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World of Warcraft maker Blizzard announces first new franchise in 17 years

With Overwatch, Blizzard now enters the shooting-game genre.

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Overwatch is an ambitious new project from Blizzard, and its first shooter game. Blizzard Entertainment

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- World of Warcraft is so last decade.

Activision's Blizzard unit, makers of the popular Internet fantasy adventure game, on Friday unveiled Overwatch, its first new franchise in 17 years.

Blizzard said it developed the game to be different from any other it's created before. For starters, this is Blizzard's first shooting game -- a genre that happens to be among the most popular in the industry. Overwatch will offer something the genre hasn't seen before, the company said.

"What we like to do is look at genres we love and revere and see what we can bring to them," Jeff Kaplan, the game's director, said during BlizzCon, a gathering here of more than 25,000 of the company's most ardent fans.

The shooting genre is one of the most profitable in the games industry, but it's also the most crowded. Each of the major game developers offers at least one shooting game, ranging from Battlefield by Electronic Arts to Activision's own Call of Duty. Microsoft publishes Halo, a space-age shooting game, and French game developer Ubisoft offers the action adventure series Far Cry.

Bungie's Destiny is the largest new entrant in the genre. The game, developed by the same company that created Halo more than a decade ago, attempted to offer players something new: A large online world where gamers can both play through a storyline and interact with one another, much like World of Warcraft has done for the fantasy genre of games.

Blizzard is bringing its experience building large online worlds to Overwatch.

Consider World of Warcraft, one of the largest and most successful online games ever made. The game's online world and intricate storylines attracted 12 million subscribers at its peak in 2010, each of whom paid as much as $14.99 per month to play. By December of that year, it was pulling in more than $217 million per month, according to SuperData Research.

The game was so popular that it became a cultural phenomenon, inspiring competitions, novels, an upcoming feature film and an Emmy-winning satire.

Other games, such as its sci-fi StarCraft game and its forthcoming Heroes of the Storm battle game, have also become popular particularly for their online gameplay pitting players against one another.

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Overwatch will mark Blizzard's first attempt at a shooting game. Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard now needs to re-create that success with Overwatch. The game will draw on the company's expertise in creating intricate and mythical worlds. Players take on the role of 1 of 12 central superheroes, charged with protecting Earth after they helped end a war in the distant future. All characters have unique stories and features that make their part of the game different.

The game itself is played in teams, Blizzard said, following another trend within the industry. Some of the most popular games today are played online and in small teams, such as the strategy game League of Legends or the war simulation game Battlefield.

"With every new Blizzard game, we look at our favorite aspects of a genre and put our own spin on things," Blizzard President Mike Morhaime said in a statement. "Our goal with Overwatch is to create an awesome [shooter] experience that's more accessible to a much wider audience while delivering the action and depth that shooter fans love."