There was a lot of Overwatch 2 news this weekend after the team showed off an extensive behind-the-scenes look at the game at Blizzconline. But when it came to news about the first game that’s already out in the public, there was almost nothing of note. The original Overwatch and Overwatch 2 will share a PVP audience, with new maps and heroes being universal across both games, but all that new content is at least a year away. As such, hopes were high that Blizzard might have some big announcement that would shake up the live game, whether that be going free-to-play, or integrating cross play so players on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch could play together. There was no such announcement, but in an interview with IGN, Director Jeff Kaplan was asked directly about cross play, and his answer was…non-committal. To say the least.
When the topic of Overwatch and Overwatch 2’s multiplayer audiences becoming one was brought up, IGN asked if a unified Overwatch player base is a possibility in the future. Kaplan said that while Blizzard is “excited” about the prospect, the company has hurdles to overcome before console players can play with PC players.
“We are extremely supportive and excited about the concept of cross play,” Kaplan said. “We love it in other games. In general, our thought is any system the game can adequately run on, and any way that people can play with their friends – even just for reasons of improving the matchmaking experience – we’re very excited about those ideas. We don’t have anything officially to announce or talk in detail about today, but in general the team stance is that cross play is exciting. We are interested in exploring it and if we can overcome the hurdles, we would love to bring a feature like that to our players someday.”
Kaplan didn’t specify what these hurdles were, but we can speculate. There are handful of things to consider about a competitive game like Overwatch supporting cross play. Something that immediately comes to mind is that the Switch version runs at 30 frames-per-second, which would inherently put those players at a disadvantage against PlayStation and Xbox players where the game runs at 60 frames-per-second. PC players with a beefy set up can have a leg up on everyone else with higher framerates across the board. However, plenty of other games have similar dynamics across multiple platforms. Such as Fortnite, which is available on mobile devices, PC, and consoles and supports cross play.
Even games under Activision-Blizzard support cross play like Call of Duty: Warzone. Again, the more you think about how many games have found a way to make this work, it raises questions of what makes Overwatch different. It’s obviously not as easy as flipping a switch, but I am interested in what hurdles are holding the game back. Especially if they might be rooted in the original game and the shared PVP audience between both games might be what holds Overwatch 2 back from implementing it.
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Generally, cross play is slowly becoming an industry standard. But it’s certainly not there yet, as big games as recent as Marvel’s Avengers aren’t launching with the feature either. However, Overwatch’s general lack of ubiquity seems odd five years after launch. Not only does the game not support cross play between other systems, but it also doesn’t even support cross progression for players to use skins unlocked on one platform on another. Which is especially odd because all of that progression is kept within one Blizzard account. I can see my profile on both PlayStation Network and Switch through one account, but they’re kept distinctly separate. Perhaps it’s just a way to ensure loot boxes are an enticing microtransaction no matter where you’re playing?