Vague Patch Notes: The fads and the curious (and why Overwatch’s star is fading)

    
62
i am very intelligent

So it’s beginning to look a lot like the Overwatch fad has faded. It was a crazy couple of years there, but the fact that it’s just not making its way back on those Superdata charts and the overall cooling seems to be a sign that the flash is over. And I’m willing to bet that at least some of you are alternately blinking in disbelief or rushing straight down to the comments to mention that Overwatch is most definitely not a fad, that it’s a huge success, and that you just need to look at its revenue to know that.

That is entirely true; the game was a big financial success. But I suspect that the game’s massively outsized popularity was, in fact, a fad. Just like Pokemon Go, just like Fortnite, just like League of Legends, and only slightly less superficial than slap bracelets. (If you’ve got no idea what those are, gosh, you’re in for some fun sifting through cultural detritus.) But it’s easy to miss all of that because, well, we don’t have a very clear picture of what fads look like in the online space.

As much as I love to look up etymology, “fad” as a term doesn’t have an agreed-upon one beyond a consensus that it’s probably slang for “fiddle-faddle,” which means trivial or nonsensical matters. Regardless, we all know what it actually means. It’s something that spends some time being absolutely everywhere and the most important thing in the world, almost overnight… and then just as quickly no one remembers that it exists and it becomes a trivia question. “Whatever happened to those slap bracelets, huh?”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the term doesn’t also have its connotations. I remember people insisting with vigor that Pokemon Go wasn’t a fad because look, it’s still running after a few months! And it’s making money! And it has news about it! Clearly, everything is going just fine, it’s going to be a huge thing forever.

Fast forward to now, when the game is still making money, but it’s also… well, just not that huge a deal. I was part of a decided minority playing the game while at the Final Fantasy XIV fan festival, and while the overlap between audiences isn’t complete, there’s definitely a fair slice of similar targets. Especially since it took place in a venue covered in Pokestops.

I'M A FOOTBALL STAR, I'M POPULAR

In other words, we tend to associate “fad” with “failure,” but that’s not always the case. The boy band explosion of the late 90s and early aughts was definitely a fad, but most of those acts (or the labels responsible for them, to be fair) made a lot of money before the fad died off. Beatlemania was a fad, but you know, I hear the band behind that fad did pretty well for itself afterwards. The reality show Survivor was a fad, too – remember when everyone was watching it? When everyone had an opinion about the show and its later seasons, even if it was just that Survivor was dumb?

But the fad went away, and the show was canceled in… never. It has a 38th season kicking off in February. It’s just no longer the big thing, and you don’t have other channels rushing to get their own unique brand of Survivor spinoffs out the door.

The problem with fads is that they’re things catapulted into the public consciousness in a huge way for a short span of time, and since they then fall out of the consciousness we tend to think that we stopped hearing about them because they stopped existing. But Survivor didn’t stop existing; it just stopped mattering to anyone who wasn’t a Survivor fan.

This, I think, is part of why we have a problem thinking about fads when it comes to online games. We think of fads as being very short-lived things when they are, really, more often a flash in a much longer lifecycle. They’re moments when a game dominates everyone’s thinking for a little while, and then it just… doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that it necessarily shuts down; it just means the fad ends.

It’s not hard to see what tends to land a game in that fad space, either. Something that’s accessible and approachable for a wider audience, with a lower barrier to entry and the possibility to reinforce social bonds. It’s not stuff that’s targeting kids, usually, but it’s stuff that you aren’t upset to learn your kids like. Something where you can create a culture focused around it regardless of any qualities of the thing in itself, in other words.

And this fad can end any time now, I'm not going to lie.

Pokemon was a fad itself when it first hit the scene. It relied on having a Game Boy (which were dirt-cheap at the time) and thus was portable, easy to share, and easy to talk about. As time went by, though, the fad faded. That didn’t mean that merchandise stopped getting made or that games stopped coming out or that everyone forgot it existed; it just meant that you no longer had everyone playing Pokemon Red or you had people explaining their deep philosophical objection to the game.

Remember the thinkpieces in magazines about the franchise and how it was alternately wonderful or destroying the youth of the nation? You can find-replace a lot of the articles today about Fortnite and you’ll basically recreate them. Or you can look for articles about World of Warcraft, or maybe even about pogs. Remember pogs? Whatever happened to pogs?

