An Overwatch developer has explained how Blizzard approach hero balance in response to concerns about ‘power creep’ in the game.
‘Power creep’ is the idea of the average level of hero power getting gradually higher over time as a response to balance changes. When a hero is underperforming, they might receive a buff to make them more viable, but that adjustment could result in other heroes being pushed out of the meta. So, they too get a buff, and the cycle continues
Obviously, hero changes aren’t always buffs, and heroes that are too powerful are often nerfed. If the balance between buffs and nerfs isn’t just right, however, it can result in a gradual power creep.
Even though characters can still technically be balanced relative to each other if the overall power level goes up by the same amount, the result can be that many heroes feel “too powerful”, making them less fun to play against – or even play with – by lowering the level of skill required to play well.
This is a criticism that some Overwatch players have levelled at the game’s current state, but in a recent thread on the official Blizzard forums, Overwatch developer Josh Noh explained why this perception may not be accurate, highlighting that many heroes may perform differently depending on the skill level they’re being used at, and therefore could feel overpowered at one rank and underpowered at another.
“Looking at GM players for the current patch (1.43), Genji and Soldier: 76 are #6 and #7 in terms of win rate for damage heroes (out of 16 total).
“They’re not doing quite as poorly as the general community sentiment would imply. Game balance perceptions/opinions are often repeated and perpetuated enough that they start to become accepted as fact by many players.
“We also should remember that things like win rates and hero power/effectiveness can fluctuate significantly depending on the players’ skill level. If someone complains that Reaper is too strong and another says that Reaper is too weak, they could both be correct for their current skill level.”
Noh also states that Blizzard tend to focus on the impact at the upper end of the skill ceiling when considering changes, although they do take into account the impact on the broader player base. He also states that while power creep is something to watch out for, he doesn’t feel it’s a significant factor in the live game right now.
“When making balance changes we typically look at the high end potential of player skill for a hero but also try to keep in mind if a given change would be a significant detriment to the overall gameplay experience in lower skill brackets and attempt to find better solution if so.
“I think in general being wary of extreme 'power creep' is a valid and healthy concern if it’s causing gameplay to become too wildly distorted from the core experience. I don’t feel that we’re currently anywhere close to that with the live game.”
While the answer may not satisfy all players who want to see certain hero changes made to the game based on their own experiences, it does give an interesting insight into how Blizzard approaches balance.