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Overwatch 2 Director On Going Free-To-Play, Losing Loot Boxes, Creating A Seasonal Roadmap

When Blizzard announced that the sequel to Overwatch would include a PvE element and a story campaign, I started thinking that Overwatch 2 would be a significant change to the experience. In the time since that announcement, however, the team-based hero shooter has only undergone more and more departures from what fans might have expected from the sequel.

Not only has the PvE been decoupled from the PvP mode, but Overwatch 2 is now making the transition to free-to-play, becoming a live-service title that Blizzard hopes to support with a seasonal structure, a new business model, and a content roadmap the likes of which Overwatch never did.

GameSpot spoke to Overwatch 2 director Aaron Keller about the big changes coming to the game. We discussed what the current state of the Overwatch development team is and how it has adjusted to meet the needs of the much more demanding seasonal and free-to-play model, as well as the rationale for removing loot boxes from the game. In our conversation, Keller also delved into the new hero, Junker Queen, who is one of three new heroes joining Overwatch 2 alongside Sojourn and a mysterious third support character at the game’s launch in October.

It’s been a bit of a challenge on numerous fronts to bring Overwatch 2 to where it is currently. What’s the mood of the team all these years into development and coming off the alpha?

Aaron Keller: This is a really exciting time for the team. Overwatch launched six years ago in 2016 and we’ve released updates to the game. But this October, when we release Overwatch 2, it will be the largest update we’ve ever released for Overwatch. There’ll be new heroes, new maps, new game modes, and a totally reworked PvP system. For us to have been working on this for so long, over the course of years, without really being able to show it to the public–this is a moment that the team is now able to focus on and get really, really excited about. So to have the game out in the public and to have an actual launch date for the game is really thrilling for us.

You described it as releasing an update to the game and there’s been a lot of discussions about Overwatch 2 being a meaningful update. How do you think of Overwatch 2 as it currently is, given that you’ve presented it in a way that is now different from the initial pitch?

We are doing things with Overwatch 2 that would be difficult to do without the context of it being a sequel. We are reworking the PvP experience for Overwatch; we’re shifting from a 6v6 team format to a 5v5 team format–it’s removing one of the tanks from the lineup. We’re also introducing role passives for every hero, reworking and modifying a lot of the heroes in the game, [and] removing crowd control abilities from the game.

I think that Overwatch has a certain magic to it when you play it–there’s this mojo. It just feels great to play it. And we’re able to keep all of that going forward, but at the same time, Overwatch 2 does feel like something fresh and something new. And I think it’s easier to do something like that in the context of a sequel.

On top of that, this is the largest update we’ve ever released for the game. There are a lot of new things coming out in October with new heroes and new maps. We have a new competitive system coming out and there’s so much more to come. So by going free-to-play with Overwatch we are not just giving people a different way of interacting with the game; the development team itself is thinking about the way we create and release content in a totally new way. The amount of content it takes to run a free-to-play live service game is orders of magnitude more than what it takes to run something that you put into a box and sell. So the whole Overwatch team [has] totally restructured and grown. It’s over three times the size it was when we launched the original game, and it’s structured in such a way that we can simultaneously work on things for the launch [for] the rest of this year, but next year as well.

I think this is also a shift in the way we think about releasing big pieces of the game. So rather than just developing things and holding them, and then combining them to put into a box, we’re now committed to releasing them when they’re ready and doing that for the long term. We’re still working on all of the PvE parts of Overwatch 2 that we’ve always envisioned for it, but now rather than releasing them in a box, we’re going to be releasing them as part of our seasonal cadence. I know that there’s a lot here, but really this is a demarcation point for Overwatch where the way we create and release content is different. And even the way we think about and run the game is different. So in my opinion, this justifies putting the 2 after Overwatch.

Let’s take a little step back and talk about the alpha. We’ve read the big blog post with all the stats, but from the team, what’s been the biggest takeaway?

