To say I’m pretty into Overwatch might be a bit of an understatement. The class based team shooter has been out since May of last year and I’ve put ~300 hours into quick play alone. Aside from it being a spectacular game it also has one of the best communities I’ve ever encountered; the fan art and theories are exhaustive (and oftentimes lewd, like anything I suppose, y’all are thirsty) and people are, more often than not, generally really good to each other. More than just its love for the game itself and its accoutrement, the community also have a deep respect for the team at Blizzard. I think a lot of this stems from how open and communicative they have been and continue to be almost a year later. High profile members of the team are often commenting on threads on reddit and in the official forums and the video updates from Game Director Jeff Kaplan are so popular they’ve spawned their own (hilarious) memes.
Jeff himself is practically deified on the official subreddit (much to the amusement of r/overwatchcirclejerk). This adoration is mostly ironic but it didn’t spawn from nothing. It’s come, I think, from the genuine respect Jeff shows towards the community which sets him apart from others in his field (I’ve not seen any Glen Schofield mashups on youtube yet although I’m sure he’s a great guy). A few days ago reddit user AuTiMechanic posted in r/overwatch suggesting it’d be cool if Jeff did an AMA. Well yesterday the man himself thought “Fuck it, I’m not doing anything else right now why not!”
“Why the hell is this worth writing about?” I hear you shouting. First of all, chill out, I do what I want. More importantly though, I think this is special in that Jeff seemed to get on board with a simple request from an average joe community member (instead of a thinly veiled attempt at publicity as most of these things usually are /cynicism) and has answered a fuckton of questions, some of which are genuinely sweet but others that could tell us of some exciting things to come in the Overwatch world and that gets me rock hard. I’ve gone through and pulled out my favourite bits from the AMA below. PREPARE FOR THE HYPE TRAIN!
The cute shit
Q – What stories do you have that you can share from the initial development of Overwatch?
A – The first hero we implemented was Tracer. We did not have any animations or gun models. So she shot laser beams from her eyes (…) Even funnier is Geoff Goodman’s tracer “stick figure” skin. I will try to post a picture sometime.
Q – Who is your favorite hero?
A – This is going to sound canned but I fall in love with a different hero each week. I think that’s one of my favorite parts about OW. I totally get “maining” and I have heroes I play more than others… but I’m constantly discovering new things about different heroes on different maps… and then of course there is their backstories etc…
Also, every time Hanamura comes up I will only play Hanzo on defense. Because… roleplay… meet me on the porch, Genji
Q – What is your favorite part of working with Blizzard?
A – I love the people I work with — truly love. They are amazingly smart and talented. I learn so much every day. I love being surrounded by people who are 100% driven and dedicated towards their passion. I feel incredibly lucky to work here.
A – Amazing. https://careers.blizzard.com/en-us/
Q – What do you think of all the Dinoflask videos? What do the other devs think of them? [The video I linked in the intro]
A – He is super talented. The videos are hilarious. Obviously, I feel embarrassed when I see them. I mean, I am this middle-aged, awkward nerd with 0 points in charisma and really don’t belong on camera in any way, shape or form. But if I look at the videos objectively — like if they were of anyone but me — they are hilarious.
I always say that Dinoflask says what I wish I could really say (like that old Key and Peele skit with Obama’s translator)
Q – As someone who has been playing Blizzard games since Diablo, I just want to say thank you for creating such a great game and embracing the community the way you have.
I love Overwatch, its an amazing game, but the way the Developers communicate and embrace feedback is something pretty incredible.
A – We’re honored to be a part of this community. We feel like the community communicates with intelligence and respect and we want to give that back.
Q – What are your most and least favorite fan creations?
A – I love all of it. The art, the cosplay, the songs, the videos.
Q – Does that include stuff like /r/Rule34Overwatch?
