- October 11th, 2016
How Genres Work in the Gaming Community: What People Have to Say About Hearthstone
Video games have been an ever growing industry ever since the 1970's with the release of Atari's "Atari 2600" in 1977. Ever since then, video games have been a rapidly advancing technology and supplying thousands all around the world with an immeasurable source of entertainment. Today, video gamers are now able to make a living off playing the games they love and compete in massive competitions for millions of dollars in rewards as a full-fledge sports career. These competitions, lovingly called "eSports" by many, have been the source of serious debate amongst gamers for the past couple years for many different games. The debate often being: What audience should a game cater towards, and whether or not the game is supposed to be played for fun alone or to be played as a competitive eSport. One such game that suffers from this problem is an online collectable card game known as "Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft" .
Hearthstone is a game developed by Blizzard Entertainment, or simply Blizzard for short, made to be an easy to learn and simple card game for people to play available on a multitude of gaming platforms. Hearthstone, like most games developed in the modern age, is a product community revision where the player base gives feedback to the developers on what is good and bad with the game. After some time to process everything the community has to say, the developers will go back and make changes to the game to create a better experience for a majority of the player base. Where Hearthstone’s dilemma occurs is how the heavily divided community tries to fight for power over this process. Currently, Blizzard has been favoring the silent majority of players who prefer the game to be light-hearted, flashy, and most importantly a casual experience that anyone can play and be proficient at. However, this design philosophy to appeal to a casual gaming audience has spurred the more competitive players across the internet to speak out against Blizzard's approach to the game, in favor for a more serious competition to reward more skilled players. This frustration has grown from a smaller subset of player who have played the game since the very beginning and do not appreciate how little their skill matters while playing. Those who have voiced their concerns have done so using a very common genre in the gaming community known as a gaming article. A great example of this is the article "Three Years In And 'Hearthstone' Still Doesn't Nerf Cards Fast Enough" by Paul Tassi. Obviously, these two styles of game design clash and Blizzard can do very little to appease both. But, when one analyzes the genre of "gaming articles" , one can begin to see just how much their uptake affects both a video game's community and the game they discuss as well, as shown by how much articles like Tassi’s impacted the game of Heathstone.
Looking at Tassi's article, one immediately notices the author's perspective. Because of the huge variety of video games available, it is very typical for the author to be a very passionate player of said game, or of video games in general, and to write alone. As such, it is very easy to see reoccurring patterns in many different gaming articles. Most will be formatted in a similar way: Simple black text with a white background on a website available for anyone to read. Most use short paragraphs to quickly articulate their points, and between these paragraphs are images of the cards or the game-play being talked about, whether it be directly mentioned or just an example of whatever topic is at hand. Also, most will use the game's jargon, inviting fellow players of the game, meanwhile excluding those who have never played or who are as serious about playing. As such, they draw relatively the same audience comprised of fellow competitive players who play and follow the game, while leaving more casual players to look up guides or gaming articles specifically geared for them in order to catch up to their knowledge of the game. This use of jargon can be considered as a sign of credibility for fellow players of the game at hand as it indicates an intimate knowledge of the game’s mechanics and background. It shows the author has actually played the game and understood how to succeed at it. As with a lot of gaming articles, the article is an opinion piece; combining the personal beliefs of the author and his or her experiences with the game. Specifically, this article's subject is how the developers of Hearthstone, Blizzard Entertainment, are not doing an adequate enough job with balancing their game. He expresses his frustration about Hearthstone's problems and Blizzard's pattern of changing the game. As Tassi says in his article, "I like Hearthstone, but I do not like playing games, seeing a class, and knowing there’s about an 80% chance I’m going to lose. I like Hearthstone, but I do not like playing or playing against a single card that can often decide an entire game on a coin flip" ("Three Years In And 'Hearthstone' Still Doesn't Nerf Cards Fast Enough"). Tassi here is clearly quite tired of how Blizzard operates its game and is trying to appeal to the audience that Hearthstone is in desperate need of a change of management if it wishes to keep its player base. At the time Tassi was writing the article, the subject of Hearthstone’s balance was a hotly debated topic. The game’s competitive scene was at an all-time low, and almost every serious Hearthstone player had an opinion on how they wanted the game to change. Tassi obviously was one such player, as such he wrote this article with the desired uptake to try and push Blizzard to actually change the game in some way. However, this is incredibly hard to do online as a singular article, so he also chose a secondary uptake in order to help achieve his primary one. He also desired to get people to spread his ideas of what Blizzard should do, and his article, so that his ideas can be discussed and repeated until the game developers hear his ideas.
