‘Overwatch’ and the Issue of Determining a Game’s Worth

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From Triple A titles to indies and everything in-between, no game is immune to the inevitable swarm of criticism that will rain down upon it come its release. In the age of the internet, between the comment sections on popular websites and the multiple social media platforms available at the finger tips of consumers worldwide, people are encouraged now more than ever to share their thoughts. And it’s important accept that no matter how contradictory an individual’s opinion may be when compared to your own, they are in fact entitled to their view point. I’ve ran in to many people on the internet who believe that From Software’s Souls/Borne titles do a poor job of delivering their narrative, and try as I may to convince them otherwise, more often than not they’ll stick to their initial impression, and that’s fine. But I’ve recently run into a popular opinion which I disagree with so whole-heartedly that I feel the need to provide a counter argument. From various tweets, to countless forum posts, and even reviews from prominent journalists, I’ve seen dozens of people saying that Blizzard’s Overwatch is “not worth full retail price”. Respected personalities in the gaming industry, people who have sway over the way consumers spend their money, are arguing that Overwatch provides less value per dollar than other games of the same price, and that’s simply ludicrous.

Firstly, let’s just dismiss the incredibly ignorant notion that Blizzard is trying to rip-off console gamers. Buying the basic version of Overwatch on PC will run you $40 USD, where as the Origins Edition of the game (which comes with cosmetic bonuses for both Overwatch and other Blizzard games) will cost you $60. On consoles however there is no $40 option, with the Origins Edition being the cheapest version available. People were quick to disparage Blizzard for this, but as per usual, there is valid reasoning behind their pricing structure. When a user logs into Battle.Net and buys the PC version of Overwatch, all of those funds go to Blizzard. But when a person walks into Wal-Mart and buys the game, not only does the retailer take a cut, but so does the console manufacturer, and of course there are fees to producing the physical product. If you’re interested in just how much money goes directly to the publisher when you buy a game at retail, check out this article from the LA Times. People are quick to ask  “well why can’t we buy the digital version of Overwatch (or any game for that matter) on Xbox Live or PSN for cheaper than the physical version?”, and again, there is valid reasoning for this. None of the console manufactures want to anger large retailers like the aforementioned Wal-Mart by underselling them on the digital market. If they were to sell digital versions for cheaper than physical copies, that would result in physical retailers making less sales, thus leading them to either stop selling video games, or taking a much larger cut on each sale. Blizzard could have easily charged the going rate of $60 for the base PC version, but instead they opted to give their core audience a nice discount, which is certainly appreciated, and the pricing of their console versions is completely justified by how the market operates.

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With that out of the way, lets tackle the next issue at hand: how exactly do we determine if a game is “worth” the standard price of $60 USD? According to many opinions I’ve seen, Overwatch simply doesn’t have enough modes, maps, and characters to warrant the price, especially considering the lack of a campaign. The argument is that Overwatch’s “lack of content” means users won’t get enough time out of their financial invest before the game becomes overly repetitive. Well, let’s look at another little game that came out recently, you may of heard of it, it’s called something like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Many have already proclaimed it to be the game of the year, with some calling it one of the greatest gaming experiences of all time. I have yet to see a single reviewer claim the game “isn’t worth full retail price”, yet the campaign can be completed in 12-15 hours when played at a leisurely pace. The game doesn’t beg to be replayed like Dark Souls III, nor does it have a plethora of side content like The Witcher 3. Yes, it has a multiplayer mode, but let’s be honest here, Uncharted’s multiplayer doesn’t have staying power. The Uncharted series is the epitome of one-and-done game design, as the mass majority of people who buy the game will never play it again after those initial 15 hours. And what about Doom? The resounding consensus is that the game’s multiplayer is trash, but the campaign is great. Again, a 15~ hour experience that’s getting endless praise, yet I haven’t seen a reviewer dock points off their score for “lack of value”. Meanwhile, it’s been less than 2 weeks since Overwatch’s launch, and I’ve already clocked over 20 hours on the game, never mind the dozens of hours I logged over the multiple beta tests. Overwatch by design is a game that’s meant to be infinitely replayable. The maps are fantastically laid out, all 21 characters are unique and viable, and more importantly, the core gameplay is balanced and refined to a point of near perfection. This seems like a tremendously obvious statement to me, but apparently others don’t see it that way, so I guess I need to point it out: there is not a direct correlation between the amount of modes in a game and the value that said game possesses. Simply having a checklist and putting a tick next to “campaign”, “multiplayer”, and “co-op” does not instantly make a game worth the price of admission. Just to be clear, I believe Uncharted 4 is worth $60, but at the same time Overwatch is easily worth the same price, as long as you know what you’re getting into when you make the purchase.

