Game developer Blizzard faced a seemingly impossible task: how do you develop a sequel to something that should never end? It is a precarious situation that is becoming increasingly common in the gaming industry. Some of today's most popular titles are made to be living entities that exist for months or years and change over time, but almost never into something that looks like a brand new product.
That is the predicament in which the studio found itself Overwatch, the competitive team shooter with more than 50 million players worldwide and a successful e-sports league on its way to the third year. But last week Blizzard took off the wraps Overwatch 2, a kind of hybrid between your standard online game extension and a complete sequel. With Overwatch 2, the original game does not disappear or is relegated to the bank. Instead, the first game is merged with the sequel to create a kind of shared game universe. It could represent a new kind of sequel to a video game – but there are a lot of complicated comments.
For example, if you buy the sequel – there is no price tag yet, and we are months or maybe even a whole year away from a release date – you get the new Blizzard Overwatch narrative cooperative mode. That mode is thrown as the main draw. But if you already own it Overwatch and you don't want story mode, you still get new character designs, new cards, new heroes and access to the all-new competitive multiplayer push mode. In other words, you will not be left behind, at least not entirely. This also has the effect that it remains intact Overwatch League, built on the distinctive competitive multiplayer for 12 players of the first game.
This is Blizzard's way of pleasing everyone and alienating (almost) no one. Game director Jeff Kaplan forms the approach as a new, experimental way of handling a sequel to a video game in the age of games as a service. In his eyes, it could become the model for all kinds of games that go further.
It is also a unique approach that comes at a time when many of Blizzard & # 39; s colleagues & # 39; s, Fortnite maker Epic Games Destiny developer Bungie, take similar risks when updating their respective games without forcing uncomfortable and unnecessary changes to consumers. Epic has restarted everything Fortnite last month with an update called "Chapter 2", while Bungie launched a free-to-play version of Destination 2 which exists in addition to the paid extensions.
“I think the game is definitely a continuation. It is a huge game, and I think we are not just trying to do it well through our players – current Overwatch fans who are not interested in this Overwatch 2 – I hope it goes well with players of games that have a sequel that has nothing to do with it Overwatch. I hope we actually influence the industry a little bit, & Kaplan says told VG24 in an interview last week. “Progression can go with you and players from the earlier version can play the new version with people. It is all semantic, but I really believe that we are doing the right thing through our players. "
Because the original Overwatch, which is still regularly updated, is designed to last for years, Blizzard cannot just abandon it and the existing players when the sequel comes out. The company probably also wants to sell its product for money. Instead of selling it World of Warcraft-style as a subscription service or free to spend as Fortnite, Blizzard must find a way to take the players of the original game for the ride, while new consumers are also selling a product that justifies the big number two next to his name.
The way Blizzard does this is to let players of both games play together in certain modes, and to keep the original Overwatch players contribute their progress to the sequel if they wish. That means you don't lose all hero skins, emotes and cosmetics that you might have spent a lot of money on if you switch to Overwatch 2. They are two games, together in one shared universe.
It sounds like a better version of what Bungie tried and didn't do Destination 2. Bungie opted for a continuous update model and instead left the entire first game behind and opted to charge $ 60 for the sequel and force you to leave all your progress in the dust. Then it slowly borrowed countless concepts from the first game that it had initially left to keep old fans happy. The result: Bungie lost quite some goodwill, and some more Destiny players have not returned since then. Bungie has since corrected many of those errors Shadowkeep expansion and the new cross-save model, with which you can play certain Destination 2 activities on multiple platforms, regardless of which extensions you own.
FortniteThe approach was smarter. As a free to play game, developer Epic does not have to worry about achieving sales milestones or the standard marketing hype cycle around new game releases. Instead, it orchestrated a truly groundbreaking stunt in which the game was taken offline for two days, so that Epic could actually do major maintenance on the servers. But it made countless headlines and record-breaking viewers on social media when Epic leaned into the stunt and pretended that the game was gone forever. Fortnite& # 39; Chapter 2 & # 39; arrived a few days later for explosive fanfare.
Blizzard will have to walk a much more cautious line, as it tries to thread the needle between two somewhat conflicting approaches. On the one hand, you have the traditional way of thinking that says a brand new game or full-fledged sequel will always sell better, attract more new players, and let the development team take more risks than with a standard update or extension. A clear example is Duty, one of the few remaining annual franchises in the industry.
On the other hand, the newer approach that suggests that a game that you can play for free, or a game that you only sell once and constantly update, is easier to manage and in many cases earns more money in the long run than a boxed product that you release every year. A good example: the decade old League of Legends, or the consistently popular Fortnite.
Overwatch has always existed somewhere in the middle. It has been a product in box with a price tag since it was released in 2016 and it never charges players for updates. But at the same time it earns money as a free to play title, where players sell in-game currencies for cosmetics and booty boxes. Many of Blizzard & # 39; s lessons in this regard come from working World of Warcraft, one of the most influential live service games of all time, the last 15 years.
With Overwatch, Kaplan says the team has always taken risks. The developer had to convince higher ups at parent company Activision Blizzard not to let the game play for free, but also to not charge for extensions. The Overwatch who arrived in 2016 could have looked very different. Now with Overwatch 2, Kaplan says they had to do even more convincingly to try something totally new.
"The fact that we would include all future heroes and all future cards, you know, it was unheard of at that time to continue with a game in box." Kaplan told Kotaku. “Many people in the company had to take a big leap and go, wait, nobody else does this. And we challenged. We said we think this is correct: if I am a player of the game, it feels good and honest. "
"We were hugely rewarded for that and I think this made this decision easier for people," Kaplan said. "There was a level of confidence that they had in us as a development team that we were the ones who made this decision. And they trust us that we have grown this great community to do what is good for them and if we take care of them, they will take care of us. "