Overwatch introduces Workshop mode, giving power to the players

Overwatch is about to turn four years old, and while the game has been struggling to hold players’ attention recently, a new feature was announced which has the potential to considerably extend its longevity. A new mode called “Overwatch Workshop” has been added to the game’s Public Test Realm (PTR), and will soon be made available to players on all three platforms. The Workshop is a flexible scripting tool which will allow anyone with a copy of Overwatch to create custom game modes and change the rules and behaviors of its cast of characters.

The Workshop goes a step beyond the previously released Custom Game creator, giving players much more freedom to tweak settings to their liking. Blizzard games have often shipped with development tools going all the way back to Warcraft II, which let users create custom maps and scenarios.  Players were especially prolific with the tools provided with Warcraft III. User modified levels in that game led directly to the Tower Defense genre, as well as Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games thanks to the popular Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) gametype. The latter mod inspired Riot’s League of Legends, Valve’s DOTA 2, and Blizzard’s own Heroes of the Storm, though the latter has fallen on hard times recently.

While the Workshop won’t allow users to import their own artwork or change map geometry, it does allow them to make changes to the game’s logic. This means almost every aspect of a given character’s loadout and behavior can be altered, and global effects can be applied to any map in the game.

Two examples were provided with the update: a “Molten Floor” gametype where characters take damage if they touch the ground, and a “Mirror Deathmatch” where everyone plays as the same character for one minute, and everyone changes into a new character every sixty seconds. The character rulesets are extremely malleable, and with a little hard work players will even be able to design and prototype new heroes.

These new custom games can be found in the Game Browser section, and players have already started experimenting with new rules and gametypes. I tried out one custom game where using a speech emote would kill the entire team (as you may imagine, it was difficult to get out of spawn), and another which attempted to revert Mercy’s Resurrection ability so it could bring back multiple players. Other early modes attempt to bring favorite mods from other games, such as Halo’s popular Infection gametype.

The Workshop isn’t quite as user-friendly as some comparable modes in other Blizzard games, but it’s a lot more flexible. Director Jeff Kaplan described it as being better suited for “power users,” those players who already have some experience with programming and scripting. For those who want to learn more about the tool and how best to use it, Blizzard will soon set up a forum for users to share tips and ideas, though it’s not yet available at the time of publication. Fortunately, the Workshop comes with its own debug mode called Workshop Inspector, and a detailed set of instructions can be found on the announcement page.

Previous Overwatch custom games were difficult to share, but the new creator makes it a lot easier to spread your creation to the world. Any rulesets created in this mode will be sharable to all three platforms by simply entering the mode’s code into the game browser. Happily, this means anything created in the PTR will carry over to the live version of Overwatch once the custom tool is fully deployed.

At the time of writing the new feature doesn’t seem to have any type of voting system, so it’ll be a bit difficult to find the best modifications. It should be interesting to see what the community comes up with over the next few weeks, though. Who knows? Maybe the next DOTA will be spawned on the battlefields of Hanamura or Eichenwald.