So the Overwatch 2 alpha, we ran it earlier this year and we quickly followed it with our first beta. It was really interesting for us, but it was also very encouraging. This was the first time that we had the public play our new 5v5 format, and it is a different way of playing Overwatch. The game is a little bit faster, each player has more freedom of movement in the maps, [and] there are less players to stop you. A lot of times it just feels like you have a bit more player agency. You can get more done, [and] you have a little bit more potential to even help carry your team if you want to. We’ve been playing this internally for a long time, and we thought it played great, but there can be confirmation bias there. You don’t always know that the public’s going to have the same opinion of it.

And so the thing we were encouraged by was that it felt like people that were playing in the alpha and people that were playing in the beta thought that there was a lot of promise and a lot of potential to running the game this way. We even heard feedback afterwards that it was a pretty jarring experience to go from playing Overwatch 2 back to Overwatch 1, and it felt like most people preferred [where] we had taken the game. There are definitely things for us to work on–that’s why this is a beta. This is a moment for us to kind of take all of the feedback that people are giving us, and turn it into useful changes to the game.

One of the big pieces of feedback we got was it just felt like our support heroes were a little bit underpowered, so it’s something that we’ve taken to heart. We’re making a lot of changes and experiments internally, and hopefully those will roll out in this next beta. And as we continue to run this next beta, we’ll make more changes to it.

I guess it is worth restating, what were your key objectives, moving from Overwatch to Overwatch 2, and have they changed now that Overwatch 2 has become something quite different than what you started with?

We have a few values that we keep in mind as we develop Overwatch 2. One of them, and it’s one of the things that sort of caused the shift to free-to-play, is that we want to keep our community together as much as we can. And so rather than releasing another box that players would have to buy in order to opt into the experience, we’d rather open the game to as broad of a population as possible. Overwatch [is] a universe that welcomes everyone, and we want people to be able to play with as many of their friends as they want to. Overwatch is a game of teamwork and cooperation and strategy, and we feel like it’s played best in a social setting with your friends. Removing the price as a barrier to entry is hopefully a way for you to be able to play with more of your friends and have a better experience with the game.

How did the shift in vision and going free-to-play impact development and how did the Overwatch team adjust?

Going free-to-play is a pretty big change for a team and for a game. The amount of content that you need for a free-to-play service is just greater than what you need for a different type of game. We’re planning on each of our seasons being roughly nine weeks long and each of those seasons to have way more content than we’ve ever shipped seasonally before. To do something like that is a huge undertaking, and it really requires a lot of organization and a lot of focus from the team to do it. So we have grown the team, we have restructured the team in order to do that.

On the other side of that, I think Overwatch is kind of a unique game. It really is based off of the characters that are in it. People fall in love with our heroes, and we’re constantly adding more to the game. I think for people to be able to have a hero and then want to be able to engage with it with cosmetics takes so much more cosmetics than we were really ever able to build before. Shifting into this type of model where we are building a lot more of this stuff, I think it actually dovetails really nicely with the type of game that we have and the amount of heroes that we have in it.

The last thing we want to do is put all of our resources into developing this release for October 4 and then have everybody on the team burn out and have everybody want to take a vacation. October is the start of Overwatch 2–it’s the beginning of a new era for the game. And it really just marks the moment where we need to start releasing more and more content for players. And so we have to structure a team that can work on a lot of different pieces of content at the same time; a lot of different seasons. It’s not just cosmetic content, but it’s heroes, it’s maps, it’s game modes, it’s new features and systems, it’s new events for the game. To be able to do all of that for multiple seasons, all at the same time, is a pretty massive shift for us to be able to actually hit that. I feel like over the past year, that’s something that we’ve been able to do as a team. We’ve really grown, we’ve really restructured, and I think we have a great focus and understanding of what it takes to actually build all of the different pieces of content that our game needs. And so hopefully we can continue doing that in the future.

Another major part of going to this free-to-play model is you’ll need more of the back and forth with the community to keep them aware that new content is coming. Are there plans to change how you’re going to be communicating with the community?

