I spectated today, as my cousin played Overwatch. She isn’t much of a gamer, and has nearly no experience with first person shooters, but has about five - six hours of Overwatch under her belt. I heard a squeal and turned around: to see her pick up a quadra-kill with D.va’s ultimate. Of course, it was play of the game, and we both whooped loudly with excitement as the highlight was replayed after the round ended. “Overwatch is really fun!” She exclaimed as I kicked her off my computer. “I think it’s less complex than League, and a lot less stressful”.
Now, I’m not calling my cousin a liar, but I have my own suspicions that there is more to it than what was said. In short, I believe Overwatch makes excellent use of a certain philosophy of Game Design, one gaining increasing popularity over the last five years. It is what I would call “Hollywood Game Design”. It is a philosophy of Game Design that bills the players as stars, and sets each game as a new scene. You can be loud, unique, and unforgettable. Everyone will know your name! At its core, I would define it as a philosophy of Game Design that aims to give players the temporary feeling of “Stardom”. Overwatch does this by employing it’s mechanics to create what I would call, “Moments of Stardom”.
In Overwatch, most characters have four to six abilities, with one being their Ultimate ability. The Ultimate ability charges up over the game, and can be unleased only at 100%. All of these abilities are incredibly powerful: I would weigh most of them as being far more impactful than League of Legends Ultimates, for instance. When a player unleashes their Ultimate, it often forces the entire enemy to play around it: whether that be dodging, hiding or even taking advantage of the long cooldown. They therefore give all players moments where they are the boss, and they can feel powerful for a moment even in a game where they are losing, or playing poorly. They are also designed to be very easy to use (one of the characters straight up gets an aimbot!).
Ultimates charge quickly with better play, but even the worst player on the worst team will have theirs ready eventually. Blizzard chose to limit the impact of ultimates by giving many of them a global audio cue. This is likely intended to help give enemies a chance to survive, but in the context of "Moments of Stardom", it's a loud boast to the world that for now, you're the big man on campus.
Perhaps the most obvious “Moment of Stardom” is the end of round Play of the Game. After each game of Overwatch finishes, players are treated to a short highlight (set to epic music) featuring someone from that game. It's the evolution of Call of Duty's round winning kill, but Overwatch’s version favours big moments over final moments.
It’s a mechanic that accomplishes many things: It makes the featured player feel good about the game, and can help them salvage some positivity after a loss. It gives them attention, and ensures that everyone sees their skills in action. Also interesting, is that certain types of kills are prioritised higher: Environmental kills (pushing people into pits) and kills featuring Ultimates are shown more often. Combined with the easy-to-use, high power Ultimates, and you’ve got a formula that means that anyone can get Play of the Game. It’s something players can strive for knowing that they’re in with a chance, even if their team is losing.
The concept is also embedded in the game’s character customisation. Not an original mechanic, but Overwatch combines many less-popular ways to customise, such as V.O lines and a Spray image, place-able in-game. Skins are another way to showcase individuality and prestige. Players can also select a custom victory pose, or one of multiple intro clips to their future Play of the game sequences. There is a real emphasis on showmanship and style within the Overwatch customisation: If “Teabagging” players is styling on them, Overwatch is the equivalent of taking players into a tea shop and asking them what flavour they want their enemies’ defeat to taste like.
Such a philosophy has evolved in recent years out of multiplayer games, most notably from the FPS, MOBA and MMO genres. Character customisation, for instance, begun as a statistically-inclined choice. From there, purely cosmetic customisation evolved (helped by supermassive MMO’s of the 2000’s like Maplestory). And while it’s always been about showing off, Overwatch has taken it to the next level. Kill cams were originally designed to educate players about their deaths. But it was actually players who took that next step, and began “Teabagging” and using them to style on their enemies. Overwatch embraces this, and encourages players to do so at every opportunity. It also plays into the growing popularity around short, punchy videos. It offers the gaming equivalent to a Vine, and is perfect for sharing on sites like Reddit.
And so while other games find success with other design philosophies, Overwatch seems to have “Hollywood” built into its core. And so, I find the most notable thing about Overwatch is how well the “Hollywood” Design philosophy is implemented. They’ve also improved upon many of the mechanics traditionally used to create such feelings within players. Better than any game currently out there, Overwatch provides a stage and lets the players perform. And no matter how good or bad you are, or what character you play, you’re destined to have your shot at glory.