There may be some truth to this meme.
In this piece, I’ll explore the prospect of F2P and whether or not we should rely on it as Battlerite’s savior. What exactly should we expect? Will it be enough to save this game? Is that even the right question to ask? Here’s my analysis and my conclusion.
Can F2P Really Save a Game?
I went through the Top 100 games on Steam Charts to see what historical population graphs look like for multiplayer PvP games. To my surprise, a lot of games are actually in decline — even Dota 2 and CS:GO have hit plateaus, likely due to the popularity PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
But that’s not what I was looking for.
Here’s what I wanted to know: Are there any examples of multiplayer PvP games that had near-death populations prior to F2P, then soared to sustainable populations after F2P? The examples were hard to find, but I did find a few.
Brawlhalla’s graph might be a best-case scenario for Battlerite’s future. Here we have a game that entered alpha phase in April 2014, then spent a full 15 months before entering open beta in November 2015. The stats were abysmal for that entire time, narrowly at 1,000 peak players.
With open beta, the peak player count shot up from 790 to 7,400 right away, and then to 12,800 over the next five months. The following year saw a steady player count between 8,000 and 12,000 — extremely healthy for a game centered on 1v1 matches.
Here’s the thing: Brawlhalla has a terrible retention rate. I discuss it more in the very last section of this article. It’s popular to say that Battlerite has retention issues, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Brawlhalla and Brawlhalla is doing fine.
Black Squad, a first-person shooter previously known as Viper Circle, went free-to-play earlier this year and stands as another ray of hope for Battlerite.
The developers ran two closed beta tests: the first one July 13 to 15 and the second one July 20 to 21. The turnout for the second test (peaked at 3,200) was half as much as the first test (peaked at 6,700). Surely that’s a sign the game is boring and will die?
But the game launched F2P on July 28 and the player count shot up to 13,400 — twice as high as the first closed beta test, and steady ever since. Keep in mind: Black Squad isn’t a “good” game, regularly criticized for uninspired gameplay and shoddy matchmaking, yet still thrives in F2P.
There’s no better example of a game whose players constantly cry “ded gaem” than Eve Online. According to them, this game has been “dead” for all 14 of its online years!
But Eve Online did almost die. Back in May 2010, its player count dropped from 4,900 to 950 after the Tyrannis expansion, then dwindled all the way down to 550 within a few months. How’s that for a dead game? Unfortunately, you won’t see that on the Steam Charts.
What you will see is a stagnant population of 1,300 (in October 2017) that jumps up to 6,700 (in November 2017) after Eve Online went F2P. After the initial spike wore out, the game is still left with about 3,200 peak players — that’s 2.5x pre-F2P population.
I include the graphs for Rust and Unturned for one reason: both of these games had a lot of initial interest that quickly faded, then somehow reclaimed their initial numbers and rebuilt their playerbases. (Unturned is F2P but Rust is not.)
If they can do it, why can’t Battlerite?
All in all, these games show that F2P truly can save a game, at least in terms of player counts. So if you feel like Battlerite is doomed, don’t give up just yet. There is hope yet.
Does Battlerite Need to Be Saved?
Everyone seems to assume that Battlerite is about to die and needs to be saved. But is it really as bad the cynics claim? Let’s get some perspective.
I went through Steam Charts a second time, this time peeking through Steam’s Top 750 games to see what stats look like for semi-popular multiplayer PvP games. How many players can we expect in a game that’s well-known but not mainstream?
Gigantic launched on July 20, 2017, peaked two days later at 8,300 concurrent players, then lost almost 80 percent of its playerbase by August 22. By the second month, peak player count dropped to around 900.
Compared to Battlerite, this game is floundering. The format is 5v5 so the impact of a small community is even worse for them, its F2P hype has come and gone, and it has a 71 percent rating on Steam. Gigantic would be lucky to have Battlerite’s numbers, and we still have F2P ahead of us.
After five years, Awesomenauts is still alive. The developers are still pushing out updates, and players are still playing it and making content and having fun. As of this writing, it has a 24-hour peak of 800 — which may not seem like much, but they just ran a successful 3v3 tournament with 25 teams.
