Blizzard’s Overwatch is Built on the Ashes of a Colossal Failure

Written by Siniša Bućan and originally published by UNIKRN.

In a refreshingly candid interview with GameSpot, Blizzard’s Jeff Kaplan and Chris Metzen, among others, talked about how Overwatch came to be. It is known that the team worked for years on an ambitious MMO code-named Titan, which was cancelled after it became clear that the project wasn’t working out. Virtually nothing is known about Titan and it seems that is not going to change any time soon.

But we now have more insight into how Overwatch rose from the ashes of a failed project. Kaplan says that Titan failed horrifically, “in every way that a project can fail”. Kaplan explains that it was a devastating state of affairs for everyone involved because people at Blizzard were so used to success. Metzen adds that there was definitely a dose of pride, perhaps even arrogance. Most of the team worked on World of Warcraft and everyone was convinced that repeating something like that would be very easy.

It turned out that wasn’t the case at all. People within the team segregated themselves and everyone worked on their own thing, a part of the game they could claim as their own. Metzen says that doing so the team “frayed a little bit and lost that space where we were so strong, where everyone shares a little bit of the big picture”. The team’s confidence was shattered. Metzen candidly admits that they simply weren’t used to feeling like that. Kaplan calls it “a crisis of confidence and identity”.

The team started questioning their motives. Are they just selling a product for a corporation? Metzen admits that is a part of it, but stresses that the people involved are “artists, craftsmen, technologists, writers and poets” coming together trying to build something greater than anyone could make alone. That, Metzen claims, has always been the story at Blizzard.

Nobody within Blizzard said anything negative, they were all extremely supportive. But the team felt embarrassed. They looked at the success of other Blizzard’s teams that released Starcraft II, Heroes of the Storm, and Hearthstone, and wanted to prove to themselves and to everyone that they too were worthy of being at a wildly successful studio such as Blizzard.

The Titan team was huge. After the project was cancelled, the team was scaled down. The idea was to re-think what they wanted to do next, certainly something very different. They made a conscious effort to try to avoid all the pitfalls that led to Titan’s failure and cancellation. When Overwatch was shown for the first time at BlizzCon 2014, it was a huge moment for everyone on the team. While other Blizzard teams shipped games, they worked on Titan and Overwatch for years without anyone ever seeing any of their work. Finally getting it out there was an emotional moment for the team.

“In so many ways, Overwatch is—from its themes to its gameplay—our story”, Metzen says passionately. “It is a redemption story. We needed this as people.”