So in case you missed it yesterday, Overwatch 2 got unceremoniously canceled. Oh, I know, the game is still operating, but someone has already put together an edit of the initial launch trailer cut down to the things that actually made it into the sequel and it’s like a minute long. (Don’t worry, I’ll be linking it.) And the central feature that we were told at the time necessitated the shift to a new game instead of a beefy patch for the original was the mode that has now been completely excised and will not be happening at all.
While I have been saying that this was coming for ages now, I do not claim some kind of unique predicative power in this regard; even people without some inside baseball knowledge have been calling this for a while, some long before launch, even. But I do think it’s interesting how this is really peak Blizzard. Like, seriously, this just shows off so much of what this company is at this point that it merits a list-style breakdown. I’m not mad, just disappointed.
1. The whole thing was obvious from launch
So, let’s not mince words here: Your launch features demonstrate your core priorities. Yes, patching a live game is important, and there are a lot of valuable systems that get added afterwards. That statement does not mean that all your development team cares about are your launch feature; it means that your launch features show what you consider the absolute non-negotiable part of the game. And the people in charge of Overwatch 2 clearly considered the PvE a negotiable part of the game. As soon as it was cut from the launch, a lot of us knew it was never coming.
2. It demolishes already damaged trust for no reason
While there are a lot of people who do like the core loop of the game’s PvP shooting, a lot of the residual goodwill that lingered from the original game was in no small generated by the understanding that Overwatch’s lack of updates for three years was a result of the development of legitimate PvE for the sequel. The quashing of those plans, however, means that the content drought was pointless. Even if the developers are seriously just realizing now that this wasn’t going to happen, it means that the game just… stopped for little more than a business model shift. Player trust about any feature being in development is going to be nonexistent now, because they were just told not to trust developer promises.
3. The developers knew for quite a while
Of course, in order to believe that the developers just figured it out, you’d have to ignore the interview with the game director and executive producer in which they confess that the underlying development shift that resulted in this move is about a year and a half old. That makes it clear that the people in charge knew. They knew for a while. While it’s possible that the official announcement and decision hadn’t been officially handed down from on high, this was not a surprise to Blizzard and hasn’t been for some time, and well before launch it was obvious on the leadership side that at the very least the scope would be reduced.
4. …but it stayed hidden to incentivize spending
This is where I think it’s important to really look at this holistically. If you assume that a year and a half ago the leadership felt like maybe the PvE content was going to be scaled back, not canned outright, that’s a remarkably charitable reading but it’s still plausible… except for the fact that there was no communication about it. All we got were vague promises that it’s still happening. Honestly, at some point it’s coming! No talk about scope, changing plans, anything. Why would they? If they told you that it wasn’t coming, you might be… less inclined to jump into the game.
5. It misunderstands the core audience
Here’s the thing: The core audience for the originally pitched Overwatch 2 was people who broadly liked Overwatch but, well, wanted a PvE component. That’s not hard to see. Canning this mode means that the people who got drawn in just got told that they were drawn in by what are, functionally, lies. (More on that in a minute.) This has some knock-on effects, but it fundamentally shows that Blizzard read “PvE content” as an optional add-on for Overwatch and not, like, the whole reason for a sequel.
6. All it does is hurt engagement
People who had been playing Overwatch 2 based on a game mode that will never happen are now likely to stop. People who had been interested before are now not interested. All it does is promise that players will get more of the same, but “the same” is generally not seen as a good thing. Overwatch 2 has seen somewhat frosty reception, the momentary boost it offered to MAUs has already evaporated, and it seems very unlikely that anyone is going to suddenly start playing the game because it now will feature less stuff.
7. What’s left is just a collection of not-technical lies
In a strictly legal sense, nothing has been said that is literally an outright fabrication in any actionable sense. This is true. There is still some PvE content coming, so it’s all fine! And yet anyone with half an ounce of sense knows the difference. It seems clear to me that Blizzard has been very careful to avoid anything that would be legally defined as a lie or false advertising, but that doesn’t make things honest. The people in charge do not care about the spirit of what was promised, only the legally actionable side of things.
8. It shows a lack of understanding of the community
The Overwatch fan subreddit is pissed about this. That’s not a great sign. Not because every subreddit is a pure reflection of player sentiment, but because the people who are taking the time to join and post on a community forum are the people who are your most enfranchised fans. And one post I saw sums it up best: The people who just liked PvP felt like they made more progress and earned more stuff with the old business model, and the people who were looking forward to PvE were just told to go and [SIN AGAINST THEIR OWN BODIES]. People who want both? They’re getting nothing more than, again, a game that has already not been received with stellar praise.
9. …which also shows a misunderstanding of business models
So here’s some inside baseball stuff for you: Free-to-play is not a magic bullet to get more players. The free model just removes a barrier to entry. Games that successfully leverage the free-to-play model usually do so in part by being a shared space that lots of people want to explore together. They require a diverse playerbase, not an angry community where the only thing being served is a vanishingly small group of people still invested in one very specific mode of play.
In this case, that mode is the Overwatch League, which is still technically a thing. Had you forgotten about it? So has everyone else.
10. It’s just sleazy
That’s really the ultimate takeaway. Blizzard can, of course, do whatever it wants with Overwatch 2. Ridiculous rhetoric about the game “belonging to the fans” is just as nonsensical here as anywhere else. If Blizzard decides it doesn’t want to do PvE content, it doesn’t have to.
But the decision to cut it after teasing it out for this long makes it clear that this is a company that is not only sleazy but unconcerned with being seen as sleazy. It considers any impression you may have of it as immaterial so long as you’re going to buy the next thing it puts out anyway. It made the money it cared about, and now it is going to milk some diminishing returns out of a project without trying very hard.
So who’s excited for June 6th?