Heroes of the Storm

Reviving HotS

HeroesoftheStorm 4 - Reviving HotS
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I think the state of this game is wasting the high value of its assets. In visuals and sounds Blizzard is second to none. The characters are not only more developed and less flatly stereotypical, they carry an affinity from other popular (even historic) games. A variety of refreshing settings has been supplied. The creation of these things is arguably the most difficult, resource and talent intensive area there is in gaming. Difficult to duplicate, hence highly valuable even if underappreciated.

The failure of this game is no foregone conclusion in my opinion. The gaming market is weak; there is no innovation taking gaming to another level. There’s a level of conservatism and apparent lack of creative push indicating people are in it for the money. There’s also nothing intrinsic to Heroes of the Storm that makes it a dead end. It is what is made of it. The game itself, despite appearing as a MOBA, is a third person view character-based fighting game of fundamental rather than passing relevance. League of Legends seems to be kicking as strong as ever, by the way.

Two critical concerns were obvious from the beginning – literal accessibility and quality of gameplay.

Accessibility

When you arrive over five years late to a scene and your idea of accessibility is setting the floor on ease of play it is quite presumptuous to erect an imposing pay and grind wall around familiar, pared down gameplay content – heroes. It was as if Blizzard was banking on its name and that of its heroes to command tangible loyalty. This proved complacent.

A gamer wants gameplay access, often competitive in the sense of not being at a disadvantage. The kids might kick and scream if it doesn’t come for free, but others understand that naturally there is an exchange. A reasonable version of this exchange comes in the form of Coin Pouches. These are like Treasure Chests, except as opposed to milking a dwindling playerbase dry their purpose is to foster an expanding playerbase. What is this perverted nonsensical scheme, you ask? Well, for starters, it doesn’t come out of “the industry literature”. Instead, it was conceived as an answer to the question, “Is there something that could make more sense for players and developers alike?”

It involves a new currency – silver. When I suggested this years ago gems and shards didn’t exist. Nonetheless I was told by one of the resident booger eaters that another currency would be too complex (never mind that I then suggested a streamlined version). Now we know better, let’s move on. Silver is a currency you use to hire heroes as mercenaries – for a set price in silver you unlock a hero for a month. But that’s just a World of Warcraft subscription! No, it isn’t. Coin Pouches contain both silver and gold. Let’s look at specifics:

Common Coin Pouch – $1.99

2,000 gold
3,000 silver

Rare Coin Pouch – $4.99

5,000 gold
10,000 silver

Epic Coin Pouch – $9.99

10,000 gold
25,000 silver

Legendary Coin Pouch – $14.99

15,000 gold
50,000 silver

Gold is linear to price, silver isn’t. The point isn’t to entice players to spend more money at one time. The point is to open up the game at a reasonable price while not pricing targeted uses at negligible rates. Everyone is given roughly their money’s worth in hero ownership so it’s a pretty fair deal.

Every single hero will be available to hire for 1,000 silver. All silver is lost (I like stolen for “flavor”) seven days after purchase. So these coin pouches both give access to gameplay at a level deemed appropriate by the player and give ownership at a relatively normal price (10k gold used to correspond to $10 I believe). It’s a two-in-one deal akin to paying off a car. Monetary success for the game depends on how good the car is – whether the player finds it worth his or her while to keep driving it or to at least hang around the dealership. Not to mention the game’s content is already paid for from Blizzard’s perspective and it’s a matter of running the game, then there’s the thought of what the actual costs may be in general… but I digress. Gems are a better deal for ownership so they retain a purpose – reeling in the value conscious whales or the other fish that want to forage on land occasionally. The cosmetic content is not available in gold so there’s that. Blizzard hired some very smart people to outfit a sinking ship as opposed to try and repair it. The industry literature teaches you cheap tricks apparently.

The benefits for players are critical. Whereas before players would be stuck with restricted hero pools, having to resort to bundles containing heroes they don’t want, relying on the vagaries of the free rotation, or spending dubious amounts and grinding like this is their second job or another school period they can now tailor what they have access to based on their preferences while extracting ownership. Players are immediately able to jump into exploration or competitive play without frustration and teasing. They can also adjust to metas. The consequence should be engagement, which is a good thing any way you look at it.

Gameplay

This is where the ever-diminishing group of HotS diehards starts singing along to the Black Eyed Peas classic Let’s Get “It Started”. The more the game recedes into oblivion the more it’s the paragon of “complexity doesn’t equal depth” and “easy to learn, difficult to master”. Some people just don’t learn, all you can be is patient.

Let me share an anecdote, a story. When this game came out I was watching a small streamer who played Dota 2 at an at best average level. When Heroes of the Storm was brought to her attention she remarked, “o, the baby MOBA”. She tried it, didn’t stick.

That’s right, Blizzard’s iconic characters sucked into a cosmic storm and given “the baby MOBA” treatment on repeat. That must be Blizzard’s version of purgatory at best or hell at worst. Former CEO Mike Morhaime’s innocuous enough interpretation of “easy to learn, difficult to master”,

It’s part of our values – easy to learn, difficult to master. Having something that is easy to learn doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have depth. It can still have depth. You just don’t have to throw all the depth at the player when they first sit down.

has turned into easy to learn because that’s mostly what there is to it, but difficult to master because you won’t sit down and write a 150-page single-spaced essay expounding all the insignificant or common sense permutations in the game. In other words, this mantra has turned into an excuse for making relatively easy and simple mediocre games whose complexity, ironically, doesn’t translate to depth. That’s what Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm are – games that you know have a low ceiling which you can’t quite articulate because there is considerable complexity in them that doesn’t come through. The games that made Blizzard – Starcraft, Warcraft, World of Warcraft, Diablo – were not casual games trying to pass themselves off as deep. I don’t understand what happened to this company. They have clearly lost their edge; soft, shy, and full of excuses.