One of the big changes that we’re making to Overwatch, and one of the big changes that the team has really embraced, is that we really want to bring players along on this journey with us. So we want to be more transparent about what we’re doing, and we want to give greater detail of what our plans are for the future. We’re releasing a roadmap that goes over the first few seasons specifically, but also in general, roughly the first year of what we’re going to be releasing for Overwatch. We never did something like that before.

Our community team is larger than it’s ever been. We are releasing a lot more information than we have historically in the form of blog posts and developer updates. We’re doing more Reddit AMAs, and interviews like this, because we just want players to know that we’re listening to them.

But also, when you have a game that is kind of your main game, like this is the thing, “I’m going to go home and I’m going to play Overwatch tonight,” you become invested in something like that. It’s more than just, “What can I play right now?” You start kind of looking to the future for something like that. It becomes more a part of your life. And I think that having information about where something that important to people is going is really important. So the Overwatch team is embracing that as a new value for us.

Is there ever a concern that people becoming that engaged places greater demands on you as developers? Do you worry that, oh, that two season period might be something where they struggle to find things to keep them engaged? How do you approach making sure that while you’re working on your cadence, there’s still stuff to keep them locked in?

We are working a lot on what it actually takes to run a live service game, to the level of fidelity that we want it to be like. You want to take a look at some of our internal schedules where it’s almost day by day for months. We have things planned out, whether it’s new things coming to the store, or events that are coming, or bigger pieces of content like heroes and maps and game modes, I think all of that is necessary. So while, yes, there might be a lot of demand from players to have more of that, I think this is one of those good problems to have, and it’s something that we think is a challenge, and it’s the type of challenge that we’d like to step up to as a team.

You mentioned the cosmetics and new things coming to the store. Can you talk about the decision to lose loot boxes?

Sure. Loot boxes, they’ve always been a part of Overwatch 1 but as the game has grown and especially as we go into a free-to-play version of the game where we’re adding more and more cosmetics, it becomes a lot harder to earn what you want with a loot box system. By losing those and moving over to a shop for Overwatch 2, it gives players the actual agency and the choice to go after what it is they want to have in the game.

I think that with the amount of heroes that we have in the game, and the amount of content that we’re developing for all of them, it can be a really exciting thing now to say, “Oh, this is the hero that I like to play, and I see all of this stuff that’s available to me.” And then you can choose whether you want to engage with it or not.

For a lot of people the loot boxes were the proverbial carrot on the stick and there was a whole song and dance about getting one, and then it exploding and stuff coming out of it–the serotonin hit. Is there something that is the equivalent now? What becomes that carrot on the stick for players?

Yeah. It’s always great to have progression in a game. It’s nice to feel like you’re moving forward, whether it’s by getting better at the game–maybe for Overwatch, raising your SR–or even just moving that bar further to the right this way. There’s something that just kind of tickles a certain part of our brain. Loot boxes were one of the rewards to engage people to keep playing the game. I think that going forward, that’s really the place that our battle pass is going to take. Battle passes typically have a track where there’s progression through it, and so as you play more of the game, you’ll move through the battle pass, and it’ll kind of hit a lot of the same spots that our previous progression system did.

Coming from a long-suffering Zarya player, I spent a lot of time not getting stuff. How is the battle pass going to work when you have so many heroes? There’s only so many things that you can give in one battle pass. Are you expecting certain characters to have to sit out the battle pass?

One of the amazing things about Overwatch is just the number of heroes we have in the game, and the way that people engage with them and the way that people sort of attach themselves to our different heroes. I absolutely love our roster. So there’s a lot of people that play Mercy and really like Mercy, but every one of our heroes has a dedicated following to it. And as far as how many of a particular type of cosmetic or particular hero’s cosmetic will be in the battle pass versus how many will be in the store, I think we’re still kind of working through the details of some of that. It’s the sort of thing that I think as we get a little bit closer to launch, we’ll be able to roll out more details on the way that those interact with the battle passes, as well as a lot of other details of the battle pass in the store.

I think there’s going to be more Zarya mains in Overwatch 2, by the way. She is a beast.