A – scared to click [Suuuuure…]
Q – He needs to answer where he was March 9th, 2017 at 12:22PM [For some context a user said they were out for a jog and bumped into him at chipotle]
A – I did in fact eat at Chipotle that day and met the gentleman in question.
Q – Why can’t D.va crouch?
A – D.Va never lowers herself like that…
Okay, enough tooting Jeff’s Lijiang tower, you get it, he’s a big ole sweetie. Time for me to wildly speculate about future developments from tiny snippets of information!
The juicy shit!
Q – We would love to see a beginning to release documentary of how you guys create a hero. The temp audio and video for it, the iterations it goes through for abilities, etc. It would give people a chance to see everyone on your team and how a character comes together from a design side.
A – We have something for you!
Baseless Speculation – I mean, this one is pretty straight forward: a feature length Blizzard development film at Sundance this year! But for reals, something similar to his developer updates talking about their creative process would be tight! [Edit – Called it! Released this morning. Looking forward to all my other predictions inevitably coming true]
Q – Hey Jeff! What kind of cool game analytics is there that goes on behind the scenes? Does blizzard look at things like common people who group together and other big data ideas?
A – We have an entire Business Intelligence group here at Blizzard — and they are amazing. I know the name sounds scary and corporate. But in addition to providing our business guys with analytics, they work with the design team very closely to look at everything: heroes, maps, matchmaking, progression items (unlocks), queue times, game mode popularity, trends etc.
The best part about the BI group is they are hardcore players of the game. We often use ourselves as guinea pigs for analysis or testing… we’ll look up our accounts and see what’s going on. It’s a lot of fun to look at the data but you also need to have an idea of why you’re looking at it and what are you trying to accomplish with it.
For example, we try to keep all maps balanced as closely to a 50/50 win rate as possible. Eichenwalde has never achieved 50/50… but players love the map. We made changes to the door… and we have one more round of changes coming (to the first choke)… these are largely driven by the stats showing us the imbalance. But left to our own feelings, we love the map and feel like it’s one of our best.
B.S. – Clearly this means there will be a Mercy shaped passage added that leads right up to the capture point so I don’t get perforated by Bastion every time Rein drops his shield. Thanks Jeff!
Q – (console player here) How the idea of making a console version of a FPS (and from Blizzard, which is mainly familiar with PC kind of games) like Overwatch came up and how hard was to make this version?
A – From day 1 we wanted to be on consoles. We designed the game to be PC and console from the very start. The funny part was, we did not have a signed contract with Sony or Microsoft until very late in the process (right before we finally announced we’d be on console — Blizzcon 2015)… but we’d been working on it since 2013.
We enjoy the challenge of being on 3 platforms. It’s not too hard from a tech or design standpoint — we’re the type of people who enjoy that type of work. The thing that’s been hardest for me to adapt to is not being able to release stuff or change stuff as frequently as we could on WoW (and still keep all 3 platforms releasing on the same schedule).
For example, we’re still working on getting reporting working on consoles. It’s coming… but not as fast as we would like.
B.S. – Holy shit that’s awesome. I can finally report Kafkacid for stealing all of my POTGs
Q – It sounds like you’re up to the challenge of being on the Switch then…?
A – I’m loving the Switch! My second favorite gaming platform of all time is the 3DS. Getting OW on the Switch is very challenging for us. But we’re always open minded about exploring possible platforms.
B.S. – I would straight up buy a Switch for Overwatch alone, then be fired a few weeks later for never getting any work done
Q – Where do you see OW in a few years? I’m guessing releasing too many heroes would be overwhelming for new players, even though people always want more.
A – I’ve always thought of Overwatch in terms of Crawl, Walk, Run — a development philosophy that our CEO, Mike Morhaime, preached to all of us. I see OW as being in the “crawl” state right now. We have so much more we want to do — beyond just the game you’re playing right now. We really do want to create a Blizzard universe that is worthy of standing alongside Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo.
