Hearthstone Team on Launching Scholomance Academy While Working Remotely
Since Blizzard began working from home full-time in March, the Hearthstone team hasn’t missed a beat, delivering regular content and updates to our players, and launching two full expansions, including the recently-released Scholomance Academy.
Undertaking a project as complex and involved as a Hearthstone expansion while working remotely requires adapting to uncertainty on the fly, and often wholly reinventing familiar processes. We spoke with a few members of the team to get insights on how they made it work, and asked them to share some advice on wrangling big projects while working from home. Of course, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to also ask them about their personal favorite Scholomance Academy cards. Check out their responses below.
This article was officialy posted by PlayHearthstone.
What were the biggest challenges you encountered while launching an expansion while working remotely? What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation?
Linus Flink, Senior Game Producer, Art
The biggest technical challenge for us in art was probably solving the review and feedback process for visual effects. We moved to doing a lot more asynchronous review via recorded video instead of in-person meetings. My personal takeaway there was to not try and simply replicate the in-person process remotely—real time reviews via video conference aren’t nearly as effective due to lag.
We’ve also done a variety of social activities to nurture our human connections as much as we can, like the Overwatch tournament our colleague has been running on the Hearthstone team.
Gloria Zhang, Lead Game Producer, Design Production
Taking advantage of internal chat channels has been really helpful for a multitude of situations, like goal-oriented discussions, and having virtual lunches to stay in touch with colleagues in a friendly social setting. We’re also lucky to have such a great IT team supporting us. The fact that I was able to take my work PC home and get it fully set up has made the transition very smooth.
Alec Dawson, Game Designer, Card Design
Two things stand out here: constant communication and reminding ourselves of what we’ve accomplished. Launching an expansion takes a lot of coordination between multiple teams, and we’ve had to be extra clear when it comes to making sure all the details are right. It can be easy to silo some of that work, but during these times, it’s been helpful to ask for more eyes and get more people involved so there’s awareness across the team.
Secondly, we can’t forget how awesome this is for our players. The days can blend together when you’re working remotely, but our leadership took some extra steps to make the launch of Scholomance Academy feel like a special day, just as it would have been in the office. We’re thrilled that everyone is finally able to play!
Steve Walker, Game Producer, Operations
Releasing a major expansion for Hearthstone requires lot of coordination across several groups, especially for the operations team. In our current remote work situation, the degree of coordination and communication required is even more pronounced. This was the biggest challenge for us as we prepared to launch Scholomance Academy, but the team really rose to the occasion. We even developed new tactics to ensure a smooth launch.
Overcommunicating is key when launching a big project remotely. It’s easy to take for granted how much information we’re accustomed to spreading through hallway conversations when we’re in the office. To ensure everyone on the team is up to speed, we make it a point to send regular and consistent status updates. We utilize central chats for broad conversations, such as deployments or community communication, and every issue we encounter gets its own chat room, so we don’t bog down the central channel. We also maintain a regular group conference room to simulate the arrangement we had when were all together and help the team stay up to speed with each other.
All of this allows us to quickly share information, discuss issues, and ensure work is evenly distributed. These steps—and the overall level of openness across the live operations team—has really made working from home during big launches like this feel a lot like it did when we were together in the office.
Colton Carmine, Senior Game Producer, Sound
One of the biggest challenges for Scholomance Academy was figuring out how we would handle recording voice actors and musicians when all of the usual studios we work with here in North America have been shut down due to the pandemic. Normally, we bring our English-language voice actors into the studio in Los Angeles, where’d they interface with designers, directors, and engineers to bring our characters to life, while musicians would record as an ensemble in Nashville.
Our casting and voiceover team, as well as our music team, were able to quickly adapt to this situation and find solutions to record actors and musicians remotely from their own homes to ensure everyone’s safety. While scheduling and coordination was daunting at first, I was truly impressed with the continuous flow of communication across the studio in order to create amazing content for our players, even in these difficult times. My advice for anyone dealing with projects of similar complexity is to trust in the expertise of your partner teams and to raise any concerns you have in order to do what is best for our teams, partners, and players. Despite the unique circumstances we find ourselves in, our team was still able to create that Blizzard magic!
What’s your favorite card from Scholomance Academy?
Linus: My favorite card is probably Secret Passage. Dominic Camuglia on the FX team did a great job with the visuals, and it’s a super powerful and interesting card. Or maybe Instructor Fireheart—very cool ability, and it shows how flexible we could still be: the card was redesigned just a short while before our deadline, and we still got it done.
Gloria: It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think Educated Elekk wins by a tiny margin. The card’s fun mechanic allows countless possibilities for players at any competitive level to shine. The art—a diligent Elekk grabbing books using its trunk—tells a perfect story, hits the classic Hearthstone humor, while truly reflecting the spirit of the mechanic as well.
Alec: Lorekeeper Polkelt is for all the combo players out there. When you play him, the feel of the match changes as your opponent scrambles to kill you before you put all of your combo pieces together. I love that unique tension. He’s a lot of fun to play with.
Steve: I’ve always been a fan of the big flashy Hearthstone cards, so I’m looking forward to Headmaster Kel’Thuzad the most. I love the idea of playing a big damaging spell and getting minions back. The fact that it’s a Spellburst and only happens once means I have to be clever about when to use it.
Colton: My favorite card from this expansion has to be Headmaster Kel’Thuzad. He has a special interaction when talking with his pet cat Mr. Bigglesworth that reminds me of my time playing World of Warcraft with friends.