“Saying a game is "dead" can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
August 24, 2017 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Why You Should stop Focusing On Player Counts So Much [IGN] “As soon as LawBreakers [YouTube][Trailer] released last Tuesday, there were people in comment sections and forums around the internet declaring it a “dead game.” According to them, it was already doomed - a game no one was playing that people rushed to put nostradamus-like expiration dates on. The problem is that most of these people have likely never played the game, but thanks to sites like SteamCharts and the less reliable SteamSpy commenters everywhere can feel empowered to make wide generalizations about the health of any game based on “hard facts.””

• The Real Problem With Dwindling Multiplayer Game Numbers [Game Revolution]
“There's a problem with games that offer only online multiplayer affairs, and it's not the fact that each crop of titles borrow heavily from one another. It's their lack of replayability and value for gamers long after the hype has died down. LawBreakers has seen a somewhat steady decline in concurrent players on Steam, a trend that's worrying to me. It isn't something, say, Boss Key Productions' Cliff Bleszinski is worried about since he's more interested in long term success, but it's concerning to me as a consumer. What of the money I spent on those games when they inevitably fizzle out? When games like LawBreakers (or Overwatch, or other titles of that ilk) release, you can see them coming from a mile away. There are several diverse heroes with different types of weapons and quirky personalities. There's an emphasis on loot boxes or "crates" you can open to get new skins for your characters and weapons. It’s all in a bid to keep you jumping online every night after work or whatever obligations you have, partying up with friends, and conquering match after match. And these games are becoming a dime a dozen. You buy them, pay the entry fee and get all the additional goodies, and then what? Sometimes you get to keep playing, and other times -- most of the time -- you have to move on to the next game.”
• Cliff Bleszinski Says He's Not Worried About LawBreakers' Slow Start [PC Gamer]
“At the time of writing, there are a little over 1500 people playing it, which isn't enough to get it even close to the top 100. That's not a great start, but in a wide-ranging interview with Eurogamer, Bleszinski said he's not worried. "It's a marathon, not a sprint. I'd rather be the underhyped game that slowly ramps up into something that people adore than something that comes out with way too much hype that there's a backlash for, which is why I think the Steam reviews are so positive," Bleszinski said. "We're going to continue to raise awareness, continue to support the product—If you look at the phenomenon that was League of Legends, it built off a Warcraft 3 mod then slowly but surely blossomed into this immense amazing thing, and I'd rather be the game that comes up and has that hockey stick ramp with a slow burn and builds up rather than the triple-A hype machine where you have a bazillion people playing it month one and it goes down exponentially then they follow up with an annual product." ”
• LawBreakers Can't Catch a Break: Are we seeing yet another FPS flop? [Game Skinny]
“What's happening with LawBreakers feels very similar to what happened with 2016's Battleborn. Another stylish shooter in the same vein as LB, this game also saw a steep decline in its playerbase shortly after launch -- probably because its release date fell so unfortunately close to the juggernaut arena shooter that was Overwatch. If you ask me, new shooters like LawBreakers have huge hurdles to jump over these days, and very few will make the leap and stay afloat. We live in a post-Overwatch world, after all, and only a free-to-play competitor like Paladins has been able to keep up with Blizzard's entry in the genre. The shooter scene is already oversaturated with all kinds of shooters -- from gritty historical experiences like Battlefield 1 or Call of Duty: WW2 to colorful arena shooters or frenetic experiences like Quake, capturing players' attention with a new IP is no simple matter. And unfortunately, it seems like LawBreakers just didn't innovate (or market) enough to capture as much attention as it needed to in order to stay alive. Lots of good games have ultimately died in spite of their general quality and respectable launches. We've seen it time and time again.”
