We are currently at a crossroads where gaming multiplayer experiences concern us: on the one side, there has never been a better time to experience multiplayer. Fast and reliable internet speeds, good gaming networks and communities, and visually stunning games that play well whilst also giving players the opportunity to immerse in extraordinary worlds. Yet for the most part, one segment is struggling to innovate amongst its own success: first person multiplayer shooters.
The best example of this can be seen on the tried and trusted formula attached to the Call of Duty franchise: spawn > sprint > shoot > die > repeat. Even though the formula is repetitive and shallow, it has attracted millions into the world of first person shooters and has given substantial amounts of money to Activision and other developers. For gamers looking for a laid back and somewhat relaxed experience it can be attractive, but sadly, toxic online communities where the ideology of “everyone to themselves” perseveres has had an opposite effect: good players are allowed to game freely whilst the average joe sees constant harassment and eventually stops playing the game.
Additionally, the lack of diversification means that only those who pour the most hours will be able to contribute substantially to their “team”, playing as lone-wolves and giving no room for less endowed players who might want to enjoy the experience but ultimately can’t. This focus on specialization means that players are constantly choosing the same types of weapons, abilities, playing on the same maps and thus following the same formula for years and years in their search to become better than the competition. Even games that sell themselves as team-based shooters like Rainbow Six Siege suffer from this lack of innovation, and the focus on kill/death ratios discourage cooperation and thus the team oriented philosophy is replaced by individuals who excel on the battlefield and generally don’t play with the rest of their group. This lack of innovation throughout the years is disappointing for the medium as a whole and contributes nothing to the gamer, but as long as sales are up the formula will continue on unless someone takes a risk and actually proposes something new and noteworthy.
Enter Blizzard to the rescue with the introduction of “Overwatch”, a team-based shooter that actually focuses on team play, with a vast array of unique characters, excellent sound and map design and great gaming mechanics that all tie together to conform one of the best shooters on the current market. What differentiates Overwatch from the competition is that it erases everything that the gaming community considered to be essential for a first person shooter to be successful: kill/death ratios are not the center front, and the formula written in stone (and described above) no longer applies to the game. Here, the multiple characters atone to all types of gamers, from those wishing to sprint and shoot to those who just want to fall back into secondary roles and help their team in other indirect ways that don’t involve being in the front line of fire. It is an easy to pick up game, thus catering to a wider audience, yet it is diverse and deep enough so that more experienced players might take advantage of map design or character abilities to contribute to their team’s objectives. And yes, the center role is taken by objectives teams must pursue instead of kills, so that instead of taking the lone-wolf approach many gamers actually work with their teams, and everyone feels they can make an impact in some way or another.
It is too early to see if the Overwatch community will thrive for years to come or if players will eventually fall back to the old first person shooter formula, but early signs point to it becoming successful, and Blizzard’s support of its games means that updates, new maps, characters, and tweaks to gameplay will keep the game fresh into the future. Hopefully, other developers can learn from the changes proposed here and take action, whilst gamers “speak with their wallets” and support games that propose and innovate instead of lazily reselling old content while they charge premiums for it.