|“||Overwatch™ is a highly stylized team-based shooter set in a future worth fighting for. Every match is an intense multiplayer showdown pitting a diverse cast of soldiers, scientists, adventurers, and oddities against each other in an epic, globe-spanning conflict.||”|
Overwatch is a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter video game developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment. It was released in May 2016 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Overwatch puts players into two teams of six, with each player selecting one of several pre-defined hero characters with unique movement, attributes, and abilities; these heroes are divided into four classes: Offense, Defense, Tank and Support. Players on a team work together to secure and defend control points on a map and/or escort a payload across the map in a limited amount of time. Players gain cosmetic rewards that do not affect gameplay, such as character skins and victory poses, as they continue to play in matches. The game was launched with casual play, while Blizzard added competitive ranked play about a month after launch. Blizzard states that all Overwatch updates will remain free, with the only additional cost to players being microtransactions to earn additional cosmetic rewards.
Overwatch is Blizzard's fourth major franchise, and came about following the 2014 cancellation of the ambitious massively multiplayer online role-playing game Titan. A portion of the Titan team came up with the concept of Overwatch, based on the success of team-based first-person shooters like Team Fortress 2 and the growing popularity of multiplayer online battle arenas, creating a hero-based shooter that emphasized teamwork. Some elements of Overwatch borrow assets and concepts from the canceled Titan project. After establishing the narrative of an optimistic near-future Earth setting after a global crisis, the developers aimed to create a diverse cast of heroes that spanned genders and ethnicities as part of this setting. Significant time was spent adjusting the balance of the characters, making sure that new players would still be able to have fun while skilled players would present each other with a challenge.
Overwatch was unveiled at BlizzCon 2014 in a fully playable state, and was in a closed beta from late 2015 through early 2016. An open beta in May 2016 drew in more than 9.7 million players. The release of the game was promoted with short animated videos to introduce the game's narrative and each of the characters. Upon official release, Overwatch received universal acclaim from critics, who praised its accessibility and enjoyable gameplay. Overwatch has become recognized as an eSport, and in addition to sponsoring tournaments, Blizzard has announced plans to help support professional league play starting in 2017.
Overwatch is a first-person shooter that features squad-based combat with two opposing teams of six players each. Players choose one of several hero characters, each with their own unique abilities and role classes. The four character roles include: offense characters with high speed and attack but low defense, defense characters meant to form choke points for enemies, support characters that provide buffs and debuffs for their allies and enemies respectively (such as healing or speed alterations), and tank characters that have a large amount of armor and hit points to withstand enemy attacks and draw fire away from teammates. During the pre-match setup, players on a team will be given advice from the game if their team is unbalanced, such as if they are lacking defensive heroes, encouraging players to switch to other heroes pre-match and balance the starting team. Within a match, players can switch between characters in-game following deaths or by returning to their home base. The game was designed to encourages players to switch characters to adapt as the match progress.
Each hero has a primary attack or skill and at least two additional skills that can be evoked at any time, some requiring a brief cooldown period before they can be used again. Furthermore, each player slowly builds up a meter towards their character's "ultimate" skill; this meter builds up over time but can build up faster for defeating opponents or performing other beneficial tasks for their team such as healing other team members. Once ready, the player can use this skill at any time which may last for a few seconds (such as increased attack strength or immunity to attacks) or be a single powerful action (such as resurrecting any recently-fallen team members), after which they then must wait for the meter to fill up again. Opposing players will be alerted to the use of this ultimate ability by an exclamation from the character, often in the character's native language; for example, gunslinger McCree will call out "It's high noon" as the player engages the ultimate ability to target multiple visible enemies and deal lethal damage to those still in sight. This gives opposing players a brief moment to try to take cover or respond appropriately.
A second meter tracks how many in-round points a player has scored over time, which are rewarded for killing or assisting in killing, providing team defense or healing, and scoring objective points. When a certain threshold is reached, the player character's icon will be "on fire," representing that that character is a threat, but otherwise does not directly affect gameplay. This meter will slowly drop if the player does not continue to score points.
The game records important events of each player's performance, such as a rapid number of kills or an effective use of team healing. At the end of the game, the game server decides the most important play by a player and shows this to all players at the end of the game, named "Play of the Game" (often abbreviaed to "PotG" or "POTG"). In competitive matches, the highlight at the end of a match is called "Play of the Match" (often abbreviated to "PotM" or "POTM"), due to the longer matches in competitive games. Up to four individual achievements for players on both teams are then highlighted and players are given the option to commend a player each.
