At BlizzCon this weekend, Blizzard announced Overwatch‘s next hero, Ashe, and teased another one, Echo, to come sometime later. Now, game director Jeff Kaplan has now shared further specifics about how many new characters are coming, stating in a new interview that Blizzard has six new heroes planned. Ashe and Echo are apparently counted in this figure, and that’s a lot of new ones. t’ll take “years” before they’re all released, the game director said.
“We have our next six heroes planned out right now which, for us, is years,” Kaplan told Eurogamer. “[Echo], tentatively, is one of those heroes.”
Overwatch launched with 21 heroes. Ashe, a gunslinger damage character, is the 29th. Echo could follow Ashe, but Kaplan said nothing is decided regarding the timeline at this stage. You can watch the Ashe announcement trailer in the video embedded above.
Overwatch remains popular, and one of the ways Blizzard gets new players is with the shooter’s free weekends. The game could theoretically draw in even more new players if the game becomes a free-to-play title, but would Blizzard ever do that? Kaplan said the game was not designed to be free-to-play (it’s been a paid title since launch), but he pointed out that the free-to-play model “should always be a consideration.”
That being said, Kaplan stressed, “We haven’t given serious thought to putting Overwatch free-to-play at this time.”
Back in May, Blizzard announced that Overwatch had reached 40 million players, so it is clearly a massive success. Regarding its commercial fortunes, one of the ways the game makes money beyond the initial sticker price is through the microtransaction-fueled loot box system. Loot boxes are controversial, and in Belgium, Blizzard removed them to comply with the country’s rules. Still, Kaplan said Blizzard believes in loot boxes as a business system.
“We’re sticking with loot boxes. Obviously we don’t agree with the decision in Belgium but we’re also respectful of the country’s laws and we want to adhere to those,” Kaplan said.
Overwatch’s loot box system is “player-friendly,” Kaplan said. You can only spend money on loot boxes that contain cosmetic items; they never feature items that actually impact gameplay. The money that Blizzard makes from loot boxes helps the studio fund development of things like new heroes and other parts of the live service.
Epic’s battle royale game Fortnite found a lot of success with its Battle Pass system–which other big-name games are now adopting–but Overwatch is sticking with loot boxes over a battle pass.
“It would be a tremendous amount of work to switch Overwatch from loot boxes to Battle Pass, or even to just add a Battle Pass,” Kaplan said. “The Battle Pass is really elegantly done in Fortnite and they should be commended for the job they did on it, but it’s no trivial amount of work. Even if we thought it was the best idea and wanted to do it tomorrow, it’s very unlikely at this time. But it’s a brilliant game design, separate from all business considerations.”
Be sure to read the full Eurogamer interview, as it touches on a number of other big topics like the possibility of a Nintendo Switch version, cross-play between competing systems, and more.
In other BlizzCon news, Blizzard announced a new Diablo game for mobile devices, and some people are not happy about it.