Overwatch 2 game director Jeff Kaplan said that the team wanted to redefine what people expected from a video game sequel. That might not come to fruition in time, but so far the Overwatch fan base is happy that they won’t have to spend another few hundred hours grinding out skins and cosmetics.
Given the financial advantage with just expecting players to buy a new game outright, something every video game publisher does in 2019, and the difficulties facing Blizzard over the past year, it’s an interesting choice. And in an interview with Kotaku Australia, Kaplan highlighted just how difficult getting that decision over the line has been.
About halfway through our interview, I asked Kaplan and the game’s technical director, John LaFleur, how they were able to convince management to merge Overwatch 1 and Overwatch 2 players. It’s the antithesis of how most publishers would approach a sequel, and something that investors would certainly raise an eyebrow over, and as soon as I asked the question Kaplan laughed out loud.
“That sounds like a very difficult argument to make from a strategic level in 2018-2019, to convince a company to go forward with that kind of vision,” I asked, prompting a laugh from Kaplan and LaFleur.
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“Welcome to my world,” Kaplan joked. “You want to talk about that, it absolutely is. It’s very challenging because the industry has done things the same way for so long. And so it’s hard to get people, push them out of their comfort zone and say, hey I think we could do it a better way.”
The Overwatch game director made a simple argument: developers are usually better off when they make decisions that benefit the long-term health of the players, rather than making short-term decisions for the benefit of financial pragmatism.
“The way that I try convince people, I try to tell them if we do what’s right by the players, they will be happy, we we will have a better game, and we will end up in a better place in the long run. Rather than having this short sighted thinking that’s usually driven by anxiety of ‘the only way to get players to play Overwatch 2 is to cut off all the Overwatch 1 players and starve them out and force them to come over and, you know, make that game just sort of die on the vine.”
“That in my opinion is not the right way. I always try to come at things from a player-first standpoint. What do I want as a player? And I’m really lucky I work with a lot of awesome people who are willing to take big risks, and look at things differently and go, hey we can really influence this to be different.”
Kaplan mentioned that the release of the original Overwatch was equally challenging. When the game was first announced, there was a lot of discussion internally and externally about whether Overwatch would be free-to-play and, if not, whether a new first-person shooter could succeed with an upfront cost. The team eventually opted to include all future maps and heroes as free content updates, but that decision took some convincing at the time.
“The fact that we were going to include all future heroes and all future maps, you know, moving forward on basically a boxed game was unheard of at the time,” the Overwatch 2 director said. “A lot of the people at the company had to take a big leap and go, wait, nobody else is doing this. And we challenged. We said, we think this is right: if I’m a player of the game this feels right and fair.”
“We were greatly rewarded for that and I think that made this decision easier for people. There was a level of trust they had in us as a development team that we were, we’re the ones who drove this decision. And they have trust in us that we grew this amazing community, to do what’s right by them and if we take care of them, they’ll take care of us.”
The author travelled to Blizzcon 2019 as a guest of Blizzard.