Five minutes with Overwatch's Jeff Kaplan: Orisa, future plans and Doomfist: "this is the community’s doing, they created this monster"

I recently got a chance to talk to Overwatch's Jeff Kaplan (ahead of the BAFTA Games Awards for which it has five nominations) and ask him a few questions about characters, tweaks and future plans for the game. 

How's the reaction to Orisa going?
I think it’s been great so far. There are some people in the community who are saying she’s underpowered and we’re keeping a close eye on that. But I feel like with a new character like Orisa there’s a lot of people playing her who wouldn’t normally play her, like a lot of non-tank characters trying her out who might not be used to how a tank plays. So I think once the dust settles we’ll really know where she’s at in terms of balance.

And what about more established characters? Junk Rat had a few damage tweaks recently didn't he?
We knew when we were introducing a character like Orisa there were going to be a lot more barriers in play. So we started to think, well those barriers might get really frustrating to players. We think it’s cool gameplay and adds a lot when it’s on your team but we also want to make sure there are appropriate counters. So that’s where we took a look at Bastion, and we made some changes to him to be more effective against barriers. We’ve always through Junk Rat is a great counter to barriers but he doesn’t get that much play. But we also don’t think he’s wildly underpowered so we were looking for minor quality of life changes we could make to him to attract players to try and play him again, or play him in different ways. So with the explosion damage you can almost play him more like a Reaper where you can get right in on people and put a lot of damage right at their feet. 

When you can always make changes is it hard to know when to stop?
We try to fiddle as little possible. But at the same time balance is always changing. Even if we didn’t tweak any hero ability or any damage numbers and just left the community to their own devices, the way that the community evolves the meta on their own through play styles and strategies is going to change the need for balance. Even if we ever thought the balance was perfectly locked in I’d be confident that the community would evolve in such a way that we’d need to make some changes. They come up with new things all the time and new ways to play and we need to be reactive to that so the game doesn’t skew in one direction. 

How do you deal with new strategies and combinations that appear suddenly with established characters?
Those cases are the best. We love when those happen where someone is suddenly doing something that wasn’t in vogue before. Like, right now in the Korea Apex Tournament we're seeing really a rise in these new dive comps using Winston and D.Va. And those characters have been around. If anything D.Va took some nerfs recently, it’s not like she got buffed. So in those cases we evaluate and say 'is the in vogue thing wildly out of balance or it it the type of thing that’s just fun evolving gameplay?' I think you have to take it on a case by case basis and you really have to watch the community closely. 

How do the community react as a whole?
They defintely don’t all agree with us and they’re very vocal with that. But I think at this point we’ve built a relationship with our players, that they know if something feels off to us collectively, meaning the players and Blizzard, that we’re there and we’re going to fix it. I think we’ve done a good job of representing ourselves as being very much on call to the community, and this isn’t one of those games that’s just sort of off on its own and no one’s looking after it - ‘where’s the dev team, they’re probably working on another game at this point and they don’t even care.’ That’s not who we are. And I think, so even if something feels off they know we’re going to come in and fix them soon. 

What's the larger overall strategy for the game?
I think we have a lot of really big plans. They way I like to talk about Overwatch is that there’s a crawl, walk, run strategy. And where we are at with the 6 vs 6 team-based action shooter is really at the crawl stage of where we can go. And I’m not saying we’re defintely going to get to the walk and run we want to get to, but we have some pretty big plans for the game. We want to continue to evolve, obviously the content: you’re seeing that with the heroes, brand new events, we want to evolve the story telling, what we’re doing out of the game, and the mediums we’re using to take stories out of the game. And then we have really big plans for eSports with the Overwatch league and where we want to take that someday. I think there are some really big ambitious goals that we have and we have a lot of people working super hard to do our best. 

Where's your breaking point on Doomfist?
It was funny because the community was hilarious with Sombra. We were terrible at Blizzard and I felt super bad because we were sort of teasing them along with an ARG and it was poorly planned and poorly executed and I really felt like Mea Culpa on that, that was out fault and we’re humbly sorry about that. But with Doomfist, this is the community’s own doing, they created this monster and we’re enjoying their enthusiasm for Doomfist. I hope they don’t just burn themselves out too early on him.

How do you feel about PS4/Scorpio introducing a 0.5 generation jump?
We’re super excited about it. Any time hardware manufactures want to up their system specs and put more capability in, not only our hands, but our players hands it’s just a win situation. And, because we’re a three platform game, on Xbox, PlayStation and PC, the PC market has already enabled us to push higher end hardware. We’re chomping at the bit to make the game look better and play better. So I’m really excited for it. 

Leon Hurley
Senior Guides Co-ordinator

I'm GamesRadar's Senior Guides Co-ordinator, which means I run GamesRadar's guides and tips content. I also write reviews, previews and features, largely about horror, action adventure, FPS and open world games. I previously worked on Kotaku, and the Official PlayStation Magazine and website.