The reason I’m nudging at Overwatch specifically here is that yes, the game definitely had some time in the sun. It has LEGO sets out now! But it’s not making as much money as a game, and the thing is that for those sets to keep making money, it would need to be able to transition from a game to a property that covers a lot of ground. My gut instinct is that for all its ubiquity, the star is fading, and it’s going to start humming along more quietly for a while.

That doesn’t make it a failure, nor does it mean that this is the absolute automatic course of the game’s future. For all I know it could get a second wind, or another new hero will be just what everyone wants, or it’ll get some single-player spinoff or an animated series that suddenly turns Overwatch into a whole brand. But it seems like the sudden surge has passed, and now we’re into the denouement for the fad. Whether or not it has a future when the fad fades is for future speculation.

I do think, however, that we need to think more critically about what fads look like in terms of the online gaming space. A game can make a lot of money and still be a fad; in fact, with online gaming being what it is, that’s almost a prerequisite. And while I don’t think we as an audience need to buoy enormous companies who assume that this fad is a tentpole forever and ever (they can deal with the ruins they created for themselves), we do need to realize that fads aren’t games that have a brief splash and then shut down after less than a year. Fads are games that flash into being huge and then darken over time.

And after they’ve faded, we need to be ready to talk about them as fads instead of acting like it’s a huge surprise that this thing with huge crossover appeal suddenly stopped being the biggest thing ever. Possibly with its own line of branded slap bracelets.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
ZeusBojangles
Reader
ZeusBojangles

Nothing is less superficial than slap bracelets…which I would still totally wear if I knew where to find one

Veldara
Reader
Veldara
Reader
James Balmer

Did you really call Pokemon a fad?

Pokemon is the highest grossing media franchise EVER (beats Star Wars, Harry Potter, Marvel, Mario etc.) and it has been a staple of gaming/card gaming for twenty years and will continue to be so.

Pokemon Let’s Go has been a tremendous success in 2018, as is every new Pokemon game, and it pushed people to buy the Switch. And Detective Pikachu become one of the most watched movie trailer of 2018 – even though it only came out in November (I think?)

Yes, Pokemon isn’t as popular as it was at its peak, but its still more popular than any other gaming related media franchise right now. If your definition of the word fad means something becomes slightly less popular – then absolutely everything is a fad – Harry Potter, Star Wars, PC’s, Consoles, Books etc.

Pokemon GO is a fad, but calling the franchise a fad is just ridiculous. Fortnite MIGHT be a fad, but currently because of incredible popularity being maintained it can’t hold the title of a fad, just yet (Unless of course you’re psychic, in which case please tell me the next big fad so I can invest in it.)

Things I would personally call fads are – Tamagochis, Furbies, M. Night. Shamylam, Sonic, Psy, Marbles, Social Media Challenges etc. You know – things that were crazy popular for about five minutes.

Pokemon is not a fad.

Reader
James Balmer

P.S I have multiple Pokemon tattoos

Reader
Drago

Overwatch is a great game but with a toxic community, even in none ranked you get people telling you what to play and shouting your a noob ect and Blizzard have done little to address the problem. Hell it’s even worse than LOL and that’s saying something.

Reader
tiltowait

I mute/block people at the first example of toxic behaivor. Makes the game quite civil. Trolls can only troll if you listen to them.

PurpleCopper
Reader
PurpleCopper

I blame Fortnite for Overwatch’s declining revenue.

Reader
Dankey Kang

Overwatch has always been a poor mans TF2 propped up by ActiBlizzs astronimical marketting budget as far as I’m concerned. No community maps, custom sounds, custom sprays etc… Everything has been designed so that Blizz have total control over what players see/do rather than the players making the game theirs. My best TF2 moments were easily the custom maps and game modes on wacky servers; rocket jump maps which were basically platforming levels, minecraft style push cart maps, or even just maps which were full of memes like the mario kart ones. I was really hoping Overwatch was going to be like that when I first played it, to my horror I don’t even think there was a lobby browser, let alone any form of game customisation.

Oh well. If overwatch did one good thing it’s reminding me of the TF2 glory days, cheers Blizzard!

