With over 30 million players worldwide playing the hugely popular online collectible card game developed by Blizzard Entertainment, Blizzard has announced that Hearthstone will be officially localized into Japanese.

For those who are unfamiliar, the success of Hearthstone can be attributed to three main factors. The first being its free-to-play nature with optional purchases to acquire additional cards, this means that people who don’t wish to pay money can continue to build up their collections without ever paying a single cent, whereas others who are looking to access content quicker with money can choose to do so. Secondly Hearthstone is globally connected across different gaming platforms, namely the PC; Android and iOS; thus anyone with a smart phone, tablet or computer can play against one another seamlessly. Last but not least, Hearthstone closely follows Blizzard’s design philosophy of being “easy to learn, hard to master”. Learning the basics of the game is something that even children should be able to accomplish, but to play the game at a competitive level while minimizing misplays is another matter.

With Hearthstone already available in 10 different languages, this localization move is seen as rather peculiar as Japanese players have been playing the game prior to the announcement – on the English clients that is. However, this supposedly joyous piece of news did not come without controversy. So what does this change bode for existing Japanese players and potential Japanese players? Let’s delve deeper into the issue.

Segregation of current and new Japanese players due to server differences

“Hundreds of thousands of Japanese players are already playing Hearthstone in other languages, and soon they’ll be joining players from Korea and Taiwan on the Asia region in the fully localized Japanese version of Hearthstone. “

The number one concern that the Japanese community have right now is the notion that Blizzard is encouraging (new) Japanese players to play on Asia servers. However, Japanese players have primarily been playing on the Americas server since the launch of the game. The language barrier is cited to be one of the main reason why existing Japanese players opted to play on the Americas server, as they simply cannot communicate with Koreans and Taiwanese. With the English language already being rarely spoken across the three aforementioned parties, it is little wonder that communicating with each other becomes tricky when both parties speak a different native language and rudiment English. While the English language itself is still rarely heard or spoken in Japan, the education system in Japan made it mandatory for everyone to learn how to communicate and read in English. This means that while it might be challenging for Japanese people to speak perfect English, they tend to have a surprising level of understanding when it comes to reading and writing, at least that is true for the younger generation.

Mulliganing phase

Next, card collections and friend lists do not carry over from server to server, meaning that there is little to no incentive for Japanese players on Americas server to start afresh on the Asia servers. Therefore, newcomers who default to the Asia servers are at risk of being separated from the existing Japanese community who play on the Americas server. This move also splits up the community, make local tournament logistics a nightmare (which region are they going to use?); making it a lose-lose situation for everyone.

So why was this move implemented in the first place? Community manager Daxxarri had this to say:

“We understand that changing the default region for new Japanese players to Asia risks adding some complexity, and this was a decision that we considered carefully. We made this decision because, whenever it’s practical, we try to make the timing of regional events, such as Ranked Play Season roll, Tavern Brawl start times, patching, participation in local tournaments, and more align in an ideal manner with regional time frames. Placing Japan alongside Korea and Taiwan in the Asia Hearthstone region makes a lot of sense in that regard.”

Mobile interface

Whilst feedback is still being gathered presently, there are two potential solutions to the issue at hand:

  • Allow existing players to continue playing on and default new players to the Americas server. However, this is not ideal from Blizzard’s perspective because of the quote above.
  • Allow a one-time transfer of accounts from Americas to Asia for current Japanese players. However, this comes at a huge inconvenience for the parties involved – players and support staff. In fact. it might not even be possible (or worth the resources needed to implement such a move) from a technical standpoint.

Blizzard is thus, unfortunately, threading on thin ice (pun intended), whereby a compromise of some sort is needed. Whatever the resolution is, I hope that the Japanese player base will not end up fragmented.

Meanwhile for the rest of the world, we will be able to experience top-notch voice acting from veteran seiyuus such as:

Mobile interface for pack opening

Hearthstone comes to Japan later this month and I will definitely be checking out how everything sounds like when that happens. Who knows you might just hear a familiar voice or two in that process!