Players gain experience following a match towards a metagame experience level based on several factors such as whether they won or lost, how effective they used their character's main powers, being awarded gold, silver, or bronze medals for their team across six categories such as most time spent on the objectives, and beating past personal records in these categories; this experience is only gained when playing on the game's matchmaking modes and not in custom games. On gaining an experience level, the player can earn a loot box, each which contains four random cosmetic items for individual heroes, including victory poses, paint sprays, alternate skins (costumes), emotes and voice lines. They may also earn in-game currency called "credits" which can be used to purchase specific cosmetic items directly. Duplicate items are rewarded with in-game currency. Players also have the option to buy loot boxes with real-world money through microtransactions.
Characters in Overwatch come in four varieties: Offense, Defense, Tank, and Support. These roles serve to categorize the heroes of Overwatch by similar characteristics that can be used to describe them and their play style. The first appearance of an Overwatch character in a released game was on April 19, 2016 in Heroes of the Storm.
- Offense:: Offense characters have high mobility and are known for their ability to deal large amounts of damage. To balance this, offense characters have a low number of hit points.
- Defense:: Defense characters excel at protecting specific locations and creating choke points. They can also provide several means of field support, such as sentry set-up and trapping the enemy team.
- Tank:: Tank characters have the most hit points out of all the characters in the game. Because of this, they are able to draw enemy fire away from their teammates to themselves, so as to disrupt the enemy team.
- Support:: Support characters are utility characters that have abilities that enhance their own team and/or weaken the enemy team. They might not deal the most damage or have the most hit points, but the buffs and debuffs they provide ensure that their teammates who do will make short work of their opponents.
Each Overwatch map has a specific game mode that it supports, which include:
- Assault: The attacking team is tasked with capturing two target points in sequence on the map, while the defending team must stop them.
- Escort: The attacking team is tasked with escorting a payload to a certain delivery point before time runs out, while the defending team must stop them. The payload vehicle moves along a fixed track when any player on the attacking team is close to it, but will stop if a defending player is nearby; should no attacker be near the vehicle, it will start to move backwards along the track. Passing specific checkpoints will extend the match time and prevent the payload from moving backwards from that point.
- Hybrid (Assault/Escort): The attacking team has to capture the payload and escort it to its destination, while the defending team tries to hold them back.
- Control: Each team tries to capture and maintain a common control point until their capture percentage reaches 100%. This game mode is played in a best-of-three format.
Each mode includes an "Overtime" period lasting for only a few seconds if an objective is not yet completed by the attacking team, such as if the attackers in Escort have not moved the payload to the next checkpoint, or have failed to take the control point held by the other team in Control. Overtime continues if attackers continuously push at their objective, but will end quickly if the attackers are kept away from the objective.
Most of the game's maps are inspired by real-world locations; the first four maps, "King's Row", "Hanamura", "Temple of Anubis", and "Ilios" are inspired by London, Japan, the ruins of Ancient Egypt, and Greece respectively.
Overwatch features several means of gameplay, including tutorial and practice modes against computer-controlled opponents, casual matchmaking, weekly brawls, custom games, and competitive play.
Casual matchmaking allows players, alone, or in a party with invited friends, to be randomly matched against others. The game servers will attempt to match the gathered players in party via a dynamic queue with others based on general skill level, only broadening outside this search range if it takes a long time to find matching players. Blizzard works to adjust this matchmaking approach to making sure players will find matches of people with roughly equivalent skill level. For example, in June 2016, Blizzard removed the option for players to avoid specific opponents; the option was meant for players to be able ignore trolls, but instead found that highly skilled players were being put on these avoidance lists and were having difficulty finding games or would be matched with new and less-skilled players.
Overwatch was launched with a rotating Weekly Brawl mode, inspired by Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft's Tavern Brawls. These matches featured unique rules, such as players forced to play a specific hero or a specific class of hero, or may force a random hero on the player each time they respawn; as the mode's name suggests, these Brawls will change weekly. The Weekly Brawl will be merged into an Arcade mode, featuring a rotating variety of games based on one-on-one and three-on-three matches and from which players can earn unique in-game items or loot boxes; the Arcade mode was added for public test servers in November 2016. The Weekly Brawl and Arcade mode may feature themed events designed by Blizzard, such as a three-on-three soccer-type game during the 2016 Summer Olympics, and a co-operative player-versus-environment defense mode during the game's first Halloween event.
Custom games enable players to have open or private games with several possible options that can be adjusted, such as match length, which maps to play, limitations on character selection, and similar options that are used to create the Weekly Brawl or Arcade matches. Players do not gain any experience from playing in custom games as they would in the causal, ranked, or weekly brawl modes.
