Rocket League Devs Discuss "Difficult" Decision to Give It Away on PlayStation Plus

"Almost up until the game was announced for PlayStation Plus, we were on the fence."


Rocket League

Rocket League developer Psyonix has discussed its decision to give the game away for free through Sony's PlayStation Plus service. Speaking in a two-part documentary created by former GameSpot video producer Danny O'Dwyer, the studio said its inability to market the game itself was a "large factor."

"We didn’t have any money to spend," explained Jeremy Dunham, vice president of the San Diego-based independent developer. "Our budget for marketing and PR was practically nothing. Our big challenge was how we get it out to other people."

The studio's solution was to let Sony promote its soccer-with-cars title, as it does with all the games it offers for free via PlayStation Plus.

"Our strategy was, 'If we don’t have the money to market this game, why don’t we let Sony market it for us, because they put in millions of dollars a year in marketing PlayStation Plus games and they do it month after month regardless of what the game is.'"

This was a risky move, considering it would mean that, after spending a great deal of its own money on developing Rocket League, Psyonix would be giving it away for at least a month after launch.

"It was a difficult decision," Dunham continued. "It took a lot of discussions … Almost up until the game was announced for PlayStation Plus, we were on the fence."

"It was a big worry because we didn't know if it was the right decision. We had a lot of fear that we would just make no money on the game," added Corey Davis, design director at Psyonix. "Obviously, developers can't go into the details of the deal they have with Sony, but you fight for an amount that they pay you and hope that’s enough if nothing else happens.

"It was really concerning that we may just sign away all this money and then the game just drops off. Even within the first month, yeah it blew up on PlayStation Plus, but what if five million people download it and then no one else buys it ever again and we’ve made nothing and have to pay for servers for five million people."

Of course, that's not what happened and, in fact, Rocket League became a bona fide sensation. Word of mouth and online buzz made it one of the most downloaded PlayStation Plus games of all time. It went on to make $110 million for the studio and, by August 2016, amassed 21 million total players. Psyonix counts individual players in this figure, so those that haven't purchased the game but play through split-screen are included.

In August it was also reported that Rocket League had sold 7 million copies across PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The exact number of copies that were downloaded through PlayStation Plus has not been specified and Sony never releases this information. However, during the documentary Dunham said Rocket League has now sold 8 million copies and has "almost 22 million players."

The two-part documentary is a fascinating insight into the history of Psyonix and how it created one of the best games in recent years. Watch it here.

Since launch, Psyonix has supported Rocket League with new downloadable content. It recently introduced a new arena that's set under the sea, which is available for free alongside two new paid DLC cars based on the deep sea theme.

The studio also told GameSpot that it's considering a PS4 Pro patch that could upgrade various aspects of the game.

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    Avatar image for casana

    One of the best games of this decade, and it's been probably my most played in game over the past 12 months, however the servers are absolutely abysmal at the moment, pretty much unplayable with the lag

    Avatar image for gamersince78


    haha I bought it on both x1 and I never downloaded the free copy during the available month...derp..but I would happily donate to this many hours of fun and enjoyment

    Avatar image for gotmerked

    Fantastic move , by far the greatest "free" game I ever had .

    Avatar image for da_chub

    I was bummed I had to pay full price knowing that everyone else for it for free days before I got my PS4. O well, devs got to get paid, but still was an expensive game that still has in game purchases for skins for cars. Which I won't buy.

    Avatar image for TheEternalGamer

    I'm so bummed. I've been a PS Plus subscriber for three years straight and the month this was available for free was the only month in that time span I forgot to grab the free games. I wish they just automatically gave them to you if you are a subscriber instead of having to "purchase" them for free. Yes, it only takes a few seconds, but some of us have more important matters at hand than remembering when new games come to a subscription service.

    Avatar image for jshah500

    @TheEternalGamer: You had 30 days to do it. Stop b!tching.

