The return of Deathmatch

In his latest developer update Jeff Kaplan, Overwatch’s Game Director and pretty much Blizzard’s ‘Face of Overwatch’, announced that Deathmatch is coming to Overwatch.

The announcement was a pretty big surprise for most, since Jeff had stated previously that they don’t want a Deathmatch mode in Overwatch. Even more unexpected though was my reaction to it: I’m totally hyped!

I haven’t played a round of Team Deathmatch since Modern Warfare 2, so about 2010. I can’t even remember which game I played my last round of Free-For-All Deathmatch in. Probably Unreal Tournament (the first one, aka UT99 or Classic UT), so somewhere around 2002. I can’t say that I missed it much. Or rather, I wasn’t aware that I missed it.

I’ve written about how much Overwatch’s gameplay tends to frustrate me, how furious I become when things don’t go my way. My joy over the announcement made me think about what’s important to me when playing games today compared to what was important to me in the past.

When I say I didn’t miss FFA Deathmatch, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. Now that I think about it, I actually had the most multiplayer-shooter-fun in Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, Quake, UT and the like, playing FFA Deathmatch. It wasn’t really about winning or losing. Sure, there was a scoreboard and at the end of a round someone was declared winner, but we didn’t care too much about that. We cared about that one time when Player A walked right into the proximity detonators set by Player B and got exploded 50 yards into the air, or the spectacular fadeaway jump-headshot Player C killed Player D with, only to get shotgun-blasted unceremoniously in the back by Player E right afterward.

In more modern shooters the rather simple fun of frantically running around and fragging each other has been largely replaced by more or less complex team objectives, and, above all, diverse means of progression. Just having fun doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. There are duties to fulfill, achievements to accomplish, ladders to climb, levels to gain and knickknacks to unlock.

All these things work. They motivate people, make them spend more time with (and money for) the game. If they didn’t, the focus of game development wouldn’t have shifted so dramatically to stuff like this in the past 10 years or so.

Call of Duty 4 (aka Modern Warfare) blew everyone’s minds in 2007 not only because of it’s single player campaign basically being a playable Michael Bay movie. It’s multiplayer progression system worked so well and was so addictive that it set a new genre standard pretty much overnight. Since then, almost every game in almost every genre has to have progression systems, ladders for players to climb, hoops for players to jump through.

Somehow, along the way, the gameplay itself seems to have become almost an afterthought. I’m not saying that most modern games have bad gameplay. But it sure seems to be very important now that I become hooked and busy for as long as possible. Having fun while being busy is kind of a bonus, but not necessarily required.

That’s why I’m really excited about Deathmatch coming to Overwatch. I hope it will bring back some of the good old, relaxed and carefree fun that I remember from so long ago.

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