Playing Producer: What Would An Overwatch RPG Need To Be?

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Taking a break from my more dramatic posts to do a bit of game analysis here –  I’m playing Product Owner and Producer in my head asking just what an RPG of hit game Overwatch would need.  Last column I identified that it’s probably viable and has good synergy, but it can’t be too much like the core game and probably wouldn’t be good to introduce to the market for at least 3 years.  Also feel free to use any of these ideas.

It’s also a fun look and exercise to think about products like games and products.  So now let’s move on to asking just what an Overwatch RPG would have to be to meet the market we know.

It Must Be Lore Filled

Overwatch has a lot of Lore, individual and worldwide. Any RPG/MMO of Overwatch has to be fairly dripping with lore and details. It should be enough that you don’t feel you’re playing a game, but reading a book or a seeing a movie.

That’s a tall order, but also a place the game can stand out. What an Overwatch RPG/MMO needs to be is the SF/Superhero version of the Fallen London Universe; you have to feel immersed in a place, a lore and a feel when you play or it doesn’t work. It has to be designed down to wording choices and colors.

In addition, Lore has to be everyhwere. Hunting down Lore has become a part of Overwatch fandom, which means sticking it everywhere. You want people crawling through restrooms in Junkertown to discover a photo taped to the underside of a label on a pipe. Then they get an achievement.

If this is done right, then right here you can differentiate it from most games – and get people interested. If you can get people who like Lore but not a frenetic FPS, you win.

This of course drives a lot of other choices.

NOTE: Imagine if the first person to discover new lore got a special item or title, and the first 100 also got some bonus. There should also be some kind of experience gain or benefit for lore discovery for each character.

It Must Be Playable In Chunks

One of the great things about Overwatch is that I can sit down, play for 15 minutes, and walk away. I often don’t but its tight mission structure means I can. When I do. Which is rarely.

A problem with MMO’s is that they can consume people’s time – I think that actually drives people away. But you also want retention. Playable small chunks means you get both – people can grind away, but you don’t drive them away with long slogs or a massive commitment.

Thus every mission should probably be small, or several independent missions strung together, enough for people to get in, adventure, and get out. This of course fits Overwatch’s military-meets-superhero style – go and do the mission and get out. Or if your Reyes, screw them up and then listen to your team complain.

Larger missions, as noted could be strung together – which also provides the bonus that people can play large content how they want. That increases retention, allows your friend to go to the bahtroom before your team starts the next mission, or just finish something off later. Sure we might have some larger/longer raids and such but make this the core.

NOTE: Provide titles, items, cosmetics, etc. to people who complete various numbers of mission. Also, for the people who love marathons, provide the same for people who do various numbers of missions IN A ROW.

It Must Be Social

An Overwatch RPG must be social. Despite complaints about toxicity in the community, I think those complains exist because it clashes with the overall spirit of the community. Overwatch fans love lore, speculation, teaming up, and exchanging fan art and such. I find it surprising positive, cynic that I am.

So any Overwatch game has to be a social engine big enough people can feel part of the community. I’d say if Overwatch RPG/MMO’s social features are so interesting you’re templted to play ONLY to use them then you win.

This almost certainly means:

  • Strong matchmaking tools.
  • Strong social tools to keep up with people.
  • Gift giving and exchanges of stuff in game (or purchased, we need those microtransactions)
  • Toxicity control and blocking tools. I almost wonder if a kind of LinkedIn recommendation system could work.
  • Home/room crafting. That’s becoming de rigeur, so put it on in.
  • Crafting things for others.
  • Bonuses for good social behavior.
  • Social areas and events in the game.
  • Community things like fashion shows, backstories, and art contests.

Social tools have to pretty much appeal to people from Day 1 – you need an embarassment of riches that’s also managable and comprehendible.

NOTE: There should be missions or mission parts that are non-combat where characters solve puzzles or just go and talk to people. This would not only fit Overwatch, but also encourage social activities.