    Avatar image for metzenlord

    I believe they were more afraid when they launched Super Acrobatic Rocket Powered Battle Cars, back in ps3 era, i remember servers being empty, they even changed the music theme that played while you had the icon of the game selected, I loved that "version" of the game, good times for sure.

    Avatar image for SinspaW

    This is quite an odd statement. First, it initially implies that Sony isn't paying them to put the game on PS Plus, which they do, so they're not "giving it away". Second, those numbers are inflated to a ridiculous point. 22 million players? There's no way that's true. You can't count a player as someone who played it once in a friend's house. That's just plain stupid.

    It's sad we live in an era where "what it looks like" is far more important that "what it actually is." Nobody gains from this.

    Avatar image for souxoux

    @SinspaW: well about your "first", they explicitly say in the article that a money deal was made with Sony.

    Avatar image for cherub1000

    Whilst it's not my kinda game, yes I tried it and I sucked haha. I can for sure see the appeal. glad the devs are doing well out of it. Feels like a nice result rather than what happened with No Man's Sky.

    Avatar image for tgMan69

    This is by far my favorite PS Plus download. My boys love it, and despite my usual resistance to buy frivolous add-on content (i.e. skins, and other things that don't affect game play), we've bought a few of the packs for this game. Very fun game!

    Avatar image for Jinzo_111887

    @tgMan69: I was supposed to get it when I preordered my first Steam Controller. The idiots at gamestop messed up though. As a result, I didn't get the game. I decided to buy it on Steam later because I was a bit curious and I wanted something I could enjoy with my cousins. To be honest, I enjoyed it even though I'm not exactly a huge fan of sports games. It's probably because it's a pretty creative idea for a video game.

    Avatar image for Jinzo_111887

    They didn't just give it away with PS+. They also sold gave it away with Steam Controller preorders.

    Avatar image for Thanatos2k

    @7tizz: lol most gamers don't give a crap about voice chat. Fitting that such a wonderful game was overlooked by the excellent taste of 7tizz. Means we never have to see him online. Probably one of those exceptional individuals who spams "What a Save" after every goal.

    Avatar image for SpiderLuke

    @7tizz: so it's pretty much like every Sony multiplayer game I play then. Lol.

    Avatar image for NeverMore0

    So the guy didn't say one word about how well it actually worked out? Just seems kinda whiny without that...

    Avatar image for UpInFlames

    It would have done great regardless as it was an instant hit on Steam and that's where the majority of sales came from anyway. According to SteamSpy, it sold 4.3 million on Steam.

    Avatar image for phoenix1289

    @UpInFlames: Not necessarily. Good games flop all the time from being overlooked. The PS plus give away was for all intents and purposes a marketing campaign bringing attention to the game through word of mouth. If that hadn't occurred the game could very well have ended up ignored on PS4 and on PC (if it even made it to PC to begin with after flopping on PS4).

    The devs themselves openly state in the documentary videos that one of the biggest issues they faced was people heard the idea of cars playing soccer and thought it sounded stupid. That initial impression can be very damning because it means many people won't even give the game a chance. Mix that with people not hearing about it because of that reduced interest and lack of marketing and you have the recipe for the game to fall flat on it's face and never make it anywhere.

    Avatar image for UpInFlames

    @phoenix1289: It came out on the same day on PC and PS4 and, as I said, it was an instant hit. It was the best-selling game on Steam on day 1. I remember because I was following it and reviewed it for one gaming website. I think the promotion helped console sales, but it would have done great on Steam regardless.

    Avatar image for batts86

    @UpInFlames: how do you figure most sales come on steam?? This is a ridiculous comment... I swear PC gamers and their attachment with steam is comical... grow up.

    Avatar image for Thanatos2k

    @batts86: "Rocket League had sold 7 million copies across PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC."

    And if it sold 4.3 million on PC, do the math. It's not hard.

    Avatar image for UpInFlames

    @batts86: If Rocket League sold 4.3 million on Steam, that means that the PC version is the best-selling one. Not exactly rocket science.

