Overwatch Developer Update: 2016 Year In Review

To wrap up 2016, Jeff Kaplan published a new Developer Update video with a recap of all the content released throughout 2016, but also provided a roadmap or glimpse into what we should expect in the first quarter of 2017. Some of it is coming as early as January-February range, and while some of his glimpses into the future were vague, they were enough to figure out that some of this content might be revealed at PAX East on March 10-12.

 

Highlights

  • One unannounced hero is already in the art pipeline, and multiple heroes in prototytpe stage
  • Oasis coming on January
  • Beyond Oasis, there are many maps further along in pipeline, and others at lower stages. The next one in the pipeline is a traditional game mode, but they are experimenting with new game modes
  • More seasonal events in the works, and some of them you aren’t even thinking of. Unique non-conventional seasonal events?
  • Server Browser coming early 2017
  • eSports: spectator improvements and some suggested by professional broadcast commentators.

 

Overwatch Map Maker Tool?

Jeff Kaplan: So it has been a top requested feature, and one that is very common to first person shooter games; and we are really excited to introduce one to Overwatch. We think we have a very solid Version 1.0 up and running, hopefully, early in 2017; and then we have plans to expand upon it later in the year. So the first version, we will have a certain feature set, and then we have sorta big plans for what the future could provide for it.

There are smaller features the developers are working on that were not highlighted here, but you can read it in our Developer Update transcript below. One thing that tingled my spider-sense is when Jeff talked about the Server Browser. There is a feature not disclosed by him, that he admits he was vague on. This is my personal opinion, so don’t get super-excited: I have a feeling there might be a StarEdit tool at some point in the future where players can create their own maps.

Now a StarEdit tool in Overwatch would be a BIG thing for Custom Games in the Arcade Mode. I have over 5000 hours of gameplay since 2008 in Half-Life 2: Deathmatch. If you aren’t familiar with that FPS game, that game has a Server Browser where you can see a large list of all custom game maps developed by players from scratch using a 3D tool similar to the StarEdit, where they can later upload into the Server Browser.

This is how the Half-Life 2: Deathmatch server browser looks like — and most of that is player-created, not Valve-created.

 

I don’t know if Jeff Kaplan is hinting at an Overwatch StarEdit-like tool for players to build their own maps and even game modes, but if this is it, this is BIG. Especially, when we look at the StarCraft II Custom Games’s Arcade model where map-makers in the community can upload their content into Battle.net.

 

Even more radical than that, what if map makers approved by Blizzard Entertainment, could be able to sell their custom maps, and players can buy these maps through the Arcade’s Server Browser? That would be an interesting model. Theorycrafting upon that, Map creators get paid, and Blizzard gets a percent fee. We will have to wait and see. Again, this has not been announced by Blizzard. It is what I extrapolate might be in the works with the Arcade’s Server Browser, or my simple wishlist.

Jeff Kaplan hinted at something: “we have sorta big plans for what the future could provide for it (the Server Browser).”

 

Transcript & Video

Welcome to another developer update. My name is Jeff, from the Overwatch team. We want to take a quick second to sort of recap what an amazing year it has been.

Obviously, in May of this year, we launched Overwatch, and we were so lucky and grateful to have so many folks along for the ride with us there; and then it was like immediately off to the races.

We started updating the game, we put in a completely revamped competitive mode where we took all the feedback from the beta and started Season 1 sorta of fresh, completely new changes to competitive mode.

Seemed really well-received, and of course, we iterated heavily on competitive mode from Season 1 to Season 2, and then we made those slight skill rating tweaks going into Season 3, and adjusted how placements work.

So that was a lot of fun for us, you guys were primary in the feedback, in helping guiding the decisions that we were making. We also had a lot of fun introducing new heroes. So Ana was fantastic. Sombra coming online was really cool.

It is really interesting watching you guys play Ana and Sombra. So I see a lot of similarities. Early on, there was a perception of Ana being kinda weak, and not getting a lot of playtime. I think it was taking people a little while to master her. We made a few small tweaks to her balance, and next thing you know she was sorta overpowered and now we are balancing her down.

The reason we have been slow with Sombra changes is because we think there is that mastery curve happening again. We are starting to see a lot of high-level high-quality Sombra play. That’s not to say that we think she is perfectly balanced right now. We have ideas. If we need to bump her up, what we would do; but we are just being slow and patient so we don’t have Ana version 2.0 all over again with Sombra.

We also introduced some new maps to the game. Eichenwalde was announced at GamesCom, we have seen amazing unique play on that map, there is a great play by the south korean team, and the Overwatch World Cup where they went up through the window with the Zarya and did a Graviton surge, and the whole team-coordinated push, right through, and pushed through on attack. That was pretty amazing. So Eichenwalde enabled that.

We introduced the Arcade, which had Ecopoint: Antarctica, and a bunch of new game modes for you guys to experiment and play with. So all-in-all it was a really amazing year.

We ran our seasonal events which we think you enjoyed the Summer Games, Overwatch Halloween Terror, and now we are in Winter Wonderland. We hope you have had as much fun playing these events, as we did making them. We ported all of our love and care and passion into these events, and the content, and the brawls.

So we hope you not only had fun, but are having fun with the events; and we would like to do more, so looking forward to the new year, there is a lot of stuff coming; and I wanted to touch on some of that, so that you guys knew early on next year, what is on the horizon.

Immediately, we have already talked about Oasis. Oasis is big in the PTR, we have been getting feedback, and we have told you since BlizzCon that our goal is a very early 2017 release for Oasis, and we are looking on track for that. So look for that early on the new year. It should be a ton of fun.

I mentioned Seasonal Events. These are one of the things that not only have you guys responded to in an extremely positive way, but the team loves working on, and we are having a ton of fun making Seasonal Events. So we have some cool ideas. I think some events you might guess that might be coming, and some events that I don’t think that you have any idea that we are working on. So there would be some surprises there as well.

