In the lead-up to Hearthstone’s upcoming “Saviors of Uldum” expansion, Blizzard Entertainment released a patch yesterday that ran a couple housekeeping alterations to make way for the new content. The update removed some older cards from the game’s Standard mode, added some new cards to the game’s Classic set, and in a move that’s stirred up tons of controversy, changed the art of eight old cards.
At first glance, all of the card art changes seem to make the cards either less sexy or less violent. The card Eviscerate, which has always been one of the most popular spells in the game, was changed so that there’s no longer any blood in the art. The card Succubus, which used to depict a whip-wielding demon of lust, is now called the Felstalker, and it looks like a run-of-the-mill four-legged demon with massive jaws.
For the past 24 hours, Reddit has been flooded with posts mocking these art changes. One replaced the word “blood” in every card that uses it with the word “ketchup,” for instance. Up until now, there had been no official statement from Blizzard regarding the reasons for the updates, and so speculations as to why this happened were common. One guess was that Blizzard was trying to tone down its game for folks who might get offended by the sight of scantily clothed women. Another common hypothesis was that the company was catering to China’s censorship laws and changing its card art for that reason.
I reached out to the company for comment, and a spokesperson provided me with the following response:
The recent changes were applied to make those cards more visually cohesive and consistent with the art style of Hearthstone today. When Hearthstone first launched, we brought in a lot of artwork from the physical World of Warcraft trading card game. In the years since, Hearthstone has developed a look, feel, and personality of its own that distinguishes it from that of Warcraft—though we still love being a part of that universe. We’ll always be looking for ways to deliver on the game’s unique style, charm, and personality.
It’s not an uncommon reason for corporate rebranding, and this sort of art tweak in a digital card game aimed primarily at teens and youngsters isn’t terribly surprising. There are hundreds of creative variables involved in creating the look, feel, and tone of a product like Hearthstone, and as the game has now been around for five (!) years, it’s all but expected for these kinds of creative changes to occur at one point or another.
I’m definitely not saying that people shouldn’t criticize some of these art changes on the grounds that some of them feel a bit uninspired. But do I get why a multi-billion dollar corporation would want to scrap the art of a five year-old card that looks like something you’d see airbrushed on the side of glam-rock revival band’s tour bus? Absolutely.