By Steven Savage, for Edwardsturm.com.
If you spend anytime online you’ve probably heard of the game Overwatch from Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind the World Of Warcraft juggernaut. Some ten million players have taken up Overwatch since its launch, battling it out in its near-future world of superheroes and villains. The game has had enormous good press and rave reviews. Considering Blizzard’s reputation, a well-received game may not seem particularly surprising, until you look at the kind of fans the game has.
The fans of Overwatch are more than just interested – they’re passionate. Fan-created works abound on the Internet, from simple art of the characters to interpreting the entire futuristic superhero game as an office comedy. Cosplayers re-create the diverse cast in amazing costumes, while others make parodic videos. Blizzard has encouraged the fans, and the fans have responded to the game in colorful and creative ways (and in a few cases, ways which have surprised the games creators). This passion has led people to many complex works and creations.
Yet Overwatch itself is a simple game; what is often called a “Team Shooter.” Diverse cast aside, it is a game of signing online, joining a team, picking one of the characters, and battling it out with another team for objectives. Many of these games can take as little as a few minutes before you’re on to the next round or battle. Though well-designed, challenging, and interesting, the game itself is a simple one of various heroes and villains battling it out.
But it’s these heroes and their world that drive the passion for the game. It’s not the game itself – it’s people like the mysterious Soldier 76, robot monk Zenyatta, or erratic assassin Reaper that people connect with. Overwatch has something that people latch onto; that something is the cast itself.
Why else would you spend hours creating the perfect cyborg ninja costume if you didn’t love the character?
Someone To Connect With
Overwatch’s cast of characters, twenty-one in all, are well-realized people and personalities. They’ve been given backstory, they’re voice acted by talented people, they’re designed with all the care you’d expect of a major computer-animated movie. These characters, some of whom appear in their own animated shorts, exist in a setting as well-designed as any movie, show, or comic (and indeed, Blizzard is clearly aiming to make this a multimedia sensation). No matter who you are, there’s going to be at least one character who interests you, intrigues you – and that you relate to.
Because these characters are so well-realized, so human (even when they’re not), people do not just like Overwatch, they are passionate about it. This passion is not just for the game, but the entire media experience of the game: the who, the what, and the story. The characters aren’t something that one just plays; they’re meant to be connected with on a far more human level.
This relation to the personalities of the game is not surprising; we’re human, we relate to personalities, as that’s part of what being human is. We connect with characters that we relate to, understand, or are intrigued by – even when that character is a mutant ape scientist or an airplane pilot unstuck in time who fights crime. That connection makes us care, that connection is visceral.
This gut-level connection is the same reason businesses have mascots, and why marketing campaigns have personalities. If you want people interested, you have to give them something that they relate to – by giving them someone. There needs to be someone there to bring a product to life.
The Lesson Of Overwatch
Overwatch is a grand example that people need something human to connect to, whether that human something is in a book, a product, or a campaign. There needs to be someone to relate to; there needs to be “someone home.” That someone or someones is, in many ways, the soul of the product.
This someone could be your personality. It could be a mascot you’ve created. It could be a character in a story. It could be a media personality. When a product or service has a human face (or twenty-one of them) people connect automatically; that’s basic social instincts.
When you truly give something for people to connect to, as Overwatch has, this connection turns into passion. It doesn’t just get people to buy something or play some game; it leads people to love. Audiences will not just be interested, they’ll care; they won’t just buy, they’ll create companion works like art or podcasts that will further promote your product.
I’m sure you want that passion in your audience, so look to Overwatch as a grand example of what can be done, as well as a grand example of building a foundation for even more to come. Overwatch begs the question, “What are you doing that lets people connect to your business?”