Blizzard Entertainment has a reputation for taking new genres and adding the polish they need to become widely popular. World of Warcraft established the MMORPG genre through design innovations including its quest system, leveling through experience, and instancing dungeons, which have all become standard features in MMOs. Hearthstone had a similar effect on the digital card game genre, smartly designing for the platform in a way which made the game a huge success despite the lack of widely popular digital collectible card games up until Hearthstone’s release. Hearthstone’s design takes advantage of its digital platform to optimize the collectible card game experience by adding tool tips, a history of moves, and character portraits to the UI, which all help communicate the state of the game and assist players in learning the game, sharing knowledge, and fostering community.
As a digital card game, Hearthstone is able to use programmed interactions and rules to make its gameplay more intuitive. The UI elements present on the board mean that the state of the game is easily discernible at all times. The history of moves on the left side of the board logs all plays from both players, as a reminder in case either player wasn’t paying attention or if they need clarification on the effects of certain cards. Special effects and indicators on the board give visual indicators of how cards can be played and what other cards they may be affecting. The limitations which stop players from using cards incorrectly or using more mana than they are allowed per turn also ensures that players are playing the design as intended. These indicators and limitations also allow Hearthstone to have complicated cards which can affect other cards currently in play. These values can be altered in game and be applied automatically, so players don’t need to keep track of adjustments.
A large part of Hearthstone’s success is due to its popularity on Twitch and other streaming services. The turn based nature of the game lets casters talk through their plays step-by-step, conversing through their strategies with their audience. For expert players, this attracts an audience that is seeking to learn better strategies for their own gameplay and allows the player to act as a teacher. The slower pace also allows newer players to get feedback and suggestions from the live chat, essentially playing the game as a community. The UI elements, mentioned above, also allows viewers to hop into a stream and immediately know the state of the match. As streaming technology improves, it becomes easier for any player to share their gameplay online with an audience and benefit from the digital platform.
Card games have existed for generations as a form of play, but only recently have video games adopted their gameplay in a digital format. Taking advantage of the platform, Hearthstone became the first majorly popular digital collectible card game by using UI elements to make the game more intuitive and easy to learn. Special effects of cards are able to be applied immediately so players don’t have to keep track of value adjustments while they play. The pacing of the game combined with the ease of sharing digital gameplay has made Hearthstone massively popular on streaming services, as players share their experience and strategies with one another and grow the community around the game. All of these factors have contributed to Hearthstone’s growing popularity as a digital tabletop card game.