little Victories

Largely specific to PvP games, this point is about players experiencing the sense of achievement throughout play. Dodds likens Hearthstone turns to a "puzzle" and believes OTK-style decks (one turn kill) remove the opportunity for little victories. He mentions they are aggressively looking at these decks, even though they are fun and challenging. [ed: This talk was before the nerf to Warsong Commander]

Tidwell in Design Videos - Dec 5, 2015