Cliff Bleszinski On LawBreakers: "I Have To Keep This Game Alive"
"It's been very humbling for me."
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Cliff Bleszinski knows the player figures for LawBreakers right now are low. But he isn't losing faith. Games can be slow-burners--just look at Warframe as an example--and developer Boss Key has big plans to get lapsed players to return and bring in new ones. In an interview with GameSpot this week, Bleszinski spoke frankly about LawBreakers. He told us he's been humbled by the low player figures; he talked about the mistakes he made in the direction of the game. He said launching near "Destiny season" probably didn't help. And he said he wants to be "less of a dick" with his interactions with people online.
Released in August for PC and PlayStation 4, LawBreakers is a team-based shooter that you might say resembles Overwatch in some ways. But for Bleszinski, he says he never wanted to try to go head-to-head with Blizzard's juggernaut. LawBreakers has an edgy, R-rated tone, you might say, while Overwatch is more colorful and lighthearted. Bleszinski spoke extensively about Boss Key's layers of differentiation, and the game no doubt stands out from the pack. But the game's release did not go entirely to plan. As mentioned, player figures fell off a cliff, at least on PC; the current player count on PC is reportedly very low, with a peak concurrent player figure of 181 over the past 24 hours; it had an all-time peak of 7,482 players, according to Steamcharts. These numbers may not be entirely accurate, but it is clear that player figures are low on PC. The PS4 edition is "doing fine," Bleszinski said. The console and PC communities have different mindsets when it comes to judging success, the developer said.
"There is a situation where players look at numbers on Steam; that doesn't happen on PlayStation 4. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but you look at PC, [concurrent user] health versus PS4, PS4 is doing fine," he said. "People cough up 30 bucks and hop online and they don't overthink it. On PC there is you wanting to declare something a success or a bomb by this internet culture that loves to just observe things. But it's like, guys, you know, the small bit [of players] that we have, we're going to continue to iterate and engage. As we issue content drops, maybe there's going to be sales or potential free weekends down the line, continue to fluff that CCU up."
One of the big issues with low player figures is long matchmaking times. Here in Australia, GameSpot has not been able to find a match on PS4 at all over the past two weeks after multiple attempts. We stopped trying the last time after 45+ minutes of matchmaking.
Boss Key has big plans for LawBreakers going forward. In addition to "rapid fire" updates for quick fixes and changes, the studio is working on new maps, new features (the much-requested Team Deathmatch is coming!), a ranked mode called Boss League, and a new, defensive-minded class.
"It's a marathon. Not a sprint," Bleszinski explained. "We're going to keep iterating keep working on it. At the end of the day, I didn't want to make the exact same archetypes that everybody else did. I wanted to make a game that was first and foremost a shooter for shooter players."
"I'm going to continue to iterate on this game, continue to add to it. And try to be less of a dick, honestly" -- Bleszinski
Bleszinski believes LawBreakers could have a trajectory similar to Warframe, which he says launched with low player numbers and scaled up in time due to developer Digital Extremes' commitment to release new and exciting content. For LawBreakers, Bleszinski says the team is also overhauling the game's marketing. As you may have seen, the game's logo--a Blink 182-like sad face with Xs for eyes--does not look all that inviting or one that would espouse positive feelings. The new marketing campaign for LawBreakers will take steps to help people understand the appeal of the game; principally that it is a white-knuckle, high-action, over-the-top shooter that is fun to play with friends.
"We need the bodies. We need to keep fluffing up the CCU," Bleszinski said. "We need to do what we can to let people know this is a really sweaty palm type of experience that can hopefully lend itself to eSports. But you know, I have to keep this game alive, first and foremost. I can be very cocky and very brash on social media. And realising that, you know, we have a fledgling player base. It's been very humbling for me. I'm going to continue to iterate on this game, continue to add to it. And try to be less of a dick, honestly."
The excitement of what it feels like to play LawBreakers is "not coming across right now," Bleszinski acknowledged. One further element of Boss Key's attempts to bring back lapsed players and draw in new ones is an overhauled onboarding experience. The full details are not known at this stage, but it'll include new tutorial videos and other guides to help players learn the ins and outs of each class.
Also in the interview, Bleszinski candidly spoke about what he would have done differently. There was no Team Deathmatch at launch (but it's in the game now through the Skirmish playlist), and Bleszinski unequivocally said it was a mistake to not ship with it; a mistake he made because he wouldn't budge on his vision and development mantra.
"I didn't want to do the exact same stuff everybody else did. The funny thing was, making a character-based, class based shooter--even though it's not as simple as a traditional arena shooter, it still has a lot of that kind of feel underneath it all," he said. "In hindsight, I think it was a mistake to not ship with it. I was stubborn. I was like, 'Ohh, everybody's [already] done TDM.' Even Blizzard's like, 'Screw it, we need to put TDM action in Overwatch.' Fundamentally, at the end of the day, players just want to get in and shoot some stuff sometimes. That's one of the things that I consider my strengths: I am willing to admit when I am wrong. I think people in the public eye--it would do them a great benefit to do that more often."
The lower-than-expected player figures for LawBreakers might have come as a surprise to Bleszinski, Boss Key, and publisher Nexon. After all, the game received a lot of praise in the press and from fans. Reviews on Steam are designated as "Very Positive," while the press mostly enjoyed the game as well. Whatever the case, the player figures are low, and Bleszinski is the first to admit his mistakes.
"I have a reputation for being brash and loud, but I am the first person to admit when I'm wrong," he said. "We certainly did make our share of mistakes with the game. In spite of the mistakes, we're going to continue to update and iterate, and the reviews do not lie."
"Fundamentally, at the end of the day, players just want to get in and shoot some stuff sometimes" -- Bleszinski on why he wanted to add TDM to LawBreakers
LawBreakers is the first game from Bleszinski's studio, Boss Key, which he founded after leaving Epic Games. Because the studio is so new, and relatively small, at just 65 people, some "concessions" had to be made in regards to the content that would be in the game at launch. Bleszinski wanted to put his employees first--and that is an notable, admirable thing, given the stories of extended crunch and overly stressful working conditions we often hear about.
"The problem with what we were trying to pull off with this company and this title was shipping a quality product with a team of 65 people without ruining everybody's marriages," he said. ""So certain concessions did have to be made from a production standpoint. It's easy for me to sit there and go, 'Ah, we should have shipped with this,' 'We should have shipped with that.' [Or] change the date. In hindsight, it would have made sense. But hindsight is always 20/20. If I could go back in time I'd find a way to change the schedule and ship with more of those things."
"Those of you who have been kind enough to drop $30 on this; we've got your back and we're sticking with it."
We will have MUCH MORE from our conversation with Bleszinski coming up soon. He also spoke about if the game could adopt a free-to-play, the likelihood of Xbox One and Nintendo Switch version, what's being done to improve matchmaking times, and how he's on a first name basis with the governor of North Carolina. This story has been updated to clarify the Steamcharts figures.