When Battleborn launched back at the beginning of May, it did so with a sense of optimism. Here was a game that was being developed by the studio behind the much-loved Borderlands series. On top of that it was blending a strong sense of humour into a MOBA-focused FPS experience. Yet just shy of three months later, it seems the bottoms already fallen out for the game. The community has disappeared, the issues that plagued it at launch haven’t been fixed and in general, people have just forgotten it in the wider gaming discussion. What went wrong with Gearbox’s newest AAA-game?
A quick glance at the games current Steam numbers reveals a depressing state of affairs. In the last 24 hours the game’s barely kept its head above 100 users – dipping as low as 80 concurrent users in the last seven days. It’s the worst kind of car crash for a game that launched not seven months ago – and was envisioned as the future flag bearer of Gearbox’s output. When a multiplayer-focused game loses its community; what does it have left?
To explore how the game failed so hard, we have to look at the things it got wrong. In truth the stars never really aligned for Battleborn. Out of the gate it was asking full price for a game that at best resembled a first person MOBA. The problem with trying to appeal to that market is that MOBA’s in general have a very low entry price; which immediately means that trying to throw a AAA-price tag into the mix won’t go down well. It was a bizarre choice by Gearbox and one they seemed to very quickly abandon – with the studio knocking $20 off the asking price on the day Overwatch hit the market. It didn’t really work – player numbers continued to tail off and as the game hit the end of June, was struggling to keep its PC active player base above the 1k line.
Even then, the marketing for the game was completely bizarre. 2K and Gearbox couldn’t decide if they wanted to market Battleborn as a hero-shooter or as a MOBA; confusion that seeped quickly into its potential customer base. They talked a big game, giving prominence to the games humor and trying to focus on the varied cast of characters. But really when it came time to selling the core game aspects, gamers just didn’t know what to make of it all. No one’s going to invest full price in a game that’s not clear on what it is and when you’re selling such a unique concept – it’s important to get the basics across. Sadly this didn’t happen.
But perhaps the biggest issue Battleborn faced was in the form of Overwatch. Blizzard’s upcoming game cast a huge shadow over the month of May, with many gamers holding back in preparation for the arrival of what appeared to be a much more focused game. It was a comparison that Battleborn never escaped from; with numerous internet memes openly mocking the speed at which Overwatch out maneuvered its rival. As that game continues to march from strength to strength, Battleborn continues to slip further and further from the discussion.
The big question at the end of all this; can Battleborn be saved? It’s hard to imagine that anything short of going free-to-play at this stage would bring people back in the door. Even that would feel like a humiliating climb down for the developers; but it’s not like there isn’t interest. Reportedly over 2 million gamers opted to try the games beta, a shockingly high number when you realize that the games all-time high player count on Steam sits at just over 12,000.
The sad reality is that, as EVOLVE’s brief flirtation with free-to-play shows, that model isn’t the saving grace some believe it to be. Battleborn was always pitched as a full AAA-experience, to move to free-to-play would only to be a delay to the inevitable. Audiences haven’t connected with the game and while some may be tempted in by the promise of no up-front fee – it won’t bring in the kind of money that 2K or Gearbox were likely hoping for. Perhaps worst of all, it’ll alienate the few dedicated fans that the game still has. Angered that their investment was turned into such a farce.
I believe the ship has already sailed for Battleborn. Dreams of it becoming a major multiplayer destination are long out of view. The most merciful thing Gearbox and 2K can do is to make the experience as solid as possible for the few gamers who still turn up to play. When a multiplayer focused game loses it’s player base, there’s not much left. Perhaps it’s time for Gearbox to accept that this is one game which won’t be able to turn it around.