E3 2015: Cory Jones discusses HEX, lawsuits, and cake

[AL:HEX]I first saw MMOTCG HEX at E3 2013 at the same time the Kickstarter was revealed to the public, which was actually after it had been cancelled during its initial development. I was immediately impressed with the idea, but not always the execution. Why put PvP in first? Where’s the unique PvE? Where are the guilds? I sympathize with befuddled players: We hear a vision, we like it, and we want to see it too. We just have trouble visualizing the path there and sometimes get impatient.

At E3 2015, I have seen HEX anew. HEX Entertainment CEO and President Cory Jones summed up the bizarre development process:

HEX is unique. I had to roll out features as they come. Most big companies have enough money to say, ‘No no, we’ll wait till the cake’s baked, and then we’ll put it out.’ I’ve had to go, ‘Oh, this part’s baked; I’ll peel this off and serve it. Here’s some frosting on the side!’ I’ve had to piecemeal you this cake, which is not a good way to serve cake.”

Jones is right. That’s not a good way to serve cake or games, but it’s what players are basically asking for these days, and it’s worth discussing. It’s also a great analogy I felt MassivelyOP readers had to hear because I think it resonates with us all and it’s great to hear it from a game CEO/President.

Perhaps that’s partially why HEX was more vulnerable to the Wizards of the Coast lawsuit. Had the game been revealed in a finished state, all at once, it might be easier to have avoided the Wizards’ wandering eye. However, Jones feels Hex has grown enough that it’ll be easy to differentiate itself from Magic: the Gathering. It’s not something he’s worried about, but the lawsuit still stands at the moment.

Jones told me that the decision to release as a PvP game first did help fund the game’s development. PvE is in right now, but the current form is temporary. That “piecemeal cake” he brought up rings very true. PvP came out first because it was the easiest to make. The PvE tutorial isn’t much harder, nor is a standalone “dungeon.”

However, Jones wants the tutorial and dungeons baked into a campaign that teaches players how to play the game in an organic way, allowing them to enjoy a PvE experience while earning relevant rewards. Instead of just getting random cards, players will eventually earn packs of cards that contain only new cards for improving their current deck, and by the time the “tutorial” is over, they’ll have strong enough cards to enter the first dungeon without thinking they’re entering a new mode.

This is something that, to me, stood out compared to Hearthstone. Jones says he enjoys HS but feels it’s not a true TCG due to lack of options for both players during an opponent’s turn. Furthermore, I’d argue, the PvE in HS feels disconnected. You have the tutorial, but then you’re thrown into matches with players, and when your decks are good enough, you return to PvE for better cards — but you’re playing in ways that real people don’t. A smooth transition through one side of the game that consistently teaches you the rules and how to use them to your advantage doesn’t just make players more skilled; it makes them feel more empowered. The problem, of course, is that this is another piece of cake that hasn’t finished baking.

Jones’ game is already in open beta, so his cake’s out of the oven. It’s being judged. Just the same, he wants raiding included along with the other features originally promised in the Kickstarter, especially since there’s been a recent surge in interest in digital trading card game popularity. He believes HEX is positioned well in that market because most of inbound rivas are trying to emulate HS, making something less complex, while he’s made something complex enough for veterans but accessible enough for casuals.

One future addition that’s bridging the gap between player types is “the gauntlet.” Drawing upon Hearthstone again, it’s similar to an arena, except you cap at 5 wins instead of 12. That may be ideal, though, since HEX matches are certainly longer, and the option to take a break and play again when you have time is one of the most appealing parts about HS for me. I’ve had access to HEX for awhile now, and every time I’ve been tempted to do a draft tournament (think “arenas” in HS), I realized I had no time for it. Drafts mean leaving open several hours that have to be dedicated to the game, which is a rare treat for me, so I welcome the compromise. Additionally, after each game, you can tweak your deck with other cards you drafted. Again, it’s a shame the game couldn’t have launched in this state.

Even so, HEX is apparently doing well for itself, especially in terms of its free-to-play model. Cory estimates that F2P players currently earn about $0.90-$1.10 per hour (compared to the norm of less than $0.10) while playing the game. Seeing as they can trade for currency that allows them to buy things that are usually at a premium, I don’t think that’s half bad.

The game’s upcoming patch is set to improve the game quite a bit. Slicker animations/graphics have already been implemented, but the devs hope to refine this further, especially since you can now open the chests you randomly receive. The gauntlet is on the schedule, as is more focused PvE content and support boosters for tweaking the starter decks, but the whole PvE campaign isn’t ready yet. The first e-sports tournament is also on the way and will bestow $100,000 upon its winner.

HEX isn’t perfect. The idea of a piecemeal cake being served in parts instead of a whole is goofy, but it’s still cake. If that’s what people are willing to pay for, bless’em. The rest of us can wait until the cake’s baked before jumping in. I may have to jump in a bit sooner (comes with the whole “writing about games” thing), but as a fan, I’m satisfied to hear someone from the top say, “I know this isn’t the most ideal situation, but we really are trying to build this around you.”

Massively Overpowered is on the ground in Los Angeles, California, for E3 2015, bringing you expert MMO coverage from NCsoft, Blizzard, Ubisoft, BioWare, and everything else on display at the expo!
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