Things to Watch Over in Overwatch
Overwatch has been out for several weeks now, and is a huge success. The roll out was smooth, it quashed the competition released around the same time, and has been pretty stable so far. As such, I’m not going to go into a review for the game. However, I’m going to discuss what I think might happen to the future of the game.
I think, for a while at least, Blizzard will work on game balance in preparation for their competitive mode. This will be a huge boon for them in the eSports world, since their flagship World of Warcraft has waned in recent years. Hearthstone has helped, but it isn’t really a venue packing event like Magic the Gathering is. Anyways, this should only tide them over for a month or two until they really get balanced hammered out (speaking of Hammers…. McCree is supposedly getting rebalanced, see source). A good question here is if they will take some of the proceeds from their Loot Box sales and put it into jackpots for tournaments. This is what Halo 5 did with their Requisition Pack sales, and it really helped boost initial interest in competitive play. If Blizzard does this well, they should see years of solid following from streamers and eSports scenes alike, just like frequently-compared Team Fortress 2.
Speaking of Team Fortress 2, I think Blizzard needs to avoid falling into the same pitfalls. When TF2 first came out, it was a more simplistic game. The variations in play came from the characters themselves, and it encouraged diversification of characters. As the years ran on, and the money flow decreased, they started increasing ways to attract more players. First, it was free map updates and game fixes, which was amazing. It showed the developers were in for the long haul. But eventually they introduced the Hat-conomy, which some (like myself) would argue ruined the core game experience. While it introduced a higher diversity, it also created an environment where you were encouraged to pay-to-win. A lot of guns were difficult to get, and it sometimes made the game unfair because of inventory and not skill.
What does that have to do with Overwatch? First, they need to make sure to not change inventories. Having a given character do a given thing makes it so players can better prepare for each other, and not have to wonder which of the 20 guns a single character could have. Second, they need to not sell items that change gameplay. Emotes? Sell them by the dozen. Sprays? Charge people to import their own. Characters? Everyone needs access to all of them. This keeps gameplay itself fair, which is important to long term game health. Third, characters need to be recognizable. If you have 15 glowing orbs, a hat, flowing robes, and a bird head (which is admittedly hilarious), it makes it hard to process what you are fighting. Again, balance, game health, blah blah blah.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, in order in increase loot box sales, Blizzard implemented player-created sprays and skins. They can’t really make emotes and voice lines available to be made, because it is hard to imitate voice actors. Regardless, you get a free loot box for every level, but players are impatient. Double that impatience when there is a seemingly endless amount of things to unlock. This would be an area where it would be arguably okay to exploit the Cash Whale phenomenon. It would give them a long term revenue stream so they can continue developing assets without segmenting the player base.
I keep mentioning the player base. Realistically, this game isn’t going to be super popular. While it is definitely top-notch and well done, the fact is this game is in a crowded genre of First Person Shooters, and will only get more crowded. Destiny has a major expansion coming out. Titanfall 2 is currently being teased. Call of Duty will inevitably get its yearly release. This means players will have grown tired and move on to the next big thing. Plenty of players will remain, but I don’t see the sub-20 second queues lasting forever. Even now I’m starting to see more and more 1min+ queues. With the quick nature of matches, it will become more important to stay in matches once your game completes, instead of instance hopping like so many of us do after a sour match.
To reiterate, Overwatch is a solid game you should buy. Unless Blizzard really messes up, which they aren’t known to do, it should have a decent player base so long as you are patient and they probably won’t introduce anything game breaking that would ruin the core experience. If you are worried about the longevity, don’t be. While the average skill level will continue to increase, I don’t see the game becoming dull or unapproachable for a long, long time.