Why Blizzard Is Overhauling Overwatch 2 To Be More “Generous”
20 mins read

Why Blizzard Is Overhauling Overwatch 2 To Be More “Generous”


It’s been a rocky 18 months for the Overwatch 2 team. After releasing back in 2022 to positive-yet-underwhelming reviews, scrapping the game’s once-promised PvE hero mode, and, more recently, undergoing large-scale layoffs that hit core members like former lead narrative designer Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie, there’s been a bit of uncertainty in regards to what’s next for the team-based shooter. However, the studio’s next steps might just help get things back on track.

Since release, players have been vocal about their grievances with Overwatch 2’s pricing. Though the game itself is free-to-play–and its new heroes attainable through the free battle pass, so long as you sink some serious time into leveling it up–there has been criticism of the series’ pivot to a battle-pass system, the high price of cosmetics, and the low distribution of coins. According to Overwatch 2 game director Aaron Keller, much of this is changing very soon.

Starting in mid-April when Season 10 kicks off, all Overwatch heroes will be free-to-play upon release. Coins will be given more generously and tied to the game’s free battle pass rather than its challenges, and a new store, the Mythic shop, will offer players a great deal of choice in what they work towards unlocking each season. In addition, players can now earn battle passes, as every two seasons there will be enough coins given through the game’s free battle pass to purchase the premium version. Keller says the team will focus more on reworking maps going forward, as well as introducing modes and systems that can improve the game’s PvP elements. In short, there’s a lot to be (tentatively) excited about.

GameSpot recently had the opportunity to sit down with Keller and discuss these changes and Overwatch 2’s new direction–as well as how he feels about Overwatch 2’s overall health and how this new, decidedly more generous approach impacts the company’s bottom line.

Tracer and Sojourn deliver combat orders.
Tracer and Sojourn deliver combat orders.

As Overwatch 2 approaches a hundred million players, how do you feel overall about the state of the game, its health as a live-service title, and its overall balance?

Overwatch is on a roll. I feel like we had a really big Season 9, and we have a lot of things coming in April for Season 10. And I think that a lot of this has to do with our refocus on the core PvP elements of the game. This is the game that everyone has been playing for the last almost eight years, and I think it’s the part of the game that makes it special and gives it its magic. Our characters–the way they control, the way that they use their abilities, and the way that they rely on their teammates to win a fight–is really special. So the team is putting a lot of time and energy into making that side of the game as good as it can possibly be, and I think we’re all really excited to continue to do that and really excited for what it means for Overwatch’s future.

How do you feel about the decision to go to a battle pass versus loot boxes? Is there a significant difference in the creative process or in the workload? Do you feel good about that decision at this point?

Running a free-to-play live-service game is very difficult to do, especially one at a really large scale. And you look at the industry and the market and there is a lot of talk around free-to-play games. Some of the biggest games on the market are that, but there’s not as many of them as you think, especially ones that are running on such a scale. So for us, we introduced a store to players because we want there to be more player agency and more player choice in what they get. And I think that just being able to go into a shop and be able to purchase what you want is a more direct and fair experience for our game and for our players.

We have heard some from players that they enjoyed the loot box system, and it’s hard sometimes to put words in players’ mouths or to infer intent, but the way that I take that is I think that players enjoyed being able to earn as much as possible in the game without necessarily paying for it. And when Overwatch switched to a free-to-play business model, we were no longer able to continue to release cosmetics that way.

With that in mind, what inspired the decision to remove heroes from the battle passes?

We’re pretty confident that removing heroes from the battle pass is not just what’s best for our players, but it’s what’s best for the game. When we first launched Overwatch 2, we had a worry that running a cosmetics-only business with a game that had all of these different heroes that you could purchase individual and unique cosmetics for might not be successful. But putting any type of gameplay behind a paywall, that can have an effect on the competitive integrity of a game. And so we tried to mitigate that. We put heroes in the free battle pass; we created challenges to unlock some of the heroes.