    Avatar image for cyraxpt

    @UpInFlames: Well, since you're clearly using steamspy for your numbers, how about checking that red sign on the page, you know, the one that says that the data isn't reliable because there was a free weekend that boosted that number.

    Avatar image for Mogan

    Danny did a great job on that documentary too.

    Avatar image for Xristophoros

    might be my favourite competitive mp game of all time (not including street fighter). i generally don't like such games but rocket league is sheer fun to play and very easy to pick up. the simplicity of the core gameplay, while also being very difficult to master is big reason for its appeal.

    Avatar image for cherub1000

    @Xristophoros: cool! I'm terrible at Rocket League but I've really enjoyed watching some compilation vids on YouTube, some of the goals and moves the pro's pull off is crazy impressive!

    Avatar image for wexorian

    Freeloaders vs Pirates , Same result in the end good indie company loose money.

    Avatar image for DarkNeoBahamut

    @wexorian: They got money for every download made in PS+. That is a deal that Sony has with every developer that allows their games to appear in PS+ for "free". Of course, the amount of money they get is unknown for the public, it's probably not a big amount, but they still get money...unlike pirated games.

    Avatar image for Xristophoros

    @wexorian: i don't think the pc pirated version can function online. since the heart of rocket league is competitive online play, that would make a pirated version of the game damn near useless no? not sure what your argument is... the game has made over $100m in revenue so far lol...

    Avatar image for mboettcher

    @wexorian: Not sure how came to this conclusion after reading this article.

    Avatar image for ryno1179

    Smartest decision they made was making it free on PS+

    Avatar image for johnnyboy787

    @ryno1179: Exactly, best decision they made, now the game its well know, thanks to PS+ the game did amazing.

    Avatar image for wexorian

    @ryno1179: 5 million freeloaders and 7 million buyers not so much smart.

    Avatar image for pezzott1

    @wexorian: From those 5mm freeloaders also buy DLC's.

    Avatar image for phoenix1289

    @wexorian: If they hadn't given it away at first there is a decent chance they would never have gotten those other buyers to begin with. The devs mention multiple times in the videos that one of the biggest challenges they faced was that people saw the idea and thought it sounded stupid. They went through PS plus giving it away for free because regardless of that initial impression people will still try it because it's free. That surge of people playing the game (in the case that the game is good) leads to free press in the form of word of mouth.

    So while people were looking at it thinking this looks stupid, now they are also hearing all these people who have played it saying "it's actually really good" which then in turn leads to increased interest and sales.

    If they hadn't given it away on PS plus then many people would have ignored it and there is a good chance that it would have ended up buried in the PS store as a failure because word never got out about it. Sure there is also the chance that it would have still taken off and they might have made more sales in the long run but the possibility of that is a lot lower when you don't have that kind of word of mouth helping it along.

    The simple fact is marketing can make or break your game, if you don't have it your game can easily die no matter how good it is and a good bit of marketing from word of mouth or an influential person can jump start your game into the stratosphere.

    Avatar image for joshrmeyer

    @wexorian: They got money for those downloads, not from consumers, but from Sony.

    Avatar image for deactivated-58a78a043e9d4

    @wexorian: How many buyers do you think it would have had if it was buried in the Playstation store?

    Avatar image for stewart24

    @pongley: I would probably say 60 percent less. Random number but I kept hearing how amazing it was on my sports gaming website and that pushed me and my friends to get it when it came to the Xbox. Money well spent

    Avatar image for wexorian

    @pongley: Plenty before PS plus it was getting a lot Fanbase from Steam aswell.

    Avatar image for deactivated-58a78a043e9d4

    @wexorian: It released on Steam on the same day as it went on PSN, so of course it got a lot of buyers on Steam, it was all over the news.

    Avatar image for tachsniper

    Good for them, they took the leap of faith and got rewarded big time. I love Rocket league.