• LawBreakers Isn't Trying to Be an Overwatch Killer [PC Gamer]
You said before that LawBreakers differentiates itself as being a more mature shooter, the one that swears. Do you think that will still be enough?
“I think it'll be part of it. But I also think also, the fact that we really are really a shooter game for [shooter fans]. The hitboxes are legit and straightforward. The mouse sensitivity, the framerate, the way the movement is—when you land you can kind of jump skate a little bit, like strafe jumping. A lot of that stuff is in there that the core Counter-Strike and Quake players love. And we found that a lot of CS:GO players are gravitating towards this. They're not going to stop playing CS:GO ever, but when it comes to the character-based, ability-based first-person shooter, I'm thinking we'll be the one that the Counter-Strike players pick.”
It's hard to find a conversation about the game online without somebody mentioning Overwatch at some point. You're comparing yourself to Counter-Strike and these much more hardcore first-person shooters. Do you think the Overwatch association is fair?
“It's humanity, dude! I've been dealing with this my entire career. The human mind loves to pattern-match. It's a survival technique. It's like, 'Oh, see that big bear over there? It ate my friend.' And then you meet a new bear and you're like, 'Oh, my god! This bear is going to eat me because it ate my friend.' People just like to put things into tidy little buckets, and to the point where they will stretch it so far.”
• LawBreaker: Fresh Ideas Overshadowed by Embarrassing Aesthetics [Polygon]
“LawBreakers sits in a weird place in my heart. I often find myself hesitant to talk about how fun it is, thanks to an embarrassing dubstep soundtrack, gunmetal-on-everything design and the “#SkilledAF” marketing hashtag. But beneath all that junk hides a game that is a blast to play when it isn’t actively sabotaging itself. LawBreakers is the first game from Boss Key Productions, a studio led by Gears of War and Unreal Tournament veteran Cliff Bleszinski. His penchant for injecting extreme ideas into the shooter genre is evident within moments of booting the game up for the first time. But even if Bleszinski’s aesthetic bugs you, his pedigree really shows; Boss Key has created a game that unites the past with the present and adds its own unique twist. To make a game that feels both classic and modern at the same time, Boss Key designed LawBreakers to be equal parts old school arena shooter and modern day hero shooter. A third dimension perfects the cocktail: verticality by way of anti-gravity. That means you’re not only rushing into combat, you’re flying above it.”
• Does LawBreakers Have What It Takes to Compete With the Big Guns? [Eurogamer]
“What is the biggest shooter in the world these days? Call Of Duty has held that mantle for years, based on sales figures, cultural cache and column inches. But as its popularity wanes, does Destiny now have a shout for the top spot? How about Overwatch, surely the most talked about FPS in the past 12 months? From a global point of view, CS:GO probably takes the title - no other shooter commands prize pools and audiences in the millions. Then again, Warframe has an enormous audience. And hey, how about Battlefield? Wherever the answer lies, the truth is there has never been a stronger time for the genre, and while the market may seem saturated, it's also splitting into its own subcultures. That's what Cliff Bleszinski and his new studio Boss Key is banking on in their own claim to the crown in this game of pwnz. LawBreakers, in alpha for an eternity and briefly in open beta this past weekend, certainly carries the pedigree and polish needed to make a dent in this world. The setup is familiar, and the influences clear. Two teams of five do battle across a variety of maps and modes, and there's more than a hint of Titanfall in LawBreakers' movement and Overwatch in its heroic character classes.”
posted by Fizz (19 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It's a crowded market for arena shooters and FPS in general. But, I think there's always room for competition. This game is receiving a fair bit of hate, which I think is a bit unfair. So much of the criticism surrounding it has to do with the lack of a healthy player count. Though, what a healthy player count is, I'm not quite sure.