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Tangent aside, onto the question of how to approach raising the baby MOBA into a viable person. Unsurprisingly most suggestions are either about directly copying other MOBAs or are so trifling you may start questioning your faith in humanity. Let’s take a step back. What sets HotS apart is its aspirational focus on player vs player fighting. It was called a team brawler I believe rather than a MOBA. You skipped the tedium of last hitting creeps for 10 minutes, farming, walking around with God knows how many tens of minutes more to follow closing out won games, and quickly went for the more exciting action. Whereas other MOBAs are more so developmental games where you level up your character, accumulate an in-game currency, and obtain empowering items HotS was meant to be an action game with the progression following the fighting.

So in my opinion there is a demarcation that makes HotS different, and accentuating what makes HotS different is an obvious approach to making the game distinct and competitive. If the focus on fighting (which the game induces by weakening the role of creeps, emphasizing objectives that converge heroes and teams, providing fast moving mounts, etc.) is what makes the game attractive from a gameplay perspective to begin with then it’s common sense to focus on developing this very aspect. At this point, however, you have to be mindful of constraints and aim for bang for the buck ideas.

What I’m proposing is a ‘Glove of Thanos’Gauntlet for you nerds> concept. Four activated powers sharing a short cooldown of say 8 seconds while having individual cooldowns of 60 seconds. A toggle button such as spacebar or one of the side mouse buttons would access the powers at QWER. If activating an ultimate by mistake is a concern assigning this “thing” (Nexus stone, Nexus device, Nexus artifact, Nexus brain chip , etc.) to R and moving ultimate abilities to T would make a lot of sense. Alternatively the powers could go to the numbers buttons whereas talents go to a toggle. MMO mice may also be useful. The options aren’t an issue.

Players would choose four powers out of a full set. In-game before the gates open they should be able to make adjustments as well as during drafts. I’ve come up with this set of powers:

  • Basic ability cast times, intervals, and delays of any sort are reduced by 25%. Basic ability travel times are reduced by 25% . Basic ability summons move 25% faster. Lasts 10 seconds.

The intent is to quicken the application of basic ability effects, including something like the growth rate of Malfurion’s Entangling Roots. Animation may also be involved in for instance Zagara’s Infested Drop speed, which I do not see covered in the listed properties (rare).

  • Effect over time aspects of basic abilities last 25% longer. Time progress toward the first extra tick of tickrate abilities is rounded up. Lasts 10 seconds, applies at the time of casting.

This refers to any effects that apply for a duration, including stuns.

  • Basic ability ranges are increased by 25% for 10 seconds.

This includes both casting ranges and the length of skillshots.

  • Basic ability area of effects are 25% larger. Lasts 10 seconds, applies at the time of casting.
  • Basic ability cooldowns are cleared after 3 seconds.
  • Basic ability cooldowns recharge 30% faster for 10 seconds.
  • Dash in a direction . Can be cancelled with movement command.

Somewhat longer and faster than ETC’s Powerslide. This was intended to replace a teleport but there is an interesting version of a teleport too.

  • Teleport . After 1 second you can teleport back to the initial spot. If you haven’t done so, after 6 seconds you are teleported back to the initial spot.
  • Movement speed is increased by 20% for 5 seconds.
  • Gain unstoppable for 1 second.
  • Gain stealth for 2 seconds.
  • Gain a 500-point shield for 5 seconds. It scales per level .

Intended to be more valuable for lower HP heroes.

  • Regenerate 50% of full health over 20 seconds.
  • Regain 50% of full health and 50% of full mana after 6 seconds . Channeled, not cancelled by damage , 20 second cooldown if interrupted.
  • 20% of damage dealt is returned as health. Lasts 6 seconds.

This includes ultimate abilities. Enhancing healing seems like a good idea.

  • All healing and regeneration experienced is increased by 20% for 8 seconds.

All inclusive, from allies and self effects. Was considering limiting it to from allies.

  • Link yourself to an ally for 6 seconds, suffering 50% of the damage they receive instead of them.

The ranges on this one are key. At the moment I’m thinking it’s most appropriate to have a big casting range and not have the link be dependent on distance subsequently.

  • Accumulate inactive armor at a rate of 1 per damage sustained equivalent to 1% of your maximum health. Apply accumulated armor at any point after 1 second up to 6 seconds when the accumulated armor is automatically applied. Armor is capped at 50 and lasts for 6 seconds.
  • Healing performed on other players is increased by 25% for 8 seconds.

This one also includes ultimate abilities.

  • Basic ability damage is increased by 20% for 8 seconds.
  • Basic attack damage is increased by 20% for 8 seconds.
  • Basic attack speed is increased by 20% for 8 seconds.
  • The range of ranged basic attacks is increased by 20% for 8 seconds. Melee heroes gain charge on their basic attacks for 6 seconds.

For melee heroes this is a stickiness power, 25% shorter than the range of Li-Ming’s teleport and 20% longer than Artanis’ Twin Blades.

  • Can basic attack while moving for 6 seconds.

I don’t know if this would require considerable animation work but it’s significant.

Although this is a first draft it wasn’t thoughtlessly assembled. Traits need to be included along with basic abilities in a number of these. I believe there is a considerable degree of choice which powers to select. Decision-making and execution mid-game should improve dynamism. Counters should be inherent. The point is to challenge players more, hopefully increasing the margin for players to outwit and outperform their opponents. The presence of these powers from the beginning of games and unrestricted access is in line with the desire to focus on the core fighting experience rather than on a concept of development or progression. Only new players should have restrictions as they are learning the game, and not for long.

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