GamesBeat: If Mei raises an ice wall and a teammate does damage, right now the teammate would be the one who got a Play of the Game nod after it was over. Are you working to fix that?
Keller: That’s something we’re looking at.
Play of the Game is on our short list of celebration moments we have. End of the round is very much about celebration: anything we can do to make sure that it is in fact the play of the game, what people would agree that yeah, this was what turned the tide. We want to make sure everyone involved feels special.
Ford: That is precisely the feedback that we’ve generated internally, as well as seen in beta. One of our engineers came up with this from the tech for the kill cam. [Players see the kill cam replay of their own deaths after they’re killed.] It’s exploded. The specific celebration of the hero or heroes involved in it has evolved to be a big deal.
Keller: We would like to see the [support healer] Mercy play of the game where she rezzes the entire team. We’ve put out a call to arms to a lot of the people beta testing the game where if they have a moment they think is much better than the play of the game, that happened within a match, record that and send it to us. That’s useful data.
Ford: It’ll teach us what to look for. We need to program the A.I. to figure this out. Or we could just hire a bunch of people to watch the games and say, “This is it.” That might change the pricing of the box model.
GamesBeat: What about the end of the game cards players can vote on — do they do anything? Are there plans for a progression system?
Keller: It’s a really cool social interaction. It’s a boost to players that get it. We’d like to do more with the sytem, but we don’t have any of that in yet. We would like to do other things to reward players. We’re working on a new progression system — Progression 3.0. Progression 2.0 died about two days before we launched the beta.
Ford: It didn’t die. We killed it. It wasn’t like an accident or a tragedy.
Keller: No! It got hit by a car! …yeah. But Tim was driving the car.
Ford: Jeff [Kaplan, game director and vice president] was directing Keith [Miron, senior gameplay programmer] to drive the car into it.
Keller: We’re actively working on a new progression system and we’re hoping it actively rewards people for time played, and they feel like they’re making a valuable contribution to the game. One of the big values for us though is that anything you get out of the progression system does not change the balance of the game.
GamesBeat: So something like skins?
Keller: We have nothing to talk about now. The only skins so far are those announced: five for Overwatch Origins Edition and one for Noire Widowmaker for pre-ordering.
Ford: Progression 1.0 was one where progression actually affected gameplay. The reason we jettisoned that was because the game was already fairly overwhelming to new players and experienced players with a large roster of heroes, and it was made worse when you didn’t have any idea of what that hero did because a player had unlocked some ability. That was confusing the game.
The second one, you can see vestigal remains of it: a per-hero progression system. We were seeing bad behavior coming out of it.
We were seeing people stick with heroes when they were losing a match, because they wanted to make sure they get all the XP level of that hero. This is a game about hero switching. We didn’t want to reward players for doing something that was inherently less fun for them.
Keller: You’d get four Widowmakers on one team and you’d say, “Well, I don’t think we need four” in chat, and they’d come back and say, “Well, I’m really close to leveling up my Widowmaker right now, I want to keep playing her.”
Ford: All of us who played the game realized it wasn’t working for us.
Keller: We’re not quite ready to talk about new version yet. The values are that it doesn’t discourage hero switching and it doesn’t affect the balance of the game. We’re hoping to see some version of it early next year.
[Progression 1.0] went against one of our core values of the game. One of the things that’s very important to us in the game is the readability of combat. We really want you to know what’s happening in the game at any point in time.
We got into how long is the smoke trail on a rocket that [damage dealer] Pharah fires, because you want to be able to turn a corner, see the end of the smoke trail and know that there’s a Pharah up to the right somewhere. The initial progression system started muddying the waters there.
We had a thing where we wanted a screen shot of the game to tell a story. I can take a screenshot of the combat and I know all of the players that are participating even if they’re not on screen right now. And I know what team they’re on. That’s really important, because the game is really fast-paced.
GamesBeat: So what are your priorities in the months remaining before release?
Keller: One of the big ones is our tech and server stability. We want this thing to be rock solid. We want to have this be as smooth a launch as we can.
Especially if you take into account the box model, we’re not going to slowly ramp up a launch over a couple of months. We’re going to have a bunch of people going through the flood gates on day 1. We are really focusing on that.
Our matchmaking system – every time we’ve made a patch to the beta, we’ve made changes to the matchmaking system. It’s really important for this game to have balanced teams.
On the other side of that, we’re working on hero balance and map balance.