While most people would say that a game’s longevity depends mostly on how cool, how fun, how balanced, how graphically amazing, how accessible, or how good it is, there’s a different, more meta factor that greatly affects the long-term popularity of a game. It is communication. How do the developers communicate with their player base? Do the players feel as if their voice is heard or do the the developers simply carry out their vision of what the game should be without taking players’ thoughts into consideration?
Developer - Player Relations in Games
Obviously, better communication is preferable; however, there are hurdles to get over when striving for it. First of all, most player feedback is isn’t very constructive at all. Gamers aren’t known for their well-thought out and objective arguments, most of the time, they want their favorite hero buffed and its counters nerfed into the ground to feel like gods. That kind of thing does not a healthy game make. On the other side, there is always a small minority of informed players, who understand game design enough to make reasonable suggestions, which could actually give inspiration for developers. The problem is that in between quality suggestions, developers have to sift through vastly more numerous trash posts. It’s understandable then, that sometimes developers start ignoring their player base’s wishes and just lay down the law, without even trying to inform the community of their plans.
Even telling your players what you plan to do with the game has its pitfalls, as witnessed in the League of Legends scene. Riot Games promised an in-client replay feature sometime soon, which hasn’t been delivered in years. Reddit heroes never fail to remind Riot about their promise, it has become a meme. A more recent SNAFU incident happened at the time of Dynamic Queue rollout. Riot Games promised to introduce Solo Queue sometime later. Months passed with nothing happened. Finally, the developers admitted that they’re scrapping the idea off of their plans, inciting community-wide ire and taking a huge PR hit.
Communication in Overwatch
With the background taken care of, we can finally move to the meat of this article - the plans for Overwatch, described by Game Director Jeff Kaplan in a blue post on US forums today. So far, communication in Overwatch was very good; however, it could turn against the developers with the game gaining popularity quickly. I remain extremely optimistic despite that.
In his extremely long blue post (can be found here), Jeff Kaplan emphasizes that the brunt of their work is being put into making Competitive Play as good as it can possibly be, while rolling it out as fast as possible. Mr. Kaplan notes that they tested the iteration of Competitive they themselves imagined in Beta; however, player feedback implied that players want something different, so the developers of Overwatch took it in stride, working hard to make it what the players want it to be. According to the Game Director, it’s almost as much work as the original version, with daily play testing and all that follows. They are even considering putting it on PTR to see how it looks when more people play it. The thing that made me the happiest was, however, that Jeff Kaplan thought to point out that it will NOT be perfect immediately, saying that Competitive Play will probably require several seasons for it to be something the developers and players are happy with.
New Heroes and Maps
After that, the Director of Overwatch went on to talk about new Heroes they are working on. Apparently, some are in late stages of development, while others are more like prototypes, which might never see the light of day. Once again, he pointed out that he can’t say anything concrete because if he does and it doesn’t come to pass, players will accuse developers of not making good on their promise, even though no promises were actually made.
From the blue post, we can take solace in the fact that one map is at the road towards release, while few others are being prototyped and playtested. Jeff gives an example of a very innovative map that was amazing and failed at the same time, because of sightlines which would make long range heroes dominate it while making Reaper useless.
Spectator Mode, Custom Games, and Brawls
If Overwatch is to break into the eSports scene, it needs the spectator mode to be great. Developers are taking player feedback into account and designing improvements; however, it’s not a very big priority, as it is already much better than what it was in early Beta. At the moment, it’s talked about daily, with some design and planning work being put into it.
Also, Blizzard would like to do more with Customs and Brawls, as the potential of these modes is only scratching the surface of its potential at the moment. One of the most ambitious ideas for this is the ability to play Customs with 11 other players with wacky rules, while gaining EXP for it. This WILL take a lot of time even if it ever happens.
So far, Blizzard and Jeff Kaplan specifically is doing a great job communicating with the player base. He shares more information than usual, while emphasizing that nothing said in his posts should be taken as a promise. Over and over again. His approach to communication is gaining him a lot of fans and getting people hyped for Overwatch’s future. I just hope that he keeps up with it for a very long time because it’s refreshing to see someone who understands communication in the gaming industry.