Last time we were here we pitched a rework. We cornered Kaplan and were telling him about an escape tactic for Zarya, and he was like, “Get this nerd away from me,” which is fair enough.

[Laughs]

There’s also Mythic skins. How are they going to work?

So with mythic skins, we’ve taken everything that we’re doing to our legendary skins, and we’re plusing it. We’re taking it over the top. Mythic skins are customizable; you can change different, various parts of the skin and different looks for it. So for season one, we’re premiering with our Genji mythic skin. He has different tattoos that you can swap on and off; different colors. He has different weapons that you can equip for him. And I think the coolest part about him is he’s got this really cool mask covering his face, and when you activate his ultimate, the mask opens up and there’s all these cool [visual] effects in there. And so it’s just something that I think when players see it, they’ll recognize that it’s a whole tier above what our legendary skins are, and I hope that they really, really love it.

What’s the rollout of these going to be? Is it like you’ve nailed there’s going to be one per battle pass, or are they going to be a little more sporadic?

Right now we’re planning on having a new mythic skin debut every season in the game.

And then you’ve got charms on top of that. Can you explain what they are and what the rollout on those are going to be like?

Overwatch 2 returns with all of the cosmetic types that the original game has, but it’s also adding some new ones, like we have the new mythic skins that we’re debuting, but there’s also weapon charms. Weapon charms are almost like little trinkets that attach to different places on your weapon. And there’s all sorts of different types. They range from cute little things to things that maybe represent some of our heroes as well. We have a new support hero that’s going to debut [in] season one, and there’s some really cool weapon charms that reference her.

Speaking of the new support hero, can you talk about Junker Queen?

Junker Queen is our latest hero and she’s a tank. We’re going to debut her as part of the next beta. Players will be able to get into the beta and play Junker Queen, and she has some new mechanics that we don’t have in Overwatch yet that we’re really excited for. So she utilizes a mechanic called bleed, and when she does certain types of damage to characters, she receives that same amount as overhealth. And there’s lots of different ways for her to do it. Junker Queen [is] from Junkertown, and she’s the current ruler of Junkertown. She fights with an axe [and] a dagger, and she uses this electromagnetic gauntlet to control some of this. So when she throws her dagger out, she can then reactivate the ability and pull it back and it will pierce everybody that’s in the way of it.

So you can hit somebody on the way out and pull it back and do damage again, or sometimes you can purposefully miss and put it behind a team, and then pull it back through them, hitting each one of them, applying bleed to each one of them, and taking all of that as over health. Also, when she swings her axe, when she cleaves with it, she can take all of that damage and apply bleed and get that as overhealth as well. So if she’s playing right and hitting people frequently, she’s able to be really tanky and kind of just stay up in front of people. And on top of that, she has a buff where she shouts and she gives basically a haste as well as overhealth to herself, as well as all of her allies. And so she’s one of these tanks that, when she’s in the thick of things and when she’s hitting people, she’s really hard to take down.

With the move to 5v5 hero selection is even more important than ever before, especially now that you’re going down to one tank. Did that factor into her development?

When we were developing Junker Queen, we were already in a 5v5 environment, so every decision that we made with her was in that context. I think it was a little bit easier to do development that way. A lot of our other tanks we’ve reworked. Orisa has had a major rework to her kit. She almost feels like a whole new hero. Doomfist, who used to be a DPS hero, we’ve moved into the tank category and he’s had a major rework as well. But with Junker Queen, since 5v5 already existed, we didn’t need to make all of those changes to her. She just kind of worked out of the box.

I remember when I first interviewed Kaplan back in the day, I was having a real hard time with Genji, and I requested that he be removed from the game and he was not removed from the game. Now, speaking to you, I’d like to formally request that Doomfist is removed from the game, because he’s the bane of my existence.

Yeah, that’s it. That’s just it. Okay.

If we’re doing Doomfist related questions, why is his legendary merman skin not called Doomfish?

Yeah. I’ll have to bust some heads over that.

