Overwatch’s new progression system won’t change the way you play

The Overwatch beta may be down until 2016, but that doesn’t mean the development team has remained silent through the holidays

The Overwatch beta may be down until 2016, but that doesn’t mean the development team has remained silent through the holidays. Today game director Jeff Kaplan discussed the progression system the team plans to implement during the break.

Progression is a key component for any modern game title, one of the driving factors that keep players engaged and coming back for more. In games like World of Warcraft or Diablo 3, leveling up, gaining items, and acquiring more stuff in-game. In games like League of Legends, Dota 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, many players may be there to play and get better, but a lot also want to unlock new cosmetic rewards and skins, an added bonus that keeps them coming back to a competitive title.

For Overwatch, the team has tried a few systems before figuring out the direction it wants to take.

The first one featured players unlocking different abilities for each character, kind of like a level up or talent system. The example Kaplan gave was allowing Reaper’s Wraith Form ability to fully heal him, if you earned a certain talent, or his shotguns to feature double the effective range, with a different one.

That doesn’t work for a number of reasons, but a major one was that it ruined the competitive nature of the game. Allowing players to become more powerful through progression ruined game balance and didn’t afford a fair experience for all players, which is key for a game like Overwatch.

Then they tried a system similar to Blizzard’s battle arena game, Heroes of the Storm, where each individual hero has a level that unlocks cosmetic rewards. But in a game like Overwatch, where switching to the right hero for a certain situation is not only encouraged, but a key tenet of the design philosophy, that cause issues. The problem? People played the wrong hero for the situation simply because they wanted to level up that hero to gain his cosmetic item.

“The system was encouraging the wrong behavior in a game that’s about fluid team composition and hero swapping,” Kaplan said. “A system that overly rewarded you for sticking on one character was just bad and wrong.”

So Overwatch will settle on something different. Kaplan says the team will test specifics during the break, but progression in Overwatch will feature unlocking cosmetic rewards, some of which have already been data mined by enterprising fans, like these in-game sprays on Overpwn.

Some Blizzard games, like World of WarCraft and Diablo, are essentially about progression. But unless the game is inherently about progression, you don’t want to focus players on it. Overwatch is not about progression, Kaplan says. Progression a way for the game to thank you for investing time, not the reason why people invest it. “Your motivation for playing Overwatch should be that it’s a fun, competitive, multiplayer shooter, not that you’re trying to earn a bunch of items,” he said.

That’s a relief for esports fans, many who worried that Overwatch might go the way of some other Blizzard titles and sacrifice the sanctity of a competitive experience to grab players with the type of progression that gets in the way.

Image via Overwatch