Next up: people comparing Overwatch to Star Wars Battlefront. Yes, at a quick glance they appear to be very similar, as they’re both multiplayer-only shooters which have both been criticized for lack of content, but beneath the surface they’re very different games. Back in October of 2015 I wrote up some thoughts on Battlefront’s open beta, and to sum it up, I felt that game didn’t have lasting appeal due to its extremely unbalanced and unrewarding gameplay. Now, just 6 months after the game’s launch, I feel my prediction has been validated. Battlefront’s community is far from dead, but its already seen a steady and steep decline. No one’s talking about the game anymore, and it’s not even on Twitch’s top 100 most viewed games. How many of your friends on XBL and PSN do you see playing Battlefront regularly? I’m going to take a guess and say none (or maybe just that one Star Wars fanatic you know). Now, I like Star Wars Battlefront, it’s a decent game, but right from the get-go it was lacking the depth a multiplayer game needs to last. And yes, Overwatch has that depth.

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People unacquainted with MOBAs may not know this, but Dota 2 only has one map, and League of Legends essentially only has one map as well. Despite that, they’ve been two of the most played games worldwide for years now, with millions of players logging in each and every day to play the same singular map, over, and over again. Why? Because the games’ core mechanics are exceptional, and there’s so much more to the games than the map or the characters that populate it. Now, I’m sure people are thinking “well those are free-to-play games, that’s why so many people play them!”, and while the non-existent entry fee may be the reason so many people start playing League and Dota 2, it certainly doesn’t explain why so many players have stuck with them. In fact, most LoL players I know have willingly thrown hundreds of dollars at the game for cosmetic items, simply because they enjoy the game so much. There are games which transcend simply being  pixels on-screen, games with tactical depth and nuanced gameplay that take them to the next level. The aforementioned MOBAs qualify, as do StarCraft, Halo 1-3, Counter-Strike, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Street Fighter, and yes, Overwatch.

Perhaps you’re not buying my explanation, perhaps you’re still stuck up on the fact that Overwatch has “only” 21 characters, 12 maps, and 4 modes, so let’s take a minor detour and look at another game for a second. This other game is multiplayer only, it has 6 unique characters, and 1 map. Millions of players the world over compete at this game yearly, matches can last between 5 minutes and 5 hours (or more!), and people have been playing it for literally hundreds of years. I’m talking about chess. There are plenty of variants of chess, but the classic game has been beloved for centuries, despite it being the same eight-by-eight grid and same pieces every time. And why is that? It’s because the game’s basic rules and concepts are exceptionally well thought out and balanced, simultaneously allowing for entry level play and high level mastery. It’s nearly impossible to become bored with the game, because there’s constant room for improvement, and never ending challenge. Calm down a second, I’m not saying Overwatch is the video game equivalent of chess, that would be insane (since Halo 2 holds that title), but what I’m saying is some games are so sophisticated and so deep that they allow for a next-level of play. Overwatch has that quality, Star Wars Battlefront does not.

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Now if little Jimmy managed to read this far, he’s probably still thinking “Well I hate multiplayer games, so Overwatch isn’t worth $60 to me!”, and that’s true for both Jimmy and anyone who shares his sentiment. But here’s the thing: ever since its initial showing, Blizzard has been very clear about what Overwatch is. They didn’t come out like Bungie and make ludicrous statements like “Destiny will have a 10 year life cycle!”, and then release a game that most people blew threw in a weekend. They didn’t pull an EA and release a full priced game along with a $50 season pass. What Blizzard did was release an extremely polished and well refined shooter that they plan to support for years to come with free characters, maps, and balancing changes when appropriate. If you bought Overwatch expecting anything other than what it is, that’s your fault and your fault alone. If you bought Overwatch and you simply don’t enjoy it for whatever reason, that’s fine, but anyone who puts a decent amount of time into the game will easily see what all the hubbub is about, and trust me, it’s worth every penny.

“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.” – Eddard Stark