According to recent reports, Cliffy B’s LawBreakers (LB) isn’t doing very well. It maybe one of 2017’s biggest flops. The title is a pay-to-play first person shooter with a strong emphasis on gravity manipulation during battle. It was released worldwide for PC and PlayStation 4 just a week ago, on August 8.
LawBreakers is a title where two teams of five players compete against each other in an arena-style battleground. These teams align with either the law or the breaker factions. As of right now, players are able to chose from nine classes and four game modes.
Despite being well-received by critics and reviewers, the game’s player counts have actually decreased after each open beta session. Two days after release, the active players numbered at just 3,000. Reportedly, this indicates more than a 50% drop in players since the first open beta in June. And according to Steamcharts, the peak number of players for the last 24 hours was a mere 1,550.
This is very concerning given Cliffy B’s track record with games. To compare, let’s look at the release of Gears of War (GoW). This third-person shooter was released in 2006 for the Xbox 360, and was very well received. Since its original launch, the game has gotten an updated re-release for the Xbox One as well.
Gears was released to very positive reviews and praise from players, much like LB. Within two weeks of release, Gears of War sold one million units. 2 months later, over three million units were sold. But unfortunately, the same simply isn’t true for LawBreakers in spite of its similar positive reception at launch.
It’s not entirely clear yet why LB is not doing as well. Cliffy B laid a lot of the same groundwork for LawBreakers as it did for Gears of War. Both games saw a big marketing push, though arguably Gears of War got the upper hand in that regard after its memorable usage of a popular song. But it’s also worth noting that while LawBreakers was available across a number of systems, GoW was published by Microsoft and pushed heavily as an exclusive selling point for the Xbox 360.
That sort of extra attention pushed Gears into popularity, while LawBreakers got left behind, floundering with a marketing campaign that consisted more of on-site ads and promoted Tweets than actual engaging content.
Is marketing attention the only thing that put LawBreakers in the ground? Of course not. There are a number of other things that could have gone wrong. And if we’re honest about it, this isn’t the first time a Cliffy game hasn’t been successful.
In 2011, we saw the release of Bulletstorm for the Xbox 360. This first-person shooter stuck heavily to Cliffy’s visceral design aesthetic and insanely chaotic combat. But five months after its release, developer Epic Games announced that it had failed to make a profit — even though, much like LawBreakers, the title got positive initial reviews from fans and critics alike.
Bulletstorm also had a respectable marketing push that included advertisements on major networks and commercials featuring a few Hollywood actors. Yet, it still failed. Why? The answer isn’t clear. But it is interesting that this pattern of positive reviews and poor sales has carried across multiple Cliffy titles. Maybe Cliffy’s games can only sell as exclusives instead of multi-platform titles? It’s possible that the extra bump from Microsoft really did make all the difference.
As of now, Cliffy B doesn’t seem to be worried about the title’s slow start. But I’m not so optimistic in regards to its performance and player numbers.
What’s happening with LawBreakers feels very similar to what happened with 2016’s Battleborn. Another stylish shooter in the same vein as LB, this game also saw a steep decline in its playerbase shortly after launch — probably because its release date fell so unfortunately close to the juggernaut arena shooter that was Overwatch.
If you ask me, new shooters like LawBreakers have huge hurdles to jump over these days, and very few will make the leap and stay afloat. We live in a post-Overwatch world, after all, and only a free-to-play competitor like Paladins has been able to keep up with Blizzard’s entry in the genre.
The shooter scene is already oversaturated with all kinds of shooters — from gritty historical experiences like Battlefield 1 or Call of Duty: WW2 to colorful arena shooters or frenetic experiences like Quake, capturing players’ attention with a new IP is no simple matter. And unfortunately, it seems like LawBreakers just didn’t innovate (or market) enough to capture as much attention as it needed to in order to stay alive.
Lots of good games have ultimately died in spite of their general quality and respectable launches. We’ve seen it time and time again. And although it’s too early to chalk up LawBreakers as a loss — as new maps and modes are still set for release — things aren’t looking good.
The decline in players will obviously be a focal point for both the game’s developer and its publisher, Nexon. But if they’re making any business decisions in that regard, they’re being tight-lipped about it.
Cliffy B has been in the business for years and he’s been down this road before. So I’m sure this is familiar ground despite his past successes. LawBreakers is a stylish game, and it would be a shame if it goes quietly into the night.