It Must Tie Into The Big Picture

The game has to tie into the Overwatch universe in a meaningful way. Characters can’t be sitting on the sidelines forever in the shadows of everyone else – they have to make their own paths.  They can’t outshine the heroes of Overwatch the game, but also have to achieve things.  The Lore of the game has to tie into their experiences to bring the in-game fiction and the player experience together.

To me this means:

  • Things the characters do and missions they’re assigned should fit the Overwatch universe.
  • * Lots of in-game events and special events – maybe even one time – to make it feel like things evolve. STO is a great example of this.
  • Use of proper settings – while exploring new ones. For instance, you know at some point everyone will want to go to Junkertown or the Moon.
  • Evolve the storyline to a point where it allows for people to create masses of new heroes (I figure it’d be set a few years after the Recall) to have their own tales.
  • Have missions and events that let characters “own” their own experiences.
  • Move the story along for the other Overwatch characters – their achievements should change the game for the players, but they players should make their own way.

This’ll take effort – and constant content. But if you make it feel like a living world, that will keep people interested. Plus if it can tie into the game and media . . .

NOTE: This is going to take real work, to truly be a media production with growing lore and a world.  It’ll be like running a TV show.

Characters Must Matter

Overwatch at its heart is about people making a difference. Oh, it may be a terrible difference. It may be for revenge or greed or dressing like a human Hot Topic. But people in the story have impact.

That has to translate to the game. Which will be challenging, but players have to feel their story is important – and it has to be made important.

Some thoughts on that:

  • Have regular events where the winning “faction” get some bonus or achieves some victory. That should create temporary in-game alterations and may give some bonus to those who participated.
  • Have areas that are territorial battles, where factions can take control. Good for PvP.
  • Have people contribute time or resources to non-combat events to get results – like building new areas.
  • Have characters have their own storylines and choices for certain elements that have impact; such as choosing which character to agree with in a conflict.
  • Characters in game must comment on action and character actions.
  • Players must get a chance to make unique in-game choices, such as crafting or getting rare loot or costumes.

NOTE: This will need special attention in the game design – it will need to be core.

It Must Be Personal

The game must have a very personal feel to it – almost intimate. your character’s choices, actions, factions, and so on must make the game feel unique. It should feel that, if you started over, you’d experience an entirely diffrent game.

Many of the common things in RPGs and MMOs do this – character choices, cosmetics, factions. Those, obviously would be here – especially cosmetics, it’s Overwatch.

May of the above items would personalize it – and I’ll cover characters in a separate post.  But I think an Overwatch RPG MMO needs to make most missions personal, unique.

Here’s what I think it’d need.

  • Event/historical missions should have a personal quality or at least a random quality. Maybe an end boss is customized for your loadout.
  • Missions should be multi-option. Choice should matter and bring about different results.
  • Missions must be able to fail and have partial successes.
  • Have a reputation system, but not one that’s simple – your reputation should be a kind of reputation.  You may be popular with Overwatch, or Talon, but what kind of popularity – the killer who gets sent to gun down enemies, or the team player who gets rescue missions.
  • Most missions should be – I’m seriously – randomized, procedural, and/or customized. A mission you play should be unique and unrepeatable. That experience is for you and your team alone.
  • Actions should have effects over time. Maybe your character ends up constantly annoying Doomfist and thus he is swapped in for a boss in another mission as he seeks revenge. Have enough successful missions at Blizzard World and someone mentions it later or it unlocks a special scripted mission.

But what of the Lore, which is a bit hard when you have random missions? I’ve got an idea for that too – Virtual Reality. As you “rank up” in your faction, you can experience “simulated” story missions as “training.” This loads in lore and gives scripted missions – it’s just not the main source of story. It’d be like the Overwatch Archives.

Everyone gets their own story – and everyone gets to relive the same history together.

In A Nutshell

So to round up an Overwatch RPG that I think would succeed would be a lore-soaked social game that provides a lot of randomized missions on top of more scripted ones, has a shifting/changing setting based on actions, and produces a highly personal player experience.

Is this doable? Actually, I think so. Most of the parts are obvious or in place, it’s probably the procedural balance and elements that’d take work.

Next up – characters.

– Steve