Blizzard's Jeff Kaplan, director of hit online shooter Overwatch, is currently in London ahead of tomorrow's (6 April) Bafta Game Awards, where the game is nominated for five awards including Best Game.
The man leading one of the most popular new games of 2016 sat down to speak with IBTimes UK about the game, its future and his team's plans.
Already we've published stories based on his comments about the game's next playable hero being "very far into development", his comments regarding a potential campaign mode and how his team has a "big plan" for the mysterious Doomfist.
He also discussed, in this final part of our interview, Project Scorpio support, the number of heroes there will be overall in the game, expansion of the how the story of Overwatch is told in more.
This article meanwhile regards Kaplan's comments about his team's constant need to manage and maintain Overwatch's balance. A balance ensuring that the game remains competitive and each of its 24 characters has a use and purpose, countering one another.
Kaplan also talks specifically about heroes D.Va, Reinhardt, Lucio, Reaper and Soldier 76, as well as the potential for heroes beyond Symmetra to be given more than one ultimate ability.
IBTimes UK: Tweaks and balances have always been made to Overwatch. One of the most recent to D.Va was quite controversial. Is there any other debate about tweaking a popular character?
It's hard because there are certain characters... We can look at the character playtime, so we know who's being played the most, and obviously the bigger the audience, the more backlash you're going to take for that particular character. When it comes to terms of balancing somebody down, more likely than not, that character's going to be one of the most played characters. The fans are very smart, and the community communicates with each other extremely well, so they know who's a little bit out of whack in terms of balance, and that's why they'll play right now. Or players are just naturally drawn to feeling more powerful, and so more often than not you're tweaking the most popular characters. We need to be careful about that.
I think we need to be careful balancing any character down, regardless of their popularity, knowing that even a less popular character, when you have a player base of 25 million people, even a small percentage represents a lot of real-world people that we care about. We just want to be careful with it. At the same time, I think a character being popular should not be protection for that character, and should not scare us away from tweaking or balancing them. I think the overall integrity of the game balance far outweighs our fear of possibly upsetting some of our players.
Reinhardt is essentially a must-have for most Overwatch teams at this point. Is that a problem for the game?
It's tricky. What we've seen in the past month is... I think Reinhardt is a very central and core character to Overwatch. What we're seeing out of the pro scene right now is not that he's a must-have. What's been great in the Apex tournament in South Korea is, we're seeing a lot of usage of Zarya, D.Va, Winston. Winston, even before we buffed him, was getting a lot of play in Korea. We feel like Reinhardt's not necessarily the must-pick that players perceive him to be.
He's also a tricky character, because if you do certain things to Reinhardt you risk removing him from the meta altogether, and I don't think anybody wants to see that. His shield, for example, if you were to nerf his shield too much, Reinhardt without his shield is essentially useless. His hammer does a good amount of damage, but he has to really get in to be able to use it. Charge is a very risky ability, and Fire Strike is very hard to land. It's a very slow-moving projectile, and while it does a lot of damage, it's a long cool-down, and it's not reliable as a source of damage for him. I don't think anybody wants to see Reinhardt go away.
I think the other thing that players often forget is that Reinhardt brings a great amount of opportunity to heroes that aren't Reinhardt. Everybody's taking advantage of that shield. It's not just Reinhardt for his own ability; he's also providing this moving cover that sets a front for his team. I think when it comes to Reinhardt we want to be careful about balancing him too aggressively.
The pick rates we're seeing out of the pro scene are not 100% Reinhardt. In fact from the pro scene, really our only concern right now is probably Lucio, although that's not the player perception, or what the players are focused on. Reinhardt is picked a lot, and is looked at as very valuable, but when we look at balancing him in a different direction, we just need to be very careful not to swing that balance too far or quickly. Not only because of the Reinhardt players, but also the players that benefit from Reinhardt being in the mix.
A character that's been basically untouched is Reaper. Are there any plans for him, and likewise with Soldier 76?
I think Reaper is somebody who ebbs and flows as the meta does. An example when Ana's Nano Boost is used to give the movement speed buff, we were seeing a lot of Reaper in play at the time. The more we see Winston, the more we see Reaper. Reaper is a fantastic counter to Winston. I do think we'll see more Reaper as the meta shifts around. With that said, we're trying some stuff internally on Reaper right now. I don't know if it will see the light of day or not, but it's internal only right now, and it's very minor. Just a little bit of quality of life issues that we're trying to pick up with him. I think Reaper is not in a terrible spot.
Seventy-six is somebody who we've balanced back and forth quite a number of times. He's very dominant right now, and he's very prevalent in the meta, but we don't think he's too far off. If anything, maybe his damage is a little too high. I would hate to knock 76 back so far that he drops out of the meta. We need to be really careful with these things, because the littlest tweak can really change, not only the actual balance, but even worse is the perceived balance. Player perception of what's viable or not is actually more important than what is actually viable right now or not, and once players decide something like, "76 is useless, we won't play him any more", that's more devastating than anything else. We need to be careful, not only about the actual balance, but then the perceived balance.
Symmetra's currently the only hero with two ults. Are you open to adding additional ultimate abilities to other characters as well?
I think if it fit the kit of the character. I don't think we're looking at two ults as a systemic thing that we'd like to see across the game. Heroes of the Storm has a really cool thing with their heroic abilities where you get to choose which one you have, and their heroic abilities are equivalent to our ultimate abilities. If it was ever appropriate to the kit of that character, I think we would absolutely explore doing it.