There is other stuff going on. I know there is a lot of small things that people would be interested to know that we are working on as well. So a great example is: customization to your communication wheel. So this is the wheel where you press and hold the button, and you get to select things like: Hello, Thank You, or share your Ultimate status. We are actually adding a control scheme to it that allows you to not only access additional voice lines up to 4 you can have set on the wheel, it will also allow you to access up to 4 different emotes as well.

So if you have been unlocking voice lines and emotes, and always wanted to play one after the other, you will soon have the ability to do that and customize which ones you have. You will also be able to use custom bindings to set a particular button to trigger a particular voice lines or emote.

Likewise, for sprays we will also be adding the ability to have a spray wheel come up that you can have up to 4 sprays, that you can so only have one spray out in the environment at a time, but if you have ever had multiple sprays and want to use different ones based on different ocassions, you will now be able to do that with the spray wheel; and we think by adding this customization that you will have access to, even though it is kind of a small thing, it would make a lot of voice lines, sprays, and emotes feel even more valuable to you. I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to have my favorite spray on a hero. Once I have that locked in, I am not as excited about future sprays, but I think about the world where I care about 4 sprays, and it becomes more interesting to me.

Other minor upgrades coming early next year, for example, we get a lot of comments about players wanting us to force party members into Team Chat instead of the Party Chat. Now we don’t want to forcefully move anybody from Party Chat into Team Chat, but want to strongly encourage players who are partied up to enjoy Team Chat. So staying in their Party Chat, so we have a button that is similar to the Stay as a Group button, that we added recently, that will strongly encourage members when they join a team and there are people in team chat, to join the team voice chat; so that you don’t always have to type team chat at the beginning of every competitive match. So we have got that coming.

We are working on multiple new heroes. I always like to give the disclaimer that we tend to work on more content than we release, because we prototype stuff and sometimes it fails, or we don’t like it, or we want to go back to the drawing board.

Sometimes I use Genji as an example. Genji was a hero that we started almost a year and a half even before we released him. We worked on him, we tried iterations of him, we put him on the shelf for a while, because he wasn’t working out, and then we came back to him; but we have one hero that I think is very promising. In fact, we sorta started to move it through our art pipeline, which means we have a higher level of confidence on that than some of our other heroes; but we have some really fun prototypes also. So I hope those see the light of day in 2017, and you guys get to get your hands on them. You know we love making heroes. The game is all about heroes.

We also have other maps beyond Oasis that we are experimenting with, and like the heroes, there are different stages. So some are further along in the pipeline. We have one map that we have a pretty good level of confidence in that is a traditional game mode. We will talk more about that later next year, and that one is looking good, and we are feeling pretty good about that; and then we have a bunch of experimental maps that we are having a lot of fun with. I don’t know if they will see the light of day or not; but we are trying new things with the maps, and we are trying new game modes as well.

So we are always looking for things that we can try out in the Arcade as a new game mode, and our thought process is: if it is really fun as a new game mode, maybe at some point we can introduce it to the core map rotation, either in Quick Play or in Competitive Play; but right now the Arcade really affords us up the opportunity to experiment and feel really good about trying new stuff out without damaging the core Competitive game or Quick Play.

We also are planning to get to some improvements to eSports, in particular with some of our spectator modes. In the near future, in particular, we get a request often: tab a map associated with viewing. So if you are watching a tournament, or something like that, that there is a viewer map. We have gotten tremendous feedback from our professional broadcast community. They have been amazing, all these guys covering the Pro tournaments; and the observers who are covering the Pro tournaments have been sending us lists and we have been creating those. So we hope to get to some of those features in the new year as well.

The last new thing that we are working on, that we mentioned at BlizzCon, but I am not sure that everybody sorta followed the news is: we want to give you a way to find custom games. So right now, we have a lot of great functionality in the Custom Games feature, but not everybody knows that you are running a custom game. You have to invite either friends or invite people by Battle Tag; and we are working on what is called a Server Browser, which is a way for people to see a list of Custom Games, and a way for you as a player who is running a Custom Game to say: hey, I want this one to be public, and if more people want to join, like this ruleset that I setup, or I want to setup a certain map rotation, please come and join my custom game; and they can do that through the Server Browser.

So it has been a top requested feature, and one that is very common to first person shooter games; and we are really excited to introduce one to Overwatch. We think we have a very solid Version 1.0 up and running, hopefully, early in 2017; and then we have plans to expand upon it later in the year. So the first version, we will have a certain feature set, and then we have sorta big plans for what the future could provide for it.

So that is kinda a small glimpse. I know that there is a lot there, and some of it was kinda vague; but at least it is a small glimpse into how 2016 went, and how 2017 is shaping up. There is a lot beyond that. We are going to be doing these Developer Updates well into 2017 as well. So we will look forward to having more of these conversations with you; but more than anything from everybody here at Blizzard, and everybody in the Overwatch Team, we want to thank you for what an awesome year 2016 has been for the Overwatch Community. For all of us together; and on behalf of all of us on the Overwatch Team, and at Blizzard, we want to wish you and your family a very warm and special holiday season, and thank you for everything you guys have done for us. We appreciate it.

Tomas Hernandez is owner of Blizzplanet.com since 2003. I post news about World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard Careers, and the Warcraft film.

Blizzplanet is a leading fansite covering news about upcoming Blizzard Entertainment licensed products. I also post previews and reviews. I have interviewed book writers and Blizzard game developers.

I was previously an employee of the OGaming Network (2003), and IncGamers (2008-2010). I was a guest newsposter for GosuGamers (World of Warcraft) a few years ago and for Diablofans.com (formerly Diablo3.com)

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