Back in the day, I only had a handful of games for my Sega Genesis. It just made me love and play those few games I had that much more. I think that the same can be said for fans of LawBreakers. I've been running into the same players each night, but I'm ok with that. There's a community of us who are enjoying this game.

Of course this game has a lot in common with Overwatch. But it's not as if Blizzard created that genre. They popularized and refined many of the elements we've come to associate with arena shooters. But, I'd argue that Quake is what really cemented the genre. There's a lot to love in this game. I'm having a hell of a time.
posted by Fizz at 6:02 PM on August 24, 2017

Player count is absolutely important to find fair matches, or even find matches at all.

I love the depth and intuitive feel of the melee combat in For Honor - so much so that it's totally spoiled me playing any other game with melee combat like Hellblade / Dark Souls. Yet I can't actually play For Honor because of low player counts - I have waited almost 60 minutes more than once to start a match-made game because the auto-matcher lobby wouldn't fill to 8 players - it would slowly fill up to 5-6 players, then after 20 minutes of waiting someone would give up and leave, bringing us back down to 4 players... and sometimes half an hour later I'd see the same player rejoin the lobby and continue their fruitless wait... lol... yes my NAT was fully enabled and had a green status. There just weren't enough players online to actually play the game.

(Side rant: For Honor is basically Dark Souls meets Street Fighter - lightning quick reactions and feints and mind games from multi-direction attacks, it could have been so much more than the husk of the game it is now)

I also had issues with player count in Heroes of the Storm, ironically, which by all accounts is doing well - just not as well as League and DOTA2. When playing with my friends, the matchmaker would "time out" after 6 minutes and fail to find a suitable team for us to match against. The game would then default to "next available" which meant it threw out all matchmaking logic and just gave us a random team to fight against without regard to their skill level. At least this was better than For Honor which just never started the game at all!

Even DOTA2 - with its 13 million monthly players - still took about 6+ minutes to get enough players to create a match for me. League of Legend with 100+ million monthly players produces much faster matches.

Now that I think about it Titanfall also suffered the same issue - I loved the game a lot, but the player count dropped so fast within the first few months that it became impossible to find games locally - the matchmaker would wait 10 minutes, could not find a match, then dump me in a server located thousands of kilometers away with high ping.

In fact the declining player count is what killed Star Wars The Old Republic for me as well - I subscribed to it when they had local servers in Australia, then when player counts declined they killed those servers and migrated everyone to the US... they lost my sub after that.
posted by xdvesper at 6:16 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm feeling kind of the same way about Gigantic, a game I discovered through a podcast I do on video game music and quickly fell in love with. But it is basically steamrolled by Overwatch; I think it's doing okay, but I'm a bit afraid to invest much time in it, just in case it withers on the vine.
posted by Shepherd at 6:17 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think it's doing okay, but I'm a bit afraid to invest much time in it, just in case it withers on the vine.

And that's the terrible irony about this kind of situation, we want to play a game, we want it to be popular, for it to grow, for others to experience the joy we're having. But when a game isn't doing well, and the player count is low. You stop playing. You pull out and now there's one less person in the community. And it's another excuse for someone else to withdraw.

Reminds me of whenever I'm trying out a new restaurant. If I see only 1 or 2 cars in the parking lot, I'm hesitant to walk inside. If I see a lot of people, I'm more inclined to give it a try. The thing is, we know that quantity doesn't always equal quality. It's such a delicate thing.
posted by Fizz at 6:28 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was already turned off this game by the marketing. It seems to be geared to the parts of gaming culture that I find the least pleasant. What I call the "GIT GUD" crowd. These are people who don't understand that some people have lives outside of gaming and might want something that they can just jump into, play for a half hour and then leave. If you keep dying over and over again it's your fault and not the game's fault.

I'm not sure what marketing genius thinks that narrowing their focus to these folks is a recipe for sales success. There's a reason that Overwatch is unbelievably popular. Even PUBG, which I wouldn't call an "easy" game doesn't require me to have the reflexes of a puma and the eyesight of a sharpshooter to get in, play the game, and have fun. In fact, it rewards me for things like sneaking, running, and hiding.

Now I haven't played the game (and don't plan to) but I'm an adult human with disposable income who likes playing video games. I'm not sure why they wouldn't want to put forward a game I might want to play.
posted by runcibleshaw at 6:51 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Wolfenstein 3D was predated by Escape from Castle Wolfenstein - a C64 game with a pirated hack that basically didn't work. The first few leveles of Wolfenstein 3D were released by Id as shareware.

I can tell you, after having always wanted to play Escape from Castle Wolfenstein because the game didn't run and feeling 'gyped' by a rip, and then finding its subsequent sequel was - mind bendingly amazing ... I can't think of a single person I knew that played it that wasn't blown out of the water...

