There is an interesting phenomenon going on with Overwatch. Largely designed to be a player-versus-player competitive experience, a pattern is beginning to emerge: People like the player-versus-everything types of experiences far more than the originally designed core experience.
Uprising, Junkinstein and PvE
What is most fascinating about these events is that they do a lot of what players should dislike; These events limit your character choice, create difficult scenarios and force you to be on your toes against far-stronger enemy waves. That said, people have come to latch onto these events. Along with this there is a clear feeling that people enjoy these events far more than any esport-centric or competitive experience. Why could this be?
For starters, Overwatch falls prey to the common problem of online games. That being the factor of playing with someone else. “Toxicity” is what companies call it but I prefer an old school phrase known as “being a jerk”. In competitive games, like League of Legends and DOTA2, these people are synonymous with the game in quite negative ways. Its taken a good chunk of the reputation these two games have as well, despite how players and creators are quick to try and silence those criticisms. Overwatch is no exception, with youtube compilations of people spouting out racist or aggressive comments because you picked a hero they didn’t like. It sours an experience others enjoy.
Uprising and, by extent, all PvE modes doesn’t succumb to this to any meaningful degree. There’s a sense of comradery that grows between four players fighting against hoards of computer-controlled robots. In my many hours of playing, I only recall a few instances where someone was being a jerk to the point of annoyance. Beyond that? This experience is largely more enjoyable on a purely personal level.
One can also not neglect the essence of skill required; While there are harder versions, the overall PvE experience is much easier than a PvP one. Robots stand still, can be gamed by simple AI tricks and dying is usually because they’re FAR stronger than you are individually, not being outplayed or outmaneuvered. PvP is a breeding ground for the skill frustration, no real solution other than to “git gud” and not fail. With these in mind, it seems like the PvE experience is the way to go, right?
PvP vs. PvE
Except Overwatch was primarily designed to be a player-against-player experience.
From the establishment of the Overwatch Pro League coming later this year to Blizzard doing everything in their power to push for esports success, such as hiring MonteCristo and DoA to be the leading stars of the NA OPL, Blizzard wants Overwatch to become a long-standing esports game. Blizzard isn’t truly looking to make this a game like World of Warcraft with equal PvP and PvE content. This is a game designed to focus on the interaction between living players of equal skill.
With the comparison between Uprising and the normal experience, what can be done? This is not an easy question to ask, of course, but it’s a profound one that should be investigated. There are two obvious paths to take: On one hand, Blizzard could always make the PvE events second fiddle to the PvP ones. This might annoy many casual players (who are arguably the biggest audience) but it will preserve the main identity. The alternative is to develop PvE alongside PvP, creating maps and scenarios specifically for the playerbase which enjoys it. If it gets big enough, one might even be able to host time-attack tournaments to see who can clear scenarios the fastest or with the most points.
One option you might notice I omitted was the idea of removing focus on PvP. To be blunt, I don’t forsee that as an acceptable solution. Blizzard has committed too many resources already to go back on the PvP aspect of Overwatch. Even if the majority played PvE instead of PvP, the design of the game has just put too much energy and effort into crafting a specifically PvP experience. “Too big to fail” if you will.
Design Intention vs. Design Endpoint
A good example of this scenario stretches back all the way to Warcraft 3 and the modding community. Designed to be a multi-unit RTS, Warcraft 3 ended up taking off with the MOBA-style/DOTA-like game. Blizzard didn’t really support this to any meaningful extent, the game and community springing off despite Blizzard’s focus on making the core RTS the experience they wanted to enforce. This, of course, lead to the MOBA genre taking off and games like League and DOTA dethroning the RTS.
Can a similar scenario happen here? While Overwatch’s custom tools aren’t on-par with Warcraft 3’s, it could one day come to a point where the PvE experience overtakes the PvP. A game similar to Left 4 Dead being born from Overwatch’s framework that leads to a new experience that trounces the intended design. Perhaps I’m misjudging the desire for PvE. It’s entirely possible my focus on this could be overestimated and what many loved was just a fun, side diversion. After all, the OPL hasn’t started yet and the pro-scene of Overwatch could very well explode, snuffing out the PvE lovers.
All I can truly do is bide my time and see where this goes. Uprising or not, I highly doubt the PvE aspect of Overwatch is going to stay muted.