So going to the roadmap and the idea of having a new hero every two seasons, how feasible is that from a design, development, and production perspective and are you locked into [that timing]? Because Overwatch 1 would go months and months without new heroes, and I guess there’s people going to be looking at, “Well, I’m not going to get my hopes up.”

Developing content for a free-to-play live service game is a pretty major undertaking. And I understand that there can be some doubt from the community as to whether or not the team is up to this task. We have really grown and really reorganized this team all with the singular focus of being able to create as much content as we can, and to put it out on a consistent and frequent seasonal basis. We have multiple post-release heroes in development as we speak. One of them is already almost ready to go. And so I feel like for the foreseeable future, this is a cadence that we can hit. We wouldn’t put something into a public facing roadmap if we didn’t have a pretty high degree of confidence that we would be able to actually hit the dates that we were promising to the public.

You’ve already got so many heroes from Overwatch, and then the addition of so many from Overwatch 2, there’s obviously going to be constant balancing happening. Do you think that Overwatch 2 will ever reach a stage where there’s going to need to be pick and ban, or heroes on rotation?

I think one of the best things about Overwatch, and maybe the things that people kind of envision when they think of Overwatch, are all of the heroes in the game. We have fans from around the world that don’t even play our game, but they associate different heroes with themselves. They almost feel represented by heroes that we have in the game. And so I don’t feel like there’s a moment where we would like to pull those heroes away from players in order to have a different seasonal list. I think a lot of times when people pick up the game, they’ll find a hero that they like to play, and it’s the thing that helps them engage with the game. And so I think moving into a system like that right now isn’t in our plans, and I’m hoping that we don’t ever have to go there.

The introduction of a new hero every two seasons also has major implications on the metagame. Every new character has a butterfly effect on how everything is played. So are you pre-planning meta changes as well as pre-planning new characters? Because that seems like a maddening task to pre-predict how a hero that isn’t available yet will impact it, and then knowing that two seasons from now, everything is going to be different again.

It’s really interesting to talk about the future of Overwatch when there’s a bunch of other heroes in the game, and to figure out how the game will actually play when it’s like that. And I think we can theorycraft some of that, but it’s really difficult to get that right from the beginning. I think what I’m excited about, and what some of the team is excited about, is by introducing new heroes to the game we are introducing change to the game. It’s a new value of ours that we don’t just want this release to feel fresh, we don’t just want the launch of Overwatch 2 to feel like it’s something different, we kind of [also] always want it to feel like it’s growing and evolving and changing. And if you think back to the history of Overwatch, as we introduced different heroes to the roster, most of the time those would all introduce either new mechanics or a new meta. There wasn’t as big of a need to do all of the balance changes that it feels like the community’s been calling for over the past year when we haven’t had things like new heroes added to the game. And so, yes, I think that there are going to be changes, but those changes are actually a positive thing for the game, and they’re something that we’re looking forward to.

So the first roadmap is going to be for a year. How long internally have you planned out for?

Oh, you’re asking for deep dark secrets of Overwatch development. So we have a pretty good idea of most of the content and features that are coming out for almost the whole first year of Overwatch 2. And I think there’ll probably be more than what we have on the roadmap. Sometimes it’s just hard to predict everything that you’re going to be able to get in, and also everything that the game might need based off of the way players in the community react to it. I think one of the really exciting things about going free-to-play is just the change in the way we’re thinking about releasing big pieces of the game. We might not know what hero we’re releasing two years from now, but we do have an idea of some of the really big things that we have been working on that will make their way into seasonal releases, and one of those is the PvE experience that we’ve always envisioned to be a part of Overwatch 2.

Are you bringing any sort of like custom games that will perhaps introduce the ability to play beyond 5v5? Is there any scope for creating some sort of system where large groups that have formed and created these Overwatch friend circles will be able to still play together?

One of the really encouraging pieces of feedback that we got from the beta was not only that the game felt fresh and different, [but there] was a lot of positivity surrounding 5v5. A lot of times when you just announce that you’re doing something different, especially when it’s a fundamental change to a game, and you announce that without people being able to play it, there can be a lot of skepticism surrounding it. And you get it in a lot of different formats. So it can be something like, “Hey, I don’t think that having one tank on the field is going to be as fun. Support aren’t going to have people peel for them, or there’s going to be too much pressure on one tank.”

