Jeff Kaplan, director of hit multiplayer shooter Overwatch, is in London ahead of this week's Bafta Game Awards on 6 April, where the Blizzard game is nominated for five awards including Best Game and Best Multiplayer.
The man in charge of the future of one of 2016's most popular new games sat down to speak with IBTimes UK to discuss the game and his team's plans for it in the future.
During our time with Kaplan he's discussed a potential campaign mode, the next playable hero being "very far into development", and how his team has a "big plan" for the mysterious Doomfist character.
Here's much of the remaining interview, in which he discusses how the team feels nearly a year on from launch, the expansion of how the game tells its story in the game, potential support for Project Scorpio and how he originally envisioned many more heroes in the game.
IBTimes UK: Orisa has just launched, there's probably going to be awards coming your way later this week. How does the team feel after one year, and how do they feel about the first year of Overwatch?
I think the team is extremely proud of what they've built. It's been an awesome year in that it's very hard to ship a game, and it's a totally different mindset shift for a team to switch to becoming a live service and supporting a game. I'm really proud of how the team has handled that transition. I think early on there was a lot of stress about: "Oh my gosh, another patch? We have to do another, and another one after that?" Now I feel like, that we're a year in, the team are seasoned pros at it and loving it. They're starting to see the real advantages of it. It's been just an absolute blast this past year.
We're two weeks out from the launch of Orisa. How has the reaction been from fans?
It's been great. We've seen reactions scanning the gambit, where some people are commenting on the uniqueness that her different abilities bring to the game, the new role that she sort of fills, and there's a lot of people who are just responding to her as a character, like a fictional character. They love Efi, her creator, they love the fact that we made a female robot, which sparked this whole debate which I find very interesting. Clearly Zenyatta is male to our fans, but Bastion is questionable, whether he's male or female. We've had the whole robot gender conversation coming up. People like that we added a quadraped, people like that she's from Africa. It's been a really positive reaction.
Also just seeing, any time we introduce a character to Overwatch it immediately gets consumed and owned by our players, and then the fan community takes over. Watching all of the fan fiction and the fan art evolve around Orisa's been amazing. The thing that I'm really excited to see is who's going to cosplay her first, and how are they going to pull off the four legs. I'm hoping at Blizzcon somebody comes through for us.
Overwatch has a rich story told primarily through comics and animated shorts rather than the game itself. Do you have plans to expand on how your story is told?
Yeah. I think we have plans to expand on how the story is told both outside and inside the game. Obviously the animated shorts are the thing that we love doing the most. We feel so fortunate, the game gets to interact with our animation team on those, and it's like the funnest, most collaborative, creative meetings I've ever been in. We have big plans to do more of those. I think our next comic that comes out is our best comic ever, that tells more of the story of Overwatch than any comic has told before, so I'm pretty excited for that. We'll continue to put things in the game and in maps that tell the story.
I think we learned a lot from the Junkenstein event, which was comical storytelling in that it wasn't an actual piece of fiction. It was: "Here's this story of Junkenstein staring the Overwatch characters." Seeing our fan reaction to that, and also us just learning what it takes to make something like that, was really eye-opening to us. It gave us a lot of ideas for future things that we could do in the game that not only would push the story forward more, but also would introduce new forms of gameplay that I think our fans will like.
The custom game feature is one of the most underrated, overlooked, parts of the game. Do you have any particular favourite games? And might you one day add popular games to arcade mode?
One of my favourite modes are when they make the boss modes. They'll make a Roadhog with 500% health, and then they'll iterate on what characters can fight the Roadhog, and what abilities and cooldowns. Right now you have to write all that stuff down or take a screenshot or something, so we've added the ability to save those presets [in an upcoming patch]. What's even cooler is, if I'm just a player in your custom game and I think it's really cool, I can save them. I'm hoping in that sense that the presets will proliferate a little bit, and we'll start to see common themes coalesce a bit more.
I've really enjoyed the boss modes. The funniest mode I've played is that Predator mode they make with Sombra, where you make Sombra super-powerful, you make her super-fast. Then the version that I was playing in, we had three [Soldier] 76's, you can only play 76, and then Sombra's basically hunting you down. I was playing with my stepson and my wife and we were just laughing so hard, because you would literally jump out of your chair and scream when: "Aah, she's here! Here's Sombra!" I think that was one of my favourite modes that I've played so far.
Cool, in which of the original heroes have you seen the biggest swing in popularity since they launched?
I think we see the most swings in Tracer. She is somebody who really ebbs and flows with the meta more than other characters. Early on, when the game was released, and in beta, Tracer was dominant, and Tracer was in every comp. We went a long period where we saw Tracer fall out of fashion, and she wasn't being played in both our ranked competitive mode, as well as in the pro tournaments. Lately we've seen sort of the return of Tracer, and we're starting to see Tracer played a lot more both in competitive play as well as the pro tournaments. She does use sort of drastic swings in and out of the meta.
Do you plan on adding support for Project Scorpio, when it comes out?
With both the advancements that Sony and Microsoft have made to their platforms, we're super-eager to support in whatever way we can. We take kind of a wait and see approach. Our engine team loves doing things like supporting. Any time we can make the game look better, they like supporting it. Obviously we're supporting 4K on PC already, so it's something the game is capable of doing. As long as we don't break the game in some other way, or incur some technical cost that is prohibitive, we would obviously try to go along with the advancements, and be very supportive of advancements on all of our platforms.
Does the team have an idea of how many heroes there'll be in Overwatch overall?
We used to. When we first started making the game, before we had made a single hero, we had a number in mind of... "We're going to have this many heroes." What's funny is, as we went through the development process we changed dramatically in terms of how many heroes we thought should be in the game. We also had an idea before we launched about how many heroes we would introduce, and at what interval, and we've since really changed our opinion of that. I think as Overwatch becomes more mature and more established, and we look at both the way that the players approach new heroes and about the business model, I think it allows us to be more tempered and paced in our approach to hero development.
I used to think in a game like Overwatch, the more we could add heroes, the better it would be in all regards, and I now feel very differently. I actually feel like we need to be extremely careful, not only from a gameplay standpoint, but also in terms of making sure there's enough time for players to fall in love with each of our heroes in terms of their character backstory, who those characters are, what their affinity is for those heroes.
In a lot of ways, the way I think about it is, we only have so much development time, and we have this number of heroes, and each hero that we add, we're just dividing our attention, and our care and our love for those heroes. I don't want to get to the point where we don't care about Widowmaker any more, and we don't have time to make changes to her and develop her story because we have 10 more guys coming out in the next three months, so sorry Widowmaker, you're just one of those old original heroes.
We really do feel like we're building a new franchise here at Blizzard, not just a new game. These characters are extremely important to people. They've fallen in love with who each of them are, and I don't want us to be moving so fast that we forget that there's a great amount of care, passion, and love in our community for each of these heroes, and it's not just about how many can we pump out over the course of the year.