Why transmedia storytelling is so important – as seen through Overwatch.

As it is coming up to the one year anniversary of Overwatch’s initial release (24th May), I thought I’d look back on the game that made a self-proclaimed non-gamer like me spend all of my very limited free time playing this game.

Overwatch is a multiplayer first-person shooter video game for both PC and console created by Blizzard, where you play as one of 24 currently playable characters in competitive 6-person team shooting matches.

overwatch characters.pngThe game encourages us as players to join in the battle, stating ‘the world could use a hero like you’. (Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment 2017)

The addicting FPS has just recently amassed 30 million registered players, but what is more impressive is that even before the game went online, there were already over 10 million people who were on its servers, eagerly awaiting its release. The great interest in Overwatch before and after its official release has been explained by many as due to its engagement with transmedia storytelling, especially through its animated shorts that gave viewers a richer understanding for the Overwatch characters: why they are who they are, and how they tie into the over-arching narrative story within the Overwatch universe.

My personal favourite short without a doubt is ‘Dragons’ that introduced “one of Overwatch’s biggest rivalries” between brothers Hanzo and Genji.

It’s still hard to believe that the short was only just over eight minutes long, yet managed to illustrate the beautiful setting of Hanamura (which is a map playable on the game) and both Hanzo and Genji’s game play styles and abilities in action while simultaneously exploring the complexities of the brothers’ difficult history and relationship.

The short flawlessly packed in all the necessary elements for a feature length film – the internal and external conflicts, the dramatic reveal, and of course the epic fight scene when both characters reach their maximum potential and use their ‘ultimates’, filling the screen with roaring luminous dragons in a great climactic event. It also boasts some unreal graphics and animation, which would give even animated film giant Pixar a run for its money.

(Image Credits: PlayOverwatch/Youtube)

The thing is, Blizzard as primarily a video game developer had no need to create these shorts – players could get to know the characters, at least on a surface level, through the gaming experience itself, through skins, voice-lines and interactions with other characters. But, as James Waugh, director of story development at Blizzard, says “At Blizzard, we don’t just make games – we build worlds”.

With Overwatch, Blizzard wanted to make sure the shorts made the universe feel alive, and that the characters were more than just an avatar; that they were telling their own stories that contributed to a larger living world, giving the game’s players a real reason to fight.

Blizzard has gone above and beyond in telling the story of Overwatch, releasing other transmedia communications such as graphic novels, virtual comics and Easter eggs within the game itself for players to continue discovering and piecing together, providing a deeper connection with game character for players by creating a “realm of imagination that you step into” and further building on and constructing the Overwatch universe and its character’s intricate personalities and life narratives.

Overwatch’s success is well earned, as it has designed and developed itself into more than just merely a game; Overwatch is the result of an incredible feat of creativity and the coming together of multiple creatives from different sectors, accomplishing great transmedia storytelling that immerses its players in their fictional world, giving them reasons to keep coming back for more.