Then came doom and... multi player? oh my god... If you want to know why kids learned networking protocols in the early 90s... it was to play Doom on the library computers before the librarians could lock it out.

Everything since then has been a step towards differentiation, customization, abilities, tricks, powerups, play balance, gimmicks, visual tweaks, skills, and so on. But at some point.... the game is the same. Its a question of personal preference and the culture the game acquires and promotes... and what culture sticks with the game.

Go find a counterstrike server - and I don't mean that new fangled pretty one - I mean the old original one, and you'll find people still playing it... which is... weird... but those folks know the specifics of their game and... apparently find some joy in still playing it...

At best, game studios can give you a reason to shoot each other and a new way to do it - or to avoid doing it... but that's all... and the question is whether you feel like migrating to a different WASD controlled game or whether you are going to decide to spend your time doing something else.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:10 PM on August 24, 2017

Would it be fair to say that Star Citizen is dead
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:16 PM on August 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Now I haven't played the game (and don't plan to) but I'm an adult human with disposable income who likes playing video games. I'm not sure why they wouldn't want to put forward a game I might want to play.

From my view it just comes down to niches. I'm more familiar with the auto industry, and the different car companies don't target the same demographics. BMW for example targets performance drivers more than Mercedes. Toyota targets reliability more than GM. Ferrari definitely doesn't target the same wide demographic as Toyota, but you can't say that Ferrari is less successful than Toyota.

I don't think Lawbreakers honestly stands much chance at fighting Overwatch for a share of their "adult human with disposable income" demographic. In fact prior to Lawbreakers I don't think there was a current game targeting the "git gud" niche so maybe they really have hit on niche they can find success in.
posted by xdvesper at 7:19 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm definitely not a fan of the "git gud" gamer demographic. I'm the exact opposite, because I suck at these types of games (and yet I still play because I'm always smiling and having fun when I do so).

FWIW, I have yet to really encounter that kind of toxic gamer. Most of the teams I've joined have been very friendly and quick to point out advice on what classes and play styles are worth trying out. I'm not denying that there's a whole lot of that in this community, there probably is. But, thus far, I've been pleasantly surprised.

I also turn off in game audio chat. So that probably helps too.
posted by Fizz at 7:37 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

In response to a couple of the comments above: if you haven't already done so, please check out MeFightClub. It's a group of gamers from MeFi, and oh-so-much more! Enrolling will immediately unlock the following benefits:
- ACCESS to a forum that allows the posting of inline images!
- SEKRIT IP address of servers for your favorite games!
- The company of SOME of the internet's finest gamers!
- FRANK discussions and HONEST reviews of the newest releases!
- KNOWLEDGE of the ultimate codeword and mantra!

Arrange matches and get together with your friends and enemies, even for obscure games. Play along with creative and determined teammates, whose objective is not necessarily to win, but to have fun. And most importantly: enjoy gaming with a community of not-assholes!

It's not your typical "gaming culture." There's no pressure to "GIT GUD." And while I haven't been active or playing games in a long while, I'm pretty certain that it's still the case that you'll be able to enjoy the company of SOME of the internet's finest gamers. Decent voicecomm with decent folks. Learning things like orienteering versus blasting caps in games like DayZ. Creative solutions to military problems, such as loading up a Back To The Future style van with specialists and hucking mines out the back door while doing laps around tanks.

All that said, the mechanics of LawBreakers look pretty neat. I do agree that the game's character designs seem pretty generic, but I strongly feel that mechanics count for a lot. Take Tribes 2, for instance: the graphics for this game were, even then, kinda sub-par. The game was buggy as hell. But I think the fluidity of the game, the 64-player cap, and the movement mechanics were all fantastic (ok, PM me your frustrations of how movement changed from Tribes!). It's a shame the bugs were so severe, but I think it's a perfect example of how a decent game that was destined for failure went on to survive, with a reasonably-sized but fervent community, in the form of TribesNext.

