What Overwatch Done Right
Blizzard knocked it out of the park with the release of Overwatch in 2016. The game was charming, different, cute, and, most importantly, fun.
In an industry that is oversaturated with murky and bleak first-person shooters, Overwatch was a breath of fresh air.
A week from its launch, Blizzard reported a combined 7 million players with a playtime of 119 million hours. That's only the first week.
As of the end of 2019, there are over 50 million active players, an increase of over 700%.
So, how did Blizzard manage to release to so much fanfare, and how did the player base continue to be driven upwards?
Well, in my opinion, it all comes down to the characters.
When you think of first-person shooter characters, who comes to mind? Perhaps you're like me, and the enigmatic Captain Price and Soap from the Modern Warfare series springs up, or maybe you're an Xbox loyalist, and Marcus from Gears of War or Halo's Master Chief is your first thought.
Regardless of which, picture them in your mind.
Now, picture Mei. See the difference?
The FPS player base had become accustomed to dark, morally complex, and super-serious characters and stories. Overwatch offered something different. It had a much better unique selling point than any other FPS on the market.
That's not to say that Overwatch can't be dark, morally questionable, and serious. Behind the cutesy charm is a story of war, rebellion, and racism. However, on the surface, it is a bubbly team-based funfest.
So, what exactly makes the heroes so great?
It's impossible to answer that question accurately. Character design is art, and art is subjective, but in my opinion, it all comes down to aesthetics.
Now, the heroes have great stories and gameplay don't get me wrong. The world that Blizzard writers have weaved is nothing short of exceptional, and its gameplay engineers are world-class.
However, the most significant contribution to the game's initial success came from, in my opinion, the character artists.
Gamers are suckers for cute girls. I'm sorry, but it's true. The waifu culture that has taken over the industry is strong, and that's not a bad thing.
Overwatch capitalizes on that with an expansive roster of, simply put, really cute girls. Of course, all of these girls have great stories and strong personalities, but that doesn't change their cuteness.
Look at Mei, for example. She is an adorable bubbly character that broke the stereotypical mold of female characters in video games, and people loved it. Even Tracer, with her charming British accent and mischievous personality, who broke down stereotypes in her own right.
Maybe you're more drawn to Widowmaker, or Brigette, or anyone on the roster. What they all have in common is that they are unique, cute, and offer something different.
While I attribute the success of the game mainly to its female characters, that's not to say that there isn't lots of love to go around for the male heroes (I see you Reinhardt stans out there).
It's only one element of a perfectly crafted machine, but I think that without it, the game ran a significant risk of falling flat.