Today, during its quarterly shareholder’s conference call, Activision Blizzard announced that two of its most anticipated games, Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2, would be delayed until at least 2023. While Diablo fans are already used to a long wait, the delay is much harder on the original Overwatch, its fans, and, perhaps, the small team who maintain it.
Blizzard has questions to answer about what will happen to the original Overwatch moving forward. To have it simmer for a full three years is not going to help audience retention, nor is it going to pay the bills. Will Blizzard bolster the small team still supporting Overwatch to prop the game up, or is its commitment to the sequel now absolute?
And what becomes of Overwatch’s heralded compatibility with Overwatch 2? Originally, the idea was that any new content coming to the sequel would appear in the original too. Blizzard hoped this might convince the audience they wouldn’t have to buy a second game. But does that thinking even apply anymore? Is it even worth it to Blizzard to put any more resources into the original Overwatch now? Do they simply drop the idea of multiplayer overlap, and reposition the sequel as a full replacement title? How much of Overwatch‘s audience can Blizzard afford to lose? How much of that audience does it believe it can get back later?
So many questions. So few answers. And all of this follows a California lawsuit alleging widespread sexual harassment and workplace discrimination that has engulfed Blizzard for several months. Indeed, Activision Blizzard indicated that the numerous changes of leadership and key creative staff over the U.S. summer were the primary reasons for the delay.
“It has become apparent that some of the Blizzard content planned for next year will benefit from more development time to reach its full potential,” Activision Blizzard said.
Time is, indeed, a factor here. In Triple-A games development, extra time to craft and polish is a godsend. But giving the sequel team the (well-deserved) space to breathe could create a headache for those left maintaining the original.
The last two major content updates for the original Overwatch were the addition of hero Echo on April 14, 2020, and the Havana escort map on May 7, 2019. Two maps have dropped this year — Kanezaka in January and Malevento in September — but both are for the game’s less popular Deathmatch mode. Beyond this, Overwatch has continued to recycle the same seasonal events that have been running since its launch in 2014.
Overwatch has been left to bubble away for almost 18 months, while the bulk of the development team moved onto the sequel. A support crew produces new skins for seasonal events and are likely behind the two recent Deathmatch maps. With the delay of Overwatch 2, that support team must now hold the line for as long as another 18 months.
This leaves the original Overwatch with a mountain to climb. The launch of Overwatch 2 was supposed to save the day. Overwatch would have reached end-of-life status, support would have been wound down further, and all would have been well. Alas, it was not to be.
With only interstitial balance patches, the same old events, and no new heroes or maps on the horizon, what can Overwatch do to retain an audience? Overwatch has maintained a sizeable and passionate player base since launch, but what could end up being a three-year dry spell threatens all of that. The market for multiplayer games grows more crowded every day. How long can Blizzard ask fans to wait for new content before it loses them?
News of the delay left the game’s community rattled. Users of the r/Overwatch subreddit shared concerns they’ll now have to watch a game they love wither on the vine. “Uh… happy 2-year announcement anniversary, I guess,” wrote user w0zie. An astute observation; Overwatch 2 was revealed at BlizzCon 2019 two years ago today.
“Let OW1 go stale for almost 3 years now with the justification of making OW2 and now it’s going to get released later than what they assumed and never announced,” wrote user try_again123. “Great way to keep the IP relevant, Blizzard.”
Some had constructive suggestions amid the downbeat atmosphere. “Just make an OW2 public beta playlist. Let players test out 5v5 on 2 of the maps they’ve made,” wrote user Kohlossal. “Put it in the experimental tab every now and then (assuming, of course, that they can have the current player models/animations on the new maps).”
Whatever Blizzard plans to do, it will need to make an announcement soon. The world of Overwatch lost its heroes to the machinations of the body politic. Right now, for many in the community, it feels like we’ve lost them too.
And the world needs heroes. Now more than ever.