And another criticism that you could get sometimes is, “Hey, I have a team of six people that I play with all the time. How are we going to manage something like that going forward?” And I think that at least on the first two fronts, and a lot of the other gameplay concerns, it felt like most people were really positive on the gameplay changes that we were introducing. On the side where people have a group of six people playing, right now we don’t have a great answer for it. I can’t say that there is going to be a 6v6 mode for those people. There are things that we’re talking about internally that we’re really excited about, but I don’t think that they’re going to make launch. One of those things is adding support for group sizes larger than five where people will be able to seamlessly spectate and then drop in and out. So you could at least have a group of friends that can all hang out and play Overwatch together, even if they’re not all playing the same game at the same time.

The separation of PvP and PvE–can you talk about the decision to do that? The skepticism around it is [those together] was the complete package for a lot of people. They wanted the PvP and this brand new distinguishing feature.

Right. When we initially announced Overwatch 2, we presented a vision of a PvP game that had a big PvE component to it at the same time. And as we developed that game, what it meant was that the PvP side of the game was coupled, or was joined with the PVE side of the game. And so the release of any PvP content was now being gated by the amount of time it took for us to build the PvE side of the game. And as that took longer, it meant that there was less focus going into the live side of the game. I feel like this went against one of the core values that the Overwatch team has always had, which is to be able to deliver content regularly for our players. I think we realized that we had to change something.

So I understand that there was a vision of what Overwatch 2 was, but we are changing that. And the reason that we are changing that is because we want to be able to get content to our players as soon as we possibly can. We think that is the right thing to do for our community, we think it’s the right thing to do for the game, and it’s the right thing to do for all of our players. That was the initial impetus of what caused us to completely change our strategy.

It’s a complete experience.

How is PvE going to work now?

PvE for Overwatch 2 is still what we’ve always envisioned for the game. There’s a campaign–a AAA campaign–with a linear story that we’re going to tell through it, and there’s also a highly replayable mode with hero progression. But rather than keeping those until they’re all finished at the same time and releasing them in a box, we would like to release those as part of our seasonal cadence for Overwatch 2.

One of the major differentiators is the whole item system and the talent system. Is there any consideration put towards taking some of that stuff and introducing it to PvP? When people look at Overwatch they see a similar experience for PvP, and then they see all these cool abilities in this one mode, and they’re like, “Why is that not over there?”

Some of the talents that we’ve made for the PVE side of the game are pretty cool, and really, really fun to use. Like Tracer can practically stop time as one of her talents. It’s pretty amazing. Things like that don’t really work in our PvP matches. I don’t know if we’ve talked about it much, but the original game, during the development of it, we had a talent system that we were working on. And one of the problems with it is it was always really difficult to know what type of hero you are about to face off with. Is this the Reaper that can heal himself as I’m fighting? You need to know, in our game, because it’s so fast-paced, exactly what you’re facing off with at any time.

So I don’t really think that it’s appropriate to bring the talents that we have on the PvE side into our core PvP experience, especially into the competitive side of the game, because we want that to be as fair and as balanced as it can possibly be. It doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be some other type of game mode where we are utilizing them in some sort of PvP environment. I think that there’s some really cool ideas there. We’re not going to have any of those at launch on October 4th, but it’s something that we talk about internally on the team, and I think that there’s some potential there.

How does progression work on the PvE side?

So progression on the PVE side of the game is tied to the hero. And so as you level a hero, the heroes have the ability to gain more talents and some of the other equipment that they could use to become more powerful. Other than that, I think that it’s still far enough out that we’ll probably talk about it more in the future when we’re getting closer to release of that part of the game

You showed off a new origin story and cinematic. Those kind of cinematic moments and the little stories that you’ve told in the past have always been a highlight for a lot of the fans, but they kind of existed in their own little bubble, because there wasn’t the story being told in the PvP side of it in a traditional way. Now that you have a PvE component, are we going to be seeing stuff like the Bastion origin story, or equivalent of the Hanzo/Genji cinematic within the PvE?

