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Hearthstone Usability Review

(Testing and reporting originally from Summer 2015)
Hearthstone is a strategy card game developed by Blizzard involving Warcraft characters. Choose from 9 classes and build decks using either neutral cards or class specific. There are multiple games modes including casual and ranked matches, solo adventure, arena, and the newest: tavern brawl. This review was conducted using 11 participants on both mobile and PC platforms.

The following will be discussed:

  • Personas
  • Usability testing process/interviews
  • Results
  • Recommendations/Redesign



Age: 19
Goals and motivations
Nick wants to play a casual game that he can talk about with friends. He wants something that is quick and easy to pick up.
In his free time, Nick enjoys going out with friends and playing video games on his Xbox One or laptop. He also works part time while attending University.

Nature of work
Studies as an undergrad, has a part time job as a server.

Nick has no former experience with card games. He’s aware of the card game Magic but has never played it himself. He has, however, played World of Warcraft and can relate  to  World of Warcraft or Hearthstone in that way.

Campus, home.

IT skill level
Nicks IT level is average for his age group. He uses his laptop and uses apps on his phone frequently. Some
favorites are Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook. He also enjoys other popular games occasionally such as candy crush.

Attitude towards technology
Embraces technology and immerses self in various forms of technology.

How will this person interact
with Hearthstone?
Nick plays Hearthstone from his phone when he has some time to kill, whether it’s waiting for class to start of he’s at home relaxing in bed. He’s more inclined to play on his phone than his laptop for convenience of having a smaller screen. He does, however, enjoy using both laptop and phone.

Key tasks
1.Play a game that is popular among friend group.
2.Play a quick game that takes 10-15 minutes.
3.Play a game that’s easy to interact with and learn. 


Age: 25
Goals and motivations
Matt is into strategy games and enjoys challenges.  He wants to figure out what the best build is 
to achieve the highest rank possible.  

Matt is a software developer and usually works long hours. In his free time he enjoys socializing 
and playing a select few video games. A game that is competitive yet flexible fits best with his 
lifestyle. He doesn’t own an Xbox or PlayStation and instead prefers PC gaming.

Nature of work
Technology related job as software developer.

Matt has some background with Magic and Yu-gi-oh from his childhood. Therefore, it’s no surprise 
that he would pick up Hearthstone fairly easily. Combined with his knowledge of other strategy 
games, such as StarCraft, Hearthstone is a natural fit.

Work, home.

IT skill level 
Matt's IT level is advanced for his age group. Although he uses apps on his phone often in addition 
to his desktop and laptop, he is not a huge fan of mobile gaming in general. 

How will this person interact with Hearthstone?
Matt enjoys hearthstone from either his desktop or laptop to wind down after a long day at work. 
It’s easy to play while watching TV or listening to music in the background and is relaxing.

Key tasks
1..Play a game that is competitive and is similar to other familiar card games.
2..Play a quick game that is flexible with access and time.
3. Play a game that’s easy to interact with and learn. 

Usability Testing

Eleven participants were selected based on a variety of video game and Hearthstone experience. A caveat to the study is that the samples were not randomly selected.
Users were asked to play on either mobile or PC platform and engage in think-aloud while playing. Each participant played for about an hour.
Some players had never played the game before and had no prior card game experience. One player had reached the maximum level of Hearthstone.
After playing on one platform, some participants were asked to switch to another platform, with new players completing the tutorial.
Not all players engaged in the usability testing phase.


All participants were interviewed. If participants engaged in usability testing, they were interviewed following testing. 

The interview was semi-structured and included questions such as "What does Hearthstone mean to you?" and "Would you change anything about the game? If so, what?"


  • Opening multiple packs is a hassle.
  • Mobile interface is crowded.
  • For beginners, some basic principles were unclear, such as:
    • What do certain things mean on cards? (Taunt, Charge)
    • What is the goal of the game?
  • Issues with deck numbers.
  • Issues with animation times.

Current mobile/PC design: Low Priority

Players have to tap 6 times total to turn each card individually. This ranges from selecting a pack to revealing all of the cards within. Five clicks are needed for PC to open a pack and turn each card around. Six clicks if the player is not using the space bar.

Instead of tapping each card individually, simply holding down the middle card for mobile would cause a chain reaction for the other cards to turn over subsequently. For PC, one would click and hold on any card and cause a similar chain reaction.

Current Mobile Design: Moderate Priority

The hero is placed in the center. The cards are tucked into the lower right corner and are difficult to see unless they are zoomed. Most interactive elements are also still used in the mobile map but are cut off.

Your hero is off to the side to make more room for your cards. Since your cards are the main focus of the game it is important to have them as centered as possible. Players can still zoom on cards but this design makes it easier to visualize cards when they are not zoomed. This also leaves interactive elements on the board by keeping the enemy hero centered. 

Current Introduction: Low Priority

There isn't much direction during the introduction other than the card pack on the screen. There is no formal introduction to the game. New players always paused here and awaited further instruction.


After seeing the introduction screen, the player is taken to their first pack. The new design is visually engaging, gives a short introduction to the game, and gives clear instructions for progressing to the next step.

Current Match Design: Critical Priority

When multiple minions are out that each trigger animations, it makes it impossible to attach when time-limiting minions such as Nozdormu are out. Even without Nozdormu, it would be difficult to attack while having two minions out that trigger animations.

Players can choose to disable animations if they're like. This will make it so the players who want to utilize animations can still use them while making it ideal for those who are unable/don't want to use them. In order to not give advantage to those who choose to disable animations, the timer will stop when animations are occurring.

Current Deck-Building Design: Moderate Priority

Currently there are only 9 slots for decks, or one for each class. This is an issue since players want to have more options for building decks and this design limits players.


This design gives a 2-deck limit per class. This solves the problem of not enough deck options for players but also makes it so deck numbers are not limitless.


The qualitative nature of the study helped identify attitudes as well as obstacles experienceed while playing Hearthstone. The participants had a wide range of experience with the game, which made the recommendations better for a diverse audience. 

Hearthstone is a solid game that requires some smoothing out. While none of the identified issues were deal-breakers for players, they can certainly create a negative experience. I believe that fixing the above issues will create a more satisfying gameplay experience.


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