Ex-2K Boss On What Went Wrong With Battleborn, Evolve, And Spec Ops: The Line
Christoph Hartmann, the former president of 2K Games, dishes on the publisher's struggles over the years.
As part of GameSpot's wide-ranging profile interview of game development veteran Christoph Hartmann, who now heads up Amazon Games, the former president of 2K Games shared some stories about his career missteps. These included games like Evolve, Battleborn, and Spec Ops: The Line not living up to expectations, for one reason or another.
Hartmann told GameSpot that, later in his career, he made safer and more conventional decisions, driven in part by pressure to deliver, and they didn't all work out.
"Life gets more complicated when you get older; it's all great when you're in the 'building' mode where everything is an opportunity. And then you build a company that is much bigger than you expected you ever would build. You know what kicks in? 'I could screw it all up.' And then you start making bad decisions," he said.
2K parent company Take-Two acquired Evolve out of THQ's bankruptcy auction. Hartmann said he felt pressure from above that the new game from the creators of Left 4 Dead wouldn't be a sales success. Among other things, Hartmann said Evolve should have launched as a free-to-play title. The game--which featured four players as hunters and one as the monster--generated positive buzz at E3 and Gamescom back in 2014, but the game didn't strike a chord upon release.
Hartmann said he felt pressure to convince the team to add a PvE element to Evolve after Titanfall's PvP-only approach "didn't work" in the executive's eyes.
"The game was just PvP, and I felt like we had to add PvE to it because I felt pressure from everyone that we can't sell it. Titanfall tried to sell only PvP and it kind of didn't work. So what I hoped was that Titanfall was going to prove that you can sell a PvP-only game on console. It kind of did the opposite. So we did a cheap PvE version, which we should have never done," Hartmann said. "The right thing would have been for the game to go free-to-play from the beginning. It would have been a bold decision. I didn't have--given I looked at the [profit and loss statement] and thought we had to hit a number...I didn't do it. It would have been the right bold decision."
For Battleborn, which was a new IP from Borderlands studio Gearbox, Hartmann said the studio revealed the game too early. It was initially shown off at E3 2014 and launched in 2016, around the same time as Blizzard's own hero shooter, Overwatch. Hartmann recalls that 2K made critical mistakes in marketing and releasing Battleborn, showing its hand early and then falling short to Blizzard's game in the end.
"We were stupid enough to announce [Battleborn too early]. We announced it at E3, far too early, like three years out," he said. "We explained to the whole world what we were going to do, and then we couldn't deliver forever... Activision Blizzard outspent us 10:1 on marketing. We did something [sales and impact-wise], but clearly not what they did with Overwatch."
Battleborn, which represented Gearbox's biggest monetary investment in the company's history up until that point, officially shut down its servers in January 2021 after about five years. The game stopped getting regular updates fairly quickly, however.
Hartmann also discussed 2012's Spec Ops: The Line, from German developer Yager. The executive said Spec Ops was 2K's attempt at breaking into the shooter category dominated by Call of Duty. Spec Ops earned strong reviews for its story that depicted the horrors of war, but the game ultimately didn't sell well enough.
"I gave in to the company. It was an IP that Take-Two owned and they didn't want to write it off. We did a game along the lines of Call of Duty and talked ourselves into saying, 'Hey, that does so much, so all I need to do is 10% of that…" he said.
But that's not how it worked out. Spec Ops had a shoehorned multiplayer mode developed by a separate studio that, to some, felt antithetical to what Spec Ops's spirit and tone was all about--not to mention that people simply didn't enjoy it.
"The winner takes it all in games and that's it. When you look at how much EA put into having [Battlefield] fighting Call of Duty, I don't know how the maths works or not, but it sounds like a battle that...why would you even fight it?" Hartmann said.
For more, check out GameSpot's full profile interview of Hartmann, which covers his life and career running up to his leadership at Amazon Games. Additional stories follow below.
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