ACTIVISION Blizzard Inc. announced new versions of its Overwatch shooting game and Diablo role-playing title in a bid to re-engage disenchanted fans.
Overwatch 2 will include a mode that lets players compete against computer-controlled enemies rather than just other players. The refreshed game will feature additional characters and terrain — providing something new for a three-year-old title that some fans say had grown stale. Existing Overwatch customers will be able to access some content in the new game.
Overwatch is a key title in Activision’s growing esports business. The company made the announcements on the opening day of BlizzCon, a two-day fan event it puts on yearly in Anaheim, California. Tickets for the event, modeled after fan conclaves like Comic-Con, started at $230 each. The event is staged for fans of the company’s Blizzard Entertainment division, which is headquartered nearby.
The company also announced Diablo IV, a new version of the demonic dungeon game that debuted in 1996, and World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, an expansion of its long-running subscription-based game, which will be available for order this year. It’s also expanding Hearthstone, its free-to-play digital card game.
Activision has struggled with falling sales over the past year. A poor company forecast and critical reviews at the 2018 BlizzCon sparked a decline in the stock. A mobile game called Diablo Immortal, showed at a conference largely catering to PC-gaming fans, turned into a disappointment for attendees who were expecting Diablo IV instead.
In January, the company cut ties with the publisher of Destiny, one of its larger franchises. Amid an overall dearth of new titles, Activision laid off hundreds of employees and replaced the heads of its three main divisions.
Recent product debuts have been better, however. The company introduced a mobile version of one of its most enduring franchises, Call of Duty, in conjunction with Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. It was downloaded by more than 35 million people in the first three days.
On Wednesday last week, Activision said the latest version of Call of Duty for game consoles like PlayStation 4 generated sales of more than $600 million in its first three days.
The company has been under fire in recent weeks for imposing stiff penalties on a professional gamer who spoke out in favor the Hong Kong protests after a match. Gamers in the US, outraged by the censorship, mounted a boycott of the company’s products.
Some protested Friday outside the Anaheim Convention Center, where BlizzCon was being held. They handed out T-shirts donated by a group called Freedom Hong Kong that feature Mei, a character from Overwatch who has become a symbol of the Chinese resistance.
BlizzCon opened Friday with an apology from Blizzard President J. Allen Brack — not for punishing the player, but for moving too quickly and not explaining the decision sooner to fans. — Bloomberg