Hearthstone: That New Card Smell

Hearthstone_LogoBlizzard’s Hearthstone (full name, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft) is a digital collectible card game that’s currently out on Mac, PC, and iPad. The obvious comparison is to the biggest CCG around, Magic: The Gathering. While MTG is a physical game that also has a digital component, Hearthstone is a purely digital game, designed to be purely digital. That poses both interesting challenges and opportunities.

Being a collectible card game, a huge hook of both of these game is of course, getting new cards. A recovering former MTG player myself, there is nothing quite like the experience of opening a new booster pack of cards. And while Hearthstone doesn’t reproduce that new card smell, it does go out of its way to try and evoke the same feelings as the real thing.

Opening a fresh booster pack is always a ton of fun – from baseball cards to Magic: The Gathering to even this random Topps American Heritage series that I spotted at Best Buy a while back (I scored a combo Lincoln/Obama card once!). There’s so much potential in each wrapper! In a CCG, it’s not just the thrill of hunting a rare and/or valuable card, each new card also presents a bit of new strategy that expands your game.

So, packs of cards are great. But in a digital game like Hearthstone, there’s no physical counterpart to the wonder of unwrapping that sealed pack. Thankfully, Blizzard took the time to make this interaction actually meaningful, and recreate some of that suspense.

That suspense means there are thousands of videos on YouTube of players opening packs of cards. Here’s a quick one to give you a rundown of the opening process:

Let’s walk through this interaction.

Step 1: Drag pack to center of the circle, with explosions

A sealed Hearthstone booster pack, ready to be opened
Unopened booster packs are on the left side of the screen, and there’s a large glowing rectangle in a big circle. The icon on the pack matches the icon in the rectangle, plus the giant blue glow leaves no doubt as to what’s supposed to happen here. The screenshot shown here is from the iPad version, where I’m mid-drag.

Dropping the card on the center then explodes the pack, revealing the cards inside in a face-down circle.

Step 2: Hover over cards

Five face-down Hearthstone cards, with a rare being hovered over

source: http://hearthstone.gamepedia.com/Card_pack

From here, hovering over the back of each card (or a tap-and-hold on the iPad) causes the card to glow according to the rarity. So the player gets a little hint of how lucky this pack actually is before they choose to view the cards. Everybody seems to have their own ritual – some just pause on each card before flipping, others investigate each card and then flip in order of rarity, and others don’t worry about it and just immediately flip.

Step 3: Click on each card, with explosions

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Then of course, the moment of truth – clicking on the card to flip it over. And as if you weren’t excited enough, as rarity increases, so does the quality of the explosion that flips the card over. I mean, it makes sense – those legendary cards are sure heavy.

Conclusion

Blizzard goes out of their way here – all of these extras make it a little more special each time that a pack is opened. The interaction was really well thought out, and it’s a great example of how the most efficient process isn’t always the most meaningful one. They don’t feel forced either – while it’s not exactly like the real-world counterpart of opening a booster pack, it doesn’t feel like the player is forced to jump through unnecessary hoops. Each step in the process is both fast and satisfying.

Of course, it’s critical to mention that Blizzard isn’t exactly doing this out of the kindness of their hearts, or due to a takeover by their UX department. Booster packs aren’t free; they are the primary way that players spend money on Hearthstone. If I just spent $1.99 to see five cards immediately pop-up on my screen, I wouldn’t be nearly as inclined to drop another two bucks.

If you’re looking to maximize the value that players get from your game’s purchases, it’s never going to hurt to add in a little extra fun. After all, those explosions make a big difference in making me feel like I’m getting a little more bang for my buck.

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