“Recognizing a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields.”
With my view on the selection process out of the way, let’s look at some of the theories behind how Blizzard Entertainment won Game of the Year for Overwatch, up against these amazing contenders: Doom (id Software/Bethesda), Inside (PlayDead), Titanfall 2 (Respawn/Electronic Arts), and Uncharted 4 (Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment).
Logging in, I saw: friends that had never looked down the eye of a scope, in the midst of an Overwatch match. The first few friends I took the time to message, asking how they felt about the demo they weren’t playing. They had purchased it. Outright bought the game and they loved it. Most couldn’t describe what about it they loved, but they knew they were enjoying themselves. When I asked how they could enjoy this perversion of an FPS but not something like Call of Duty, or something more “realistic” like Battlefield I was often met with a scoff as an explanation. I don’t know what drew them to the game, what caused them to hit “buy” or walk into their nearest GameStop, but they were playing it and playing it often. Something Blizzard did, they had done right.
Mixing a MOBA with an FPS wasn’t the magical sauce that made Overwatch, there was a game unfortunate enough to come out simultaneously. Battleborn was compared, torn to shreds and analyzed countless different ways before it’s release and the verdict was out before it was even given time to shine. The people at the wheel, IGN, GameSpot, couldn’t help but ask how similar Battleborn was to Overwatch. Both being cartoon-esc, mixing a MOBA with an FPS, in which people played heroes vs. other people playing heroes, nary a human in sight (but as of this posting they’re all humanoid). Why on that Tuesday people chose Battlefield instead of Overwatch, I’m not sure. Both come from reputable companies. One making the most popular MMORPG in history, and the other creating a video game with both wide appeal and a cult following (Gearbox Software, Borderlands.) These were two titans ready to play, albeit one smaller than the other, not a lion and a mouse. The only difference I can think of is community outreach and public relations. They were advertised the same way but spoken of differently, and with Battleborn constantly being compared to Overwatch, and rarely the other way around, it was made clear to consumers which one was genuine and which one was simply playing dress up. I want to write a paper about how Battleborn failed in its PR and pre-release communication to consumers, but I have a bit more research to do.
Now, as we learned in CS:GO, slap a skin on something and children will steal their parent’s credit cards to buy it. They will pay real money for intangible in game objects, those objects would then be traded, collected, and hoarded ad-nauseum. Even ending up on gambling sites, ultimately leading to a lawsuit and several companies banning the practice in their ToS. Overwatch quickly advertised the ability to make the characters nearly your own, with at least half a dozen skins upon release and others promised in seasonal events. They made the game fun, and nowhere as serious as Battleborn’s dev team was making their’s out to be. Along the same lines, Blizzard made this game different. Not only did they make the game fun, but they gave the heroes personalities. Battleborn had many heroes, but with personalities, you could swap out. They lines they repeated in game might not have fit, but the personalities made no difference. It was not hard to be unattached when it game to their heroes because no one knew who they were. You would never see people cosplaying as Battleborn characters as they did with Overwatch.
Overwatch’s rise to the top could not be the topic of conversation without talking about accessibility. This MOBA treated their beginners like gods. They walked them through every step of an FPS, made it fun not daunting, and encouraged them to go for the flag. Overwatch’s “Play of the Game” system has people prioritizing good moves and teamwork instead of just a high kill count, and at the end of a match players are encouraged to vote on each other’s performance; concerned more with working towards the objectives and healing teammates than having a positive K/D. To someone outside of the industry, these could seem like frivolous distinctions, but it’s things like kill death ratios that keep people from picking up an FPS. With the main objective being to kill other people, people that weren’t good at shooting down others rarely enjoyed themselves. Seeing the respawn screen seconds after just spawning is exhausting, and shooters are not fun if you’re the only one being shot. Overwatch took that away and allowed players to enjoy themselves in a variety of ways, only one of which were taking down the opposing team. And I think that, was one of the main things drawing people that only played JRPGs and Animal Crossing to this quasi-shooter.
This year, Inc.com named Riot Games their Company of the Year Award. Now, this might seem disjointed, but the point is that one of the reasons Riot Games was at the top, was because of their response to their “customers.” An average business might help you with your problem, apologize, and move on, but Riot Games’ League of Legends was a game in which players got not only a response but a change. If players voiced that they had a problem with X, the dev team would come out and communicate with them about X, if it was a feasible fix, they would do it. If they felt it would ruin the balance of their game they would hem and haw, but eventually, they found a way around their obstacle. Within the first week of release, there were complaints about the sexualization of one of the characters, Tracer, and enough complaints were made that they redesigned her. They took the time and effort to draw and reanimate the part of a character’s body simply due to complaints. Amazon.com might ship your items on time, but they won’t change the shape of the box if you find it offensive. Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment would – and did.
Overwatch became a powerhouse before it even hit the street. But it’s player base grew instead of faltered due to the richness of the game and it’s characters; how quickly, without even noticing, players became attached to the game’s heroes; the ease of entry they provided for people who have never picked up a controller where the bottom-right bumper was the most used button, and the communication they had with their most avid and vocal players. Although I must admit I could never get myself to play beyond the beta I think, above all else, this is why blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, was voted Game of the Year.