Hearthstone, and it’s Existence on Mobile Devices

Hearthstone, a collectible card game (CCG) released by Blizzard on March 11, 2014 exclusively via their Battle.net service and sales platform for the personal computer, arrived to iOS on April 16th and Android devices on December 11th. At this point, Hearthstone already had over 20 million registered users, and Blizzard always had one goal with the design of Hearthstone – simplicity. Always the same game board (albeit a few visual differences), always a simple, 4-choice menu, a sleek options section, and an easy-to-navigate card collection in the form of a book. The game was even originally limited to 9 “Deck slots”, so players could only create 9 unique decks at once before having to delete one. While this limit has since been increased to 18 recently, there are still many aspects of Hearthstone that could be more advanced or possible, but simply aren’t because of Blizzards adherence to simplicity as to not “confuse new players.”

This all loops back around to mobile devices. When the game expanded to mobile, the player base grew exponentially. Between September 2014 and January 2015, the games population grew by over 5 million users partly because Android devices had been added in that time. Most card games are physical, so having a fully-online only card game is odd to most fans of trading card games in the world. While games like Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh have had online versions, the base game has always revolved around going to a physical store and purchasing tangible card packs. In Hearthstone, this is not the case, as every single thing is digital, with no physical representation existing. This is partly why Hearthstone is so easy to jump in to, as there is no barrier to entry. This also means every single aspect of the game has to fit on a hard drive, which on mobile devices is a serious problem.

Blizzard has so far released 5 expansions for the game, and as they approach their 6th, they’re removing the first two from the store, never able to be purchased again. One reason is again to “simplify” the game, as they look 10 years into the future and see a cluttered store that won’t let new payers know what to buy or what is useful or outdated.  Another reason – and it’s a big one – is that devices like iPhones and Android tablets don’t have the memory capacity that personal computers do. The most typical iPhone, for example, is 16 gigs. Hearthstone alone, right now, is over 1 gig on the app store. As the game grows, this number goes up. Unless, of course, Blizzard can remove large chunks of content to keep the game a similar size for eternity. This limits new players immensely – and breaks Hearthstone up into divided camps that don’t have equal access to content.

I’m not sure if there is a simple way to fix these “simplicity” and space issues. You either let the game grow forever and eventually become a huge drain on phone space while appeasing to those who enjoy more complexity in their games, or you shrink the game as you go, simplifying the game for new players and downsizing the game for those who enjoy having a ton of content to play around with. The answer is for marketing and PR to discover.

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