Everyone knows Overwatch. If you haven’t played it, you’ve seen it somewhere, in an advertisement, or an incredibly well animated short. The game rose to meteoric fame, not least because of its background. Overwatch is the game company Blizzard’s first new IP since 1998’s Starcraft. If you haven’t heard of Blizzard, they’ve made a few titles such as World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm. It is safe to say that they’re a big deal in the gaming community and because of this when they announced the team shooter Overwatch their dedicated gaming base flocked to it. However, this isn’t the only reason that Overwatch is now worth $40 million with a huge network of players. In this article I will be addressing the reasons why Overwatch has performed so well within the gaming community.
If you’ve been anywhere in London in the past 18 months you’ll have seen billboards, buses and taxis that feature images of a small, spritely lady with ridiculously spikey hair and some bright orange leggings that couldn’t look more out of place on the battlefield if they had ‘shoot me’ written all over them. This is Tracer, or Lena Oxton, the game’s British time travelling hero (I’m just waiting for them to make a Jodie Whittaker skin). She sports a very prominent Cockney accent, a happy-go-lucky attitude and enough sex appeal to make Scarlet Johansson jealous. That sex appeal bit is important, I’ll come back to that…
In Korea, D.va is at the head of the marketing. The 19-year-old Korean StarCraft pro who flies around the map in a massive Mech, only once it’s destroyed to run around in a cat suit – once again reinforcing that sex appeal. For Japan, it’ll be Hanzo and Genji, the two ninja brothers turned against each other. One has his chest permanently on show, and one’s a cyborg. America have McCree and Soldier: 76, a literal cowboy and Rambo. Blizzard knows their audience.
Blizzard have realised the truth about diversity, one way or another – it sells units. If every country has a representation, then people from said country begin to feel more invested in their representative character. It gained a fanbase who wanted to see a game not just about macho man trying to kill some terrorists, but with characters, types of people, who are so underused in the gaming culture as a whole.
But what if you’re not a spritely, cockney English lady? What about you? Well, therein lies Blizzard’s genius. They’ve made these characters appeal in two extra ways. Firstly, short films. Every few months, though as of late they’ve been more infrequent, Blizzard releases a short film, usually centred around a character to develop their backstory. These stories are, in most cases, incredibly well told and humanise each character, allowing people to emphasise with them. Especially with the range of challenges presented in the shorts. They made people cry about a robot that doesn’t talk and turns into a minigun with a severe case of PTSD! Others focus on family divides, the concept of heroes and loneliness. Making the characters in your game relatable and giving them real struggles to fight instead of just bad guys makes them so much easier to empathise with. If people care about characters, they’ll buy copies to see more of them.
And then finally, if you haven’t been caught by any other marketing techniques, there’s Blizzard’s final play: Sex appeal. This mainly centres around five of the female characters. Widowmaker, Tracer, D.va, Mercy, and to a lesser extent, Mei. Lately, Sombra has also joined this list. These characters are shown at the peak of what is generally defined as attractive, and are subtly marketed this way. No matter what angle you try to spin a poster of Widowmaker, her basic costume features two large holes, one spanning her back and one spanning her front. For practical reasons as a sniper… obviously. There is a reason that without fail every in-game event will have at least one of these characters receive a new skin – so they can put them on the posters and sell more copies. Characters such as McCree, Genji and Hanzo are marketed in exactly the same way; they don’t rely on the appeal of a character, but just leave it there for the audience to notice.
Blizzard isn’t stupid. If the typical gaming audience are going to be complaining over an increase in diversity, give them something to distract them. Make sure your diversity focuses on the countries buying copies. There’s a reason that three of the four African characters were added after launch; Africa isn’t a gaming hotspot, so expanding the story there wasn’t a priority. Sometimes their representation isn’t the most positive, the Australian community have two extras from Mad Max to represent them, but as a whole, Blizzard created a juggernaut by embracing the diversity of the gaming community.