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Kobolds and Catacombs interview with Peter Whalen and Ben Thompson

The devs discuss the crafting economy, taming RNG, what to expect in 2018 and much, much more!

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About John Bedford

John is Metabomb's Editor in Chief, and is responsible for all of the Hearthstone news, features and guides content on the site.

Metabomb attended a Hearthstone press event in the UK earlier on today, where we had the opportunity to catch up once again with Peter Whalen and Ben Thompson.

Rather than focusing on one specific card as was the case with last week's Temporus reveal, we were able to talk on a much broader range of topics. As a result, there's a lot to take in here, so we've added links just below so you can jump to the section you're most interested in.

Navigation:

Use the following links to quickly navigate to the section of the interview you're most interested in right now!

1. Kobolds as a consolidation of Year of the Mammoth

2. Good RNG vs Bad RNG vs Too much RNG!

3. The New Player problem in Year of the Mammoth

4. Adding cards to the Basic and Classic sets

5. Three full expansions in 2018 and no more Adventures

6. Why there are no rewards for Dungeon Run

7. Rarity distribution and the increasing cost of Hearthstone

8. Reviewing the crafting economy and rarity dust ratios

9. Changes to the ladder and Seasons systems

10. Pre-emptively banning new cards from Arena

11. Simultaneous global expansion releases

Kobolds as a consolidation of Year of the Mammoth

MB: Looking at the cards revealed so far, it feels as though this expansion is designed as a consolidation set for Year of the Mammoth. There's cool meme-y stuff like Temporus and so on, but is this a way of making existing cards more viable?

PW: Not exactly. It's more about we want to enable experimentation. So there's a lot of cards that say if you can build a deck around this, or if you can take advantage of this, you get something really powerful.

There's a lot of cards that push in different directions and say "Here's a bunch of things you can try out", and in part that captures the vibe of the set. Let's go down into the dungeons, see what the Koboldss have built and lets try a bunch of different things. It's more about letting you try out and experiment with a whole bunch of different stuff.

Temporus is a good example of a card that if you can take advantage of its effect then its unbelievably powerful, and Rin is [another] good example. It's not that easy to take advantage of - its pretty tricky. There's a bunch of cards that play into that space and a bunch of cards say if you can meet the deck-building challenge (Seeping Oozeling or Recruit cards), it will do something really great for you.

BT: Legendary Weapons gives weapons to classes that have never had them before so there's a lot of experimentation for certain classes that feel less like consolidation and more like “Wow, what do I do with the Mage if I can have a weapon now?” That feels really interesting.

PW: I think it also might be skewed a little bit by the cards revealed so far. Each of the classes has a theme and in a lot of cases two themes. These are the things they're trying to do, then maybe a one-off card or a two-off card that either supports a past thing or just pushes in a crazy direction. Cataclysm is a good example of a Warlock one-off card that supports some past themes.

Good RNG vs Bad RNG vs Too much RNG!

MB: I forget the exact statistic, but there was a recent Reddit thread where someone remarked that more than 40% of the new cards had some element of RNG to them. How do you decide how much random is too much random, and what's the sweet spot?

PW: There's a couple of different types of random. Hearthstone is going to be random, your deck comes in a random order, you cards get shuffled at the start of the game, you're going to draw cards. There's always going to be some amount of randomness and it's inherent in what it means to be a card game.

The question is how much random should you have on individual card texts? There's always a question of what are the good types of random and what are the bad types? What are the types that are totally wild and crazy and make Hearthstone not really feel like I'm playing an actual strategy game? What are the types of random that say “Oh this is interesting”, creating situations I haven't seen before, and that make me express my skill in cool ways?

It's reasonable to do some cards that are in the crazy place. That's fun, that's cool, but we try to keep them at a lower power level so that they're not the most competitive cards you're going to run into.

There's at least one or two examples of that in Kobolds and Catacombs. I think Runespear is an example of a card that does wild and crazy things, but isn't necessarily the most powerful card in the set.

There are other cards that are very powerful like Unidentified Elixir that have randomness that is in a very narrow band. The card's pretty good on its own, you're going to get this bonus effect, then it's a question of how you take advantage of it. The bonus effects are pretty close together, and you want to build a deck that can take advantage of all four of them and see what kind of ways you can use them.

Recruit's another good example. It's very low variance assuming you've built your deck around Recruit, because you're going to get some things that are super-powerful. If it's built in such a way that you have Armorsmiths and also Y'Shaarj, then yes it's high variance - but maybe you could have made different deck-building choices to mitigate that choice. The decks where you get Armorsmith? You just shouldn't have put it in your deck. You should build your deck a little bit differently.

That's one of the things we're trying to do with randomness, is see what types of randomness is more skillful, which is more interesting, rather than what types of randomness are crazy or you're saying “Oh, we don't want to run into this in Hearthstone”. That's not a good goal.

That's one of the things we're experimenting with. I also think the [RNG] cards that have been spoilt are disproportionate relative to the rest of the set.

The New Player problem in Year of the Mammoth

MB: We're entering a very challenging part of the rotation where you have three expansions from last year, the two already this year, then one more now. Come April half of those are going and it seems like a tough time for new players to come into the game. Does Dungeon Run answer that problem? It seems like the meatiest single player content so far.

