Boss Key’s closure is a sad but unfortunate lesson in marketing for triple-I studios

After the bombast that accompanied Lawbreakers and Radical Heights, the announcement that Boss Key Productions would be closing down was subdued by comparison.

"As of today, Boss Key Productions is effectively no more," said Cliff Bleszinski, posting on his personal Twitter account. You can see the rest of his statement below.

It’s always sad when a studio closes down but there’s something particularly bitter about the closure of Boss Key, an outfit that had made one-and-a-half surprisingly decent games but failed to generate any interest around the titles that they made. Boss Key’s model is now a shining beacon of how not to market your video game. Lawbreakers launched with a whisper, and the studio failed to really create an enticing reason for players to want to engage with the game.

Boss Key’s closure shows that it is not just enough to build a good game, you also have to work out how to sell it in an oversaturated marketplace.

Lawbreakers was well received, with positive reviews from PC Gamer, Eurogamer, PCGamesN, GamesRadar and more, and currently holds a score of 77 per cent on review aggregation site OpenCritic. However, within two months, the game at one point had just ten players online, only barely enough to fill a single game of the 5 on 5 shooter.

Radical Heights, which now was clearly the studio’s last ditch effort to make an impact, was an 80’s themed battle royale game with tight combat and a fun aesthetic that was looking to cash in on the success of titles like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. While it attracted some criticism for following a trend it was fun to play, albeit very clearly rushed out, full of greybox buildings and janky weirdness that marked it as an early effort at development.

More than just Bro-verwatch

However, where Boss Key Productions really fell down was in its ability to sell the sizzle. Lawbreakers messaging was muddy, with the game leaping between being free-to-play and paid, a hardcore PC exclusive coming to consoles, something both groups of players had a problem with.

In the run up to launch it was branded as an Overwatch clone, a myth that was never really dispelled, no matter how loudly the rapidly dwindling playerbase enthused. Radical Heights was also marred by the perception that it was just a copy of the battle royale games that had come before.

It’s not like the studio didn’t have presence. Cliff ‘CliffyB’ Bleszinski was wheeled out front and center to promote the game, but his appearance only seemed to increase the confusion around Lawbreakers, with Bleszinski’s involvement proof to a certain segment of the game’s industry that this was merely Bro-verwatch.

A result of the studio’s confusing perception by gamers as a whole meant that no one played Boss Key’s games, and that the general impression was that they were derivative. Whether or not this is true, controlling this perception could have seen Lawbreakers find its place, or the free-to-play Radical Heights being successful enough to buy the time needed to finish it.

As it stands, Boss Key Productions is now an unfortunate lesson for other triple-I studios, and it’s message is clear: in a time when people are spoilt for choice with quality games, marketing your game properly has to be the top priority. 

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