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Why Lawbreakers dropped free-to-play and embraced MOBAs

Why Lawbreakers dropped free-to-play and embraced MOBAs

For Cliff Bleszinski, there’s a lot riding on his new title, Lawbreakers.

This is, after all, the game that he came out of retirement to make having left the games industry in 2012. That break lasted less than two years as the Gears of War and Unreal returned in 2014 at the helm of a new studio called Boss Key.

“I was getting really bored,” he tells PCGamesInsider.biz.

“You have to do something when you're retired. You need a hobby or something. I missed developers. They drive me crazy sometimes, they love to argue, they can be difficult but they are also incredibly intelligent and sincere people.The thing I wasn't ready for was being CEO. I have an amazing team that majority of what we have to deal with, but at the end of the day it's my career name on the project, as well as everyone else's, but for me to come out of retirement for this... it's presented its set of challenges. It's been stressful. I'm looking forward to getting out there and carving out a slice of the pie in the current FPS landscape.”

"The thing I wasn't ready for was being CEO. I have an amazing team that handle the majority of what we have to deal with, but at the end of the day it's my name on the project, as well as everyone else's. For me to come out of retirement for this... it's presented its set of challenges. It's been stressful. I'm looking forward to getting out there and carving out a slice of the pie in the current FPS landscape.”

The initial thinking behind Lawbreakers was to make a fast-paced arena style shooter, in the vein of Quake or Unreal. But during its development, this DNA became melded with that of MOBAs, a genre some of Boss Key’s programmers were very interested in.

“The depth in MOBAs doesn't come from the map, it comes from the characters that have these abilities,” Bleszinski explains.

“I wasn't a big MOBA fan, I played a little bit of Smite but once our programmers started implementing aspects from MOBAs, we realised it was a good direction to go in, combined with my desire to introduce low gravity gameplay to a new generation of gamers that do not remember Quake and Unreal.”

“If there are Counter-Strike players out there that want to try a character-based shooter, then they should give us a go. They may have considered some of the character-based shooters such as Paladins or Overwatch that are great games in their own right, but they are so focused on the meta. I always say that they feel like great character-based games that happen to be shooters. We're a shooter that has characters. I hope we have cosplay, I have we have fan art, but I really want to make something with great frame rate, great controls. Hopefully a lot of the core will move into this game. That's what I'm gunning for.”

Initially Lawbreakers was going to be a free-to-play game, but in March 2016 Boss Key reversed course and decide to make it an upfront payment.

“I've played my fair share of free-to-play games; they were all the rage at the time,” Bleszinski explains. “

"But when we started to dig in, we weren't thinking about how to make the game fun, we were thinking about how to make money. We realised that there are a certain number of players who were used to paying $60, so we decided to go for a $29.99 price point. There is a soft currency/crate system in there where you can buy extra stuff but it's all cosmetic. We hope that people love the game enough that they'll pay a few more bucks and still not even necessarily have to get to that $60 for a price point. I don't think we have the greatest looking game in the world, but we don't look like a budget title even though we have a really reasonable price point.”

Being a PC-based online multiplayer title in the current games market, Lawbreakers looks primed to be an eSport. But Bleszinski says that is for the fans to decide.

“I've seen games show up at conventions – existing or new IP – that are forcing their way to be an eSport,” he says.

“We may consider throwing a bit of money at community tournaments, but it starts at grass roots. You can't just immediate say you invented a sport and that it's going to be the NHL. A lot of people are trying to do that. It's going to be a grass roots organic thing that's going to take a while to happen. I've heard some people who play a lot of other competitive FPS games who feel that eSports hasn't been managed the way that they want. if we have the very good problem of people wanting it very soon, we'll hopefully get to the point where we'll have something like that. But I cannot force it.”

Developing with free-to-play, we weren't thinking about how to make the game fun, we were thinking about how to make money
Cliff Bleszinski, Boss Key

Boss Key held an open beta for Lawbreakers this past weekend. This follows one alpha test and two closed betas. Though many betas are used as promotional tools at the moment, testing the game's infrastructure is important to Bleszinski, especially having seen what happens when online multiplayer doesn't work during Gears of War 2's launch. 

"We have learnt a lot from [alphas and betas]," Bleszinski says. "We found certain match types didn't work in certain maps, we found out a lot about balance. then we hit the point where we could do an open beta.

“Make no mistake: we were still server load testing. You need to surgically test your server loads so if you do have that good problem of having a lot of people trying to play, and your publisher is pushing awareness of the beta, you can be there Day One or people will just refund it on Steam or move on to the next game. It goes back to the matchmaking not working in Gears of War 2; that's the moment where the Gears of War franchise – at least for the time frame – hit a glass ceiling of six million copies because the multiplayer was bootstrapped by that time period when Call of Duty was really getting a tremendous amount of traction.”

We’re fast approaching launch for Lawbreakers. The title hits digital storefronts on August 8th, and Bleszinski has somewhat modest ambitions for the release.

“The game is going to go one of three ways,” he explains.

“It could potentially bomb, which I hope it doesn't do; it could come out and do decently, or it could explode in a good way and then we'll need to get more studio space and hire more people.

“What I'm hoping is that we are half way between those last two – it does pretty well but starts ramping quickly. This is going to be a live product, we're making content as we speak for post-launch. But as much as I love this, I'm already thinking about idea No.2. I love making worlds and IP. Lawbreakers is what it is – I still put my time in on it. But I'm carving out a bit of time every day to noodle on another idea.

He concludes: “I guess I'm not ready to retire yet.”

Editor - PC Games Insider

Alex Calvin launched PCGamesInsider.biz in August 2017 and has been its editor since. Prior to this, he was deputy editor at UK based games trade paper MCV and content editor for marketing and events for London Games Festival 2017. His work has also appeared in Eurogamer, The Observer, Kotaku UK, Esquire UK and Develop.

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