Competitive mode enables players, segregated in both region and platform, to participate in ranked play. Competitive mode is run in seasons that last for three months each with a short break (on the order of a week to two weeks) between each season to allow Blizzard to make necessary changes to this format; an exception was made for the first season which ran for 1.5 months to align timing for future seasons as to fall on calendar seasons. Players must have reached level 25 from casual matches to partake in competitive play. Before they can play any ranked matches for that season, they must play through ten preliminary matches which assigns a skill rating, which is partially influenced by the player's previous skill ranking on the last season. This ranking is subsequently used for matchmaking purposes in future competitive games they play that season. The player's skill level can move up or down during a season, influenced by their performance and by winning matches against higher-ranked players or losing matches to lower-ranked ones. Specific aspects of the skill system over the seasons are described below.
- In Season 1, skill rankings were assigned on a scale of 1 to 100, the latter representing the best players. Players were rewarded at the end of the season with in-game currency based on this ranking. Blizzard found that players were focusing on this number too closely during the season, prompting changes for Season 2.
- In Season 2, skill rankings were assigned on a scale of 1 to 5000; a player was then subsequently assigned one of seven tiers tied to the skill ranking: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond, Master, and Grandmaster. A player could enter a new tier by increasing their skill ranking. For all tiers up through Diamond, the player could never lose that tier ranking even if their skill dropped below the tier's threshold. Master and Grandmaster tiers required the player to continue to play; losing too many matches or not playing over a period of time could cause the player to fall out of that tier. End of season rewards were based on these tier rankings. Blizzard found that the method of bringing forward Season 1 skill rankings to Season 2 caused too many players of lower skill rank to be filtered into the Gold and Platinum tiers. This caused a wide distribution of player skills within these rank tiers and also caused players that started in Gold or Platinum tiers to have their skill rank drop significantly despite having even win-loss records.
- For Season 3, Blizzard will use a skill ranking calculation at the onset of the season that will deflate the player's Season 2 skill ranking to better sort players into the initial tiers, keep relative player skill in each tier consistent, and prevent rapid drops of a player's skill at the season's onset.
Players on a team in competitive mode must each choose a unique Hero to use, and can swap only to a different unused Hero mid-match; this aspect was added a few weeks after the launch of competitive mode. Competitive matches taking place on Control maps are played in three-out-of-five rounds rather than two-out-of-three as in casual gameplay. Competitive matches taking place on Assault, Escort, and Hybrid map types are broken into two rounds, with teams swapped between attackers and defenders each round. Teams can score a point only as the attackers, by completing each objective (capturing a control point or escorting the payload past a checkpoint). For Escort and Hybrid maps, if the attackers do not escort the payload to the final endpoint, the farthest distance they obtained is used for scoring. After these two rounds, the team with the highest score wins. In some situations, ties are broken with additional rounds, or the match could end in a draw. The draw-breaking mechanism has changed during the seasons:
- In Season 1, tied matches were resolved by a sudden death round; one team was randomly selected as the attackers and given about two minutes (time varying by map) without any overtime to secure a control point to win the match; otherwise, the defenders won. Blizzard had quickly recognized this method of resolving ties was not popular.
- In Season 2 and beyond, tied matches are resolved based on much time each team had left after their round as attackers. If the teams are tied and neither has any time left, the match is considered a draw. Otherwise, each team alternates as attackers while they still have cumulative time left to try to score as many points as possible until either both teams exhaust their time (ending in a draw) or one team scores more points than the other. Completing objectives does not reward the attackers any additional time in this mode, and there is less leeway allowed for overtime situations.
Each match a player wins in competitive mode earns them some units of in-game "competitive currency": 10 for a win, and 3 for a tie.
Players who complete the prerequisite ten placement matches will gain cosmetic items unique for that season. At the end of a season, players will be rewarded with additional competitive currency based on their final skill ranking; for the first season, these varied between 10 and 300 competitive currency units, while season two increased those rewards by a factor of ten. This currency can then be used to purchase cosmetic rewards such as spending 300 (Season 1) or 3000 (Season 2 onward) competitive currency units to obtain a "golden" weapon for a specific character. Kaplan remarked that competitive play was Blizzard's "big focus", anticipating that it will "require a few season's worth of iteration before we're in the place we want to be." During the first season of competitive play, Blizzard announced that a team's probability of winning would no longer be recalculated after a player leaves the match; this decision was made after player feedback revealed a negative reception to the mechanic.
The backstory to Overwatch is described through animated shorts and other information distributed by Blizzard in promoting the game.
