If you’ve been on the internet at any point in the last five years or so you’ve probably heard of this not so small and not so indie game called Overwatch.
Even if you’re not sure what it is, you at least know what it is. Its popularity reaches beyond its actual community into the mainstream which is somewhat impressive for a video game.
It definitely falls short when compared to other industry giants, especially nowadays, but for a couple of years after its release it took up quite a big chunk of gaming discourse and was definitely one of the most talked about competitive FPS’s.
The game has received its fare share of updates over the years, including new maps, characters and just overall patches to keep the community around it going and the player base active.
Then in 2019 Blizzard, the developer of Overwatch, announced its direct sequel: Overwatch 2. They didn’t announce any actual release date, all they showed was a trailer along with the reveal of a new core game mode and that the game would also have a bit more focus on PvE content.
Since its announcement the game has been delayed a couple of times and it is now expected to release in 2023 at the earliest. The reasons for this delay aren’t clearly laid out – besides the obvious assumption that the game is still far from finished – but it is also safe to assume that this delay is a reflection of Blizzard’s recent actions and the state of triple A gaming as a whole.
To start off, if when the words “2019” and “Blizzard” are mentioned in the same sentence and all that comes to mind is the announcement of Overwatch 2 then their PR team is really deserving of some applause.
In October 2019, one month before the announcement of the sequel, Blizzard punished the competitive Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung (better known as “Blitzchung” in the esports scene), after he openly showed support for the Hong Kong protests going on at the time.
As expected, this put the company under much deserved scrutiny from the public and people were boycotting Blizzard for this decision. Not a month later the sequel for one of their most commercially successful games is announced and suddenly the coverage of the Hong Kong story dies out.
Although I’d love to cosplay as the teacher from The Incredibles and frame it all under this huge conspiracy that they pushed the announcement of the game forward in order to drown coverage of the Hong Kong story, the truth of it is that that’s really unlikely.
Blizzcon the event at which Overwatch 2 was announced had already been scheduled for November 1st and it is highly improbable that in under a month they were able to produce a fully animated and voice acted eight minute trailer, along with demos for people to play at the event.
But this does give a context to the company’s past and shows that, like any other company, they’ll put profits over even being associated with someone that supports basic human rights.
Fast forward to 2020, a year infamous for a lot of things but none of those are probably crunch. Crunch is a term used to describe long stretches of work for game developers usually with no extra pay, they are forced to work extra hours because their companies will set out unrealistic launch goals for the release of that game in order to meet either a certain quota or because they just want it to be out by Christmas where sales will obviously be increased.
This is unfortunately common practice in the industry but after the release of Cyberpunk 2077 last year, most people finally realised that this is neither beneficial to the workers nor to the actual finished product and all it does is bring short time profit to the publishers in charge. (Not that long time profit would’ve been any better of a trade of).
Blizzard’s co-founder has admitted that the company was built on crunch, which is about as “moustache-twirlingly” evil as it sounds. The worst part is that most of these companies are only stopping now because it’s something that’s come into the public eye, most of them would’ve kept doing it as long as it didn’t hurt their public image.
While openly admitting to worker exploitation is bad, it’s still not the worst thing to come out of blizzard in recent years.
If they could barely show support for human rights, to think they would have basic working conditions would probably be classified under some type of “High Class Fiction”.
As recently as September of this year, the company was under investigation after numerous complaints of harassment and discrimination against women in the workplace. These included rape jokes and denying promotions. It got so bad that a woman actually took her own life after alleged extensive sexual harassment on a work trip.
How did we get here from “delayed video games”?
When you see the actual state of the gaming industry, delaying games isn’t the problem but the solution. The unfortunate solution to horrible, unimaginable working conditions. When companies care about a release date over the safety of their working environment and over the wellbeing of their workers, delaying games is an inevitable result.
Don’t take this in the sense that a delayed game equals horrible working conditions, some companies will delay their releases because they actually care about the quality of their products and the wellbeing of their workers, but this will more often than not be the sad exception to the rule.
Why was Overwatch 2 delayed? At this point that’s not really the question that should be asked, but here’s the answer anyway:
Maybe Blizzard is actually looking to give their workers more time and resources, maybe they’re focusing on fixing internal issues and working conditions before moving along with production. But definitely not because they care about their employees mind you, it’s just that another crunch or sexual harassment scandal wouldn’t look too good on their PR streak.
By Francisco Santos
Feature image: Blizzard Entertainment