upcoming "Overwatch" video game offers
players more vivid colors than many other shooting
at Blizzard Entertainment Inc.’s annual convention
kept slipping up and calling the company’s big new
video game "Overlord" — which sounds like an
obvious, even cliché, name for the kind of dark, lurid
shooter game everyone’s grown used to.
is something different: a bit more gentle, a more
inviting world, a concept that may be hard for shooter
fans to get their heads — and tongues — around.
from the shooting genre’s tradition, the Irvine,
Calif., game developer takes players into fights amid
cherry blossom trees in Kyoto, on the vibrant streets of
London and among gleaming edifices in Egypt. There are
still freakish weapons and awesome explosions, but they
come with bright scenery and charming heroes who watch
over Earth to protect humanity.
fun and almost cartoonish atmosphere of "Overwatch"
reflects Blizzard’s broader attempt to remain a force
at a time when more people than ever play video games
but when the number of strong competitors has grown just
as fast. Its highly regarded brand is no longer enough,
on its own, to drive mega-sales.
which announced plans for "Overwatch" this
month, has deep roots in the computer game market, but
gaming is fragmenting as it grows. Developers are having
to make their would-be blockbusters as easy to jump on
and play as the smartphone games that have become so
is releasing updates faster to keep players hooked,
accepting that a series of small hits might be a more
effective use of resources than one masterpiece. It’s
even making the iconic "World of Warcraft"
game franchise easier to play, and plans to release a
movie based on it in March 2016.
of Blizzard content represent about half of the revenue
and a larger share of operating income for its corporate
parent, Activision Blizzard Inc. in Santa Monica. The
larger company expects to make $4.8 billion this year,
up from $4.3 billion in 2013.
will be crucial to growth. Nationwide, the crowded
shooter game market accounts for about 20 percent of
video game sales. The question is whether the
potentially wide appeal for "Overwatch" pushes
that number up.
the enthusiasm over the new game at Blizzard’s annual
fan convention in Anaheim showed, may fans and analysts
think the developer is on the right path.
we know is Blizzard has the best content track record of
any gaming company on the planet," said Doug Creutz,
a Cowen & Co. gaming industry analyst. "This is
their first new intellectual property in 17 years, and
it’s so different from what they’ve done, so people
introduced "Overwatch" through a trailer that
struck many viewers as if it were something developed by
animated film studio Pixar. The characters, including a
glasses-wearing gorilla and a young woman with a British
accent, could have been pulled from a Marvel comic book.
The game is set about 50 years in the future.
think about a shooter game, you think about
militaristic, hyper-realistic, intimidating," said
Paul Sams, Blizzard’s chief operating officer.
"Because it’s not so hard in look and feel, ‘Overwatch’
feels more accessible: ‘I can do this.’"
hope is that gamers increasingly feel that about all of
recently released new installment of "World of
Warcraft," for instance, allows customers who haven’t
played the multiplayer online battle game in a while to
automatically boost the abilities of a character to a
level where they can take advantage of new features.
the Blizzcon fan event, the company also announced that
the next edition of "StarCraft II" would ship
as a stand-alone product — another new approach.
many Xbox or Playstation series, "Starcraft
II" and the decade-old "Warcraft"
franchise hadn’t been games where anyone could launch
a new version having never played the prior one.
10 years of content is a blessing and curse," said
Ion Hazzikostas, lead game designer for "Warcraft."
wealth of information became an obstacle, he said, as
new or suddenly returning players would stare at the new
box and ask, "I have to do how many levels and have
to play for how long" to get up to speed?
as a result, "World of Warcraft" lost more
than 1 in 4 paid subscribers during the last two years.
The college students "hungry to devour every
inch" of the game in 2004 now may have an hour to
play after putting their children to bed, Hazzikostas
team modified gameplay to allow players to explore the
virtual world in bite-sized chunks, and the bet is that
the changes and the "World of Warcraft" film
will ensure the game is around another decade.
realize (for children today) that it’s almost your
parent’s game, but it’s a world that appeals to
anyone," Hazzikostas said.
movie from Universal Pictures and Legendary
Entertainment is seen as an opportunity to make "Warcraft"
a part of pop culture as "Lord of the Rings"
has become. Putting more emotion behind the fantasy
characters should help non-gamers appreciate the
content, Sams said.
of us are moviegoers," Sams said. "We feel
like the movie makes what we do more relatable to a much
kept avid fans antsy about the release by involving them
in the creation. Blizzcon attendees saw a
work-in-progress trailer that won’t be shown anywhere
else, and they recorded battle cries that are to be used
in the final product.
the analyst, said a possible mobile version of "Warcraft"
would also bolster its prospects. After about a decade
of mostly building games for computers, Blizzard has
returned to Xbox and PlayStation with its "Diablo
III" fantasy action game and started to venture
into tablets and soon smartphones with its free-to-play
"Hearthstone" digital card game.
which analysts say is making an estimated $40 million a
quarter from selling optional card packs, has 20 million
players on computers and iPads since its release in
March. The game was developed by a small team, a break
from Blizzard’s traditionally massive undertakings.
should be available to early testers in 2015. Executives
declined to discuss device compatibility or pricing.
braving intimidating lines to try out a demo, Alan Galle
described "Over — ," um, "Overwatch"
as "a breath of fresh air." The fifth-time
Blizzcon attendee from Fort Mohave, Ariz., has avoided
first-person shooter games because they can be "too
big or too difficult to learn."
friend Robert Hussey said he had been waiting for
something like this.
bright, vibrant color to it," Hussey said.
"You’re not just staring at different shades of