Odinn

PAX East Retrospective - Odinn

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After several days of intense PAX action, I finally had a chance to sit down and write out some personal notes from the incredible experience with Blizzard at PAX East 2015.

 

 

 

 

I'll try and break this down into three segments - one for each of the games highlighted at PAX this past weekend.

 

 

 

1. Overwatch

 

Other than a couple of chances to play the game firsthand for the first time, I didn't learn much about Overwatch that isn't already out there in the wild. Devs and CMs were very happy to talk about the game's progression and some of the thematic design decisions that have been made - for example, rather than creating variants of existing characters, the developers would rather add new characters that are visually distinct and keep the clarity of role by character evident at a glance.

 

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2. Heroes of the Storm (and StarCraft!)

 

I had the privilege of spending a lot of time talking to Dustin Browder about the progress they're making on Heroes of the Storm, as well as a lot of related topics. Some of it was during the #HeroesOnly party, but I also spent a lot of time chatting with him at the Overwatch booth (while his son pinned people down as Reinhardt mercilessly!). Big takeaways:

 

- Blizzard wants absolutely no ownership of the eSports scene surrounding their games. A lot of eSports end up 'belonging' to the developers if a fiduciary relationship develops, and Blizzard would like to leave eSports in the hands of its community and all of the work that is being done there. However...

 

- The company would positively love to do more community funding (e.g. Compendium). The challenge, at this point, is twofold - one, they need to revisit the architecture of games that aren't set up for in-game transactions (StarCraft); and two, Browder in particular would prefer to see more financial support spread to non-players (casters, production, content creators, etc.). The latter is difficult, because a lot of fans want to donate specifically to the 'prize pool', but it's the third parties who need the additional revenue and support the most in many cases.

 

- Heroes of the Storm is effectively ready for an open beta, but the team is working on accelerating the pace of closed beta invitations to further stress testing on the servers first. Significant risks exist in overloading core services (authentication, etc.) if the rollout isn't smooth and well-tested, which is one of the last barriers to a fully open beta.

 

- Legacy of the Void is in multiplayer testing and looks great. The team is prepared to make aggressive changes during the beta testing window again (note: beta is likely to come out as early as next month [browder did not comment on its timing]).

 

Overall, Dustin was very enthusiastic about the state of development on both games, and especially on the future of Blizzard's eSports presence. Very exciting stuff!

 

 

 

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3. Hearthstone

 

Eric Dodds and I talked a lot about Hearthstone, but the thrust of our conversation was about the long-term strategy for the game and Blizzard's new player strategy (to maintain accessibility).

 

- A lot of internal discussion has centered around long term plans for accessibility of both content and card collection (two separate issues). Dodds notes that with the game's rapid growth, the company has to go further and further afield to get really clear perspective/data on the 'new player experience'.

 

- When I raised examples such as making older content part of the game's free-to-play core (e.g. Naxxramas), or moving some older Expert cards into the Basic set (cards unlocked by default, or by levelling classes), Dodds said those - and more - options are all on the table and being looked at. The game is still quite young, so no movement on the issue seems imminent.

 

 

 

Overall, the forward direction of all of the games - especially the quick turnaround clip on things like Overwatch moving into beta - feels really measured and effective. In tandem with the very, very positive vibe everyone has towards Blizzard's involvement in eSports, I'm very keen to see what else is coming soon from all of Blizzard's teams.

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