Bloodlines Champions was added to Steam in June 2012, but by then it was already on its way out. Steam was supposed to inject the game with new life and maybe even provide the second wind that was so needed for the game to finally rise to power.
Over two years, the game went from a monthly peak player count of 246 all the way down to 68… and then something miraculous happened:
A new patch hit the game and many old-time players returned, at least to see what all the hype was about. The monthly peak player count skyrocketed to 816 in December 2014 and even higher to 1,137 in January 2015. It seemed like the second wind had come.
But month by month, the playerbase hemorrhaged back down to 651, then 352, then 263. Within 90 days, the numbers had gone back to pre-patch numbers, and that’s when people finally accepted the writing on the wall.
So the question is, how did an amazing game like this die in the first place?
1. Network Problems
In a game like Bloodline Champions (and Battlerite), every single second counts. In fact, every millisecond counts. When you’re using a reactive ability like Kunju, which had a cast time of 0.2 seconds, every bit of latency could’ve been the difference between living or dying.
Unfortunately, Stunlock didn’t allow players to host their own servers, so every match was played on servers owned by Stunlock. This meant that if the servers began acting up or the network routing got clogged up, you couldn’t do anything about it.
Lag spikes are annoying no matter what game you’re playing, but they’re especially frustrating when real-time competition is on the line. Some players got so frustrated that they even began paying for a VPN subscription just so they could get a cleaner route to Stunlock’s servers.
What made it worse is that the lag problems were correlated to the number of players online, at least to some degree. Sure, it still lagged when nobody was on, but it was really bad when a lot of matches were in session — and that’s a lethal problem when the playerbase desperately needs to grow.
It’s easy to see how this could have been the main reason why the game died. Network issues are frustrating, and frustrated players quit. When enough players quit, the game dies.
2. The Bloodcoin Grind
Stunlock also implemented a terrible-in-hindsight monetization strategy that made it incredibly difficult for new players to enjoy the game. Even veterans had a hard time enjoying the game because of all the bloodcoin farming necessary to unlock gameplay elements.
I don’t fault Stunlock for going the way of microtransactions. Riot Games got rich off of it, and it was only natural to emulate what they did in the hopes that they’d strike a similar gold mine. I also realize that many of the financial decisions were probably decided by Funcom.
The fundamental flaw in how they monetized? The system punished players who wanted to play the game. People liked the arena concept, but they couldn’t play the damn game because of all the gated champions and moneysinks that stood in the way.
For example, the weekly bloodcoin cap. In theory, it sounds good: you limit the amount of bloodcoins a player can earn every week so that they come back next week, and the next week, and the next week. In practice, players quickly figure out that they won’t be able to unlock their next champion until next month… and so they quit. The effort isn’t worth it.
But more than that, forcing players to purchase champions was the critical mistake. It worked for League of Legends because their champions are, in general, substitutable. It didn’t work in Bloodline Champions because champions were too unique and nuanced. You couldn’t just replace Alchemist with Herald. The two are nothing alike.
How it could have been better: Free players have access to every bloodline but can’t earn any bloodcoins (no access to cosmetics) and can’t participate in tournaments. Maybe you need a $5 Tournament Pass that only lasts for a month. That’s fair, right? You capture more newbies and generate sustained long-term revenue. Win-win.
3. Matchmaking & Queues
Was there ever a time when players didn’t complain about the matchmaking system in Bloodline Champions? There were so many flaws to deal with, and any time one of them was addressed, it just opened up another issue for players to complain about.
The thing is that matchmaking requires a large playerbase. On a good day, there might have been 1,000 players online. Of those players, let’s say 40% were queued, 20% were in private or bot games, and 40% are idle, which meant 400 players in the queue. With a 30-70 split between US and EU, that’s 120 in one queue and 280 in the other.
At any given time, let’s say half the players in each queue were in a live game, which leaves 60 US players and 140 EU players actively looking for a game. Each game requires six players that are somewhat evenly matched, but you also have to give extra priority to players who have been sitting in the queue for too long.
And that’s with a playerbase of 1,000 players! For any kind of meaningful matchmaking — especially where the skill range between newbie and master is so wide — the game would probably need 5,000 concurrently online players. Bloodline Champions never got that far.
Multiple queues were also a massive problem. If we use the above figures — 60 US players and 140 EU players — and split them between a 2v2 queue and a 3v3 queue, it just makes it that much harder for the matchmaking system to do its job.
Not to mention ranked vs. unranked queues as well as queues for Conquest and Capture the Artifact modes. Too much fragmentation. Is it all that surprising that newbies were getting paired up with veterans? No wonder they all quit so fast.
4. Newbie Unfriendliness
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the other reason why newbies quit playing: the unhelpful environment.
I’ve personally never seen a community as noxious as the one in Bloodline Champions. Spend ten minutes idling in one of the global channels and you’ll soon see two players flaming each other over the game they just played (and presumably lost).
Look, I get it. Every multiplayer game has angry, obnoxious, and trollish players who simply can’t help themselves, and yes, if you’re going to be on the Internet, you need to develop a thick skin to endure whatever flames come your way. But for Bloodline Champions, negativity was part of the culture.
For every newbie who could handle the toxicity, there were ten or more other newbies who didn’t have the energy or fortitude to deal with it. So, they quit. And when players quit, the game dies.
5. Traits & Stats
Over the past few years, there have been dozens of threads asking people why they thought Bloodline Champions never made it big, and the top response always involved Traits and Stats in some way or another.
I don’t think the system deserves the hatred it has gotten. Was it a bad system? Absolutely. Did it contribute to the game’s demise? Without a doubt. But was it the worst thing to happen to the game? I don’t think so.
My main complaint about Traits and Stats is that they didn’t have any real impact on gameplay. The reason for that is obvious: the developers didn’t want veterans to have an unfair advantage over newbies who hadn’t yet unlocked their traits and built up their stats.
So what was the point of implementing the mechanic? If it didn’t impact the gameplay in any significant way, it might as well have not existed.
That’s why it backfired so badly. Traits and Stats didn’t really mean anything in the big picture, but players perceived that they did. It came across as a pay-to-win system that was unfair to newbies and those who didn’t have the time or energy to grind bloodcoins.
And that’s the tragedy of it. Players were disgusted by a system that ultimately meant nothing, and those players quit. Traits and Stats tainted the image of Bloodline Champions, and for what? For nothing!
For the record, I think Medallions actually weren’t that bad of an addition, but I’d prefer not to see them in Battlerite. They didn’t feel like an organic part of gameplay and only served to overcomplicate the learning curve for newbies.
Why do you think Bloodline Champions failed to succeed? Is there anything I missed? Or do you disagree with any of my points? Don’t hold back. Let it all out in the comments!