Overwatch is set sixty years into the future of a fictionalized Earth, thirty years after the resolution of the "Omnic Crisis". Prior the Omnic Crisis, humanity had been in a golden age of prosperity and technology development. Humans developed robots with artificial intelligence called "Omnics", which were produced world-wide in automated "omnium" facilities and put to use to achieve economic equality. The Omnic Crisis began when the omniums started producing a series of lethal, hostile robots, which turned against humankind. The United Nations quickly formed Overwatch, an international task force to combat the omnic threat and restore order.
Two veteran soldiers were put in charge of Overwatch; Gabriel Reyes and Jack Morrison. Though Overwatch successfully quelled the robotic uprising and brought a number of talented individuals to the forefront, a rift developed between Reyes and Morrison, and Morrison became the leader of Overwatch while Reyes took charge of Blackwatch, Overwatch's covert operations division. Overwatch maintained peace across the world for several decades in what was called the "Overwatch Generation," but the rift between Morrison and Reyes intensified. Several allegations of wrongdoing and failures were leveled at Overwatch, leading to a public outcry against the organization and in-fighting between its members, prompting the UN to investigate the situation. During this, an explosion destroyed Overwatch's headquarters in Switzerland, purportedly killing Morrison and Reyes among others. The UN passed the Petras Act, which dismantled Overwatch and forbade any Overwatch-type activity.
Overwatch is set some years after the Petras Act; without Overwatch, corporations have started to take over, fighting and terrorism have broken out in parts of the globe, and there are signs of a second Omnic Crisis occurring in Russia. Former members of Overwatch decide to reform Overwatch despite the Petras Act, recruiting old friends and gaining new allies in their fight.
Development of Overwatch followed after the 2014 cancellation of the ambitious massively multiplayer online role-playing game Titan, a game that had been in development at Blizzard for seven years. Blizzard co-founder Michael Morhaime stated that with Titan, "We didn't find the fun. We didn't find the passion." even after re-evaluating the project. The large Titan team was cut to a much smaller group and tasked to come up with a new project; Overwatch became Blizzard's second attempt at launching a new franchise since StarCraft in 1998. Creative director Chris Metzen noted that to avoid the same failure that Titan became, their group had to rethink how Blizzard's more successful games had come about, ignoring the scale and business opportunity of the end result and instead understand what tools and skills they had already to build from. In brainstorming ideas, the team thought about the current state of first-person shooters (FPS), a genre that many on the team had played throughout their careers, which has enjoyed many groundbreaking titles but still has a potential for innovation, according to director Jeff Kaplan.
Kaplan states that some of the ideas in the current FPS they wanted to emulate were the trend of near-future realism exhibited by games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the use of in-game maneuvers like rocket jumping and grappling hooks that helped players move with fluidity across maps, and team-based shooters such as Team Fortress Classic and Team Fortress 2. At the same time, multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games were starting to take off, which required players to cooperate with others to successfully win the match. Kaplan said that their team considered how to adapt the large-scale and fast-paced gameplay of Team Fortress 2 with the smaller scale and cooperative nature of MOBAs, forming the basis of Overwatch. Metzen also commented that the concept of teamwork in Overwatch was partially influenced by their own team's current morale following the cancellation of Titan. Metzen said that during Titan's development, the team was highly fractured which impacted the project's cancellation. On starting Overwatch with a smaller group, they all wanted to come together and support each other to make their next game a success, "a redemption story for us as people and as craftsmen". Morhaime described Overwatch's intention as to "create an awesome [first-person shooter] experience that's more accessible to a much wider audience while delivering the action and depth that shooter fans love." On the FPS nature of the game, Kaplan commented that "the real focus of the shooting in the game is not to chase realism. We don't have real world guns in the game. You're not playing a soldier in a present-day military conflict."
Initial development of the game began with creating the first Hero character, Tracer, who was based on a character from Titan with similar time-manipulation abilities. They used Tracer and a single map based on the Temple of Anubis, to test how well the core mechanics played, according to assistant game director Aaron Keller. They added three more Heroes — Widowmaker, Reaper, and Reinhardt—to start polishing the gameplay mechanics, which even at this stage Keller stated that it compared very closely with what the released game would present. They had even considered releasing Overwatch with a limited set of heroes at this point, as they had felt the game already had a finished feel to it.
Instead, they spent about two years on developing out the rest of the characters, gameplay balance, and graphics. In addition to character balance, the development team needed to find ways to balance the characters with the various maps, wanting to provide areas across the maps for each character to have an area where they could be effective. The number of characters in the game was not fixed; though released with 21 different heroes, Kaplan stated the team played around with various goals, potentially as high as 40 unique heroes and across six different classes. Kaplan credits Jeff Goodman, a veteran designer in Blizzard, for figuring out the right number of heroes, classes, and balance between the characters. Keller noted that as the cast starting approaching about 15 characters, the team started to worry that there were too many for players to learn and may dilute the experience, but they strived to assure both uniqueness and balance across the slate of Heroes. The team felt the game was ready for release in November 2015 after adding the last two characters, Mei and D.Va, to the roster.
