Game Design

the best improvements to hearthstone’s rewards track

I’ll admit, I give Hearthstone a hard time on this blog.  But that’s only because I have such a high standard for the awesome card game that captured my imagination way back in 2014.  It’s been a mainstay on my gaming list ever since, and I’ve enjoyed analysing its design changes as the game has matured.

Over the last couple of years, Hearthstone has had some growing pains.  The card collection has ballooned to more than two thousand collectible cards, making balance an ever-growing concern.  There are now more gameplay modes like Battlegrounds and Duels.  And last year, the debut of Hearthstone‘s tenth champion, Demon Hunter, the first since its release, was riddled with power creep and balance issues that saw a hasty nerf within two days.

Last month, I wrote about the downfalls of Hearthstone‘s new reward system, released in November 2020, which was the first major update since Hearthstone‘s inception in 2014.  With the March 2021 release of the Forged in the Barrens expansion (Patch 20.0), Hearthstone has updated the rewards and achievement systems1, and it seems like feedback from seeing the system in action over the past four months has resulted in some pretty solid changes.

Rewards and Achievements are Player Incentives

In my previous article, I wrote that reward systems exist to incentivise players to keep on playing.  While different players can be incentivised in different ways, Hearthstone has largely relied on progress and rewards.  Whether it’s climbing the ranks of laddered play, or trying to score a perfect twelve wins in Arena mode, Hearthstone‘s historical measurement of success has been, well, winning.  For the hardcore enthusiasts, this goes as far as trying to get 500 or 1,000 wins as a certain class to unlock special cosmetic rewards.

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So, it makes sense that the new rewards track arrived in tandem with an achievement list last November.  What’s more, these systems are linked.  For the latest expansion, achievements can earn a player scrolls towards progress on the rewards track.  There are also some achievements that unlock rewards independently of rewards track progress.  In essence, both systems work hand-in-hand to try and get a player to continue playing.

In this post, I will write about the design improvements to Hearthstone‘s rewards track and achievements system with a focus on how they contribute to the goal of keeping players invested in the game.  Just for fun, I’ll also add my suggestions for further improvements.

Top 5 Improvements to Hearthstone’s Rewards Track

1. Visibility

When the new reward system was introduced, it was difficult to see indications of progress or accomplishments which would encourage the player to play on.  The lack of visibility of the rewards track, which is on a different page of the app, far away from the typical gameplay areas, has prevented players from understanding the connection between their actions in game and the rewards.  Making the rewards system more visible during gameplay is a vital step towards motivating players.

Since then, Hearthstone has made some tweaks to remind the player about their progress towards rewards.  Now, the number of scrolls earned is displayed after each game, win or lose, which gives the player a feeling of progress, no matter how small, to the next reward level.  Additionally, the game shows notifications displaying the partial completion of daily and weekly quests.  There is also shiny new fanfare for when you reach a new level, showing a progress bar filling up.

Suggestion for further improvement: After a loss, it would be even better to see a progress bar, like the one that appears only when you’ve completed a level, instead of just the number of scrolls.  This would give the player a clearer idea of their progress rather than an arbitrary number out of context.

2. Sense of Progress

Speaking of progress, a strong motivator for many players is the drive to complete game achievements.  The new rewards system came with a host of new achievements, which, upon completion, adds a certain number of achievement points to your grand total.  However, this score was, like the number of scrolls earned on its own, arbitrary.  Without a sense of comparison against other players or being out of a total possible points, the score is just a number which means very little.

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A wonderful improvement to make achievement progress more tangible is the inclusion of a mini progress bar and percentage completion for each category of achievements.  These are prominently displayed and provide players with an at-a-glance idea of how much they’ve achieved over their Hearthstone career.  This visual represenation of progress can encourage players to stick around in order to complete the different achievement categories.

Suggestion for further improvement: It would be great to give the achievement score some more meaning.  This could be a visual treatment to the number, a shield icon or border that gets more elaborate as the score increases.

3. Variety

One of the biggest improvements on the rewards track has been the increase in reward variety.  With the Barrens update, the rewards track awards golden cards, card packs, and Tavern Passes interspersed with the usual gold.  While gold still has the highest value, this variety makes the rewards track look better but is also fresh and exciting when you’re not just claiming gold all the time.

Variety takes on another meaning in the achievements system.  Here, the vast scope of hundreds of available achievements means that players are often working towards goals without knowing it.  It also means that players can play what is most fun to them and still make progress without being locked to a certain type of gameplay, class, or mode.

Suggestion for further improvement: Because there are so many achievements, it would be great to have them sorted smartly for each player, perhaps showing achievements they are close to completing at the top.  It would also be nice to have a search function to quickly find achievements in the list by keyword instead of having to read the text of every achievement.

4. Surprise

Variety leads to surprise.  Surprises are the small incentives, the little dopamine rushes that players get from a sparkly win animation that make them feel good about playing the game.  For the rewards track, an increased variety in rewards means that players can be surprised by what they get next.

On the other hand, the variety in achievements means that players are sometimes presented with that satisfying triumphant sound effect and notification that they have completed one, whether while opening a pack of cards, or in the middle of a game, or even after you lose a round of Duels.  Certain achievements even reward shiny new cards, such as the newly introduced “Great Victory”.

These “feel good” moments are crucial to giving players momentum and motivation to keep playing.

Suggestion for further improvement: More surprises!  I’d enjoy being presented with random rewards, maybe a gold card now and then while I’m playing.  It would certainly encourage me to stick around.

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5, Frequency

One of the more technical changes was to increase the frequency of the rewards on the track, which I thought was a smart move.  This feeds into giving players small incentives akin to the missed “3 wins = 10 gold” system.  The satisfaction of advancing in reward level happens twice as often, which matches better with the average game length.

In summary, we’ve doubled the number of core reward levels from 50 to 100, and halved the amount of XP required to reach each level.

— Blizzard Entertainment1

Suggestion for further improvement: It would be great to see the level progression outside of the rewards track and the notifications after the game.  Maybe a level progress bar around your player icon that is always visible as you’re playing?

Hearthstone’s New Reward System Encourages Different Player Behaviour

For a long time, Hearthstone was solely about winning.  The systems in place reflected this.  Last time, I even mentioned how the new system should reward players for the appropriate behaviour, which, in my mind, was trying to win.

However, with the recent updates to the rewards and achievements systems, I’ve come to realise that the appropriate or desired behaviour that the developers are trying to encourage has changed as Hearthstone has evolved over the years.  The new system encourages players to try different modes and play in creative ways rather than being laser focused on winning.  This, along with the new core set and Classic Mode, are some of the big steps that Hearthstone is taking to set up its direction for the next seven years.  And with the recent improvements to the rewards and achievements systems, I think it’s in pretty good shape.

References Cited

  1. Blizzard Entertainment. “Rewards Track Refresh & Diamond Cards.” Hearthstone, 18 March 2021. Web. 15 April 2021.