"I like McCree's Hot Potato."
Well yes, don't we all, but what I find striking about the sentiment is it comes from Blizzard, from an Overwatch developer and a very senior one at that - lead gameplay developer Keith Miron. And it's about a game mode in Overwatch that Blizzard didn't make.
McCree's Hot Potato is very simple. It changes Overwatch so a small group of McCrees play against each other, passing a burning buck. If you're the hot potato, you're on fire and your health burns away, so you need to pass it on by shooting or hitting someone before you die. The last one standing wins.
Miron also likes another mode based on a web game called Agar.io, where you're a blob and loads of other people are too, and you need to grow big enough to eat them. In Overwatch, you're not a blob, you're blobby Roadhog, and every time you hook another player or grab a power-up, the sphere around you grows. But the aim is the same: grow so big you consume everyone around you.
McCree's Hot Potato and the Agar.io mode are both so simple. You wouldn't think they'd impress an Overwatchlead gameplay designer but they do. Just a couple of tweaks to the way the game works but, "Man," Miron tells me, "it makes a really big difference."
They're partly his doing. After all, Miron helped create the Overwatch Workshop tools people are using to pull apart Blizzard's game. Workshop lets you mess around with the fundamentals, gives you real programming-like power over the way characters and their powers work, and maps and their rules. It's been barely two months since Workshop launched on 24th April and Miron is amazed at the response.
"We thought maybe a few people will try it and then, by the time it releases, there will be a couple of people making content," he says. He was wrong - big time. Not only are there more people making things in Workshop than he ever imagined, people are playing Overwatch more as a result.
"There's been a definite increase in the number of players playing," he says. "Not only are more people playing Custom games as their primary way of playing Overwatch - meaning Workshop games - but they're actually spending more hours in Overwatch. If someone would have spent 30 minutes before, they're now spending an hour or more - those numbers are not exact but give you a rough idea. People are spending more time playing Overwatch."
Blizzard sends me some statistics after I talk with Miron, and according to them, more than 290,000 game codes (I'll come back to this) have been created in the Workshop by more than 152,000 creators, and more than 4.64 million players have played them.
The Workshop works by giving your ingenious set of rule alterations a code, and it's this code you share so other people can play your work - hence all the talk about codes.
The most popular codes globally, are:
- Aim Training
- Super Smash Bros.
- Genji Heaven
And the most popular codes In Europe, specifically, are:
- Overfighter (code: Z5XK2)
- Genji Heaven (code: BE8VH)
- Sprint Racing (code: CGKAS)
- Super Smash Bros. (code: VZ4YG)
- Parkour (code: TC88S)
- Aim Trainer (code: BQSSS)
- OW Shooting Range (code: P5RGD)
- Mountain Climbing (code: PJMWG)
- Uno (code: WMVZC)
- Torb Golf (code: CYZR8)
What are they all? Overfighter is a one-on-one fighting game inspired by games like Tekken; Super Smash Bros. is exactly what you think; RPG is a mode where you earn money and spend it on improving stats over the course of the match; Parkour is a play on the-floor-is-lava; Genji Heaven is a Genji training arena; the aim trainers are self explanatory; Mountain Climbing challenges you and your opponents to try and scale a mountain while circulating through the hero roster; Torb Golf makes Torbjorn a kind of jumping golf ball; and Uno is, well, Uno.
Uno in Overwatch - bizarre, isn't it? But it's exactly this kind of experience striking the biggest chord within Blizzard. "What's the most interesting to me is how people are drawn to being in the Overwatch world and being - in the case of Uno - a hero but not necessarily in the normal, competitive sense," Miron says. "People just like to be around the Overwatch characters, not necessarily trying to win all the time but hanging out with their friends and other people. That's certainly been one thing I've learned."
Which is doubly interesting if you think about the origins of Overwatch as the scrapped MMO project Titan, and triply interesting if you think of the kind of supplementary Overwatch experiences Blizzard could create around the action-packed core.
"It's really opening our eyes to there being lots of different ways to play Overwatch which don't necessarily mean playing objectives all the time," says Miron.
The other big thing Miron has taken away from Workshop's launch is how talented you all are, and disciplined, too.
"I take a look at Ana Paintball," he says, "which is a very straightforward mode - a one-shot kill mode where you play as Ana - and they're releasing patches for it. They're taking feedback and they're refining it. It's not just 'Hey, this is something I've made in 30 minutes and I'm going to throw it away' - people are making these game modes with the intention of [supporting them] for a long time. People are really getting committed at the creator level. That's been really great to see."
It raises a bigger question: how is Blizzard going to reward you for all your hard work? Because currently it doesn't, the rewards are natural - exposure within the community and satisfaction from a job well done. Encouragingly, though, this is exactly the conversation Miron and team are having internally.
"Yeah," he says. "Actually we have a couple of threads going on right now about how we can really highlight some of these amazing game modes, and these modifications for the game, creators have been doing. We're not sure exactly what form that will take but we're very interested in if there's a game mode that's incredibly popular and the creator has obviously spent a lot of time on it, we would love to showcase it some way.
"We definitely want to recognise the hard work creators have put in" -Keith Miron, Blizzard
"That was actually one of the things we discussed way before we even started shipping the Workshop, back in 2018," he adds - back when it apparently had such catchy names as 'The Logic System' and 'The Custom Game Scripting System'. "We talked about, 'Once we release this and people make some good modes, we should have a way to get them highlighted in the game.' We definitely want to recognise the hard work creators have put in."
There's an obvious way to do this: feature community Workshop work in the Overwatch Arcade, just as Blizzard did with its own Workshop-made modes Mirrored Deathmatch and Hero Gauntlet. Simple, no? "We would love to do something like that," Miron says.
But it's not simple - with Blizzard it never is. If Blizzard is putting its name to it, even if just to distribute, then the work needs to be of a certain quality and satisfy a certain criteria. Exactly what that is at the moment, however, is undefined.
"Those are exactly the kinds of discussions we're having," Miron says. "What is the best way to highlight it? What is the quality level we're looking for? If we did move forward with it, we would want to set some expectations for what we're looking for so people have a good idea for, say, 'Hey, if I want to get my game mode highlighted by Blizzard, what do I have to do?' - making it clear up front that this is the process you have to go through."
Maybe there's a kind of upvote system they can instigate to help sift good stuff to the top, Miron says, and maybe there's better browser support for helping people discover codes. Both are in discussion - as are more privacy options for protecting codes, thereby helping define ownership and control copying. Oh and bot scripting, and 'dummy' bots you can issue orders to, are in the works as well.
And that's where things stand, with Overwatch reinvigorated by the imaginations of the community playing it - burgeoned by a mess-about kind of fun which appeals to silly sausage like me. Begone the stresses and strains of Competitive Play and the frustrations of Quick Play, McCree's Hot Potato is calling.