Today I had a long, in-depth interview with Jeff Kaplan, Game Director on Overwatch (and Vice President at Blizzard to boot). We covered a lot of topics, and you’ll get to read about every single one of them over the next week on PCGN, including a big write-up on current balance and the progression system tomorrow. However, I also wanted his thoughts and the current status of ranked matchmaking. It’s vital for the competitive future of the game that it be in there, and not only does Kaplan agree, but they’re actively planning for it to be a full feature available in the beta to be tested and given feedback on before release. What they don’t know is if that testing will prove it worthy of launching with the game, or mean it needs to be held back a touch.
Get the low-down on the latest changes to the Overwatch beta.
“We’re working on ranked as we speak.” Kaplan tells me. “The big question that I’m unable to answer at this point is will it make it for launch or not? We’re hoping to get some version of it into the beta. That’s my biggest hope. If it doesn’t make it into the beta and make it into launch, I strongly believe it will be very soon after launch. We absolutely believe in [it] and it’s something that’s getting a lot of our attention right now.”
He explains that there’s two big priorities taking the team’s attention at either end of the spectrum: the new player experience of tutorials, practice and vs. AI, and ranked matchmaking for the more hardcore.
“We know how important it is to our community, how vocal they’ve been about it and it’s something that we’re very excited about.” he continues. “Our hope is to have a version in beta, tested [in] beta, question whether it’s worthy of launch or not, then if that’s not the case it would be in shortly after launch.”
Blizzard realises that getting this in at the peak time, with the largest number of players involved and saying to them ‘this is a game you can play competitively’ is vitally important. In the worst possible scenario, it sounds like they’re talking days and weeks after release, rather than months, and Kaplan stressed it would be one of the first things patched in if it comes to that.
He also gave some details on how the basic matchmaking that’s currently in the game works:
“To be clear, a lot of our community doesn’t always know what the phrase matchmaking refers to, but it’s any sort of code we write that places players in a match together so they can have a fun time. We’ve been doing a tonne of iteration on matchmaking and [are] actively experimenting with [it] in the beta.”
He gives some examples, where at one point groups would only be matches with teams that contained groups of roughly equal size – a six-stack against a five-stack, for example. Another looked at “internal player ratings and tried to put together the fairest matches” purely from those, ignoring how teams were partied altogether. There’s a delicate balancing act, he points out, in getting the fairest matches at reasonable queue times: “How quickly do we want to put people in matches versus how do we wanna feel about those matches being good quality [between] players of equal skill?”
Kaplan calls working all this out fun and challenging, saying that with Overwatch, there’s so much to consider. It’s a team based game where you can group with whoever you want, the very best with the very worst – “we let you do that, we find you a match if you do that.” There’s also the matter of different players – how do they balance for the best sniper in the world, who suddenly decides this is the game where they start learning to support? They don’t and can’t prevent that from happening, but it has to be factored in.
“One thing that we do, and it’s tunable and we’ve done various experiments in the beta, we have something called a rolling match queue.” This is a system where if no-one manually leaves, you’ll play a few maps with the same eleven other folk for a little while. They’ll keep ‘rolling’ one into the other. Kaplan explains why, “We do that because it feels more like a shooter. It also gives us the opportunity to mix up teams between rounds. If people aren’t partied up we shuffle [them] around a little bit. But we also do some things under the hood to detect when it has been a poor match, if one team has been stomped two or three times and it’s been very one-sided, we will put players back in the pool and disband that match.”
It ain’t finished, of course, that’s why it’s a beta “It’s obviously a work in progress, it’s just as much art as it is science, but we have people dedicated to matchmaking full-time and it’s something that we’re going to keep refining throughout the beta process.”
We’ll have much more for you tomorrow, with our big interview on the current balance of the game, how Blizzard go about it, as well as the position of the progression system and where it’s heading.