Hearthstone's overall value is very much on director Ben Brode's mind these days. When I asked him during my interview at PAX East what surprised him during the Year of the Mammoth, he talked at length about improving the perception surrounding Hearthstone's value proposition.
He admitted that Hearthstone still feels too expensive in some ways. "We were delivering more content, but players were not excited about that. So we spent a lot of the year finding ways to deliver stuff for free, or to make people feel better about the value of Hearthstone," Brode said.
He ticked off some of the steps Blizzard has taken over the past few months to increase its perceived value: Offering free legendary cards when completing certain quests; giving out free packs and class legendaries when logging into the new Witchwood expansion, making quests easier to complete. "This was all stuff that we did just this year, and we did it all in response to feeback from players."
But one thing Brode won't touch is the dust economy, which has been a notorious sore point with the community over the years. Dust is the means by which cards can be crafted without having to crack packs, making it one of the most important resources in the game. It's also hard to come by. A single epic card can cost 800 dust to craft, while a legendary card costs 1600 dust. Cards can be traded for dust, but at only a quarter of their total value. Legendaries offer a mere 400 dust in exchange for losing a preciously rare card.
I asked Brode if Blizzard plans to lower dusts costs, or at least up the return on dusting cards, but he doesn't feel that it's the right avenue to explore at the moment. "I think that comment is a comment on the general emotion of wanting more for less. I don't disagree with that feeling, but I do think we have the opportunity to give more for less. A lot of the changes we made over the past year are specifically targeting that. If you make changes to the dust economy though, it messes with our ability to do things like the Mammoth Bundle or the 20 extra packs for Witchwood, because if the right thing becomes to buy the cheapest thing and dust all the cards it's way less fun than just buying the packs for the cards that you do want."
Brode feels that there's more value in giving out free packs or increasing the amount of gold awarded for completing quests. "The sentiment is completely real, so I think that we're committed to making changes in that area. I just think that the dust economy is the wrong place to make those changes. I'd rather give out more packs than change the dust rates."
I noted that the current dust rates make it very difficult to craft some of the top-tier decks. For instance, many control decks are out of reach for players who aren't totally committed to playing that style. Brode responded, "I do think that's real feedback. I'm not discouting how players feel. But part of the impact of the dust economy is that it makes players' collections less fluid, which makes it more exciting when you get a new card. It's just a more satisfying experience assuming we get the value right. That's just something we've been focusing on a ton this year and making sure we get that right."
Brode's comment come ahead of the release of Witchwood, the new expansion due this week. Blizzard just revealed the last set of cards, including the extremely complicated Shudderwock. The expansion will also bring with it the annual rotation that will see Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan, and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan rotated out as Blizzard ushers in the Year of the Raven.
Blizzard will once again use the new year to try and make Hearthstone a better experience for players, but it looks like the dust economy won't be seeing changes anytime soon. Witchwood will be out April 12.