It may not have the same level of fame and fortune as Overwatch and CS:GO, but Awesomenauts proves that a 3v3 game can survive for many years with a peak player count that hovers around 1,000.
Quake Champions entered Early Access on August 23, 2017. Despite Quake being one of the most foundational multiplayer FPS franchises of all time, EA failed to pull in big numbers: about 1,000 peak players on day one, then an all-time peak of 2,400 in the first week.
Today, Quake Champions holds steady around 900 peak players per day. F2P will be introduced later, but if you compare QC to Battlerite as far as pre-F2P numbers, we have plenty of reason to be grateful.
Unfortunately, it seems like the QC community is split between two modes — 1v1 Duel (pushed by players) and 4v4 Sacrifice (pushed by developers) — and this appears to be hurting them. Maybe it’s a sign that we shouldn’t be split, that we need to pick 2v2 or 3v3 as an official mode?
I admit that Battlerite’s chart looks bad, but we’re actually in an okay position when you compare it to other multiplayer PvP games that aren’t in Steam’s Top 10. The fact that we’re consistently in Steam’s Top 100 is a good sign, and I find it hard to say Battlerite is dying when games like Gigantic, Awesomenauts, and Quake Champions are getting by on a fraction of the players.
We keep talking about Battlerite needing to be saved, but maybe it doesn’t. Could our numbers be better? Sure. Does it suck that our current peak is around 3,000 when our all-time peak is at 16,000? Of course. But let’s be real: we’re far from dead.
What Are We Really Hoping For?
In the end, it all depends on how we define “success.”
Last year, before Battlerite was even available to play, I asked what success would look like for Battlerite. It’s strange to read those thoughts now: Bloodline Champions had an all-time peak of around 2,500 players, yet Battlerite regularly hits that every day. By that measure, we’ve absolutely succeeded.
But it doesn’t feel like we’ve succeeded.
Is it because we have unrealistic expectations? We seem to gauge success by comparing to high-profile games: if we don’t reach the same level as Rocket League or Warframe, for example, then we’ve failed. Or if Battlerite isn’t seen as a top-tier international esport, then we’ve failed.
It’s an unproductive outlook.
Battlerite has far surpassed many other multiplayer PvP games, and we should be grateful for that. We should embrace what we have and cultivate it further. Battlerite is a success. Period. It only looks like a failure when compared to games like PUBG, CS:GO, and Dota 2, which are the three most popular PvP games of all time.
So why does it feel like failure?
I think it’s because we’ve had such high player counts in the past (13,000 at EA launch, 16,500 at free-play event #1, and 10,400 at free-play event #2) and the sudden drops seem as if nobody likes the game, that people are giving up, that everyone’s leaving.
But according to data, Battlerite is actually doing okay in terms of overall retention. If we take the game’s peak player count as a percentage of total owners, we’d see that it actually holds up well when compared to the most popular multiplayer PvP games:
- Dota 2 (0.597% of 114.5 million owners)
- CS:GO (1.635% of 33.4 million owners)
- Paladins (0.223% of 14.1 million owners)
- Brawlhalla (0.094% of 7.5 million owners)
- Rocket League (0.764% of 6.2 million owners)
- Battlerite (0.349% of 0.86 million owners)
Based on this, Battlerite has a much better retention rate than Paladins and Brawlhalla! Assuming that F2P launch brings in millions of new owners and the retention rate stays the same, then our peak player count will explode.
For every 1,000,000 people that try the game, we could expect peak player count to rise by 3,490. Another way to look at it: if we had the same number of total owners as Brawlhalla, peak player count would possibly be around 26,000.
Not bad at all, if you ask me.
So, will F2P save Battlerite? Well, I don’t think Battlerite needs saving.
Not that I’m saying the game is perfect. I’d like to see some changes to gameplay, Stunlock needs to pick an official format for balance reasons, it’s still missing the amazing tournament system from BLC, and there are too many queues for the current player base.
The truth is, we have better-than-average numbers. Battlerite is already a success, and we have enough players for a lively community and healthy competitive scene.
F2P won’t save Battlerite because our problem is one of attitude, not numbers. It’s a matter of perspective. Instead of looking to F2P as savior, maybe we should be asking ourselves what we can do to reverse the cynicism of our community.