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Keen’s Thoughts On Heroes of the Storm Technical Alpha

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I finally got into Heroes of the Storm technical alpha a week or so ago, and after spending several hours going head to head with heroes, villains, and well-known characters from all of Blizzards IPs, I’m ready to share my thoughts.

First impression: Blizzard polish is (duh) amazing. They enter the MOBA scene years after so many others yet create a game that just ‘feels’ great. I don’t need to go into details about the UI being great or the game running smooth. The map is standard MOBA with a Blizzard flare (more on that in a moment). It’s all flawless, and that’s to be expected. Go watch a youtube video if you want to see more.

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Heroes of the Storm is, essentially, a dumbed down version of other mobas at least where mechanics are concerned. There isn’t last hitting or denying. There are no items. Experience is shared across your entire team. Everything is super basic, but remarkably it works.

Gameplay centers solely around improving your team’s heroes faster than your enemy. Hero customization comes in the form of choosing talents and abilities that actually make the customization in HotS significantly better than most if not all other mobas out there. As you level you get to choose to upgrade abilities, and you have to make a choice of which ability will receive which upgrade. Upgrades may make an ability do more damage or gain an effect.

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As you play heroes more and win games you unlock new traits for them and gain experience to level those heroes up. This encourages you to pick a hero, buy it (yay cash shop?) and rank it up.

HotS also has mounts. It wouldn’t be a F2P or a Blizzard game without mounts. These can be activated by pressing Z and make moving around the battlefield when traveling a little bit faster. They can also be customized (more later).

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What makes Heroes of the Storm unique is the interesting gameplay twists. Throughout the match there will be timed events to gather things or beat the enemy team at performing a challenge. In the Halloween map ‘Cursed Hollow’ the goal is to curse your enemies by collecting the tributes. This curse makes the enemy creeps have 1 HP — a great way to push their base. Another map I’ve played had players entering into a goldmine (good ole classic Blizzard gold mines) to slay undead and collect tokens to spawn a boss that would fight for your team.

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The free-to-play component of HotS disappointed me. I hate games that only make certain heroes available each week. It’s like League. I prefer DOTA2’s method of giving you every hero. You’re forced to buy heroes and they ARE NOT CHEAP. Some range from $3.99 up to I think I saw one for like $10? It’s crazy. Yes, you can unlock them with the in-game ‘gold’ you earn slowly by playing normally. Other things like mounts, cosmetic skins, and the usual fair can be found. Blizzard clearly likes Riot’s business model.

Worth playing? Yep! Heroes of the Storm is a lot of fun despite being a somewhat obvious cash grab. If you’re like me you’ll look to find the most value possible without paying a cent. I can have plenty of fun for free.

Does this mean we can have Warcraft 4 now?

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Just looking at this makes me want to re-install.

Now that Blizzard officially cancelled Titan, a game they never officially announced, does this mean we can have Warcraft 4?

Blizzard’s Mike Morhaime says they’re not going to work on another MMO at this time. They’ll continue working on stuff like Hearthstone for sure, and now my hopes are as high as possible that they’ll finally decide to go back and try to revive the strategy genre they helped define. What about Starcraft, you say? Warcraft strategy games are so very different. Warcraft 3 specifically focused on a very small unit count in order to maximize micromanagement. Hero units created a significant mechanic that I haven’t seen used the same since. They feel like night and day to me — and I’m good at Warcraft strategy games and horrible at SC.

In a way… I’m excited to see what Blizzard does now. I don’t want Blizzard to focus on MMOs.  Less MMOs the better. Bring on the other games that’ll actually deliver a full and complete experience!

I still believe Blizzard is phasing out WoW

WoW dropped another 800k subs bringing it down to a lowly 6.8 million. Remember my crazy assertion that Blizzard is sorta okay with WoW slowly fading away? Yeah, I’m still crazy; I still think that’s the case. I’m not even close to hinting at even the remote possibility that they aren’t interested in making money — no, quite the opposite. I truly believe Activision Blizzard knows they can make more money by phasing WoW out and phasing in other more profitable products.

