When Blizzard turned its eye for simplicity and elegant design towards the collectible card game genre, we all benefitted.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft was an odd project for a studio more known for its massive successes. It was a small side project, created by a tiny internal team and debuted at a fan convention, PAX, instead of the media spectacle of E3. Even Blizzard didn't seem to count on its massive success. Several months and 20 million users later, it's clear the company has stumbled onto something grand. When it canceled its long-in-development MMO Titan, its comments about smaller teams working on passion projects highlighted how Hearthstone has shifted the very culture of the studio.
Hearthstone stripped down the CCG to its component parts, kept what was necessary, and threw out the rest. An automatic mana ramp keeps the game moving at a brisque pace, and cards are relegated to only a handful of effects with clear visual indicators that take advantage of the video game medium. The result is a game that's easy to learn, hard to master, and as this year's World Championships showed, can be downright nail-biting to watch in tournament play. Better yet, Blizzard has taken the lead in the free-to-play market, creating a F2P game that can truly be enjoyed without spending a dime. Both a single-player campaign and the recent Goblins vs Gnomes expansion launched this year too, keeping the meta-game exciting for players who are logging time each day.
This tiny passion project has turned into a pillar for one of the largest developers in the world, thanks to its sharp mechanics, light and airy sense of humor, and a consumer-friendly approach. Some of us have played almost every day since launch, and it still feels fresh and exciting.