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Jeff Kaplan Reddit Q&A Roundup

March 13th, 2017Jeremie

After an AMA Request thread appeared on Reddit on Friday, Jeff Kaplan has appeared to answer many questions that the community asked. We've rounded up many of the questions and answers listed in the thread. We've highlighted some interested points below though.

  • Eichenwalde will have one more round of changes coming to the first choke to try to achieve a 50/50 attack/defense win rate.
  • A documentary or video was hinted at that shows how a hero is created.
  • Lucio is being looked at. He feels like a "must have" but doesn't feel super impactful to play. Changes might make it to PTR. 

General

How much presence do you personally have on /r/overwatch and the other overwatch subreddits? Are you a frequent lurker, or do you just pop in once in a blue moon?

I read this subreddit all day long, on and off, from when I take my dogs out in the morning till when I take them out at night.

I also check /r/Competitiveoverwatch/, /r/OverwatchUniversity/ and /r/ImaginaryOverwatch/

I also like sites like MasterOverwatch, Overbuff, Oversumo etc... I just wish we could provide them with more complete stats as I think their data is skewed by the high end players who are more likely to frequent those sites. They are still fun to read and look at though.

Do you think Overwatch will ever get any attention to it's colorblind mode?

I hope we can spend more time on Color Blind mode. We too want it to be better. We were pretty happy to get something in in the first place. It's so hard for us because we have so many things we are excited to work on but we have to prioritize each feature against one another.

What kind of cool game analytics is there that goes on behind the scenes? Does blizzard look at things like common people who group together and other big data ideas?

We have an entire Business Intelligence group here at Blizzard -- and they are amazing. I know the name sounds scary and corporate. But in addition to providing our business guys with analytics, they work with the design team very closely to look at everything: heroes, maps, matchmaking, progression items (unlocks), queue times, game mode popularity, trends etc.

The best part about the BI group is they are hardcore players of the game. We often use ourselves as guinea pigs for analysis or testing... we'll look up our accounts and see what's going on. It's a lot of fun to look at the data but you also need to have an idea of why you're looking at it and what are you trying to accomplish with it.

For example, we try to keep all maps balanced as closely to a 50/50 win rate as possible. Eichenwalde has never achieved 50/50... but players love the map. We made changes to the door... and we have one more round of changes coming (to the first choke)... these are largely driven by the stats showing us the imbalance. But left to our own feelings, we love the map and feel like it's one of our best.

Why doesn't Blizzard provide more complete stats? Is it a philosophical design issue (not wanting to give users too much info), that blizzard itself doesn't have many of the stats, or that there simply aren't systems yet built to properly share that data (since programming a system to share stats might be low on priorities)?

Our stats aren't 100% reliable and up to date -- not at the point that we would feel comfortable making them public facing. We're always working to polish and improve them. We'll keep looking for ways to share more information. But we also want to be careful because not everyone can be objective when it comes to looking at stats. For example, there will always be a most picked and least picked hero and that doesn't mean the game is broken.

Coming from shooters growing up I never really had to deal with "meta" and changes. I understand why its necessary, but for the most part, shooters were shooters - There wasn't a lot of drastic changes that took place that changed how the game played. Especially on a regular basis. The core gameplay came from the skill of the players and not really the guns, or in Overwatch's stance, the Hero's.

I believe the meta will always evolve. Even if we don't make changes.

The community will get grumpy when the meta changes. The community will get grumpy when the meta doesn't change. Such is life.

Overwatch Development

Where do you see OW in a few years? I'm guessing releasing too many heroes would be overwhelming for new players, even though people always want more.

I've always thought of Overwatch in terms of Crawl, Walk, Run -- a development philosophy that our CEO, Mike Morhaime, preached to all of us. I see OW as being in the "crawl" state right now. We have so much more we want to do -- beyond just the game you're playing right now. We really do want to create a Blizzard universe that is worthy of standing alongside Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo.