I love the cinematics that Blizzard makes. I’m a fan of them. I’ve cried during every single Overwatch animated short. I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s the movie, but it just has this kind of powerful effect on me. And anytime we release new content to the game, we typically try to make a different cinematic for it. All of our heroes have an origin story for them. And then when we’re able to, we try to highlight a lot of that with our bigger pieces [with] the big animated shorts that we do. Over the past few years, as we have been focusing on Overwatch 2, we released less content to the game. But now that we are moving into this new era of Overwatch where it’s free-to-play and there will be a constant stream of new content coming out, a lot of it will be new heroes [and] we need new pieces to reinforce all of that. So we’ll be releasing new origin stories. We have several animated shorts that we’re working on that we cannot wait to share with players. And yes, I cry during all of those too. And so I think in this new model of the game, players will be able to expect more storytelling than they’ve had before.

Can you talk a bit about bringing the game to beta on console finally, and what it means for you, and obviously what you’re expecting from it?

Yeah. So we’re so excited for this second beta for the game. Not only will it have the new hero Junker Queen and a new map, but it’s also going to enable access for console players. So both players on Xbox and PlayStation will be able to play in the beta, and cross play will be enabled for them at the same time. So we really cannot wait to start getting feedback from this whole new group of players.

How do you decide who gets a rework and you know, with Orisa, Bastian and Doomfist getting significant ones for Overwatch 2. Why them?

Yeah. So it’s interesting when you talk about reworks for Overwatch heroes, because there’s a lot of different reasons that you might want to do it. In the context of Overwatch 2, when we’re moving to 5v5, the landscape of the way PvP plays out is just different from Overwatch 1, and not every hero is as effective as they were or as they are in the live game. And so that’s one of the reasons that we might want to rework a hero. So when we made changes to Orisa or when we made changes to Bastion and Sombra and Doomfist–we’ve made reworks to a lot of our heroes to be viable in Overwatch 2–that’s one of the things that we look at, but it’s not the only thing that we look at.

Over the course of Overwatch development, we have made changes to heroes, and the reason we do it is always to try to make that hero fit into the game better, and to try to elevate the entire game. We had a value that we didn’t want to make change for change’s sake on Overwatch 1. It was always about making a change to make a hero play better or to potentially, in a few rare circumstances, even change the meta if we needed to. I think going forward, we are shifting on that value a little bit. I don’t think that we necessarily just want to willy-nilly make any sort of change to the game, but we do want the game to feel fresh and to feel different for players. And so I think that a lot of times we still will be making reworks to heroes based off of the different needs at the moment of Overwatch 2, but I think there might be some opportunities for us, on a seasonal basis, to toy with what some of the heroes can do in order to keep the game feeling fresh.

Intriguing. That felt like a tease.

It’s a little bit of a tease.

If you need that Zarya idea…

Yes. Okay. I’ll put it on the list.

Can you tell us about the new map coming in the beta?

Yeah. So in the next beta, Overwatch will debut a new PvP map. It takes place in Rio and it’s called Paraiso. The map is one of our hybrid types, so it means that attackers will need to capture an objective and then from there they will escort a payload through the rest of the map. And there’s a lot of really interesting things about the map just because it takes place in Rio. It has this amazing coastal scene to it. Attackers come out of the spawn room, and there’s this massive beach in front of them, and all of the buildings are so incredibly colorful there. There’s this set of stairs like halfway through the map, and every tile on the stairs is a different color. This map is incredibly vibrant and it’s really lively, and I think it really expresses that part of the world.

And the other really exciting thing about Rio is this is the home of Lucio. So the last third of the map actually takes place in Lucio’s club, and you get to move through the space as you’re pushing the payload through there. The defenders are actually spawning in Lucio’s home and so you get a look at where he lives, at his own personal mixing booth in there, and it’s just like a really cool character piece. I think anytime we’re able to tie a map and a hero together to kind of provide more context to our world is when we’re doing the best version of our world building. And then Paraiso also has a lot of really cool moments in it. There’s high ground all around the first point and each team has a different way to access it. So defense can access high ground from their side of the point, and offense has a few ways of accessing it from their side.

