Over the last five years a new game genre has emerged without us even noticing it, which Overwatch is now representing with great success.
Blizzard got a good feel of the market and that worked for them, just as it did in the past with Diablo, putting their mark on RPGs, like in the case of Hearthstone or Warcraft.
Blizzard always had one ear on the ground and one on the market. And that kind of atitude worked marvelously for them. It worked for Diablo, redefining some aspects of the RPG genre. It worked so well that they just repeted the formula with Hearthstone, with Star Craft and Warcraft.
Each of these IPs found their inspiration in more popular franchises: along with others, Warcraft borrowed elements form the Warhammer universe, Diablo from DnD, Hearthstone from Magic the Gathering. It is of little importance whether they adopted the game lore, game mechanics or a gameplay concept of another universe. What matters most is how they did it.
Taking a closer look, Blizzard are one of the last truly original old school studios that are still standing. Many of them did not remain faithful to their original form. They were taken over by publishers, left the industry and so on. However, Blizzard refused to surrender, and at the moment this gives them a interesting market insight.
They are one of the veteran developers who have the necessary experience to carry out a new project without putting in too much effort in to it, at least with regard to the first concept, but what helps them most is the Michael Morhaime – Chris Metzen synergy, which sets the studio in motion. Those two put together have sometimes the effect of a really highly caffeinated beverage.
I had the chance of meeting them a few years ago at Blizzcon and one of the things I remember is that both Morhaime and Metzen were extremely observant, not only with us,the journalists, but also with their own employees.
Hearthstone was initially a game concept that was thrown around from one desk to another, and at a certain point it constituted into a game. Overwatch, the prototype of this new game genre, borrows a few ideas from Project Titan. Hell, even Tracer was a character in Project Titan.
There are many ideas Blizzard adapted to its own style – and delivered whole new universes, with a game lore and character density that can compete with Marvel or DC. It can be argued that maybe there is no original idea in a Blizzard game, just as it can be said that the gameplay is extremely well polished. The games work – except the occasional $%^#$% error 37 – almost perfectly and feature sensational stories!
This type of… “clairvoyance” enabled the studio to develop one successful game after another, achieving records and setting new standards. Overwatch, at least in my opinion, is the prototype of the Hero Shooter!
Many producers have played with the idea so far. Valve with TF2 are the forerunners of the genre, offering the frame for this type of gameplay. Even Borderlands can be considered to have promoted this genre involuntarily, its characters influencing the collective consciousness of gamers to a certain extent.
But what is the Hero Shooter in my opinion?
A well-balanced combination of Shooter and MOBA! There are two clearly defined genres in this game. It comes with a Shooter’s perspective and with MOBA elements – because the goals on the map resemble an authentic MOBA, minus the endless hordes of minions. But that is what we have TitanFall for! (Smack talk this early… low man)
Smite is too much of a MOBA to be considered a Hero Shooter. Monday Night Combat could have stood a chance, but there was something that didn’t catch the gamer’s attention. On the other hand, Overwatch suggests a more simple approach. Hitboxes the size of a barn, no blood and gore (but there may be some generous modders? just sayin’) and an approach that reminds me of the way Apple interacts with its clients.
There is a hero for any type of player at the moment. From the ones that only played MOBA all their lives to the avid Counter Strike players.
Overwatch is designed to be inclusive for almost any type of player, and this is what stirs interest. I guess there are many fans of the shooter genre who thought longingly of what LOL or DOTA 2 would look like had they been skill-based and first person.
This is what Overwatch offers. (And before I stir up the entire internet in one fell swoop, when I say skill based I am thinking of the idea of having two shooting axes).
It is easy to learn, hard to master. The game has a fierce meta behind it, even though there are no items you can buy, no level up system, only your character’s skills which you cannot improve.
This makes it easy to learn! You have all the pop-ups on the screen. The buttons are big and they are even marked with the key or button. This is for Blizzard to make sure you see that you only have five buttons to press for your hero to do stuff. How and when you use those skills makes all the difference.
At the moment there is no synergy between the characters. In the trailer, Winston throws Tracer in the air and she attacks during the leap. This type of cooperation would differentiate the genre even more in my opinion. But maybe another game will do this at some point and will emerge as a new innovator. Who knows, maybe Blizzard themselves will implement game mechanic in the future.
One thing we know: tons of Overwatch clones will be launched from now on. And when I say Overwatch clones, I do not mean Battleborn, which has nothing in common with Overwatch. Maybe only the perspective and MOBA elements. Unfortunately, Overwatch has a completely different approach, way more simple, while Battleborn resembles Smite quite a lot, as far as genre goes!
We’ll first see the Android clones
The first one to sound off the rip-offs will be the Android Market, the wild west of the gaming industry, and the reason we get so many Flappy Bird clones. And then the flash clones which come with new mechanics which will hit Newground the hardest. And let’s not forget the Chinese and Koreans who will obviously create a less popular spin-off in their countries, which will be brought overseas only when Nexon and Webzen will already be filthy rich.
Then there will be the cock fight between studio X, who will come with a reinvented version of the game and studio Y, who will launch at the same time a game with similar mechanics, and who want their own small share of the Hero Shooter market.
Meanwhile Blizzard will be laughing all the way to the bank, because they hit the jackpot with Overwatch and will try to get as much money as possible from the world’s most played MMO. Even so, big publishers will follow the example set by Overwatch. Not now, but maybe in a few years, more or less obvious clones will emerge… and maybe the genre will not be called Hero Shooter anymore – even if the term is being used more and more often – but maybe something else. But after all, Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch will be the involuntary founders of a new game genre.