Blizzard has canceled a StarCraft first-person shooter, according to a report for Kotaku. I’m happy about this.
Look, as much as I love Blizzard, Starcraft has always struck me as its least appealing franchise. The whole gritty, space marine sci-fi thing just doesn’t do much for me. But more important, Kotaku notes that no one from Blizzard will be fired as a part of his project’s termination. They will instead transfer over to two other unannounced Blizzard games: Diablo IV and Overwatch 2.
Diablo IV has been all but confirmed by Blizzard as it tried to placate fans angry about the announcement of a Diablo game for mobile. But Overwatch 2 has never been a guarantee. Blizzard has been supporting Overwatch with regular updates, including adding new characters and maps, since its release in May 2016.
But Overwatch has grown stagnant, and it’s a problem that the addition of new heroes can’t help. Starting over from scratch would give Blizzard an opportunity to learn from some of the design mistakes that have hurt Overwatch’s staying power.
Overwatch needs fixed
A lot of these problems have been laid out by some of Overwatch’s biggest streamers, including Brandon “Seagull” Larned. The former pro Overwatch player has taken to playing the game less as he focuses on other titles, including Apex Legends. Last November, Seagull released a video called “The State of Overwatch” that criticized the state of the game. The video has over 2 million views.
Seagull brought up excellent points, notably how Overwatch’s reliance on overpowered Ultimate moves has hurt competition. Many Ultimates can kill multiple players with the press of a button. And you earn an Ultimate by doing damage to the enemy team. So the team that does the most damage gets Ultimates faster, giving them an advantage when they’re already ahead of the other team.
Blizzard can’t just nerf every Ultimate in Overwatch. It would be a huge chore to go through all 30 characters and rethink their abilities. It’s just a matter of making everything weaker. Some characters depend on their Ultimate more than others, like Genji and Tracer. If you weaken their Ultimates, you would have to strengthen some of their other moves. And what about support characters? How do you proportionally weaken an ability that heals everyone compared to one that kills everyone?
It’ll be easier to just start over with an Overwatch 2. Then, Blizzard could design the game with weaker Ultimates in mind, which would then encourage more thoughtful and skillful play (and fewer frustrating deaths). But making an Overwatch 2 could also help them undo some of the originals other problems, including too many abilities that stun characters.
Bringing the hype back
Most importantly for Blizzard, the launch of Overwatch 2 would be exciting. Overwatch has had so many characters and maps added since its release that each new one no longer feels like an event. But releasing a full-blown sequel would be a big deal that would likely attract most lapsed players.
On the other side, I just don’t know what would have been gained from a StarCraft first-person shooter. Kotaku reports that it would have been similar to Battlefield. Heck, even Battlefield isn’t doing that hot these days. And the Star Wars: Battlefront series already gives that capture-the-territory style of FPS a sci-fi twist.
When I reached out to Blizzard to see if they would confirm Kotaku’s report, it sent me the same statement that it gave that publication. But that Blizzard has responded with something like this instead of the typical “we don’t comment on rumors or speculation” is interesting.
We don’t generally comment on unannounced projects but we will say the following:
We always have people working on different ideas behind the scenes — including on multiple projects right now — but the reason we tend not to discuss them publicly is because anything can happen over the course of development. As has been the case at Blizzard numerous times in the past, there is always the possibility that we’ll make the decision to not move forward on a given project. Announcing something before we feel it’s ready stands the risk of creating a lot of frustration and disappointment, both for our players and us, not to mention distraction and added pressure for our development teams.
We pour our hearts and souls into this work, and as players ourselves, we know how exciting it can be to see and know with certainty that a new project is coming. Knowing that changes or disappointments can happen doesn’t make it any less painful when we have to shelve a project or when an announcement doesn’t go as planned. We always make decisions about these things, regardless of the ultimate outcome or how things might be interpreted, based on our values, what we believe makes sense for Blizzard, and what we hope our players will enjoy the most. The work that goes into these projects — whether they ship or not — is extraordinarily valuable. It often leads to great things and helps foster a culture of experimentation here.
With all that said, we’re very much looking forward to revealing other things we’re working on when the time is right.
No one would really have a right to be upset at Blizzard. It never announced this StarCraft game. And this isn’t even the first time a StarCraft shooter has been in development only to get the axe. StarCraft: Ghost was a third-person shooter that was supposed to come out back in the PlayStation 2 era. And that game actually had a formal announcement.
Besides, focusing on Overwatch 2 isn’t just the smarter business play (don’t forget the millions Activision Blizzard has invested into Overwatch League), but the one that’s better for Blizzard fans. Overwatch needs help, and a sequel could be the boost that keeps the franchise from fizzling out.