Overwatchs publicity stunt was a total hack job – the fans have every right to feel sobered by Sombra

Seven months. What takes that amount of time? For starters, seven issues of Official PlayStation Magazine. Most of a baby. A one-way trip to Mars, for goodness’ sake. But for Overwatch players everywhere, the time-frame means something else. From the first tease to the final reveal, it took Blizzard seven months to unveil new hacker hero Sombra – and for fans, it was torture.

Here’s the problem. Back in May, strange hints popped up in the hyper-popular team shooter. Map Dorado’s power plant showed computer screens flashing warnings of “Protocolo Sombra.” Players hunted for clues (game director Jeff Kaplan egging them on via cryptic interviews) then dug up info on a Support sniper… who turned out to be Ana.

Still one question remained: “¿Quién es ‘Sombra’?” (Who is Sombra?) Then, things took a turn for the – almost inconceivably – brilliant. She hacked our lives. An ARG threw hidden hex cyphers, QR codes and pseudo-compasses at excited fans. In a dev livestream, Kaplan laughed that compass theories were “way above our heads” and so Reddit’s Game Detectives looked up at Dorado’s sky… and found another code.

It was all fun and Alternate Reality Games, until coded countdown after countdown after countdown led to nothing, and the reaction to new ARG clues went from “Cool!” to “Don’t PUSH me, Blizzard. I’m a woman on the edge.” (Okay, okay – that example’s a tad specific.)

Players were livid. Entitled whingeing, you say? Not so, and here’s why: Overwatch is a different kind of game. More than another other title on PS4, it’s become personal – inextricably intertwined with its fanbase. Although partially built upon microtransaction money for cosmetics, its true foundations lie on something more precious: hearts. Overwatch’s world (and cast of characters) has become its own culture, one that Blizzard has encouraged. Just look at D.Va’s Dorito-munching, Mountain Dew-chugging, video gaming emote depicting the community-made ‘gremlin D.Va’ persona. The Weekly Brawl on Father’s Day made everyone play as Soldier 76, aka the meme-ified ‘Dad 76’. I see you, Blizzard.

It’s purposefully done: fans are made to feel they have an impact on their game, that Blizzard cares. The servers remain populated; the loot box cash floweth. I don’t think it’s maliciously done, but what I know is that if Blizz wants to continue to tout Overwatch as a collaborative, community-led creation, it has a responsibility to be careful. When it’s profiting from the genuine passion of the fanbase by playing the personal angle, then drawn-out marketing ploys should be taken as a very real insult.

Dramatic, eh? Sorry. I hate to be cynical about Overwatch. I play it every day. If the game were rubbish, I wouldn’t give a flying Pharah about this stuff. But even Blizzard’s admitted the ARG was shambolic. All narrowed eyes will turn to the next hero release. To my mind, you’ve got two options, Blizz: be more cautious about your timings (no altering countdowns!), or allow for flexibility according to community mood. We all saw the leaks before the reveal event, anyway. Some tiny acknowledgment before would have done wonders.

Full marks for taking Sombra’s characterisation to a new level, though, even if we saw the BlizzCon ‘stage hack’ coming a mile off. Did I say mile? I meant seven months. Nope, not bitter at all.

This article originally appeared in Official PlayStation Magazine. For more great PlayStation coverage, you can subscribe here (opens in new tab).

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