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Armsbend

Blizzard probably didn’t care for goatse sprays in their game like the shit for brains man-child developers at Valve jack off to. What a shame.

Reader
Dankey Kang

Show us on the doll where Valve touched you.

Reader
Bruno Brito

To be fair, most of Valve’s TF2 development comes from the community. It’s laughable that we pretend TF2 is in a good state when it isn’t. Valve completely neglects it.

Valve is also a terrible company. Kinda like Blizzard. Overwatch may be way more limited and less skill based than TF2, for sure, but it is also WAY MORE polished, with less issues overall and more tight/responsive gameplay.

Reader
Dankey Kang

By today’s standards TF2 is very dated, as a matter of fact it actually looks worse now than it did at release which I find extremely bizarre. Then again, TF2 is built on the 2004 Half Life 2 engine (source) and is over 11 years old now so it’s a wonder it still gets any official support at all.

Overwatch is only two years old and while no one would doubt that the production values are higher, the engine is more modern and the degree of polish is better (something that Blizzard are famous for) it just feels like one step forward and two steps back. More classes but with less depth, no custom maps and rulesets, less than half the players per map. (12 v 32) Play of the game was a great addition to the genre, but even that was just Mercy pressing q 80% of the time. I understand that they’re trying to make it as family friendly and e-sporty as possible but the class limitations and ‘press q to win’ make it more of a party game than an actual competitive game.

It’s the community and their projects that keep TF2 on life support; given that overwatch doesn’t really even have that, I find it difficult to imagine people talking about it 9 years from now.

Reader
Bruno Brito

It’s the community and their projects that keep TF2 on life support; given that overwatch doesn’t really even have that, I find it difficult to imagine people talking about it 9 years from now.

Here’s the point: It’s not just that. Even the fucking company now when it does updates, it takes a shitload of times, and it’s mostly community maps and cosmetics. Valve has more than 5k hours of free labor put in their workshop, which is one of the most bullshit predatory models i’ve ever seen.

Valve deserves NOTHING for keeping TF2 alive, when it’s the entire community that holds it together.

But i do agree that OW doesn’t have that. Blizzard is incapable of being a hands-off developer, so their games die when they so desire.

Reader
McGuffn

A quibble: Overwatch was never the biggest thing ever. It was a big thing though.
You know what’s a fad? Books. And running water.
And Alf killed pogs.

Reader
Bryan Correll

I understood that reference!

Reader
Axetwin .

Fads have nothing to do with the money they make. It’s all about how quickly it becomes popular and how even quicker it falls out of the spotlight. The Pokemon franchise as a whole is not a fad. Pokemon GO! specifically was, because it enjoyed a couple months of super popularity, then faded away in the span of a week.

I would argue that something that remains super popular for over 2 years, and then starts to experience a slow fall in its popularity is not a fad. Overwatch didn’t invent the class based arena shooter, nor did it popularize it, nor will it be the last. So I fail to see how this one game in an already popular genre could be looked at, as a fad.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron
Ashfyn Ninegold

Can we please designate Battle Royals a fad?

The quicker it passes, the better.

April-Rain
Reader
Kickstarter Donor
April-Rain

I was interested in Overwatch but never bought it as I was to upset at it previously being titan and it getting canned, I had high hopes for project titan.

Then the league peaked my interest again till I saw London Spitfire who went on to win were in-fact all Korean, further inspection of other teams just showed it for what it was and that killed dead any interest in Overwatch I ever had, it was just so false and fake.

Being in the UK I wanted to spend time on the weekends with some popcorn and watch it, but how do you route for your local team when its all foreign players from the other side of the world.

Reader
Dennis Heffernan

I always thought of Overwatch as a tremendous waste of material. It should have been an MMO. Instead they’ve got a metric ton of story material crammed into a medium utterly unsuited to telling stories.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Armsbend

Kinda. Remember though things like Street Fighter used to have endlessly detailed backstories and lore associated with it. I suppose that game was probably the first to do it right. Create a hook > then make people care about the characters. they likely keep coming to feed at the trough after that.

camren_rooke
Reader
camren_rooke

MAYBE….now that they have established an IP for these characters they’ll make an mmo from them.

Reader
Bruno Brito

It would be a mediocre MMO.