Blizzard Responds To Accusations Of Censorship In Hearthstone's Latest Patch

In the lead-up to Hearthstone’s upcoming “Saviors of Uldum” expansion, Blizzard Entertainment released a patch this week that ran a couple of 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 a ton 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 speculation as to why this happened was 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 isn’t 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 such as 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 criticise 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.


Comments

    The original art for that Secretkeeper card looks like something Rob Liefeld drew. The change is a vast improvement.

    I was torn on WoW classic before this post. I can't support a company that's pro-censorship. They just made my decision easier.

    The change from depiction of violence to implied violence and toned down sexuality does sound like the kind of thing they might need to do for a launch in China. That said, it looks like a general improvement in the art.

      Hey..... That was going to be my comment.

      That was my first impression as well. However in order to launch WoW in China they had to change the way the undead characters looked and there isn't any changes made to undead character cards that I've seen yet.

    "We didn't like the old TCG Succubus... so we swapped it out for the old TCG Felstalker. Sure, it may look just as dated, but this has nothing to do with dodgy fanservice. Yes."

    The removal of blood is the giveaway for them censoring the cards to be more in line with gearing up (or complying if it's already available there) for release in China.

    Kotaku posted an article back in ~2009 about the changes that Blizzard had to make to release the game there, no bones, no blood (or at least then, change it to black), no overly sexual characters and no gambling.

      My thoughts exactly. The blizzard statement does not explain why they removed the blood from eviscerate while keeping the rest of the cards art the same.
      The changes are purely to comply with Chinese censorship laws.
      So the next question is why is the rest of the worlds content being subject to Chinese censorship laws? I would imagine most Americans would be enraged that their art is being affected by the Chinese government.

      I am certain that Blizz could just have 2 different clients one for the Chinese that is censored and one for the rest of us.

        It's not just Chinese censorship, there's been a swing back towards censorship in Western gaming press for the most part. Just think about the number of 'problematic' depictions, themes, characters, etc. you have read about in the past 10 years in gaming.

        Last edited 04/07/19 3:39 pm

        The situation is hardly unique to China though. Developers avoid including incentives tied to drug use so they don't run afoul of Australian censorship law. Or avoid certain Nazi imagery to comply with German censorship law. And this is before we take into account the effective baseline for releasing things in the US: they might not have explicit censorship, but the industry runs under the threat of "regulate yourself or the government will step in and regulate you".

        Sometimes developers handle this by producing a country specific version of the game, but sometimes the effort just isn't worth it. Each new configuration will need to be tested before an update is released. And for a multi-player game like this you'd need to test cross-compatibility between configurations assuming you don't partition the user base.

        No way it's purely China's censorship laws, it's an easy target for blame because its undoubtedly a factor but there's far more going on here than just big bad China.

        Something I'm not seeing much discussion on is the Protect Children from Abusive Games Act, how the industry views it as a threat to self regulation and how the industry has already been taking broad steps in more than just loot box mechanics to show they are proactive in self managing.
        This is exactly the kind of behaviour and response that many analysts and experts started predicted well before the current bill was proposed.
        We've not only seen many big companies moving away from traditional loot box mechanics and exploring other avenues of microtransactions but also a clear policy shift in content of a sexual of violent nature.

        It's exactly this kind of thing that gives the ESA the ammunition it needs strike down the act and maintain its influence and control over the industry.
        People don't understand just how powerful, connected and active the ESA actually is, who do you think got politicians and the NRA to drop its recent "culture of violence" rhetoric?

        The answer is easy, It's money. China is a huge market that is largely intact.
        Having a china only version may not sell as well as an international version where they can cheat... Sorry compete with the rest of the world.

      Oops, didn't mention that the article back in 2009 was in relation to Blizzard releasing WoW in China.

      Dota 2 is similarly censored in China but only the Chinese version and it's only minor aesthetics (heroes slightly remodeled, hero portraits, item and skill icons). Couldn't that be an option? Perhaps they'd prefer to keep it all to the same version for whatever reason or perhaps they thought it also would help them to be slightly more family friendly even outside of China? Either way I don't mind, it's not really anything to be alarmed about when it's censoring your own content.

    Wait, people are whining about a few specks of blood missing and generic fan service being replaced by something far more creative and cool?
    It's annoying, no one can enjoy any thing coming out these days without some entitled kid whining that they removed 2 pixels of boob or blood or farts or whatever.
    Maybe the artists decided they wanted to take pride in their work and make it less trashy, or maybe it's censorship to reach a wider audience... that's how business works.

    Man, angry hormonal teenagers are ruining games.

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