One of the most defining key aspects of modern gaming is the ability for developers to release an update for a game at virtually any time that they want, all but guaranteeing that every person that is playing said game will receive the latest balancing tweaks, new characters, or whatever else may come with an update within days or even hours. Previously, such changes would generally have to wait for a new expansion pack or some other official product, or in the most extreme scenarios, a product recall, meaning that you really did get what you purchased for better or worse. Now, a game can feel like a completely new product compared to the launch version, and few other games have taken advantage of this fact more than Overwatch.
Released on May 24, 2016, Overwatch is a rather unique game in that it features no singleplayer content whatsoever (for now anyways), which would have been a death sentence less than a decade ago, yet it continues to survive and thrive in the face of stiff competition. Over the course of the past year, four new Heroes were added to the game’s already fairly sizable roster, at least three major and unique seasonal events were implemented into the calendar of rotating events, a handful of new maps got thrown into the mix, and it certainly seems as though with every new Competitive season, a new meta appears, spurred on by a few nerfs, buffs, and reworks. Needless to say, Blizzard is not planning to drop their support of Overwatch any time soon, which is a great sign for the game’s immediate health.
Of course, all these new features wouldn’t mean anything if no one used them, so it would be important to note the context and impact of these updates. At launch, Overwatch was decidedly a far less varied game, which is saying something for a game that prides itself on having so many Heroes to choose from. Zenyatta for example was made of tissue paper, meaning that while his Orb of Discord allowed teams to shred Tanks in no time at all, it really only took a mediocre Widowmaker to practically delete him from a match. Thus, as far as useful Hero picks went, you more or less only saw the usual staple, easy to understand Heroes like Mercy, Lucio, Reinhardt, Soldier: 76, and so on and so forth (it didn’t help that people were still learning the basics of the game). Thankfully, as time went on, Blizzard made some cumulatively well received balancing changes, which ultimately led to the Overwatch of today where, while certain Heroes are still quite powerful, there’s not really any particular ultra-dominant Hero that matches revolve around (or at least not to the same horrifying degree that it once did at the height of Mercy or Bastion’s power). There’s some room for improvement, especially when it comes to Blizzard’s reaction time to requests for obvious nerfs and buffs, but Blizzard at the very least gives the impression that they are keeping a close eye on feedback.
Then there’s all the new, actual content that was released over time; maps, month-long events, new Heroes and cosmetic items, all for free. As it stands right now, Overwatch is one of the few, if not only, games where people are generally quite accepting of its microtransaction system because it feels fair, it’s not obstructing or affecting the gameplay in any way, and no one really feels forced to buy Loot Boxes. That in itself is a relatively incredible model that most people would agree is a good middle ground for both the audience and the developer, which is quite frankly something that the Overwatch team at Blizzard should be proud of. It would be fairly safe to say that as far as post-launch content goes, Overwatch goes above and beyond in terms of quality and quantity, and it has shown in the game’s ever-increasing playerbase. It would be hard to say if the microtransaction system will change in the future, but for now, Blizzard is putting many other developers to shame.
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, and even Overwatch has its own dark side. As a game becomes more and more popular, it seems as though it’s inevitable that people will show up to ruin the fun. Of course, Blizzard can’t banish such people from the face of the Earth, but they haven’t exactly done a stellar job in policing their audience to make sure that hackers, griefers, and generally toxic people don’t drive away normal players. In all fairness, this is a problem that no developer can ever truly solve, but there should never, ever be a scenario where a player gets banned only after receiving thousands of reports- erring on the side of caution is understandable, but not when thousands of people who can’t possibly coordinate with each other all agree that one particular individual is not someone who they would want in the community. On the flipside, Overwatch’s community is, shall we say, a bit gullible at times, undermining the very systems that are intended to help them by believing sob stories about getting falsely banned at face value, so Blizzard isn’t entirely at fault here. Blizzard must realize that if Overwatch has an Achilles heel though, it lies in how toxicity is handled in the game, and eternal vigilance is key to ensuring that Overwatch doesn’t rot from the inside out.
As far as modern multiplayer games go though, Overwatch is definitely at the head of the pack even if it isn’t the newest and shiniest new toy on the market. In terms of short term health, the game has no shortage of players who play the game because they love it, and Blizzard is more than happy to keep the positive relationship going with new, and most importantly, free, content. If Blizzard can continue their efforts with improving the game over time, then it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Overwatch a couple of years from now would blow launch-version Overwatch right out of the water, which would be all that’s needed to keep an already receptive audience interested. As the years progress, it would be hard to imagine that Blizzard will abandon their new cash cow, though whether or not the playerbase will feel the same way with gradually shifting tastes is another story. Disregarding all other unforeseen factors, Overwatch is shaping up to be the Halo of this generation of gaming, setting the standard for what a long-lasting multiplayer game with a huge cultural impact should look like, but as we all know, we should always plan for when things don’t go according to plan.More About This Game