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Over 25 years, Blizzard has demonstrated a knack for creating outstanding video game franchises. I have seen time and again the company keeps coming up with amazing hits based on new intellectual properties. It is the model for others to copy, and, as part of Activision Blizzard since 2008, it has made the transition into the modern video game era.
And it is doing it again with Overwatch, the third-person shooter game that pits a team of six players against another team in multiplayer mayhem. Activision Blizzard announced that Overwatch reached more than 7 million players in its first week on the consoles and the PC. Analysts have pointed out that this is not the same thing as selling 7 million games in the first week, as players can share disks and places like game rooms in Korea allow players to avoid paying full price. But in any case, that’s a lot of players.
I was one of those players. I was very late to the game, as I chose not to participate in the multiple beta tests. But I raised my eyebrows when Blizzard announced that its open beta drew 9.7 million players. My colleagues were much quicker to jump on the game, but Overwatch had to wait its turn. As I finished playing Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and put Doom through the paces, I finally opened up some time to play Overwatch.
And it turned out to be a load of fun. I added a few hours to the 119 million hours of combined Overwatch gameplay during that first week. I have mostly stuck to a single character, the defense-oriented Bastion, as my path for leveling up in the game. The title is surprisingly accessible. All you do is download it and jump into a game. I played on the Xbox One. The tutorial taught me what to do and the practice matches made sure that I wouldn’t overly embarrass myself in the live matches. Then I jumped in.
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The first time I played Doom multiplayer, I came out of it with zero kills and 20 deaths. That’s pretty hard, and the other players showed no mercy. But in Overwatch, I could very quickly get to the point where I was killing as much as I was dying. Now I’m the hero saving the day when the enemy was about to take over a strategic spot on the map. I was there to stop it, getting five kills in a row. That sort of result isn’t that hard to achieve in Overwatch, and that means that old players like me are going to stick around. I play a lot of shooters, and usually it takes a lot more mastery to succeed in multiplayer. But once you master one character, you’ll find yourself starting at square one again if you move on to another character.
I tried a few different characters and then noticed I was getting nailed by Bastion on the side. So I tried him out. He has a fairly weak, 20-shot gun while moving. But if you plant him down into his main weapon mode, he gets a gatling gun with 200 rounds. If you plop him down in a corner, you can see who’s coming around the bend and nail them. This is particularly important when you are taking and holding ground so that your team can hold territory and win the round.
With Overwatch, it’s obvious how you can find your niche. You need shooters, tanks, and support characters to round out a team. The big characters can carry a giant shield that protects the whole group. You can shoot from behind that shield for as long as it lasts. You can stay close to the shield bearer, and get healed from behind. Or you can play one of the fast characters and outflank the enemy or gain a height advantage. The game plays fast, but it uses a clever combination of indicators and colors to tell you what to do. Overwatch has a visual design, showing you the location of your objective, even if it is hidden behind multiple buildings. The characters all have their signature moves. I love the variety, which is akin to the wide cast of characters in Super Smash Bros. Getting used to all of those characters is a challenge, but once you do, it pays off.
It’s even fun when you aren’t in the action. You open loot crates and collect them in a grandiose fashion. Nice touches like this and an appealing art style make this game more interesting to me than its rival, Gearbox Software’s Battleborn.
Overwatch is going to mean big things for Blizzard. Hits like this are what prompted Mike Vorhaus, president of Magid Advisors, to say that Blizzard was “perhaps the most amazing game studio ever.” Overwatch is a $40 game on the PC and a $60 game on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
The origin of the game is even more astonishing. Blizzard canceled its sci-fi massively multiplayer online game, Titan, in 2013. From the ashes of that game, Blizzard reassigned the Titan team. And they came up with Overwatch. This kind of success, born from failure and an iterative process, is why the company succeeds. Blizzard has now grown to more than 4,000 employees. It generated $1.56 billion in revenue and $561 million in profit in 2015. It has canceled 10 major games during its history, but it has also given us hits such as StarCraft, Diablo, Warcraft, Hearthstone, and now Overwatch.
Colin Sebastian, an analyst at R.W. Baird, said in a note that he expects Overwatch will soon make the rounds in esports. And if it succeeds in the esports realm, then its perpetual life is virtually guaranteed. The esports play will increase the spectatorship and the engagement, and that will drive further adoption. It looks like Blizzard has us all in its sights again, and we have to just play along. Mike Minotti rated this game a 98 out of 100. I wouldn’t argue with that. But it’s delightful that I’ve been able to play four outstanding games: Quantum Break, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Doom, and Overwatch all in such a short time span. Who said video games were dead?
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