The Rocket League explosion: developer Psyonix on what’s next for the surprise hit of the summer

Alex Calvin
The Rocket League explosion: developer Psyonix on what’s next for the surprise hit of the summer

Psyonix didn't think Rocket League would be a hit.

The San Diego-based studio had limited expectations of the car-football game, and thought it would only sell a few hundred thousand units in its lifetime.

Within a month of its launch, it was being played by 5m gamers. Since then, that figure has climbed to over 6m across PS4 and PC.

So it's fair to say that Rocket League has utterly smashed Psyonix's wildest dreams.

Every prediction we had was nowhere near the level we are at now,” says VP of marketing and communications Jeremy Dunham.

We have 6m players, and hundreds of thousands playing each day. Because we were doing PlayStation Plus, we knew we'd have quite a few more people playing than normal. Based on the rabid fandom that [Rocket League's predecessor] Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars had, we knew we would do really well.

Our projection of lifetime sales was a couple hundred thousand copies, and with that we'd make back our development budget. We actually sold well over 1m copies on Steam alone, and we have millions of PS4 owners playing the game.”

"Every sales expectation we had for
Rocket League was nowhere near
the level we are at now."

Jeremy Dunham, Psyonix


Within three days of coming out, Rocket League was recognised as a pro-gaming title by ESL. Then at the start of September, MLG announced the first Rocket League eSports tournament. And this is bolstering Psyonix's plans for post-release content for the game.

We're trying to support this community of broadcasters and players that are really into the game,” Dunham explains. We're new to that realm and we're trying to get a good idea of what it is that the players want and what the viewers want. Right now we're at that phase where we're really still learning as we go along, finding out what's best to give that audience and what people are looking for.”

He continues: Our goal is to then feed the audience that wants to see and play Rocket League. Because you can only sell so many copies and keep going for so long before you have that inevitable downward trend that always happens on a game release. We're thinking about the life after the game, after that big buzz dies down and supporting the players who are really into the game.

The best way to do that is by giving them a really healthy eSports environment where they can feel competitive, motivated to play and give them reasons to play. We have all sorts of plans for that long-term. We're not looking at it as ‘well, Rocket League's out now, we're done. Let's start our next game in a few months'. That's not how we're approaching it. We're looking at Rocket League as a long-term proposition where we want to get existing gamers, and new fans over time, to have this culture centered around our title, where players of all levels can feel competitive. The next couple of months are when people are going to start seeing the more interesting ideas that we have for Rocket League that didn't quite make it in at the start.”

But it isn't just the games industry that is taken by the car football title. Hollywood, TV networks and toy firms are all lining up to talk to Psyonix about what could be next for Rocket League.

It's surprising how many things that aren't related to the game have come our way,” Dunham says.

We've had discussions with various people about making movies based on Rocket League, or TV shows. We've had people come our way with possible toy deals and lots of cross-promotions outside of our game. Now we are getting to the point where the people who want to work and cross-promote with us are much more famous.”

He continues: There's nothing to announce, there's nothing official, we haven't signed on any dotted lines. A big reason for that is there are lot of questions about Rocket League's fiction, the lore and how that would tie in to a TV show or film. It's just at the discussion phase.”

So far, Psyonix has been reasonably open about how well Rocket League has sold digitally.

Sharing how your game is performing is a good thing for the games industry,” Dunham says. It gives people an idea of how that game is being perceived in the marketplace.

It's good for the industry to let people know that these sorts of games are selling well, that this is what people are looking for and it's also really good justification to let them know when a new idea comes along, or at least an unusual one, that there's an audience for it. Here's proof that there's an audience for it because look at how many people have purchased this crazy, wacky football meets driving game.

For us, it's a really strong validation that there's real strength in something new and you don't have to stick with the classics. You don't always have to do a shooter, or if you're going to do a car game it doesn't necessarily have to be a racing game. You can do something like Bugbear did a long time ago with FlatOut, or Rocket League, like we've done.

It's a helpful tool for the industry to get a better understanding of just what's going on and what people are thinking. That's why we release sales figures, and it's a bit of self-congratulation, because it feels crazy to say that we have over six million players already.”

He concludes: For us, it's way above what we expected. And it's nice to say. We take every opportunity we can to let people know we hit big.”

PHYSICAL ATTRACTION

Rocket League was released as a digital-only product over PlayStation 4 and PC, but Psyonix says that the title could come out in a box in the future.

[Putting Rocket League in a box] is definitely something we have talked about,” says VP of marketing and comms Jeremy Dunham.

We've talked about it with several different groups who are very interested in bringing the game to physical retail. We're just exploring all avenues. If there's something we can do with our game, if it's a mode, a physical retail version of it, coming to a different platform, then we've talked about it.

Physical retail is something we have definitely considered and we would like to do some day. When that day is we don't know yet because we're still trying to figure out the best way to approach it – what would people want in that physical version, because people would want there to be something cool in order to get them to double dip or feel like they are getting more if they are playing for the first time. We want to put a lot of thought into whatever we do and give careful consideration. If we were to do it we'd want to do it very, very well.”


HAPPY ACCIDENT

Psyonix never meant to make Rocket League, or even its predecessor, Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars.

That game was a total accident,” VP of marketing and comms Jeremy Dunham says.

The team was working on a car-combat game called Crash Course. It was a very simple game. I wasn't on the team at the time. But they were trying to think of ways to make the game more interesting, then one day one of the designers dropped a football in to see what would happen because there had been a few other games that had car football mechanics, so

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