The more we get into the development of this incarnation of OW, the more I think that having too many heroes too quickly will actually hurt the game. I want to make sure that every hero in the game gets the love and attention it deserves -- from balance, to story to skins and art. Our business model does not demand constant hero releases. I want us to avoid homogenizing or undoing heroes by releasing constant new ones. I think we need to find a pace where we can add new heroes to keep the game fresh -- both in terms of gameplay as well as story -- but also not hurt the existing world we're trying to build here.

How did the idea for Overwatch originally come about?

We were working on a game that got cancelled. We had 6 weeks to pitch new game ideas to the studio. If we didn't come up with something compelling, our team was going to be redistributed to work on other projects (WoW, HS, HotS, D3 etc). Arnold Tsang was drawing these amazing characters. And during some of our game idea sessions Geoff Goodman was pitching really cool class ideas for a class-based MMO. We merged these concepts into what was to become Overwatch.

What stories do you have that you can share from the initial development of Overwatch?

The first hero we implemented was Tracer. We did not have any animations or gun models. So she shot laser beams from her eyes.

Wasn't Tracer a character from the game that was cancelled? That game has a lot of history and was in development for a very long time. Wasn't it 10 years? While it's disappointing to see most of those ideas go, I think Overwatch definitely was worth the wait and development time.

Titan was started around 2007. I just remember we were working on The Burning Crusade at the time. It was in development until May of 2013.

Titan was a class-based Shooter/MMO and one of the classes was called the Jumper. The Jumper wasn't a specific character but rather an avatar (like warrior in WoW). Most of the concepts of the Jumper were male... we did some female ones as well. The playble version in the game was male.

Blink, Recall and Pulse bomb were all designed for the Jumper... as well as dual wielding machine pistols (at the time I was playing tons of CoD: MW2 and my loadout was M16 primary/ G18s secondary... the Jumper guns were my G18s)

But because Titan was an MMO the Jumper started getting tons of progression abilities... you know covering a whole level up system... so the jumper got shotguns, and knockbacks etc... it was very cluttered and confused.

When we simplified for OW, we chose only the abilities that worked well together and then created a HERO rather than a class... Tracer had a personality, an origin etc.. That's what made her work.

Contrary to popular belief, most of the heroes in OW were not in Titan.

Tracer had elements of the Jumper Reaper was Reaper (he did have a crossbow at one point in Titan) Widowmaker evolved from a class called the Ranger Bastion also evolved from the Ranger Soldier 76 evolved from the Ranger Symmetra and Torbjorn evolved from the Architect Reinhardt evolved from the Juggernaut, although he is completely different... just the idea of "big guy with shield" is all that stuck Genji/Hanzo evolved from the Assassin

Can you talk about the hero development, like their old abilities, Geoff said Sombra could hack the payload/points, Torbjorn doing friendly fire, etc, there's more excluited abilities for any other hero?

The hero who had the most changes was Bastion. We used to tease that Bastion had the "ultimate of the week"... He had grenades, he had a remote mine, he could shoot through walls... yes BASTION COULD SHOOT THROUGH WALLS... he had an artillery volley... we just never could get it right. We were really pleased with the tank though. Transforming into another form really fit the character. It was way more work than any of the other abilities but it was worth it.

When you were developing Overwatch, did you imagine it would earn Game of the Year less than one year after release? How did it feel when you found out it won?

We make games to make players happy... not to win awards. With that said, I was extremely happy for my team that they were recognized. They were so loyal and dedicated... and they worked so hard. It made me feel really good that they received some recognition for their efforts.

How the idea of making a console version of a FPS (and from Blizzard, which is mainly familiar with PC kind of games) like Overwatch came up and how hard was to make this version?

From day 1 we wanted to be on consoles. We designed the game to be PC and console from the very start. The funny part was, we did not have a signed contract with Sony or Microsoft until very late in the process (right before we finally announced we'd be on console -- Blizzcon 2015)... but we'd been working on it since 2013.

