Novelty-watch: A plea to Developers
Novelty-watch: A plea to Developers
Overwatch, Blizzard’s newest IP, is the new big thing on the esports horizon. Blizzard has laid out some fantastic framework to support its new “Overwatch League”, giving players the chance to make it as a professional. Though, there are some questions that arrive with such a new title, and little ground for this Esport to stand on.
Are developers balancing the game, or adding “novelty”? Do we, as consumers of Esports, enjoy more or less developer interaction with the game? None of these question carry any ill intent or bias, but we see developers of titles in Esports divided in the style in which they modify their games. Novelty is defined as a quality of being new, unusual, or original. Does content lose its novelty, yes. Its remedied with more content. This is a vicious cycle that gaming has lead itself down, and it affects Esports more than people care to comment on. It is something that I can’t claim to have an solution for, and I don’t think developers do either. Is this an inherently negative idea? Not at all, but the topic is not stressed enough when we look at “Esports” as a whole idea.
When does a game we all share passion for, lose its novelty? How many patches do we go through, before we lost track of where we started from? These are some of the questions that Esports biggest titles face.
Overwatch League logo (Image courtesy of Blizzard)
Back to the Future
Let's take a trip back to 2001, Nintendo just released the sequel to the all star party game, Super Smash Bros. This game would eventually find its way to esports, now being played across the world.
Tournaments are held in Las Vegas. People have made a living in small, fledgling esports that have not seen developer support in 10+ years. Starcraft: Brood War made its mark as a “father” of esports and had little to no patches involved. It left a 15 year mark on the competitive gaming scene, with little to no support from Blizzard.
Valve, developers of Counter Strike and Dota 2, are known for their “hands off” approach to their games. Bungie, the creators of Halo, are pivotal in esports as we know it today. Major League Gaming (MLG) was the house that Halo built. MLG is synonymous with competitive gaming, now hosting CS:GO majors and large Call of Duty tournaments. But even Master Chief didn’t see a ton of support. Bungie did add a competitive playlist to their sequel, Halo 2, but nothing more. These are some prime examples of esports that thrived in pure competition alone to make them successful. On the other hand, some developers have taken a very different approach to their games on the competitive front.
One of the leading Esports currently is League of Legends. Riot Games’ flagship title has led the market in a big way, but is frequent patches and dramatic content changes the reason why people are starting to check out early? The response is echoed in the many Reddit comments and Youtube videos: “It isn't the same as it used to be”. Something we all thought Riot had figured out, may be the one thing that topples the giant. Reverting the “lane-swap” meta, back to the original “standard lane” set-ups could be a side effect of this. Riot had it made, or so we thought.
They had figured out the perfect balance. Simple changes every year made the game “fresh” which seemingly made the game more and more popular. With the same ideology, we now come to a point where League of Legends is plateauing. Is it the constant updates and changes that Riot does that is driving people away? I am inclined to say yes. Having an esport that is constantly supported through its life span is a first of its time. It could very well be an awkward age of esports moving forward.
(Image courtesy of of ESL Flickr)
Games for Games’ Sake
It's an odd occurrence that games are being engineered as esports. On a conceptual level, games are primarily used as an entertainment source. Developers taking an interest in esports is amazing, but the fanatical noticed that new triple A games has to be tailored for an esports scene, is bizarre and bad for everyone in the scene.
Having developers artificially prop up their games as esports is not a new idea. Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm, for example, came out of the gate with esports in mind. Trying to muscle in on an already flooded market of the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games, they pumped in a ton of money into collegiate esports and full-fledged major professional tournaments as well. Heroes of the Storm has taken a bit for the game itself to grow, and is now seeing some success with increased viewership and more and more professional teams moving into the scene.
The patience that Blizzard has with their games is paramount. One of their other titles, World of Warcraft, just emerged out of the delta that was their last expansion, which marked the lowest subscriber count in the history of the hugely popular MMORPG. What is odd with developers is how frequent updates to their games are. If your game is well built and fundamentally sound, why do you need numerous redesigns and balance changes? What happened to “it's done when it’s done”? The more we dive into this notion of “added novelty” the more we see developers adding “fluff” to their game to constantly appease the players want to have new and innovative content.
An Open Letter
Dear Game Devs: the reason why the game is successful as a competitive game, is because you made it correctly. Looking to the past, games that are easy to pick up, but have skill ceilings miles high make up a large majority of some of the oldest
Esports titles. Halo 2, Smash Bros., Counter Strike 1.6, all are easy to understand on a basic level. Ask someone to “waveshine, bunnyhop, BXR”, or “parry”, most people would raise an eyebrow and question if you were speaking English. These are small “exploits” found as little nuggets of gold in the coding that lets players edge out their opponents, ranging from simple button combos, to a skill so complex that most players overlook it entirely on the basis of “it’s too hard”. Again, How many patches do we go through before we lose track of where we started from? Players do and will love change, but after so many patches and content updates, the game loses the flair and polish it once had. The game you fell in love with a year ago is nowhere near the same game.
Dear Game Devs: let your games run wild, but help the community grow with featuring some of the grassroots storylines that arise. Modern Esports would look completely different if we all know about the “5 Gods of Melee”, “TaekBangLeeSsang”, or “Final Boss”.
Help them grow something that you both have in common; a love for a game. Don’t artificially inflate a game with constant large scale changes to make a game seem “fresh” and “fun”.
Do not let history repeat itself; games like Overwatch need to experience growing pains. Let players be creative before immediately consoling the player base when something seemingly “goes wrong”. Let players innovate; let them find small fixes themselves.
Dear Game Devs: history should not dictate exactly how you operate, but it is a tool that you use to create or alter your opinions of games. We have to remember all of our history, as competitive games moving forward. From shooters to fighting games, they all share a common history. Esports is still young, as a community, let’s make this a talking point moving forward on competitive gaming. The idea of novelty wearing thin, is a concern. The addition of “big content updates” may be the only solution we have right now, but it should not be leaned on. Watering down your game with constant updates and content patches, could be driving people away.
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Images courtesy of Blizzard, RedBull, ESL and Riot Flickr page.