Overwatch was developed with half a dozen features to bring in a wider audience, including an accessibility feature for color blind individuals. During development, one important goal was to have "combat clarity" for the player, so that when a player moved into a new area, enemy characters would be clearly visible. This was enabled by contrasting the hues and saturation levels used for players to those used within the maps, and creating characters with distinctly different silhouettes to allow a player to identity the hero from a distance, including whether they were friend or foe. They found during development that having players be able to change heroes in mid-match to be important to gameplay. This inspired them to forego plans to release Overwatch as a free-to-play model with microtransactions or with paid downloadable content but instead make it a single-purchase title. Keller said that they wanted players to be able to jump to any Hero as necessitated by the situation, and the free-to-play or downloadable content approach could limit that ability if none of the team's players had purchased access to that hero. Keller also stated that the free-to-play/downloadable content model could fragment their player community, with gamers only playing with friends that had the same content instead of all available players. A further goal in development was to avoid the negativity that often occurs in other competitive game environments, and, along with strides to make the narrative give a positive message, made specific choices in gameplay design to remove elements they felt fed negativity. One such choice was omitting kill/death ratios from the various statistic summaries, as according to Kaplan "some characters don’t need to kill to be effective". To promote a friendlier playing environment, Blizzard penalizes players that "rage quit" (purposely leaving a match before it is complete) with a penalty on player experience points after a match, and will permanently ban players that they find "cheating or using hacks, bots, or third-party software". Blizzard performed one such mass-ban of players they had found to be using aimbots and other cheating assistants in late July 2016. Following Overwatch's release, Blizzard sought legal action against Bossland Hacks for Watchover Tyrant tool that enables certain cheats and advantages to players in Overwatch, among other features.
Blizzard's initial idea for competitive mode were to limit play to six-on-six matches where players had formed their own teams outside of normal matchmaking, with rankings based on team rather than individual performance; Kaplan stated that this would avoid issues relating to matchmaking and players dropping out mid-game in terms of tracking the team's rating. When they presented this concept to players early on, they received a large amount of negative feedback, with many players wanting to be able to play competitively solo rather than grouped with a team. From this feedback, they redesigned competitive mode to be based on a progression system, similar to Hearthstone, where initially a player would generally progress along a five-tier ladder system the more matches they played, but as they moved into higher ranks, would find further progression to be based more on skill. This approach had been tested in the beta period but Blizzard found that low-ranked players to be pitted frequently against much more highly ranked players, and that they had not accounted for players to fall out of a tier if they started to perform poorly. They further found players wanting a finer resolution of their competitive ranking to be able to better compare to other players. They opted to hold back on including competitive mode at release, and later redeveloped the mode to use the 100-point ranking system to meet these issues while continuing to look for other ways to improve the ranking system.
An improved competitive mode entered open beta testing within Battle.net's public test region on June 21, 2016. Competitive mode for Windows, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 was added on June 28, June 30 and July 1, 2016, respectively.
To develop the game's themes, Kaplan stated they wanted to create a future that was not typical of what a post-apocalyptic world might be like, opting instead for a future where conflict still exists but a "bright and aspirational vision" is maintained. The title's creative director, Chris Metzen, acknowledged that parts of Overwatch, such as maps, share "continuity" with Titan. Citing a desire to keep its game styles "simple", and because it contradicted its emphasis on accomplishing goals as a team rather than trying to achieve large numbers of kills, Overwatch does not contain a traditional deathmatch mode. Metzen stated that "we have a long legacy of developing multiplayer games, and it came down to 'is it even possible to build a shooter that doesn't feel cynical, that doesn't feel cruel, that doesn't feel nasty? Can you build one that really promotes teamwork and relationship and having fun with your friends, and not getting killed with a thrown knife from halfway across the map as soon as you jump in?'" Kaplan has expressed that this theme continued into the aesthetics of the game, commenting, "when it comes to the setting and art style and tone of the universe, a lot of games like to approach the future in either a very dystopian way, or a post-apocalyptic way," and adding, "we wanted to make something bright and welcoming, that featured a lot of deep, rich colors. A lot of the modern realistic games tend to focus on gritty gray, brown palettes."
