Year One of Overwatch was huge. You couldn't log onto Battle.net without seeing a dozen or so friends in a match, whether they favored resurrecting whole teams as a then-untampered with Mercy or eating up everything with D.Va's then-too powerful shield. In a lot of ways, looking at Overwatch from over a year ago is like gazing at a different game entirely.
And in Year Two, from casual observations at least, it seemed like the steam died down a little bit. Battle.net wasn't flooded every night with dozens of acquaintances playing the game anymore. My Twitter feed wasn't as stuffed to the brim with fan art. Maybe it was because of the constant balance changes and drastic hero reworks going a step too far in altering the heroes people loved. Maybe it was just players moving on. The most likely of the scenarios: it's nothing major at all. Because in the grand scheme of communities, Overwatch is doing just fine.
With Blizzard's relative caginess with sharing player retention data though, the question's still nagging me. During a virtual press conference today with Blizzard developers and various outlets, I asked if Blizzard has any input regarding these casual observations—was player drop-off something actually plaguing Overwatch in Year Two, and if so, how will Year Three bring lapsed players back to the game. With event repeats hitting the game again in the coming year (Polygon's follow-up asked if Blizzard was concerned about stagnation with future refreshed events like the upcoming third Summer Games, to which they replied "We'll have to see"), Overwatch has potential to find itself shedding players if it falls too much into routine for its third year.
"In terms of actual like numbers and those kinds of things, to be honest a lot of that stuff, like on a daily basis, I don't really worry about it," principal designer Scott Mercer says. "I just [...] try to make Overwatch as best as I can. And certainly we've taken a lot of feedback to try to get stuff in the community, like in terms of what they're lacking and what they're not lacking, but the numbers are something I don't really get super worried about, so I can't really speak directly to that."
The recent limited time Pink Mercy skin, lead engineer Bill Warnecke points to, is an example of the sort of engagement Blizzard favors over the nitty gritty of rising and falling numbers of how many players log into Overwatch every day or so. While not a traditional event, the for sale skin was available for a couple weeks this May, with all proceeds going to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The skin raised $10 million for charity during its short run.
"The amount of energy and emotion from not only employees here at Blizzard who are personally attached to that cause, people on the Overwatch team who are attached to that cause, but people we know and our friends and family outside of work in the community at large. But when I think of engagement around Overwatch as a franchise or product, I look into those type of events bringing out such amazing things and having such a positive impact on the community that for me, that's success," says Warnecke. "Whether an engagement number went up or down, we're doing things like that charity event now and that makes me really proud."
Overwatch's second Anniversary event, celebrating the end of Year Two and moving onwards to Year Three of the game, is underway now. The event features a new Deathmatch map, in addition to other new goodies for players to collect in the limited time loot boxes. While the amount of active players for Overwatch is still in question (aside from a recent "40 million players" statistic that appeared in an anniversary infographic), Blizzard doesn't seem worried about the game's future and longevity. It'll keep pushing that payload to Year Three, and beyond.