In November of last year, Hi-Rez Studios went live with the Cards Unbound update to their hero shooter Paladins. The update changed the way players used and obtained the game’s stat cards, in a way that functioned essentially like a loot box. If you recall, November marked the height of the loot box controversy after the release of Destiny 2, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, and Star Wars: Battlefront II.
The update did not go over well with Paladins players, who were understandably concerned with the game’s new pay-to-win dynamic. Prior to Cards Unbound, players would unlock the stat cards through randomized loot boxes or through crafting. With Cards Unbound, the cards would be made available to all players. The trouble came with the new card levelling system. To level up a card, players would need to collect several duplicates to fuse into a higher level card.
According to a report by IGN, it seems as if the update was just as controversial for the development team:
Rumors of internal strife have been swirling around Hi-Rez for well over eight months. Since mid-2017, whenever Paladins or Hi-Rez’s popular MOBA Smite received a contentious or unpopular change, some players would point toward a notorious collection of reviewstaken from Hi-Rez’s company profile on Glassdoor, a site that lets employees anonymously review employers. While these reviews can be posted by anyone and therefore cannot be verified, many players latched onto the consistency with which they paint Hi-Rez as an unhealthy work environment.
They resurfaced once again with the announcement of the Cards Unbound update. The update was announced at the height of the loot box debate which defined the second half of 2017, to a predictably negative reception. Shortly after, a Hi-Rez employee contacted me wanting to share their thoughts on the update, their perception of the studio, and the validity of the rumors regarding its management and practices.
According to this source, Cards Unbound was mandated by Hi-Rez executives and pushed through against the will of most, if not all, of the Paladins development team. They claim many designers expressed disappointment and disagreement when the update was announced internally, and they personally believe Cards Unbound is an unhealthy “pay-to-win” change. This source also cited several of the Glassdoor reviews in that same Reddit thread and supported many of their claims regarding studio leadership and morale.
“I don’t think anybody wants to put levels on cards,” the source told me. “I don’t think anybody wants to have a power level difference within casual and ranked. It’s just a pay-to-win system. The company is being forced to do something that people within the company don’t want to do.”
While Cards Unbound has been unpopular among players, any game that released a loot box system in November would have similar troubles. That the controversial update was pushed for by studio executives just lends credence to the rumors of internal strife in the studio. And when it comes to the players, reports like this just reinforce the idea that player satisfaction doesn’t rank high on the list of priorities.
UPDATE: Since IGN‘s report published, Hi-Rez Studios has announced the repeal of Cards Unbound’s loot box system in Paladins.