[Iskar Tweet] Intrinsic vs extrensic motivation and HS

hearthstone 8 - [Iskar Tweet] Intrinsic vs extrensic motivation and HS

Hey folks, I've been playing HS since before Naxxramas, and I've played consistently as a F2P player. My primary motivation has been to play with friends who enjoy the game, but there have been times where I've been really into the game, such as the release of Old Gods, and Un'goro through K&C. My highest rank was 2 or 3 when I discovered inner fire dragon priest with ~75% winrate in late Mean Streets before it became widely popular. I've never felt like I had the time to grind all the way to legend.

I'm writing today to respond to Iskar's tweet. I think HS is a game with a ton of potential — the sound/graphics, simple UI, and mobile support can support a really solid user experience. However, I don't think the game lives up to that potential, and I think that's because it relies heavily on extrensic motivation.

Motivation and game design

Extrensic motivation is part of the psychological concept that motivation can come from inside you or outside you. The pleasure you feel from experiencing something you like is an example of an intrinsic motivation, because it comes from you. Being paid or rewarded or celebrated for doing something is extrensic motivation — something other people give you if you do what they want.

Hearthstone, like many F2P games, leans heavily on extrensic motivation. The player is incentivized to play by the rewards they get get for doing so — packs, ranks, and even respect at high levels. For example: * Players are rewarded for logging in regularly to complete quests. * Players are rewarded for winning games with gold. * Players are rewarded for brawling with a pack of cards. * Players are rewarded for completing single-player content with card backs and sometimes other rewards.

When extrensic motivation is needed, it usually implies that intrensic motivation isn't sufficient to motivate the desired behavior — in this case, Blizzard wants to 1) motivate people to play all of Hearthstone's modes in order to keep the game alive and introduce potential spenders, and 2) motivate enough players to spend money on it that the game is profitable. If the game was sufficiently intrinsically rewarding to play, then no extrensic rewards would be needed to coerce players to play a free game — though they might still need to extrensically motivate players to give them money if they want to retain the current level of profitability. Non-F2P games generally trade on instrinsic motivation, because their business model is that people will pay in order to get the ability to play them.

So, why isn't Hearthstone intrinsically rewarding for enough people? At the root, probably because that was never the principal focus of the game's development. But let's instead focus on some of the symptoms:

  • Conflict between accessibility and repeatability.
  • Lack of support for a dedicated player base.
  • Low-interaction game design.

Accessibility versus repeatability, and the impact on a dedicated player base

Hearthstone was released nearly five years ago as an accessible, mobile-supported collectable card game for players of all levels. That goal guided choices like limited deck slots, simple card designs (particularly in the game's early years), and a focus on the individual player experience. At the same time, we've seen the company reject requests from long-time players for more deck slots and other similar features that enhance the quality-of-life for experienced players. We've also seen no move towards other professional- and community-supporting features like replays, statistics, sideboards, new formats, and more. This is fundamentally about support for an easy new player / casual player experience over creating interesting experiences for long-time players. There are a lot of likely quick wins in this space that don't appear to fit into the company's goals for the game, including:

  • More formats, such as pauper (increases replayability but disincentivizes spending to get rare cards)
  • Reduced turn timers and fewer ways to grief (good for replayability but bad for new/casual players)



More critically, the actual game itself intentionally lacks interaction. This is most likely a result of the increased complexity and cost of supporting a richly-interactive game like MTG, and how removing that complexity can improve the new/casual player experience. This is most likely the reason for fundamental design choices like attackers choosing targets, 7 minion limit, mana increasing every turn, decks having exactly 30 cards, and players being constrained to acting only on their own turns. These choices create a very streamlined experience, which is in many ways a positive. However, this simplicity also carried over into card design and deck-building.

Interactivity in gameplay

As it is, very few Hearthstone cards meaningfully constrain an opponent's choices. Even fewer constrain the opponent's hand or deck. I believe the rationale is that casual players hate the feeling of these effects, even when they aren't overpowered. This lack of ability to constrain the opponent means that what the opponent wants to do, they mostly will get to do unless they die first. This lack of interaction means that the only meaningful check on anything a player wants to do is the power level of aggro decks in the format. It also means that gameplay tends to be fairly linear — if you've played a match-up before (and you probably have), you have a good sense of how it will play out this time as well.

Here are some example things a player could do that are within the UI design space but which HS cards rarely do, never do, or never do for a reasonable cost:

  • Discard from opponent's hand. e.g., curious glimmerroot the opponent's hand, if you guess right they discard the card.
  • Triggered effects that constrain choices. e.g. knife juggler or priest of the feast that triggers off opponent actions instead of your own.
  • Minions with static effects that affect combat. e.g. when a minion attacks, it takes 1 damage; or minions deal double damage to minions.
  • Ways to mess with opponent's deck. e.g. dirty rat a minion or even spell from opponent's deck.
  • Player statuses. e.g. for next {x} turns, minions played by this hero become frozen.

Interactivity in deck-building

Each player can only use cards from one class and the entire netural set. For example in Boomsday, a given deck could only use 56 of the released 135 cards, or 41%. This makes the range of options available to any class relatively narrow, despite the high number of cards released, and creates a tension between the need for an effective neutral pool to supplement class cards and the risk of neutrals overpowering class cards and making decks even more same-y.

If the game had a mechanism for allowing some amount of cross-class deck-building, it would greatly include the range of decks players could make and the ability to customize even established deck archetypes. Deck-building could be significantly more nuanced. Examples:

  • Each deck can include up to 3 cards from another class.
  • Each deck can include up to 3 cards from a "neighboring" class.
  • Each deck can include up to 3 common or rare cards from another class.
  • Each card has a point value that's subtracted from a power budget in deck-building, and cards from other classes cost more.


In short, I believe that people leave HS because the development of the game has been more about incentivizing players to play (and pay). I believe that the path to bringing people back is about investing in making HS actually fun to play — the kind of game you don't need a reward to play. There's a lot that you can do in this space, and some of the investments are pretty small — different approaches to card design, or low-change gameplay experience changes. Some are going to take much more work and cost more, and might mean transforming what kind of game HS is — accessible and casual, or repeatable and compelling. I would love to see HS take the latter course, but I recognize that it might be better for me and for other long-time players who want to enjoy HS than it is for Blizzard.

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