PW: There are two parts to that question. Dungeon Runs are awesome, they're great content, and they're good for new players because you don't need a collection. They're great for old players because they let you experience Hearthstone in a completely different way. If you're a returning player who feels good at deck-building and Arena-style stuff, this is a great opportunity for you to show off how skilled you are.

At the same time, yeah, this is the biggest part of our expansion cycle and so for new players there are a lot of options. One option is to build some decks that are more centred on Year of the Mammoth cards and there are certainly decks out there that don't take advantage of cards from Year of the Kraken nearly as much. Those are good options if you're worried about card rotations in four months.

There's also the Wild format. Once that happens, there's a deck you love and you're a new player and you've invested in it, go play it in Wild. Wild is super fun right now - it's very cool, very diverse and there's a lot of cool stuff going on...There are certain decks you can build where the cards are Commons and Rares and are much cheaper to craft.

There's a lot of opportunities to get into Wild that aren't incredibly expensive, especially if you have a decent Standard collection.

Adding cards to the Basic and Classic sets

MB: On that note are there any plans to tweak the Basic and Classic sets? Players have suggested some expansion cards could go into the Basic set, others could be retuned and so on.

PW: We had the Hall of Fame last year and that went really well. It was very positively received and its helped make this one of the best Hearthstone years we've ever had.

We're still exploring. Should we bring more cards into the Classic set to replace some that went into Hall of Fame? What is the best thing for the Classic set going forwards? Having the set is great. It does a lot of good things that ensure your collection is reasonably constant.

Fireball is always there - super iconic - Frostbolt. If you had these cards they continue to be in the Classic set and continue to be in Standard, even if you come back five years from now. I've liked the Hall of Fame and the changes we've made.

Three full expansions in 2018 and no more Adventures

MB: Kobolds and Catacombs is the last set in Year of the Mammoth. It's been mentioned in the past that releasing 3 x 135 cards per year is not something that's set in stone. Is that how the 2018 design is going to be though?

BT: It's hard to put definitive numbers to those sets, but three full sets - whatever that may mean, give or take cards - is absolutely the plan, with missions in each.

MB: Adventures are not going to come back?

BT: No. At this point we feel it's best to continue to add mission content to the actual release set for several reasons.

There's a lot of solid single-player content that happens with each and every set, there's certainly a subset of players who like those - and even prefer those in some cases. At the same time it provides a lot of opportunity for complexity to be put in that model.

With Adventures, we were somewhat fettered by the fact there were cards we needed to get out there, we wanted to add those 30-plus cards to the meta, but we couldn't gate those from players based on experience. If they didn't complete the Adventure and they don't get those cards, that sucks.

We needed to tone down the complexity of the Adventures, and as a result they were less challenging for the more experienced players - and we certainly got that feedback.

This is a way we get to put the challenge into them - and certainly with the Dungeon Run there'll be a tonne of challenge in there - but there's no gated content behind that, other than a card back for beating all nine heroes. It's very different from "I don't have a card I can add to my deck now and make a certain deck type".

For that reason, putting together three full releases with mission content is a big part of how we see the game going forwards.

Why there are no rewards for Dungeon Run

MB: A lot of people are excited about Dungeon Run but want to know why they can't have rewards - 50 Gold for beating it, or a few packs for your first clear and so on. Are you considering adding more rewards to it?

PW: We talked about that a tonne actually, whether we should put rewards in the Dungeon Runs or what we should do with rewards in general. We ended up not putting repeatable rewards in the Dungeon Run content.

One of the things we wanted was to not force people to play Dungeon Run, or feel that's the only way they can get rewards. That's the best thing I can do, I'm going to sit down and grind Dungeon Run all day, even if I don't enjoy it. We wanted to make Dungeon Runs for the people who will go in and enjoy it and find it the most fun.

We moved any of the rewards we were going to do in Dungeon Run and instead you get two free Legendaries as part of the Kobolds experience. Three free packs for logging in. We moved those rewards out of Dungeon Run and intead just made them up-front rewards.

MB: Just in your pocket, here you go, welcome to the expansion...

PW: Welcome to the expansion, have fun. If you want to do Dungeon Run, that's great. We can tune the difficulties so there's no expectation you're going to beat them, we can just make them as much fun as possible without having to worry about people grinding them.

BT: Or feeling gated out of the content in both directions.

Rarity distribution and the increasing cost of Hearthstone

MB: Another topic that comes up daily is the issue of distribution of Legendaries, the requirement of Epics to support those Legendaries and the general increased cost of keeping up with Hearthstone.

What are your thoughts on that, and the difficulty of even the most committed and hardcore players now struggling to field all the decks as a result of this distribution of Legendaries per class and so on. What would be your response to those people?

PW: I think part of it is that there are more decks right now that are viable in the metagame than there were a year ago, and are more diverse.

Part of that is just that we've been doing a better job of having a diverse and interesting metagame that's evolving and creating lots of different archetypes.