This uptake on Hearthstone's community is the key to Tassi's article, and other gaming articles. Due to the heavily subjective nature of the genre, its uptake can radically shift between two very different outcomes. One is that the readers will disagree and argue against what the author is saying. This does not lead to much, except discourse within the community, which varies on the popularity of the second outcome. The second, and most important potential uptake, is when the audience agrees with what the author is saying and goes out of their way to inform others, including the original developers of the game.By sharing the article around with friends and other players, soon enough the article becomes a guideline for how the game should continue to develop. This is especially effective during times where the players are not deriving much enjoyment from the game or the game has a few glaring issues hampering it.Hearthstone was at this very point, where there were many clearly definable issues the fanbase had with the game, at the time Tassi was writing his article. As Tassi explains, "[e]ventually, changes were made to specific cards to make those dominating builds less viable, or destroy them completely, but it took forever then, and it’s taking forever now, where the problems seem even more obvious " ("Three Years In And 'Hearthstone' Still Doesn't Nerf Cards Fast Enough"). In his piece he offers some changes that Blizzard could make in order to improve the issues, and soon enough the entire competitive Hearthstone community was nearly rioting for these changes to be made. Tassi certainly was not the first one to write about this issue, however, but his article really demonstrates the mood and frustration of the community at the time. Other examples of the player base's feelings over the way Blizzard was treating competitive Hearthstone can be found on any number of Hearthstone discussion sites. One very popular site that has perhaps the most interaction with the developers is the official Hearthstone “subreddit” which can be found at the popular online forum site, www.reddit.com. During the time period, one could find a new discussion about the state of Hearthstone every hour, where people of all different backgrounds could come and give their thoughts on the matter. Reddit user, hslimsch, describes his feelings on the matter quite succinctly, "The state of the game is just very disappointing at the moment… The game is really not in a good place, I only keep playing naively hoping that it will improve. But there is really no sign of that currently" (Reddit.com). Even pro players chimed in through discussion videos, such as Hearthstone’s 2014 World Champion, James Kostesich, commonly known online simply as "Firebat" . Kostesich, an extremely high-level player, said "If you look at the win rates of the best players in the game and let’s say they qualified every single prelims, it is unlikely for them to win any of them and qualify for [the World Championship]" ("Bat Wisdom 24: RNG Rant and New Formats Needed"). Finally, gaming articles also tie into several different genres, such as video game reviews, blog posts, forum discussions, and so on, even including a response from the developers, as its topics and format are so simple to use and understand. This pervasiveness is a big reason why it is so effective when it comes to reaching out to the audience. This is because when something like Tassi's artcle, while being passed around from reader to reader, these readers will begin to think about his ideas and want to discuss them. As such, the readers will then tend to create blog or forum posts, similar to those found on the reddit examples from before. These discussions will spread Tassi’s article to even more readers causing more and more discussion creating a ripple effect of online discussion. Now, when the ripple effect Tassi’s article, or anyone else’s article for that matter, gets large enough, other professional game writers will even begin to chime in on his ideas, also pushing Blizzard, or whatever game company, to make a change in their game.
As mentioned in the beginning, video games, in recent years, set themselves apart from any other form of media through the use of their extremely unique development process. At a certain point, the developers may actually step in and make the changes the community recommends. Improving the quality of the product so more and more people can get enjoyment from it.After the massive fan outcry and onslaught of gaming articles, including Tassi's own work, Blizzard finally decided to change a couple cards within the game that were frequently protested against, many of which were the same cards Tassi was displeased with. This re-balancing of the game was the uptake of gaming articles, which often influenced several other genres related to Hearthstone such as community discussion, forum posts, reviews, and videos on the subject. What these articles do in the grand scheme of Hearthstone and many other game's development is that they subtly shape what the game is to become. And after some time, more problems will be found with the game, and the whole process will start over. This process of community revision has been how many popular games have survived for so long. It all comes back to a video game's primary purpose, to entertain the player. If a large enough subset of players is not entertained, then something needs to be done or else the game is not successful. Luckily, Hearthstone has a massive fan base of creative and passionate players who push Blizzard to make Hearthstone constantly better and better.