We also tried to remove some of the hard counters from the game to maybe make that effect a little bit less pronounced and prominent, and those things didn’t completely alleviate that problem. After about a year and a half of releasing seasons that have heroes in them and heroes not in them, I think we’ve seen that we can safely remove heroes from the battle pass and still run a successful business. And what success means to us is the ability to have a team that’s still creating new heroes, creating new maps and game modes and all of the features that we’re making well into the foreseeable future. We’re really excited about this and we really think that it’s the right thing for the game and the right thing for our players.

Moving on to the opening of the Mythic shop–do you know what the pricing model for that is going to look like or the price points? Will it be implemented similarly to Fortnite, where you have a limited time that these Mythic skins are available and they cycle out?

The Mythic shop, which launches in Season 10, is what’s going to allow our players to have the choice to pick which Mythic skin they want to unlock or that they want to purchase. And the way that they buy a Mythic skin is through a currency called Mythic Prisms. And the best way to earn [Mythic Prisms] is in the premium battle pass. So as players work through the battle pass, they will be awarded Prisms. And if you get all the way through the battle pass, you’ll have enough Prisms to unlock [a] Mythic skin and fully upgrade it, whether it’s the newest Mythic skin for a Season 10 or some of our previous Mythic skins.

You will have the ability to purchase Mythic Prisms as well, but we think the best way to do it is through the battle pass. [As for] whether the skins would come directly to the Mythic shop, new skins will be released through the Mythic shop–that’s where they’ll make their debut–and they’ll be available through that season. Then, they’ll be pulled out of the shop for the next two seasons, reintroduced to it after that, and be permanently available. So when the Mythic shop launches in Season 10, you’ll be able to get the Mythic skins from Seasons 1 through 7, as well as the newest Mythic skins.

You mentioned there would be greater player choice for Mythic skins. How is that going to play out?

The biggest thing with the Mythic shop is the ability to choose which Mythic skin you want to acquire, but there’s even more player choice involved in it. Mythic skins will be broken up into the base skin as well as the different upgrades that you can purchase. And like I said before, if you work your way through the premium battle pass, you’ll have enough currency to unlock the base skin as well as all of the upgrades for it. But you might not want to fully upgrade a Mythic skin. It might be that the last tier isn’t as exciting for you as some of the upgrades for the other Mythic skins that you already have. And so as you get Mythic Prisms, you’ll be able to kind of choose where you want to spend them. You can spread out upgrades to a bunch of the different Mythic skins you have or go all in on one that you’re really excited about.

And those Prisms carry over from season to season?

Of course.

Overwatch heroes in battle.
Overwatch heroes in battle.

Do you have any plans to compensate players who purchased the premium battle passes to get those heroes instantly and might find it unfair?

Currently, we’re not planning on offering any refunds for past battle pass purchases.

Are there any other changes coming to the game’s battle passes you’d like to elaborate on?

Yeah, we’re going to be pulling the coins that players can earn from our weekly challenges and putting them into the free version of the battle pass. We’re also going to be increasing the number of coins that you can earn each season to 600.

The reason we’re doing that is because we didn’t think that players were earning enough coins in the weekly challenges and we want players to be able to consistently do that. We want the game to feel like it’s rewarding people’s play time. So when we looked at the data, we saw that they weren’t earning enough, and putting them in the battle pass now is going to make it a more consistent experience for them. The intent is for it to be a more generous experience for them. And when you look at it, for a free battle pass, being able to earn 600 coins is actually a lot. Every two seasons, without ever paying for a battle pass, players will be able to earn a new one plus some additional coins.

Are there any concerns about how this will impact the company’s bottom line with giving away so many things now?

There was a lot of thought and intention behind these changes, and we do recognize that pulling heroes out of the battle pass could have an effect on our revenue. But we do think that with the introduction of the Mythic shop, that’s something that can offset that and allow Overwatch to continue to be successful. The whole point is we want to be able to keep our game sustainable so that we’re able to continue making all of the things that we’ve been talking about. We want our team to be able to continue to make all of that. So our focus is to continue to be successful in order to be able to do it.

In your presentation you talked about prioritizing balance and reworking maps going forward based on player feedback. How do you get that player feedback and what does implementation of that look like?

