Matt and I both started our careers as Magic Pro Players. Since then he’s garnered more experience in digital trading card games than anyone I know. Matt has worked for Wizards of the Coast, Dire Wolf, and Blizzard on games including Magic Online, Hearthstone, and Eternal. Matt is currently working on his own auto-battler game called Story Book Brawl. I’m excited to sit down with one of my oldest friends in the industry and talk about game design.

Matt Place

Check out this episode and the previous ones here:

“The fact that I’ve played literally tens of thousands of hours of Magic and I still have new puzzles to solve […] is a testament to the power of randomness.” (12:00)

Early on in this episode Matt and I talk about the turn we both took in our gaming careers to play professional poker. While we both found the experience to be not-so-fun, what we did learn was just how powerful randomness was for gaming experiences.

In short, we learn from simulation, but an experience can get boring once the novelty of the new experience is gone or if the lesson is learned. When we include some randomness into the experience it has the effect of extending the learning curve and makes the fun more sustainable. In this section, we dig into randomness and the role it has in game design.

“Tutorials need to be about teaching the fun.” (37:24)

Showing your game off for the first time to anyone is a challenge. In this section, Matt and I talk about a variety of ways to teach games. We discuss a few of the ways that Twitch has revolutionized learning to play games. 

We follow up by talking about what it means to develop “Twitch Moments” in a digital game. The key here: when it comes to game design, follow the fun.

“Autobattlers […] combine the drafting of a football draft, where you’re picking witch characters/players you want to have on your team, and then you watch them play.” (53:00)

We go on to talk about Blizzard’s philosophy that “there are some games that just need to be polished.” Matt tells us about his time working on Hearthstone and what choices were made to design such a fun and popular games. Matt discusses his new auto-battler game called Story Book Brawl and we talk about how randomness plays into this game, where the fun in this style of the game lies. 

“These things that are easy for a TCG Player are not for a video game player.” (1:17:00)

Matt and I speak about what it takes to translate a genre that was traditionally a physical game into a digital one, including many of the pitfalls, that he ran into during the development of a variety of digital trading card games.