The more we get into the development of this incarnation of OW, the more I think that having too many heroes too quickly will actually hurt the game. I want to make sure that every hero in the game gets the love and attention it deserves — from balance, to story to skins and art. Our business model does not demand constant hero releases. I want us to avoid homogenizing or undoing heroes by releasing constant new ones. I think we need to find a pace where we can add new heroes to keep the game fresh — both in terms of gameplay as well as story — but also not hurt the existing world we’re trying to build here.
B.S. – This is super exciting. I love the lore potential of the Overwatch world although this statement clearly means we’re getting an Overwatch Hearthstone clone
Q – Have you ever thought of a little co-op mode in an seasonal Event? I would like to fight with friends side by side in the omic crisis or to infiltrate volskaya industries with Sombra, Widow and Reaper.
A – We loved making Junkenstein’s Revenge. We’d love to make more.
B.S. – Junkrat and Roadhog fighting hoards of Omnic drop bears in the outback. You heard it here first
Q – Is there a point at which the stats on their own become significant enough to show something needs to change?
Whilst I don’t have the statistics myself, I must say it feels as though Ana is in more than 90% of very high ranked games and I have to say it has stopped feeling good seeing her in game. I would understand if this comes under the meta, and that it might shift in the future but I really don’t feel like any hero has reached that usage rate since Lucio season 1.
A – The Eichenwalde balance stats warranted a change. Hero pick rates are tricky. Sometimes they warrant change.
Right now we’re trying some stuff with Lucio. We feel like a lot of players feel like he is a “must have” in comps but he also doesn’t feel super impactful to play. We’re trying some ideas to make him more engaging to play while making him a little less obvious/must pick. We’ll see if those changes make it to the PTR.
One tricky thing is that player perception of “must pick” doesn’t match actual behavior. I sometimes look at the hero pick stats and they clearly don’t match the “hero meta report” stats. Then players tell me to throw out my stats and look at only diamond and higher in competitive play only. Well, at that point, I’m not sure players realize what a small percentage of the player base they are asking me to make a decision based on. Obviously, we are in the process of toning Ana down right now. But we’re also not out to see her never get played either. Player reaction is often to sledgehammer everything.
B.S. – The most engaging change to Lucio would be to correct the erroneously named Lucio – ohs brand cereal to the far more elegant Luci – ohs.
Q – When are the new McCree skins coming? I’ve been playing him since beta and I have every single item for him. Kind of bored of everything by this point. Would love a new legendary! ty luv u
I know you can’t answer with an exact date, but a ‘soon’, would make me feel really good.
A – Soon. This spring. Same with widow. You will want these.
B.S. – I predict this will be based on the 1999 hit film Wild Wild West. McCree will get a Will Smith skin and Widowmaker will be the spider tank
Q – How does the Netherlands look in Overwatch? I would LOVE an Overwatch future style map of a typical place in the Netherlands.
A – great idea
B.S. – I don’t really know enough about the Netherlands to make a stupid joke here.
Q – I’ll give this a shot… Why can’t we gift Loot boxes to friends? I feel like that tiny detail would have a big impact on the game..but that could be just me.
A – working on it.
B.S. – You’ll get to keep all the boxes that are 3 greys and a blue. Every one you gift will be 4 yellows with at least one unreleased skin. No one will ever gift me anything (because I’m a prick).
Q – Aww man. I can’t believe I missed this somehow. =( Oh well. Time to sift lol.
A – oh does that mean we’re done?
B.S. – I couldn’t think of a clever way to finish…
If you’ve got a spare few minutes head over to the AMA itself to take a look. My own cherry picking really doesn’t do it justice, I kinda just wanted a podium to fanboy for a little bit. But seriously, the responses from Jeff show that him and his team really do care deeply about their product and all the questions and comments from the community really highlight that we’re not all a bunch of angry nerds. Well, not all the time. Especially not if that god damn Hanzo stops fucking around on the Hanamura balcony…