A game’s launch timing is one of the key aspects that can affect a game’s overall success. There are other aspects that can impact a game’s launch, but having an online player base invested in other games can severely hamstring a game’s lifespan. It seems like common sense; players want to go where the most players are, or players do not want to go where they are going to have to wait an exorbitant amount of time to get into a match. In the past year we have seen a few games, such as Battleborn and Titanfall 2 fall victim to bad release match-ups and be hobbled for it.
The first game to look at from last year in regards to a poor launch matchup is Battleborn, released on May 3, 2016 and actively dead shortly thereafter. Battleborn had a fairly steep learning curve as it tried to integrate a host of MOBA mechanics into a competitive shooter. Multiplayer was demanding and frustrating for new players, especially ones that were new to the MOBA scene.
This frustration mainly stemmed from attempting to parse through the items and builds for the player’s character as well as trying to react to the opponents’ shifting builds while under the pressure of fast paced first person combat. Team fights generally turned into complete chaos as no one really had much grasp on any aspect of the situation both in terms of actual sight lines or whether an opposing character’s abilities would have a range of A or B or do damage of X of Y.
Granted, being complicated is not all that adds to a game’s depth and quality and Battleborn received a fair average score of around 70 on 100. The game was good enough to be enjoyed and the characters had enough little tweaks to their moves and stats to keep PvP matchups interesting. I enjoyed my brief time spent with the game.
On May 5 through 9, 2016 the Overwatch open beta launched and quite literally every person that I personally played with in Battleborn immediately started playing the beta. After the end of this beta Battleborn recovered slightly, but a large amount of the already small player base stopped playing for one reason or another then suddenly fairly short match wait times turned arduous. These wait times, compounded with the type of player who stuck with Battleborn, created a scenario in which players would wait longer and longer for games that more than likely had better and better opponents.
This scenario turned the game’s depth against it and many players would stick to one character with one build because that’s what they knew they could compete with; as no one wanted to wait for a match only to pick a character they did not know and suffer for it. A player base that had a hard divide between experienced players and inexperienced ones, balancing issues between characters, and a host of other problems eroded Battleborn’s online activity to near nil rapidly.
Overwatch released on May 23, 2016 to stellar reviews hitting a cross platform average of 90. The game was mechanically great; characters were varied with differing abilities and stats while still being easy to pick up. I do not feel much need to go into depth as to why Overwatch is a good game, as the current 25 million players speaks for itself.
Later in the same year Titanfall 2 released on October 28th, sandwiched between Battlefield 1 on October 21st, and Call of Duty Infinite Warfare on November 4th. Despite being adorned with a great review average of 88 on 100, about equal to Battlefield 1’s and a few notches above Infinite Warfare’s 76, Titanfall 2 sold a fraction of the other two releases’ sales. The strange part is, Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1 share the same publisher, EA Games, and yet were released within a week of each other. Titanfall 2 was absolutely eclipsed by the two largest recurring AAA shooter IPs of the year. This might have been an attempt to cut into Activision’s sales on Infinite Warfare. Statements of continued support for Titanfall 2 from EA hint that it likely did what was expected to cut into Call of Duty’s sales, but in the end Infinite Warfare still exceptionally well, even if it did poorly compared to its predecessor Black Ops 3.
This matchup against two huge games could potentially have had a negative impact upon the employees at Respawn Entertainment. Especially considering whatever kind of talk occurred to break the news of a release alongside a gargantuan title under the same publisher. This might have a tangible impact on Titanfall 2’s announced releases of free DLC updates despite developer blogs remaining enthusiastic. While not nearly in the same dire straits as Battleborn and still having a solid looking future, Titanfall 2 would have likely have seen much better initial sales and growth had its release date been shifted away from the clash of titans it stood between.
These are but a couple of extreme examples of games’ launch windows negatively affecting their sales performance and player base numbers.
As consumers, supporters, and gamers we should take note of what games are launched concurrently and once in awhile give the less loved option a shot. That super hyped up game’s multiplayer base will be there for a while, but that more niche game’s will have an expiration date. This also applies to single player games as well, as giving some extra support to a game that’s more of a risk than one that’s almost a sure success anyway will help to tell the developers that we as a consumer base still want variety in our games. Unless you don’t, then, I don’t know. You do you.