The narrative for Overwatch is led by Blizzard's senior game designer Michael Chu. Creating a narrative for the game was a challenge compared to past Blizzard titles as the game lacks a single-player mode or a traditional story-telling mechanic. Instead, the story crafters for the game sought to create a spanning narrative that could be injected into the game through the short in-game dialogue and unlockable hero skins. Outside of the game, the narrative is primarily driven by a transmedia storytelling method. This gives the developers some flexibility as to where they can take the story as Overwatch is expanded over the years. The narrative can still be seen being hinted at through map environments and character dialogue within the game itself; Chu explains that "you get a character like Soldier: 76 and he says, like: 'back in my day we'd have this payload delivered'. And then you get a character like Zenyatta, the robot monk, and he would say something like, "becoming one with the objective." So we find these ways to really differentiate them and it makes for unexpected and sometimes ridiculous lines." Blizzard felt they had strength in developing a narrative for a large universe of characters as they had done for Warcraft. Chu expressed that they wanted to diverge from the fantasy and science fiction elements that were prominent in their main three franchises (Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo), stating "we wanted to try something different with Overwatch, so what we decided to go for was the future of Earth. We always wanted the game to be about heroes, so we took a lot of inspiration from comics and superhero stories of our youth and today." Once it was determined Overwatch would be played on a near-futuristic version of Earth, the writers recognized the possibility of having a global-spanning set of characters and locations set in an "inspirational future". Metzen sees the Overwatch universe as having potential dynamics over time, but Blizzard does not yet have plans for how to implement this within the game.
The cast of playable characters in Overwatch was selected to portray diverse representations of genders and ethnicities, including males, females, and non-human characters such as robots and a gorilla. The need for a diverse cast was important to the developers, as some of Blizzard's previous games had been criticized before for missing this mark; Metzen explained that even his daughter had asked him why all the female characters from Warcraft seemed to be only wearing swimsuits. Metzen stated: "Specifically for Overwatch over the past year we've been really cognizant of that, trying not to oversexualize the female characters." Kaplan explained that the industry was "clearly in an age where gaming is for everybody," going on to say that "increasingly, people want to feel represented, from all walks of life, boys and girls, everybody. We feel indebted to do our best to honor that." When one questioner asked Metzen on the inclusion of gay characters, Metzen confirmed the presence of multiple LGBT characters in the game, but also remarked "we want it to play out organically," adding "we don't want it to be a data point or feel contrived in any way." Michael Chu expressed that the diverse group of characters is a result of Blizzard's approach to game design, elaborating that "We've tried [to] have a diverse cast of characters and diverse locations that you go through, and hopefully these characters - even beyond national diversity; just seeing their personalities, their backstories, their occupations - hopefully people will find things in common with these characters."
The team envisioned the characters akin to superheroes in this narrative, each with their own abilities, background and personality that could stand on their own, but could also fit into the larger story; this notion translated into the characters being agents for the game, which Metzen said still captures the "heroism and vibe" that superhero stories carry. The team did not want to have any characters that served solely as villains in the game, but did develop some of the characters, like Soldier: 76, to have an unsure purpose within the narrative.
Kaplan credits artist Arnold Tsang from coming up with the preliminary designs of all the heroes in the game. The narrative and characters themselves were then developed through an iterative process between the gameplay developers, artists, and promotional media as they worked to bring the narrative together. One example given was that of Doomfist, a character introduced into one of the game's promotional videos where his gauntlet was on display. This led to the creation of one of the maps that expanded upon the Doomfist concept, making that a title passed down among others in the past, and seeding some of the existing heroes' backstory has had connections to the Doomfist title. Though they have no plans to introduce Doomfist as a playable character, this process gave them a sufficient starting point to work from should they introduce Doomfist in the future. Other examples of similar iterative expansion to the characters given by Metzen and Chu include the heroes Genji and Hanzo who were characters borne out of an initial single character concept and leading to them being rivals of each other, and the introduction of Lucio as a means to expand upon the loosely connected Vishkar Corporation concept that was part of Symmetra's backstory.
Character animations were created by Blizzard's David Gibson. To help give more personality to the 3D-rendered animation, Gibson applied traditional methods used in 2D limited animation, such as smear animation, instead of relying on motion blur effects, creating more exaggerated animations that support the feel of the game.
Following the game's release, some of the alternative outfits for characters had come under criticism for using cultural stereotypes, such as a Native American headdress option for the character of Pharah. Kaplan noted that they considered for all these outfits if they were appropriate, believing they were respecting the cultures of the characters they had created, and would make necessary changes if they felt there were valid concerns. Kaplan commented that many players have responded positively to these outfits and feel they fit in appropriately with the idealized version of Earth.