So there’s a lot of use for highly mobile characters on this map, and then as you move through and get towards the end, the high ground actually continues. As you travel through this sort of more quaint village section of Rio, there’s different rooftops that you can get to, there’s different levels of Lucio’s club that you can get to, and I think that it’s a really fun map that really highlights a lot of our heroes’ movement abilities, as well as a lot of the sort of long range sightlines that we have, while still providing all these tight little flanking routes for heroes like Reaper and Junker Queen to excel on.

There’s the cadence for hero release. Is there any sort of cadence with regard to adding new maps or even new modes to the game?

There’s a lot of new content coming to Overwatch, and we’re going to be releasing all of it on a seasonal basis. Our seasons are going to run roughly nine weeks. Roughly every other season, if not a little bit more, we’ll be adding a new hero to the game. And on our other seasons, we’re adding things like new maps, new game modes, and as well as events. Actually, I think events we’re hoping to have in as many seasons as we possibly can, just because they’re a really fun moment for players to just kind of explore different parts of the game.

So Junker Queen, she’s been kind of expected for a while. One of the things I love is kind of watching the Overwatch community theorycraft based on who appears in cinematics, who appears in comics. You mentioned briefly a new support character. Have we already seen future heroes in some form of Overwatch media?

I love the way that the community reacts to some of the lore, and the way that they can extrapolate it into what some of our future heroes might be. There’s all sorts of different theories out there, and I’d have to say that some of them are probably closer than others. There are heroes out there that we’re really excited about as a team that no one has any idea about, and there are other heroes that maybe people have at least some small idea about, and they could potentially come to the game.

In 2017, I was talking to Jeff Kaplan, and I mentioned the idea of a cat-based hero.

Oh, jetpack cat?

From that interview it was revealed that it was at one point a jetpack cat and it transformed into Brigitte’s cat. Is the jetpack cat still on the table?

We had two versions of jetpack animals at a certain point. We had a jetpack cat, and then there was a monkey that had a jetpack. Neither one of these moved forward from the concepting phase. They’re all really cool fun ideas, but we don’t have prototypes of those yet. It doesn’t mean that there’s not some other crazy hero that we could release, but so far we haven’t put any further work into those two.

Isn’t Winston a jetpack monkey?

He’s a scientist, not a monkey.

He’s also an ape.

Okay. So there’s a lot of exciting things happening in the world of Overwatch. Obviously, Overwatch as a game is being developed by Blizzard, which is owned by Activision Blizzard, and there are things that are happening within the industry that are [then] associated with the team, and the conversation that needs to happen for people like us who love Overwatch and are so excited is how do we reconcile that excitement with what is going on with the parent company? So we have to try and ask for a transparent look at what the Overwatch development team is currently like.

There have been discussions about and reports of the studio culture, but I think it would be a good opportunity for you to kind of tell us what it’s like now and provide some guidance to people who might be struggling with the kind of moral quandary of wanting to support the game, but also not wanting to compromise the morals by supporting this major company that’s going through some issues.

Yeah. I don’t want to speak to people and tell them how they ought to feel, or how they ought to react to things just in society in general. I can say that the Overwatch team really loves our game, and every day we pour creative energy and passion into this game, and we just hope that players can see that when they play it and that it resonates with them. We always say that Overwatch is a future worth fighting for, or that the world could use more heroes. As much as we can, we try to instill those values in our own team; this bright aspirational future.

But at the same time, I can’t say that that is everything that our team culture is. It is not appropriate for me to speak to everybody else on the team and what their experience is. All I can say is that as a leader on the team, and as someone that works with a lot of the other leaders on our team, that we do try to instill these values across the team, and it is something incredibly important to us as a development team to listen to; to create space, not just for our teammates and our coworkers, but for our community and for our players.

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