It seems to be the day for Blizzard developer diaries, as Hearthstone lead designer Ben Brode has also sat down in front of a webcam to talk about his game. This time it’s all about the notion of power creep, why some of the basic cards given to new players are garbage, and what that all means. While there’s no new announcements, there is a lot of interesting discussion on the nature of card games.
None of these Hearthstone legendaries are bad. Sorry.
Whole articles could (and have) be written about what is and isn’t said here. Progression doesn’t solely exist to introduce players to the game slowly, it’s also the means by which the game makes money. Power creep does need to be avoided, but equally, players need to be given a reason to want the new cards so that they’ll pay for them, or keep playing to get them. While Hearthstone is easily the friendliest F2P game I’ve ever played when it comes to not forcing you to pay up to have fun, it can’t abandon the idea of being a profitable enterprise completely.
However, philosophically, the points Ben makes are tried and true facts of making card games. Bad cards serve a lot of roles beyond just being filler – they’re build-arounds for new decks, something to be used in various game modes (different cards are good in Arena versus on the ladder, while others are wacky enough for Tavern Brawl and some aren’t good for anything) or, as Ben points out, a teaching tool. Regular players are very quick to forget just how bad they were when they started Hearthstone or any other card game. Unaware of the concepts of card advantage, or tempo, or even drawing and the mana system. They learned quick, precisely because they started simple, and then they learned that some effects are better than others.
More complex and more powerful cards also should exist because they make the game fun and, as a free to play game, they do need to be behind a paywall of some sort. I personally don’t have an issue with them being strictly better versions of lower-level cards, and think the effort of changing every basic card so there isn’t an improved version of it would be better spent literally anywhere else.
The lead designer of Magic: The Gathering, Mark Rosewater, also talks about this sort of thing fairly regularly, and in fact released a two part podcast last month about bad cards and why they exist. It’s over herealong with links to some articles he’s written on the subject. I highly recommend them for anyone interested in card games, or game design in general.