Blizzard will support the game through various updates, such as the competitive mode that was added in June 2016, and potential changes to how the Play of the Game is selected to showcase non-attacking-based Heroes. Other updates will come from monitoring the game and adjusting various attributes of the Heroes to better manage their expectations they had in designing the game and in response to player feedback. For example, one of the first planned updates was to change the strength of McCree's alternate fire "Fan the Hammer" ability, which could do a great deal of damage to most targets. Blizzard felt this attack should be lethal to most of the Heroes but should not be able to take out Tank-based characters in a single shot, and reduced the damage to address this. Not all updates will be equivalent across platforms; a planned update will reduce the damage of Torbjörn's auto-aiming turrets on console versions but will not be applied to the Windows version. In September 2016, Blizzard added in support for high bandwidth network play on the Windows client for users with sufficient Internet connections, which reduces the amount of interpolation delay in client and server-side prediction, making the game smoother and more reactive for those players. Players on slower bandwidth connections are grouped with others of this type of avoid any disadvantage of connection speed. Blizzard is looking for how to implement high bandwidth support in the console versions.
Blizzard has plans to add new characters and maps to the game. With respect to characters, Kaplan expected they will release these one at a time, rather than in groups, allowing the new character to be stabilized before adding the next. Kaplan referred to the negative feedback received after the grouped introduction of the final three characters—Genji, Mei, and D.Va—during the closed beta period, which if repeated could be "disruptive" to the game's community. For example, the first new character, Ana, was revealed and playable on the Public Test region from July 12, 2016, and made available to all on the Windows version on July 19 with console versions following in the days after. In regards to maps, Blizzard first announced a new map, called "Eichenwalde", on August 16, 2016. Blizzard is also able to add in new game modes, cosmetic skins, sprays, victory poses, and the like, which include promotional items such as a limited-time availability of items related to the 2016 Summer Olympics.
In September 2016, Blizzard announced it would add a patch to the game that would transition analogue stick movement on consoles from an "Exponential Ramp" default to a "Dual-Zone mode" default. Blizzard stated that this new mode allows 'for more precise aiming, while still allowing players to turn around quickly."
Announcement, promotion and release
Overwatch was formally announced at the BlizzCon event on November 7, 2014; the game was playable during the event to all attendees, with fourteen characters available to select from. During this event Blizzard released a cinematic trailer and an extended gameplay video for the game. A month after the BlizzCon event, in December 2014, Blizzard published character introduction videos to its YouTube channel, and followed up on this May 2015 by posting weekly videos of game footage and character highlights.
A closed beta period for Overwatch across all three platforms began on October 27, 2015. The closed beta was put on "extended break" in December and brought back in February 2016. Following the March 2016 release announcement, Blizzard also announced an open beta period from May 5 to 9 for any registered user of the Battle.net client. The open beta proven popular with Blizzard reporting over 9.7 million players participating, and as a way of showing thanks, extended the open beta period by one extra day.
In the week prior to release, Blizzard arranged to have three giant-sized boxes (approximately 15 feet (4.6 m) tall) of various Overwatch heroes, as if being sold as packaged action figures, put on display across the globe at Hollywood, Paris, and Busan, South Korea. The displays were created by Alliance Studios, led by Steve Wang, who has collaborated with Blizzard before on past projects, and Eddie Yang. After planning the design of the sculptures in January 2016, teams across the world, including Droga5, Scicon, Stratasys and Egads, raced to print, finish and assemble the works in time for the game's release. Propelled by Overwatch, Blizzard had over 50% of the American advertisement share among gaming industry brands from May 16 to June 15, 2016.
Overwatch was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One platforms on May 24, 2016, with the game servers coming online at 00:00 BST that day. Blizzard allowed retailers to sell physical copies of the game on May 23 to help players prepare for the servers' launch. Unlike previous Blizzard releases, there are no plans for a version of Overwatch for OS X. Blizzard has expressed interest in supporting cross-platform play between console systems in the future, though has no plans for Windows-supported cross-play due to the advantage of keyboard-mouse controls over controller-based ones. The game will be supported by updates, including new maps and characters. All of the additional content will be free for existing players and does not require additional payment. Blizzard hoped that through this method they can alleviate the concerns of some players.
Two special editions of Overwatch were released alongside the base game. The Origins Edition, available both as a downloadable and retail product, includes the base game and five additional character skins, as well as other bonus items for other Blizzard games via Battle.net. The Collectors Edition, only available as retail, includes the Origins Edition content as well as a statue of Soldier 76, one of the playable characters, the game's soundtrack, and a source book.