It used to be there was a small handful of cards that showed up in every deck. I think that made Hearthstone less fun and it was just not as good an environemnt to play in. I think one of the side effects you mentioned is it's harder now to have all of the decks than it used to be.

There's less overlap between them. You mentioned two Legendaries in each class. I think that's been great for gameplay. It means that classes...if one of their Legendaries isn't that great they're still excited about the other one. We often try to do Legendaries for different types of players and our goal is not to make Legendaries be the most powerful cards in the set.

There's often lots of silly Legendaries that push in all kinds of silly directions, but people felt bad if their class got a silly Legendary in their set because they didn't get a metagame defining one. With two Legendaries, that gives us more opportunities to put silly Legendaries in classes without people feeling bad because they're going to have access to other tools.

I think in that context it's been great. Neutral Legendaries have always been a huge challenge because if they're powerful like Dr. Boom then they go into every deck and that's not a great experience. Emperor Thaurissan was a cool card in every deck, and so it's very much defining of what the metagame feels like. It just means there's less diversity in what you play against.

Being able to pull Legendaries out of Neutral and put them in the classes has done a lot of great things for us gameplay-wise. We've spent a lot of time talking about the cost of the game, and what value you're getting when you open the packs. One of the changes we made in Frozen Throne is you don't get duplicate Legendaries any more.

Your first Legendary will also happen in your first ten packs - that's another change we've made. We've been giving away more Legendaries - the Death Knight or a Legendary Weapon or Marin the Fox. We've done more events as well like the Dual Class Arena where we gave away free Arena runs. Things like the Fire and Frost Festivals too.

These are some of the things that we're trying to do. At the end of the day our goal is to make sure you feel when you're opening Hearthstone packs, when you're spending your time and money, that you feel like you're getting good value. That you're excited and happy about it.

Reviewing the crafting economy and rarity dust ratios

MB: Do you have any plans to review the crafting dust ratios? Are you looking at the crafting economy?

PW: We don't have any plans, but certainly we're talking about the value you get from your packs and the value of the Hearthstone economy. Making people feel like their time and money is being respected - crafting costs come into that.

When we have those discussions it's absolutely part of it, but we don't have any plans to announce now.

Changes to the ladder and Seasons systems

MB: Can you share anything about the ladder and season changes? I know you couldn't talk about it at BlizzCon but is that going to happen by the next expansion? Is it six months away, a year away?

BT: It's hard to put a time on it.

PW: It's not going to happen before Kobolds!

BT: It's not something we put a time ratio to, but we certainly continue to say we are looking at it and working on it. Mostly because it does come from a place of where you find yourself - it's where we find ourselves playing the game. I myself have reached 12 once and it was a mistake I assure you!

I'd like to feel I can move on from that in a reasonable fashion. Just what form that takes is unclear as of yet. Certainly a lot of the decisions are being made around how much fun people are having in the game.

Are they only having fun after they've gone past those grindy levels to get to the point where they feel like they're getting a real challenge? Or vice-versa, do they even feel like they have the chance to get to that point as a lower level player? All of those things are factoring into the decision.

Pre-emptively banning new cards from Arena

MB: I'd like to talk about Arena quickly. Cards like Bonemare were heavily criticised because they're great fun in Standard and give those comeback mechanics we talked about last week. Is more proactive work being done for Arena this time around? It often feels in terms of balancing that Arena is an afterthought compared to Constructed.

PW: So there's a couple of things going on for Arena. We're actually still looking at individual cards to see what we can do with particular things like the Death Knights. Bonemare is a good example of a very powerful Arena card.

One of the things we want to do is release cards and let players experience them in the Arena. That's really important that people get to try them out. It's not always clear which cards are going to be the most frustrating to play against.

The Death Knight cards are a good example. They're not the highest win-rate cards in Arena, they're not actually the most powerful cards, but they created a pretty negative experience playing against them. So we removed them from the Arena.

I don't think there are any plans to proactively say certain cards aren't going to show up in Arena. I think it's better to have people experience them and try them out and then react based on what actually happens, rather than try to predict what we think is going to happen. Then if we get it mostly right or mostly wrong, people haven't had the experience of playing with these things. That's a less good experience.

One of the things we are doing in Arena is we're trying to make small tweaks to card drop rates to better balance Arena. With small changes to some card drop rates - a lot of card drop rates - in order to try and get the classes closer to 50% in Arena. That's actually been pretty successful in the last couple of weeks - or a month plus. That Arena has actually become more balanced and that's one of the things we're working on.

Part of the other future of Arena as well is some of these cool events we've done. Like the dual-class event. It's a lot of fun and it gives opportunities to try out cool things in Arena that are exciting, and let people - especially people heavily invested in Arena - try out different things and refresh it at a faster rate.

Simultaneous global expansion releases

MB: Finally, I know you haven't talked about the release date, but are we going to have a staggered release again? Will we ever get a simultaneous release across all regions?

PW: I don't think we've announced whether it's going to be simultaneous or staggered, but we're going to do whatever's best for our players. If the answer is we're concerned our servers can't handle everyone opening packs simultaneously across the whole world, then the decision may be made to stagger it.

As we make tech improvements I think there's a hope we'll be able to do a simultaneous release.

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