Overwatch’s Director Opens Up About Communicating with its Players: “It’s Scary”

Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan has penned a candid post explaining how it feels to communicate with the game's community, saying that maintaining an open dialog with Overwatch's players is "scary" and "intimidating."

Kaplan submitted a lengthy post to the Blizzard forums, in which he shed some light on the challenges the Overwatch team faces in trying to be as transparent with its community as possible. "From Day 1, we felt like we wanted to be a development team that communicated more openly with our player base," Kaplan wrote. "We tried to make as many posts on these forums as possible. Our intention — more than anything — was [to] show a presence and let you know that we're listening. We're not naive enough to think that we can sufficiently address each player's concerns here. But we do want you to know that we — the OW development team — are here with you, listening."

"We try to do other things to let you know that we're part of this community as well," he continued. "We make Developer Update videos so we can talk directly to you and explain what we're doing and why we're making decisions. We do not hide behind online handles or layers of Community Managers and PR Spokespeople.

"Developers speak to you directly, using our real names."

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However, Kaplan then elaborated upon the difficulties presented to them by being so open. "And if you'll allow me to speak openly for a moment — it's scary," the game director continued. "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.

"Also, 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."

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Kaplan then discussed how this sometimes leads to them communicating with the Overwatch community less than they would like. "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," he added.

"As a result, there are a small few of us who do most of the posting here. Two weeks ago, I was offsite all week without posting access (I cannot make forum posts from my phone for security reasons). The week after that, I came into the office 1 hour later than I normally do (I was feeling extremely fatigued and rather than waking up at 5:40am like I do most days, I woke up at 6:30am). The end result was that for 2 weeks I haven't posted at my normal rate," he explained. "I apologize that it's been a quiet two weeks but that doesn't mean that we — the OW team — haven't been working just as hard as we always do and are not dedicated to making this game great."

Kaplan's comments come after Blizzard posted a video asking the Overwatch community to "play nice, play fair" amid growing concerns that it was becoming more toxic. As explained by Kaplan, Blizzard being forced to deal with bad behavior in the game has delayed them improving other elements of the game, such as introducing new maps and characters.

A recent viral Twitter thread posted by former Capybara Games developer Charles Randall also elaborated upon the pressure some developers feel when dealing with the gaming community, with Randall blaming "toxic gamer culture" for game studios not being candid about the development process. While Blizzard maintains an open dialog with a community that is mostly receptive to their comments, Kaplan has been particularly vocal recently about how how this often leads to distress among Overwatch's creators, in the hope that it will inspire self-reflection among some of the Overwatch community's more toxic players.