We enjoy the challenge of being on 3 platforms. It's not too hard from a tech or design standpoint -- we're the type of people who enjoy that type of work. The thing that's been hardest for me to adapt to is not being able to release stuff or change stuff as frequently as we could on WoW (and still keep all 3 platforms releasing on the same schedule).

For example, we're still working on getting reporting working on consoles. It's coming... but not as fast as we would like.

Heroes

What does the full design process of creating a new character look like, from start to finish? Do you start with a character in mind and build mechanics around that character, or do you build mechanics and look for a character they would fit? at what point do you start doing art and voiceacting for a character, and what does that process look like?

The initial idea comes from either Art, Game Design or Story. Winston was an awesome picture that Arn drew. Orisa was a design on paper that Geoff Goodman made. 76 was a character that Metzen wrote for a comic back in the day.

We then do a LOT of prototyping. Geoff, Scott or Mike will use existing art assets or placeholder assets to "prove" out the character. For Ana, we used a variation of Widowmaker to test her out. One of our Technical Artists made a hasty hood to put on Widow to help differentiate the silhouette (because things got confusing in playtests with Widow and Ana in play). After we've played enough, we commit to the concept. So many people are involved in making the hero. Tech Art, Rigging, Modeling, Concept Art, VFX, Sound, Engineering, animation, UI... and of course GERSH -- master of all heroes -- our hero producer who is in fact a hero. The last things to come in are usually sound and VFX. We'll often play the heroes for months with temp VO -- which can be funny.

We would love to see a beginning to release documentary of how you guys create a hero. The temp audio and video for it, the iterations it goes through for abilities, etc. It would give people a chance to see everyone on your team and how a character comes together from a design side.

We have something for you!

You guys obviously have a lot more background information on heroes when it comes to their use in game and such, when you're looking at that information, how do you all decide which aspects of the characters to nerf/buff?

I always describe our approach as the "triangle". I feel like there are 3 key factors that guide us: The players, statistics and... us... our own feelings as players.

It's very rare that all 3 of those factors align. Often, we have to ignore one or two and make a change. I think the "overhaul" to Symmetra was a good example. According to the stats, she was fine. But both the players and we agreed that she felt underwhelming. We made changes to make her more fun to play in spite of that stats telling us that she was fine. Honestly, the same thing for Bastion recently.

We play the game A LOT. We play on live all the time. And we play internal builds of the game constantly. We're always trying big changes to heroes internally... lots of these never see the light of day... or PTR.

Honestly, we can't win on the PTR. If we make big changes and they go live, we get heat for it. If we make big changes and pull them back, we get heat for it. We have to just trust our own instincts at this point and own our mistakes when they happen.

The play behavior on the PTR is not super helpful for balancing. Average playtime of those who log in is usually around 16 minutes. Most of the time, someone logs in, wants to try the "changed" hero and logs out. People don't play traditional comps -- they just want to try changed heroes. If they don't get the hero, they leave the match. You have people who have less than 20 minutes play time on a hero testing that hero on the PTR and then giving feedback based off of 1 match.

Historically, the balance feedback has been very unreliable from the PTR. It's still good to hear how people react and what their perception is. But the reality of "quality matches" doesn't happen too often in a test environment.

Internally, we have a "competitive" playtest that's helpful to get good feedback from Diamond+ players who work here. We're also very fortunate that the Pro Players will often invite us to watch scrims on the PTR.

None of this is perfect... but we try hard to listen to feedback and keep the game balanced.

When will we see some McCree Buffs?

This is just me speaking -- the design group collective might feel differently -- but I don't think McCree is wildly underpowered. McCree is very effective and is somewhat a victim of the meta as it ebbs and flows... not unlike Pharah. That doesn't mean we won't keep an eye on him or consider changes. But he's a hero who can very rapidly swing in the wrong direction if we're not careful.

.When someone asks you about the next unreleased hero, what's your favorite response to strategically avoid answering the question?

Quien es Sombra?

Who is your favorite hero?

This is going to sound canned but I fall in love with a different hero each week. I think that's one of my favorite parts about OW. I totally get "maining" and I have heroes I play more than others... but I'm constantly discovering new things about different heroes on different maps... and then of course there is their backstories etc...

