Gather ’round the campfire, children, as I tell you of a lost age so different from our own; a golden era, in which a man would walk to a video game store, shell out sixty bucks, and return home with a good game, complete in its realization and rich in content. In those halcyon years, we knew not of Day-One Patches, DLC Passes or Early Access Titles. Those were simple, honest times, and we were fools to not see the looming spectre of the dark side of gaming’s increasing popularity.
It is now the year 2016, and we must force ourselves to challenge and stretch our perception of the value of entertainment in order to enjoy so-called gaming blockbusters — titles that are broken and lackluster coming out of the gate — of which we would be so lucky to shell out sixty dollars for. Gone are the likes of Halo 2, Knights of the Old Republic and Resident Evil 4, which we could compare to a delicious, topping stuffed cheeseburger deluxe that one could purchase from a reputable food joint. It started innocently enough: This street vendor who has sold you quality, unique sammitches for years — lets call him Infinity Ward — has gained fame and success, and earned himself the means to build himself a restaurant. Now, though, he allows you to pay extra to add another patty, and make a double-decker burger, or perhaps purchase some bacon to accent your order. This is fine with you, after all, since you really loved the original burger, so shouldn’t you be enthralled that there is even more burger for you to enjoy? So you are happy with these “additions”.
Years pass by and Mr. Ward has expanded from one restaurant to a chain of several. You realize when you approach the counter one day that the prices have steadily risen, and it now costs just as much to get a plain, topping-less hamburger as it did to get a deluxe back when the restaurant was only a humble street truck. This irritates you because you *want* a fully decked out sandwich but don’t want to pay extra for what used to already come with the meal. But, it’s still a pretty good burger, and after all, shouldn’t a premium product demand premium prices? Good for Infinity Ward, to have worked so hard for so long making delicious food, and to now have gained so much demand that he can charge this much for his craft. This is what you tell yourself as your wallet gets lighter, and you find yourself unable to eat these burgers as often as you used to. And is it just you, or are these burgers slightly smaller and less filling than they used to be, even with all of the extra condiments?
Even more time passes, and Ward’s restaurant chain is now a household name, driven so far by it’s success that you never have to drive further than 30 minutes to find one. Everyone knows the name of the restaurant, but no longer does its burgers possess the unique, quality reputation that they used to. In fact, they are quite mediocre now, with dozens of imitators having sprung up to distill Infinity Ward’s once burger-defining influence, each imitation burger more uninteresting than the last. Now, when you visit the restaurant, you’ll be lucky if your burger is even fully cooked, so much so that you are thoroughly impressed if isn’t pink after you bite into it. If you want a bun for your burger, it will double the price, and there exists an exhaustively extensive list of condiments — lettuce, ketchup, tomato, bacon, cheese, mayo, etc. — that you may purchase for roughly a quarter of the price of the patty by itself. If you want to have your burger more thoroughly cooked and bundled together for cheaper with the toppings, you’ll have to wait roughly two hours, but you want your burger now rather than later. So you take your patty, and try to focus on the positive aspects of the half-raw meat and savor what it does right, trying to ignore the fact it will probably give you salmonella poisoning.
You wake up one morning, sit up in bed, and think for a few minutes, realizing that this is fucking absurd. Ten years ago, you would have paid six bucks for a deluxe cheeseburger, now you pay six dollars or more for an undercooked patty. You are disillusioned with Infinity Ward and his not-burgers, and you are so sick of these not-burgers and Ward’s endless stream of competitors that you are repulsed of the idea of yet another Ward-style burger, and burgers in general. You start looking for quality food in other places, and harbor a fond nostalgia in your heart for the original, truly-Ward-style burger you ate and loved years ago. You complain to your other food-eating friends about how shitty hamburgers are nowadays, some of them agreeing with you, while the others accuse you of being an oldschool hipster and laugh you off.
The statement I’m trying to make with this obnoxious, lengthy metaphor is that games are becoming more expensive and of less quality as demand for them has gone up. This is basic economics at play here, and though I place most of the blame on the negative aspects of capitalism that has invaded the industry like a vile weed, I should also admit that this is simply how human markets work. I can’t stop triple A gaming publishers from releasing unfinished, rushed, watered down video games and overpriced DLC, and I can’t stop uneducated videogame consumers from supporting these practices with their wallets.
The purpose of this article isn’t to argue against the unscrupulous business that has ruined many a promising franchise, as I’m pretty sure most can agree at least partially with my views. Instead, I’m going to segway this rant into my main point here:
Overwatch’s astounding success, success as a game that all of my friends are still playing and talking about months after release, is primarily due to the fact that it arrived on store shelves as a deluxe cheeseburger.
People might immediately contradict me here. They’ll say that Overwatch’s remarkable successful is due to several other reasons, such as good marketing and therefore substantial hype, or because the gameplay is perfect. The visual style is fantastic, the game’s mini-movies and lore are well developed, etc, etc….these things are true, but none of this would have made as much of an impact if Overwatch had been shoved out to the public as an unfinished mess, or if it was shallow and overpriced, or both.
Overwatch shipped with 12 maps, five modes, 21 characters and a leveling-reward system. The gameplay is sandbox in nature, with each character providing an entirely different style of play, and each possessing a sophistication that must be mastered to be played well. Mastering each and every character will take you a long time, and the game doesn’t get stale simply because of how different each one of them feels in gameplay; you must adapt your strategies depending on which ones you are playing against. Maps are large and fairly complex, and you won’t find yourself getting tired of them due to the variety in their layout. I would not say Overwatch is a huge game, but it certainly has plenty of meat on it’s bones to dig into.
Overwatch is also refreshingly polished. What I mean is that it looked and ran beautifully right out of the box, and I never noticed any glitches on launch day. That’s not to say there weren’t any, but they didn’t ruin anyone’s experience like many other high-profile releases do in their first 24 hours, creating technical nightmares for the unwitting consumers. Instead, those who trusted that the game would be something they could enjoy when they booted it up were rewarded with just exactly that.
Because of its impressively smooth launch, Overwatch’s potential for success was maximized. People could play the game and enjoy all it had to offer, and they didn’t have to wait several months and pay extra money for DLC passes to do that. A couple maps and a new hero have already been added for free, even, and all future DLC is supposed to be free as well, although I’ll believe that when I see it. While some games release with a half-baked campaign and a meager amount of maps and modes, Overwatch was released as if it intended to stand on it’s own. And that by itself is what made it so special in my eyes, even more so than all of the other things the game itself does right.
It reminds me of the games of a decade ago, though not in the sense of style, or gameplay. Overwatch has no story mode, it merely sets out to be a solid multiplayer-only shooter, and does that exceedingly well. Games of this type obviously weren’t quite common back in the day, as even the popular multiplayer FPSes usually had some kind of singleplayer component. It reminds me of the games I played when I was young, because it is finished, expansive, and self contained, and doesn’t need years of patching and costly DLC content to be a great and complete videogame. When you buy Overwatch, you’re not shelling out full-price for a glorified tech demo, you’re not buying into a beta-marketed-as-an-actual-game. You’re getting what you expected to get: a good videogame that works correctly. A game like Overwatch gives me hope, hope that the rest of the industry will recognize what I see too, and follow suit when developing their games.