Blizzard is making some dramatic changes to Hearthstone ahead of the release of the game's next expansion, including the censorship of several cards for both names and artwork that are either too violent or sexually-charged for the game's apparently new policies. Hearthstone is one of the biggest digital card games in the world, spanning many years at or near the top of the genre thanks to a combination of mechanics that are only made possible by the game's decision to remain completely online and the close tie-ins to the beloved Warcraft and World of Warcraft properties.
Hearthstone's next set, Saviors of Uldum, will return the game to one of its most beloved superhero teams in the League of Explorers, a group of characters who are near-universally reckless and adventure-loving. Most of them haven't been seen since 2015's League of Explorers set, and fan favorites like Reno Jackson are anticipated to draw a lot of lapsed players back to the newest set to give them a shot. That said, Blizzard is also shaking things up prior to that, having announced some major changes to Hearthstone Classic cards that have come with this latest update, alongside the return of the controversial Quest mechanic in Saviors of Uldum that threatens to dominate the meta if the cards aren't balanced quite right.
Before Saviors of Uldum ever hits digital collections everywhere, though, Blizzard is quietly changing the maturity level on some of its Hearthstone cards by censoring them. Most of the changes that have come with the new update are because of blood or gore being depicted in the cards, but several are also being updated because their pictures could be construed as too sexual. For some, like Succubus, this means a complete change right down to the card name - while for others, like Secretkeeper, it means simply turning around to face the viewer rather than posing over the shoulder. None of the changes are too drastic, but they are strange for a game that's been around for so many years without issues regarding the card art - whether it be from players or other interested parties, no one has ever really launched into a campaign to change the art or names of Hearthstone cards. Here's a look at some of the changes side-by-side, courtesy of Imgur user KilluaX3:
That is, of course, excepting China, a market that is notoriously strict about depictions of gore and sexuality. Blizzard has had run-ins with the Chinese government regarding censorship before, most notably with World of Warcraft, a game that frequently has delayed Chinese release dates so that Blizzard can remove references the government doesn't approve of. Most of these changes are consistent with what one would expect from a company trying to play ball by those guidelines, and that's likely the biggest motivator for the Hearthstone censorship changes.
While the censorship itself isn't a big deal - we hardly think players were slinging cards for four years because they really liked the small, hard to make out art on Succubus - it is telling. Wizards of the Coast's Magic Arena has been driving tons of viewers towards the more established card game with a longer history of success and, if that continues, Hearthstone's market share of an admittedly niche genre is going to begin shrinking. One way to combat that is to appeal to one of the biggest, hardest to reach gaming markets in the world today in China, and these censorship changes are an appeal to that market and an acknowledgement from Blizzard that Hearthstone has some serious competition to deal with in 2019.