Also, every time Hanamura comes up I will only play Hanzo on defense. Because... roleplay... meet me on the porch, Genji

Competitive

I'm wondering if the team has any plans to put in more rewards for competitive points, other than the golden weapons

We've been discussing it. We have some cool ideas. I am torn though. Part of me thinks it is a big mistake putting more rewards into competitive play. I really think the people playing in that system should be there because they care about competitive competition. I am nervous about attracting people to the system with too many rewards.

Do you like playing competitive Overwatch, and what rank range are you in? 1000-2000, 2000-3000, 3000+? Do you hope that players become 'stronger' at the game, or would you rather they stayed predictable?

I love playing all aspects of OW except for Play vs. AI. We want to evolve Play vs. AI but it's not a focus and it has a long way to go.

I like competitive a lot. I am a platinum player. I think I could get diamond (maybe?) if I played comp more. I tend to place at the start of a season and play 25-50 games past that and then go back to QP/Arcade. I've been playing a decent amount this season. I placed around 2700.

Most comp games are fun because people play smarter, tend to care more and cooperate. I really wish people wouldn't tilt so hard in team chat though. I understand how frustrating the game can be when things aren't going your way, but I wish people would stop for a second and not say that mean thing in team chat... it doesn't do anyone any good. Everyone always looks at us to solve the toxicity problem with some magical game design fix (one that has not yet been invented by any online game thus far)... anonymity does weird things to humanity. I fear for the zombie apocalypse.

Is there a point at which the stats on their own become significant enough to show something needs to change?

The Eichenwalde balance stats warranted a change. Hero pick rates are tricky. Sometimes they warrant change.

Right now we're trying some stuff with Lucio. We feel like a lot of players feel like he is a "must have" in comps but he also doesn't feel super impactful to play. We're trying some ideas to make him more engaging to play while making him a little less obvious/must pick. We'll see if those changes make it to the PTR.

One tricky thing is that player perception of "must pick" doesn't match actual behavior. I sometimes look at the hero pick stats and they clearly don't match the "hero meta report" stats. Then players tell me to throw out my stats and look at only diamond and higher in competitive play only. Well, at that point, I'm not sure players realize what a small percentage of the player base they are asking me to make a decision based on. Obviously, we are in the process of toning Ana down right now. But we're also not out to see her never get played either. Player reaction is often to sledgehammer everything.

Blizzard

Besides Overwatch, what are some of your favorite projects that you've worked on in the past?

Vanilla WoW holds a special place in my heart. I was so naive about game development. I really loved the team. The game world was so much fun to create.

What is your favorite part of working with Blizzard?

I love the people I work with -- truly love. They are amazingly smart and talented. I learn so much every day. I love being surrounded by people who are 100% driven and dedicated towards their passion. I feel incredibly lucky to work here.

Why did you stop working on WoW? Did the idea of project Titan seem more appealing, or did you simply want to start working on another project?

Personally, I was feeling very fatigued after 6.5 years of working on WoW. Also, Titan was seen as a very big challenge -- to try to make a game that could live up to WoW's legacy and perhaps surpass it. It failed of course.. haha.

I miss working on Warcraft dearly. And I miss Team 2 dearly -- they are amazing people.

Other

Apart from Overwatch, what is your favorite game to play?

Right now? Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It's a masterpiece.

What wrestling techniques do you prefer to use on the other developers when there are disagreements?

Death? No but seriously... When people don't agree -- which is always -- there is usually a good reason. We're all better off when we try to understand where the other person is coming from before forcing our will.

What are your most and least favorite fan creations?

I love all of it. The art, the cosplay, the songs, the videos.

Jeff! What is your favorite Map?

I love Hanamura. I know the players don't. But I love that map.

I love Eichenwalde and Dorado for the height differences and flanking routes.

I love Nepal because of the hero mix required to successfully play all 3 points -- same with Lijiang really.

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