Blizzard opted to tell the story of Overwatch across various mediums, rather than include a story mode; Chu stated, "One of the things that's really great is we're able to leverage the strengths of these different mediums to tell different parts of the story," citing Soldier: 76's appearances in fake news reports, an animated video narrated from his perspective, as well as the Hero short. Chu has also remarked that the reasoning for Blizzard's method of storytelling with Overwatch was an emphasis on a "gameplay first" philosophy.
In March 2016, Blizzard announced that they would be releasing comics and animated shorts based on Overwatch in 2016. The related media announced includes digital comics, an animated short series, and a graphic novel called Overwatch: First Strike, which focuses on the story of several in-game characters including Soldier: 76, Torbjörn, Reaper, and Reinhardt. The novel is being written by writer Micky Neilson and artist Ludo Lullabi.
Blizzard began releasing the series of animated shorts in March 2016; the shorts maintained the style of the game's cinematic trailer, which centered on a battle in which Tracer and Winston fought Reaper and Widowmaker in the Overwatch Museum. A collection of these cinematic sequences played in movie theaters across the United States as part of the game's launch event. The first episode of the animated short series, Recall, was released on March 23. It centers on Winston and Reaper, and features flashbacks to Winston's childhood. The second episode, Alive, showcased a standoff between Tracer and Widowmaker, and was released on April 5. The third episode, Dragons, featuring the brothers Hanzo and Genji, was released on May 16. The fourth and final episode of the series' first season, Hero, stars Soldier: 76, and was released May 22.
Blizzard and Dark Horse Comics announced a partnership at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con International that will have Dark Horse publish the existing Overwatch comics to date under their label as well as future comics, and will publish a 100-page art book The Art of Overwatch to be released mid-2017.
According to Activision Blizzard spokesperson Stacey Sher, there are plans for an Overwatch movie and animated series.
According to Kaplan, Overwatch was not developed with any dedication towards eSports. Although Blizzard had success with committing to eSports with the development of Starcraft II, they had found that "it's dangerous to be overly committed to esport too early in the lifespan of the game", instead seeing how the community developed this over time as they saw from Hearthstone. Kaplan stated they included and planned for features for the game to support the competitive community. Dan Szymborski writing for ESPN stated that Overwatch was poised as the next big eSport for having a sufficiently different look and playstyle from established eSports titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Call of Duty, enough variety in maps and characters, and strong support from Blizzard to maintain the game for a long time. Bryant Francis writing for Gamasutra also noted the speed and short match times of Overwatch make the game highly favorable for viewership, further supporting the title as an eSports title.
Just prior to the game's release, PC Gamer writer Stefan Dorresteijn contacted professional eSports players and hosts for their opinions. Longtime eSports host Paul Chaloner stated that "[Overwatch] needs a much better spectator system," going on to elaborate, "Right now, it's incredibly difficult for commentators and viewers to see the skills of the players: who used their ultimates and how did they interact? Who is on cooldown and who has changed hero?" Fellow eSports player Seb Barton and Michael Rosen criticized the game's map designs and game modes; Barton remarked that "the game modes are a little hit and miss," adding that "King of the hill [Control] is super exciting and fast paced but then you have the payload [Escort] maps, which are just a snoozefest for everyone involved." Rosen expressed a need for tweaking to the maps used for the control game mode, as they are "just too prone to the snowball effect. The moment the attacking team captures the first control point they don't just have the momentum but also the last advantage for the second and final capture point."
In June 2016, the eSports organizer ESL announced that they would host the first international Overwatch competition in August 2016, called Overwatch Atlantic Showdown. The competition will use four open qualifiers beginning in June, followed by regional qualifiers and then a final online qualifier. Eight teams will then compete for a six-figure prize in the finals to be held at Gamescom 2016 from August 20–21. Turner Broadcasting's ELeague announced the first Overwatch Open tournament, starting in July 2016, with a total prize pool of $300,000, with plans to broadcast the finals on Turner's cable channel TBS in September 2016. Blizzard will host their own Overwatch World Cup, allowing users to vote for teams to represent their nation/region, with finals to take place during the BlizzCon in November 2016.
During the 2016 Blizzcon, Blizzard announced their plans for their Overwatch League, using an organization of permanent teams in league placements similar to more traditional physical sports, rather than the use of relegation and promotion used in a series like League of Legends Championship Series. Blizzard will help to organize potential team owners and aim to include more geographically-local teams to participate, which they hope will help spark more interest in eSports from spectators and potential sponsors through new activities around supporting a local team. Blizzard anticipates the Overwatch League will have a seven-figure payoff for the winning team at the end of a season, but plans on paying a salary to all players within the league. The first, shortened season of the League is expected to start in Q3 2017, but will begin in full seasons starting in 2018, with the League having half-year long seasonal breaks starting in Q4 of that year.
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