It seems that the Hearthstone team’s version of “new year, new me” is that they plan to communicate with the community more. A LOT more (see my post from just a few days ago for just some of that sweet, sweet communication).
However, there comes a point when there is too much communication.
Because we as impossible to please, some people have commented that the game devs should perhaps spend more time working on the game than talking to us. Other people think that, perhaps the game devs simply aren’t the best equipped to make these types of announcements.
My critique, which came to light this morning, is that not everything is a major announcement, nor should it be.
This morning, nerd-bae Ben Brode highlighted a forum comment of Game Designer Max McCall “about Shaman.”
The forum discussion can be found here: link.
For ease of reading, the exchange was as follows:
Shaman is like automatic concede because so much way can destroy anything you throw at them. No matter if there aggro , midrang and so on. The only thing that god against a shaman is another shaman.
We are keeping an eye on Shaman decks and we’ll see how they develop. We say that a lot. Here is what it means:
Okay, so: there are a few different kinds of Shaman decks:
– There are aggressive Shaman decks that play a Pirate package and no Jade cards
– There are slightly slower Shaman decks that play Pirates and Jade cards
– And there are even slower Shaman decks that play the Jade cards but no Pirates
All of those decks are strong, but they are all weak against Dragon decks (like Priest and Warrior) and Reno decks. If you’re tired of losing to Shamans, play Reno Warlock. In some ways, that is fine: Shamans are popular, but there are strategies that are good against them.
In other ways, it is less fine. Collectively, Shamans are popular; you play against a Shaman about one game in four. Now, the reason that a ‘balanced’ metagame is desirable isn’t because ‘balanced’ metagames don’t have dominant strategies. They are desirable because you play against different classes more frequently, which means you have a wider variety in the types of Hearthstone games that you play. Playing Shaman isn’t a dominant strategy – again, they lose to plenty of decks – but it is still boring to play against the same class over and over again.
And even though the Shaman decks have distinct differences, those differences are small. If you played against Warlocks one game in four, but half of your Warlock opponents were playing slow Reno control decks and the other half were playing aggressive minion decks, those games would feel very different from one another. On the other hand, when you lose to Tunnel Trogg, Totem Golem, Feral Spirit three times in a row, it doesn’t matter if some of those Shamans had a Pirate package or if one of them had Jade cards. Your games still felt very homogenous and weren’t that fun especially the third time around.
The point I am trying to make is ‘classes can be problematic even though they do not win too often.’ Shamans don’t win too often. Right now, they are more popular than we’d like. If they are too popular for too long, we will do something about it, as we did when we nerfed them a couple of months ago. However, it takes time to assess whether or not a class will cause the game to feel too homogenous for too long. On release, Mech Mage and recently Pirate Warrior were more popular than Shamans have ever been – but only for a few weeks, then people discovered alternative strategies and the decks became less popular. Because we know that Shamans have weaknesses, we hope that those strategies will become more popular and drive down Shaman popularity a bit so that you play against more classes more often.
We are going to keep evaluating Shaman popularity in the near future, and if we don’t like what we see, we will change something about the metagame. Perhaps we will change a card. Perhaps we will see Shaman popularity fall and not have to step in at all. Perhaps we will wait to introduce a new set and see if that creates the metagame change we want. Either way, it is a thing we are actively concerned about and paying attention to.
I. The Pros React
When I opened Twitter this morning, I saw that uber-pro Xixo and face-of-casting Frodan were having a discussion about the validity of McCall’s statement that Shamans lose to Dragons. Being the guys they are, Xixo was having a laugh about the “obvious falsehood” of the statement whereas Frodan was trying to help explain it away as possibly true overall, once low-level play is considered. Once they got the ball rolling, other big names like Sottle and Ostkaka got involved, with pretty much all of them commenting with an implied or express “Shaman does not lose to Dragons.”
At the time of writing–a mere two hours after Brode linked the post–people have begun photoshopping ridiculous statements into McCall’s post, commenting ALL over Ben’s tweet, and generally threatening to turn McCall into a meme. It seems the Hearthstone community is ready to turn on the devs again any minute now.
II. How Did this Happen?
First, it should be noted that the original post was made a week ago and McCall’s response was made four days ago. I didn’t see any Hearthpwn stories or Twitter memes at that time. Therefore, I think it is safe to assume that most of the attention this post has gotten has been as a result of Brode’s tweet. I also think it is fair to assume that when Ben Brode tweets about Hearthstone, he is tweeting about the game as a whole.
I am not a pro, and have access to next to no data on point, so I will assume that they are correct that there is a strong basis to assume that–at least at higher level play–Shaman beats Dragon Priest. To be fair, some people have noted that Blizzard has better numbers than any other source, so they may know something we don’t know, but those claims are generally dismissed by the bulk of the comments on this point. Therefore, McCall’s statement is “wrong” to the people commenting on Twitter. As we have seen time and again, the vocal people on Twitter and Reddit, by virtue of their being on those formats, tend to be more informed, skilled players; pros and seasonal grinders.
However, as is evident from the context in which McCall’s post was originally made (a context which is conveniently omitted from Hearthpwn and Xixo’s pictures), McCall’s statement was made to a lower-rank, lower-skill player who could not think of any way to win against any type of Shaman, regardless of what deck he piloted (either that, or the guy was a troll). With that in mind, it is safe to assume McCall was talking to the lower end of the ladder/skill cap, at which point everyone seems to agree with McCall.
Granted, McCall could have chosen narrower words if he intended to speak only to this guy struggling on the low end of the ladder, or people like him (“have you tried…?” or “a lot of people have had success with…”). However, one’s slightly poor choice of words does not generally warrant Internet lambasting. The real problem is that Brode’s tweet amplified McCall’s comment and turned it into something it was not (apparently) intended to be. Thus, the lesson of the day: not everything needs to be an announcement. It might have been better to let this comment’s reach stay small–it was well received within that forum’s thread.
When everything is treated as an announcement, things are sometimes taken out of context, or the ability to speak within a certain context is totally destroyed. All of a sudden, Blizzard employees can’t have speak to specific concerns or, can’t speak casually with friends in the community. Moreover, simple mistakes or ambiguities are amplified, and become problems. Now as a result of the team’s attempts to communicate more, certain types of communication are stifled, or punished, which results in less communication of that type, and possibly less communication overall.
As the Hearthstone team has noted, their plan for communication with the community is an iterative one, so I hope they do learn–and that we can patiently and respectfully help them learn–how to do it best. I also hope that we, as a community, can be careful to report and share developer communication fairly, instead of just shooting for funny memes. As I mentioned before about developer bullying, communication is a two-way street, and if we continue to punish the devs for talking to us, we’ll soon run out of devs to talk to.