Listening to players and developing the game alongside them is important to us. Getting the information can be more complicated, and there’s a lot of different ways we do it. We run a lot of player surveys, we bring in focus groups of players also to play our content, and actually go through in person or on a call interview processes. That’s one side of it.

The other side is we have a really, really great community team that’s always following the discussion online. The developers are doing that too, but it really lies on that group of people to be doing that. They’re always writing reports, so I think we have our ear to the ground there.

We also collect a lot of data as well. And I don’t think data is always conclusive, but we use it alongside the other things that we’re doing. [For instance], you asked about map reworks. One of the things that we look at with our data is the number of “leavers” that we have for particular maps. And if it looks like it’s out of balance–if the number of levers for a particular map is higher than others–it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s less popular or that people have a particular issue with it, but it’s definitely a signal for us to start investigating. We pull all of that together when we start looking at these things. And I think that when you talk about map reworks specifically, we have heard from the community that there’s particular maps in the game that they don’t like as much as other ones.

If you look at the history of Overwatch, we’ve been really good about doing hero reworks–even when those hero reworks are very substantial and require additional work from a lot of different departments on the team, we go ahead and do it. And typically when we do map reworks, it’s a smaller thing and it’s just been recently where we’ve started doing larger map reworks. Like our Gibraltar rework is bigger than we typically do, and we got a lot of really positive feedback from players. So we think that doing map reworks or even a season where we have a bunch of them at once could potentially be actually more exciting for our players than releasing a new map in that season.

How do you balance making changes to existing things that current players really like versus keeping it enticing for people who aren’t playing the game yet?

We do a lot of balance changes in Overwatch, and I think when we do it, it can provide a momentary exciting piece of a season or a period of time for players, but it is short-lived. When you look at Overwatch as a whole, it’s actually a pretty simple game. There’s not a lot of complex systems that are happening inside of gameplay or even typically around a match that are affecting the way people think about the way they play. There’s not an in-game shop, for example, and you’re not making those sorts of decisions. You’re really just picking your hero, getting your team to come together, and then going out on a very even playing field with the enemy team. I think that we will continue to make balance changes to the game. It needs it because one, the meta is always changing, but also it keeps the game fresh for players.

But on top of that, I think one of the things that the Overwatch team is talking about right now is, ‘Are there other systems that we could potentially add to the game that can add some of that strategic depth that we think players might want while still keeping the game pure to what it is, which is a very fast-paced competitive game without there being a lot of other things to think about while you’re involved in enemy combat?’ We don’t really have anything to announce with that, but it’s more of just a direction of the way that we’re thinking. If we were to introduce systems like that, it’s also the sort of thing besides just balance that we would be able to periodically change, to give those moments of freshness to the experience.

A look at the new Clash map, Hanaoka
A look at the new Clash map, Hanaoka

Moving along, I would love to hear a little bit more about Clash mode.

Clash is the newest game mode that we’re developing for Overwatch 2, and we’re going to be running a preview of it in Season 10. The preview is going to take place on one of the two Clash maps that we’ll be releasing a little bit later this year called Hanaoka. We showed it a bit at BlizzCon, and I think that one way you could look at Clash is it has a little bit of inspiration from a mode that we had in the original Overwatch called Assault. With that mode, it was about taking two control points in a row. It was like some of our other modes where there is an offense and a defense.

The big difference with Clash is that it’s a symmetrical map and a symmetrical game mode, which means that both teams are playing offense and defense the same way that you do in Push, let’s say, but it’s still arranged with points in a row. And so the exciting thing about Clash is you have those moments where you’re just trying to break through and try to take the next point, but as opposed to Assault, it can go two directions.

This game mode is really about momentum and how you come together as a team in order to stop the enemy team’s advance, then regroup and start pushing into enemy territory. It does require a lot of teamwork and a lot of coordination, and that’s the part of the mode that we’re a little bit worried about. That’s part of why we’re excited to be running a trial with it, because now we can put it out in front of players, get a bunch of feedback on how they think about it, and then make the appropriate changes before we release it a little later this year.

The above interview has been lightly edited for clarity.



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