Like the rest of Blizzard, your team is held to stratospheric standards by its community. Everything you release inevitably gets torn to pieces in some quarters. How do you cope?I love being held to high expectations. And part of the thrill of what we do is trying to meet them. I know we won't always meet them, but I think that the type of developer that's attracted to be at a place like Blizzard wants that challenge and wants to try to make the best thing possible. We think it's totally fair that people criticize us—it just spurs us to do a better job next time.
"I love being held to high expectations. And part of the thrill of what we do is trying to meet them." — Jeff Kaplan
You introduced Tracer's girlfriend through the online comics, in December. What social responsibility do you think games have, now that they exist in a more culturally prominent space?It's a very interesting and tricky topic to talk about. If it's going to be a great intellectual property, you have to stay true to the creative integrity of what you're doing. So, I feel like you should never do anything in a pandering way. Overwatch at its core is about this inclusivity; it's about this vast diversity in humanity. And that's not even just in reference to gender or sexuality or race, or anything like that—it's also in terms of gameplay.
"Overwatch at its core is about inclusivity; it's about this vast diversity in humanity. Once you have broad reach like that, I think it's very important to think about the people that you represent." — Jeff Kaplan
At the same time, now that we've revealed that Symmetra is autistic, you should see the amount of mail that we received from either autistic people or parents of autistic children, and how important it is to them. And we sort of realised the same thing about the LGBT community, that there is an importance of knowing, of validating. Overwatch is a game with 25 million players, and Tracer is on the front cover. There is a statement in saying, "Y'know that awesome superhero that's on the cover of the box that we all wanna be when we grow up? Guess what. She happens to have a girlfriend and that's just normal and let's just get over it and move on." The amount of positive feedback we've had on that has been sort of amazing.
Related, on Waypoint: The Sad Truth of the 'Overwatch' Plateau
You can have a huge degree of control over heroes, but players often prove trickier to handle. How do you go about keeping them in line?A lot is in the core design of the game already. We don't have a system in place that is like a karma system where you're voting people up or voting people down. An idea like that is something we're interested in, but it's difficult to make one meaning, so we look to the core game design of systems, like the scoreboard. We took a lot of heat from the hardcore shooter community early on for that. They wanted to be shown everybody's kills, everybody's deaths. We call it "the spreadsheet" internally—people just wanted the spreadsheet. We feel like that decision directly reduced toxicity in the game, but ironically that wasn't our prime motivation behind doing the scoreboard that way. Our prime motivation was that in Overwatch with the hero diversity and the role diversity there's no way to measure everybody's success on the spreadsheet, and have it make any sense. If you're Mercy, for example, you're going to have zero kills.The end-of-round cards are something I think a lot of people also sometimes question: "What are the cards? They don't really do anything." The cards are what we call a diffusion moment, where it diffuses the intensity of the match. You're commenting both on your own team and other team members, and we're just trying to make people more aware. For instance, if a team gives their Genji a hard time during a match they may then realize on the cards that he contributed more than anybody, even though he was hardly seen. There are also cases I have seen at the end of rounds where the cards come up and the whole enemy team will compliment the other team's Mercy, and she'll get the epic card. That's what I call those diffusion moments, where you're just trying to cut the edge off.Play of the Game is the same way. We've had a lot of players say that they wish they could skip it, or that only their team should get it, or that only the winners should get it, or that every player should have their own, or that it's just really stupid. Sometimes it will pick a dumb moment that was just Orisa wandering around the map, and we're totally okay with it because what players don't realize is that there's a social moment that's happening there. Let's say that Play of the Game is just broken and shows Orisa just wandering around in a circle: the 12 people commenting "Blizzard's dumb, they should fix this" are actually having this social moment, whether they realize it or not.But really, are you happy with Play of the Game at the moment? It often feels underwhelming.There are a lot of changes we would like to make to Play of the Game. We'll continue to iterate on the algorithm to make it smarter and pick better things. We also have these ideas right now, like Sharpshooter and Life Saver, which are actually pretty cool: Sharpshooter, for example, demonstrates multiple long-range shots. The problem is that it's they're not shown very cinematically right now, so we would like to make some changes so that the camera tracks the action better. Same goes for Life Saver—a lot of the time you don't even realize what's happening, but somebody is doing something that saved somebody else's life. Without some changes to the cameras and the cinematography of the moment, those aren't great right now.I would say that we're at about a 70% of where we want Play of the Game to be. It catches a lot of cool stuff, but it's nowhere near as awesome as I think it will be some day.Follow Justin on Twitter.
"I would say that we're at about a 70% of where we want Play of the Game to be. It catches a lot of cool stuff, but it's nowhere near as awesome as I think it will be." — Jeff Kaplan