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Overwatch director gets candid about the 'scary' side of game dev

Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan has opened up about the emotional pressures of game development after a player accused the team of being short-staffed.

Chris Kerr

October 2, 2017

3 Min Read

Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan has opened up about the emotional pressures of game development after a player accused the team of being short-staffed. 

A thread on the Overwatch forums asked whether Blizzard simply doesn't have enough people to handle the game's community and tackle the toxicity within

In response, Kaplan gave a commendably frank explanation as to why the dev team might appear distant at times, and spoke candidly about the "scary" situation they've found themselves in. 

"If you'll allow me to speak openly for a moment -- it's scary," wrote Kaplan, referring to the challenge of taming the more acrimonious members of the Overwatch community. 

"Overall, the community is awesome to us. But there are some pretty mean people out there. All of our developers are free to post on these forums. Very few of us actually do because it's extremely intimidating and/or time consuming. 

"It's very easy to post the wrong thing and make a 'promise' to the community that no one intended to make. Once we say we're working on something, we're not allowed to 'take it back.' It's set in stone."

Unfortunately, Kaplan explained that transparency comes at a price, and for game developers, being open with your community often means putting yourself in the firing line. It's not surprising then, that some choose to avoid the unwanted attention by stepping away from the spotlight. 

"Because we are open with you and do not hide behind an anonymous handle (like all of you have the luxury of doing), we often times get personally attacked and threatened," he continued.

"Most great developers I know just love being head's down making or playing games. The 'public speaking/posting' part of the job is downright scary and intimidating. It often feels like there is no winning."

There's sometimes a desire for instant gratification from players, and Kaplan points out that whenever he, or another staffer, responds to an issue online, some take that as confirmation that a fix or solution is imminent. 

Game development doesn't work like that. He wants the community to know they're listening, but sometimes responding directly to players creates false expectations, and inadvertently breeds more animosity. 

"Just because there are 'a lot of threads' or 'a lot of upvotes' about a certain topic, it does not mean we're not paying extremely close attention to not only the community feedback -- but more importantly -- the game itself," he explained

"Of course the team talks about Mercy. Of course we talk about Ana. But we talk about all of the heroes. If we post, 'we're talking about Mercy' immediately there is an expectation that she is going to be radically changed in the next patch when the truth is, we might just leave her how she is for a while. 

"We're not allowed to post that here without our bosses (and I am talking literally here) receiving emails from some of you demanding we be fired. It's not exactly what I would call a safe environment for creative people to openly express their thoughts and feelings."

Kaplan reiterated that feedback is always welcome when it's delivered in an "open, direct, and constructive way," and thanked the community for their paitence as they attempt to solve Overwatch's toxicity problem.

"Player feedback is what has made this game great. We will try to communicate as much as we can. We love being a part of the community and we don't ever want to view ourselves or be viewed as being separate or removed from that," he concluded. "Thanks for being patient with us."

About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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