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Blizzard Switches Gears with Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Blizzard Entertainment, long known for producing some of the world’s most successful and long-running franchises, is shifting its thinking about game development and the kinds of products the company creates. World of Warcraft, the most financially successful MMORPG in history, provides hundreds of hours of epic experiences to casual and hardcore gamers alike. Starcraft 2 and it’s new expansion, Heart of the Swarm, have helped considerably in the global rise of eSports, inspiring thousands to work towards success as global competitors. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a free and lightweight game centered around 10-minute play sessions. While this comparison may seem stark, developers at Blizzard say that their new project is a natural branching out of the company’s core philosophy.
What is Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft?
Currently under development with no set release date, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft will be a free online trading-card game set in the familiar Warcraft universe. Players will choose one of nine popular Warcraft heroes, then charge into battle using custom built card decks.
Blizzard has released several “fireside duels” — Hearthstone matches between the game’s developers, to reveal what a game of Hearthstone may be like when the game launches. Gameplay seems fast and complex, and the game mechanics should be familiar to anyone who has played a trading-card battle game. Familiar creatures, abilities and battle mechanics from the Warcraft universe abound, making for a nostalgic experience for both Warcraft and World of Warcraft players. Making the game accessible to new players is a priority as well, and developers promise that no Warcraft or trading-card game experience will be necessary to enjoy the game.
Game Development on a Smaller Scale
“Team Five,” the official Hearthstone development team, is made up of 15 company veterans, all of whom have been avid trading-card game fans since before Blizzard existed. The team is dedicated to developing the game as an epic experience, with a less-than-epic scope, and a preview trailer hints that this may be a direction the company plans to pursue again in the future. The game represents a step outside of the team’s comfort level, as they have built their careers around massive AAA titles.
There is a trend within the industry towards smaller development teams finding great success through smaller, niche-focused titles, even at a time when so many amazing AAA games are hitting store shelves at a rapid pace. Consider the industry veterans taking to crowdfunding platforms to fund projects that no AAA publisher would touch, for example, or the wild success of small Indie studios, such as Runic (Torchlight 2) or VBlank Entertainment (Retro City Rampage). Hearthstone represents Blizzard’s wise choice to take advantage of the opportunities of this trend, while still maintaining the company’s reputation as a maker of highly polished AAA experiences.
The success or failure of Hearthstone will surely be noticed by other AAA developers and publishers. The advantages of smaller teams, faster development cycles and niche products can only add value to companies whose existence relies on multi-million dollar franchises. If Hearthstone is a success, I would not be surprised to see others follow in Blizzard’s footsteps.