WoW is Expensive

I can only imagine how expensive it is to continually develop and support World of WarCraft. Very, very few products ever last for 10+ years with this level of continued support before being phased out for something new. Compared to something like Hearthstone or Diablo, WoW has to be sucking out cash like crazy. That’s fine since it also rains money down on the company, but there is a ratio and a point of inflection where I guarantee top brass want something a little more efficient. I face the same issues at my company right now where I’m trying to convince a team that it’s not okay to push our $18,000 product if we only make $2,000 profit — push the $9,000 product where we make $6,000 profit in 1/3 the time please.  No seriously… do it.

Momentum is Drying Up

Warlords of Draenor is still slated for sometime near the end of the year. This waiting game is totally intentional. Guess what happens when Blizzard fans don’t log in to play WoW? Many of them will try one of the other great games Blizzard has to offer. The strategists at Blizzard are incredibly insightful and know that the competition sucks right now — if you didn’t know that, it does. The landscape for transitioning customers right now is beautiful to behold.

Blizzard’s Future isn’t WoW

Blizzard has become synonymous with WoW.  People talk about WoW as doing things like WoW is the primary entity. For a while that’s okay to be known by your product, but after a while the team starts to squirm because that product cannot last forever, and when it does finally go away if you have absolutely no identity or loyalty to your company’s brand… ouch.  Lucky for Blizzard they have immense corporate brand identity, but that doesn’t change the basic underlying principles of this lesson

There will come a time when Blizzard is known for something else. They’ll want those 6.8 million+ people to transition to support a newer product with a longer shelf life. You can’t just start the moment the product releases. It takes time, and there’s no better way to start than to ever-so-slowly sunset a game without most people even realizing it’s happening.

Where did Blizzard go?

warcraft 2What the heck happened to the company responsible for the Warcraft RTS games?  I was thinking about Warcraft Orcs and Humans, Warcraft 2, and Warcraft 3 today and the hair on my arms stood straight up — those games are ridiculously good; Dare I say they are downright epic.  I can still hear the voice in my head…  “The once mighty army of Azeroth lay among the blackened and charred remains of Stormwind Keep.”  The image of that orcish armada sailing across the great sea is burned into my memory.  I’m getting chills right now just thinking about it!

starcraft 2When I think about Warcraft back then compared to what it is today I am baffled by how badly Blizzard strayed off course.  When I think about ‘Warcraft’ why aren’t Footmen, Peons, Grunts, Gul’dan, and the Bloodlust top of mind?  Why can’t I think “yes me’lord, righto,” and “work work!”  Why do I think about arenas, raids, gear, and MMO mechanics instead?   Why has the direction changed to such an off-putting product strategy?

warcraft 3The same can be said for Diablo and Starcraft.  All of Blizzard’s properties are slipping.  I feel like Blizzard is so focused on ‘being Blizzard’ that their core competence has gone from making games to making headlines.

I’ve come to know a lot of the Blizzard team over the years.  Blizzard is a really good company with great employees, but you guys are losing sight of the mark.  You are losing your identity and forgetting what’s most important: The Games.

diablo 2As a true fan of your properties, I’m devastated by the direction you are going.  I appreciate the business side of things like eSports, and I know times have changed, but there used to be such a timeless perfection to your games.  I miss it, a lot.

Can you please bring back the spark, the magic, the zug-zug… that classic feel?  I think you know what I’m saying.

 

Playing Hearthstone

Hearthstone TCGHeartstone is Blizzard’s digital card game and foray into the Free to Play market.

I was lucky enough to randomly receive a beta invite, and I’ve been playing for many hours over the last week or so.

Hearthstone has two great things going for it:

  1. Extremely high production quality
  2. Warcraft

In typical Blizzard fashion, Hearthstone runs flawlessly, looks great, and wins over the imagination with awe-inspiring attention to detail in everything from the cards to field of play.  Appealing to the WoW fanboys and live streamers doesn’t hurt, either.

The game itself is fun.  Although a somewhat watered down version of Magic the Gathering, there’s enough depth to develop a deck and deploy a strategy.  Games are very quick, and all strategies tend to revolve around overwhelming your opponent with creatures.

Selling booster packs will make Blizzard a gazillion dollars.  Blizzard definitely captured the feel of opening a pack and discovering the cards by having players place the booster pack on the table and turn over the 5 cards you get one at a time.  You read that right: 5 cards.

Paying for booster packs will give an enormous advantage, exactly like it does in every TCG.  Making Hearthstone your hobby will be expensive, but if you’re a TCG junkie this one is well worth the investment.