Though: don't we have enough games in genre X? Sigh. If we're gonna do sequels, at least make em like they used to.
posted by herrdoktor at 7:39 PM on August 24, 2017 [14 favorites]

Oh man, the Git Gud contingent is… toxic.

I've been following the (unfortunately unsuccessful) crowdfunding campaign for Fantasy Strike, which is designed from the ground up to be a genuinely accessible entry in a genre long known for its really tough learning curve (fighting games). Folks who have won major fighting game tournaments have overwhelmingly been very positive on it after trying it (because all of the important parts of the game are there — you still have to outplay your opponent, even if "fireball" is now "push button" instead of "QCF+P"). Hell, the lead developer was once considered one of the top echelon of Street Fighter players in the US.

On the other hand, there's this very vocal (but probably pretty small?) contingent who are just SUPER FURIOUS that something dares to challenge the status quo, and really, none of them are players of any consequence — intermediate at most — but they're really invested in this notion that these games should be hard to play. That it's somehow beneficial. Ignoring the way their genre of choice is slowly dying once again as efforts to attract new people to the genre are shouted down and complained about.

For all the various types of games I enjoy playing, I'm less and less likely as time goes by to identify as "a gamer," and more and more likely to actively refuse the title.
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:58 PM on August 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

Came here to plug MeFightClub (where I don't even play multiplayer!) but herrdoktor has it covered. Per Rotato Ad Astra.
posted by sysinfo at 8:23 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

DEAD? Pah! I'm still here, my spinfusor is charged, and I'll be buried deep in the cold, cold ground before the Diamond Sword raise that filthy rag of theirs over Katabatic.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 8:58 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I can tell you one reason I never played Battleborn...

I got in on the open beta.

It never loaded up.

Not once.
posted by Samizdata at 9:39 PM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

What's interesting about Titanfall is that the sequel managed to solve the matchmaking problem, somehow, despite not having significantly higher player count. It was hovering around 1500 active players on PC for a long time, yet I'd rarely spend more than two minutes waiting for a match. I mean, the match I'd get after that time wouldn't always be fair, but at least I wasn't sitting on my thumbs for half an hour. (The recent release of Frontier Defence, combined with EA Access, has basically doubled that number in the past month, which is why I'm talking in the past tense. I haven't stopped playing or anything.)
posted by tobascodagama at 5:33 AM on August 25, 2017

TBH, I suspect that the replacement of dedicated servers with matchmaking has a lot to do with this trend of "small" multiplayer games failing to find lasting success. In a game with a small player base, I think you'd rather spend some time sitting in a spectator queue on a full server, like we used to do in the Quakeworld days, that sitting in some impersonal matchmaking queue. If you're queued up waiting for a full server, at least you know that there's actually a match going on that you're waiting for.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:37 AM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I bought Lawbreakers on a whim a week or so ago and it's great fun when the teams are more or less balanced, but horrible when they're not. The super-fast gameplay and high skill ceiling mean that mediocre players are helpless against good ones, and a lot of games are just a group of experts demolishing an ever-changing team of beginners because there aren't enough players for the matchmaking to work properly. It's a shame, because the game is very good, but I don't think there's much the developers can do to save it now.

Does anyone else remember Dead Star? That was another great game with similar problems that suffered a similar fate.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:26 AM on August 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Would it be fair to say that Star Citizen is dead

That is not dead which can eternal lie (for various values of "lie")
posted by Zonker at 7:36 AM on August 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just gonna quickly plug Midair for any remnant Tribes fans. Just about to enter closed beta on Steam and looks to be a good spiritual successor so far.

As for the "game's dead, John" stuff, it's lazy criticism and shitty for community+dev morale. If it's truly dead there is no one posting about it, it's just sort of there with no one playing it. On the Evolve subreddit not a week would go by for I can't say how many months where someone would make that a topic despite people still being able to find games. Law Breakers is fairly new and only has about 800 concurrent on Steamcharts which is really unfortunate because it does look like an interesting title but still not dead at all. If they go the F2P route they initially planned on fast enough, unlike Evolve, maybe it could get a break? Hard to say.
posted by whorl at 2:39 PM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

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