Even before Overwatch 2 launched, Activision Blizzard, the game’s developers, was riddled with controversy. The company responsible for massively successful games such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Candy Crush, and Overwatch, was sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for frequent reports of sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and retaliation.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) had also sued Activision-Blizzard for having a “frat boy” workplace culture and the tragic suicide of female worker Kerri Moynihan. The company allegedly paid female workers less, used dedicated lactation rooms for meetings, and inappropriately joked about rape and sexual encounters. Kerri Moynihan was on the receiving end of these actions after explicit images of her were shared around in the workplace by coworker Greg Restuito; she committed suicide shortly after in a Disneyland hotel at the age of 32.
The DFEH believed that Activision Blizzard played a major role leading up to Moynihan’s death, and accused the company of covering up its actions. The culmination of the accusations and lackluster game quality resulted in a massive decline in the company’s reputation and stock (a 40% drop in the six months following the accusations). The decline in company value perfectly set up Microsoft for its largest acquisition ever: a 68 billion dollar deal.
Why it needs to be successful
Overwatch 2 is one of the first, and arguably most anticipated, games released by the Activision Blizzard studios following the downward trend of the company. For these reasons, Activision Blizzard is counting on Overwatch 2 to divert public attention to its storied legacy as one of the most revered video game developers in the industry, possibly mitigating or even reversing Activision Blizzard’s horrid reputation.
In addition, Microsoft didn’t want its unprecedented 68 billion dollar investment to go to waste. Overwatch 2 was promising; it presented a new chapter of Overwatch gameplay: cooperative player vs AI game while using previously beloved heroes from its 6v6 multiplayer Overwatch 1 game. Unfortunately for Activision Blizzard, the previously hyped-up game faced a new wave of backlash leading up to its imminent release.
Contrary to preview marketing, Activision Blizzard announced that Overwatch 2 would not be including its widely anticipated cooperative mode during the game’s initial release. Once the news broke, many questioned the game’s success as its most heavily marketed feature was excluded. Finally, the game released on October 4th, 2022. Sadly, the first day of the release was dismal.
The company reported DDOS attacks on its servers, overflowing the systems and preventing hundreds of thousands of excited new players–including myself–from playing the game. Players waited in queues of 40,000 or more, and after the long wait, they were unable to sign in and returned to another queue of 40,000 players. Once their servers were fixed, more lousy press followed. Many argued that the game was unfinished and was hardly a sequel.
The additional content compared to Overwatch 1 was simply a few new characters (or “heroes”), and new maps. The gameplay itself had some changes, but many believed that it was more akin to a large update than an actual sequel.
Another wave of negative press followed the publication of Overwatch 2’s monetization system. Overwatch 1 allowed players to acquire loot boxes by simply completing or winning games— free of charge— and would rely on big spenders to buy multiple loot boxes for more profit. This system was generally enjoyed, as it allowed non-spending players to obtain valuable cosmetics.
In Overwatch 2, however, comply revamped the monetization system and pushed a new “battle pass” system that only allowed valuable cosmetics to be bought with in-game currency or by buying the battle pass. This meant that non-spending players had no way of getting cosmetics that spending players could.
Additionally, the in-game store resold old Overwatch 1 cosmetics for over 20$, a massive price increase when compared to the original 1$ or free, earned loot boxes. Activision Blizzard had also removed a variety of beloved features in Overwatch 1, such as player borders, levels, and post-match screens.
Despite the variety of negative press and countless Youtube titles such as “Overwatch 2: the laziest sequel”, or “Overwatch 2 – Stop buying this overpriced Trash” and finally “Overwatch 2 a Pathetic Sequel,” the game enjoyed massive amounts of success reaching 35 million players in its first month. Many are puzzled over how a game that was seemingly hated online could enjoy so much success.
This is because of 2 reasons: its free-to-play launch and refreshing game design. Opposed to Overwatch 1 which cost 60$, Overwatch 2 launched completely free to play. This encouraged many players, including myself and many of my friends, to just give it a try; after all, there was nothing to lose if the game was as terrible as everyone said. But what made players stay was its well-designed gameplay.
Unlike Overwatch 1, Overwatch 2 modified the gameplay to a 5v5 rather than a 6v6 (removing a tank from each side), which many argued increased the pace of the game and made it much easier and exciting to get eliminations for all players. Even previously mundane support roles shone in a new light as characters who could heal and do serious damage.
Overwatch 2’s current success is representative of what the players truly value: game design over presentation. It remains to be seen how long the hero shooter’s current popularity streak will run, but for now, I look forward to queueing up another game as Baptiste.