Why LawBreakers ditched free-to-play

2016 has been the year of many things.

It’s when virtual reality took off; when Pokmon Go briefly changed how society functioned and when video game films suddenly became ‘a thing’ once more.

But it’s also been the year where the team shooter genre took off again. Perhaps inspired by the success of Valve’s Team Fortress 2, a number of multiplayer titles in this vein have launched in the last few months. We started with Gearbox’s Battleborn in March, before Blizzard’s behemoth Overwatch launched in May. Meanwhile on the horizon is Hi-Rez’s Paladins and Epic’s Paragon.

Then there’s LawBreakers, which is coming courtesy of Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski’s new studio, Boss Key.

The games industry works just like every other industry,” lead designer Dan Nanni says when asked about the wealth of team shooters hitting the market.

You’re going to notice a glut of zombie movies, and then another of space exploration films. It just so happens that a lot of us creative people are thinking on the same wavelength. We all work for different companies, we all think about things. A movie comes out and makes us think about something. When we were working on it, this wasn’t a big part of the industry; the same applies to Blizzard, Gearbox and the rest. Then everyone started announcing, we all had that moment where we realise the industry is much smaller than we think it is. That’s what it is.

A lot of us have been playing multiplayer games for a long time and realise that there’s a gap in the market. It’s very popular – people want to play multiplayer and have a lot of time to do so, so we thought: ‘let’s give them a game that’s all about playing online’ – a very specialised game that was built only for that.”

In a crowded market, you have to have something that sets you apart from the rest. For LawBreakers, it features more vertical combat due to levels featuring areas with no gravity.

Going through gravity, not just walking around but flying around and fighting in the skies is definitely a big differentiator,” Nanni explains.

It also comes down to the way our game is played. The abilities, the roles themselves and the style we built them in is not a hard ‘rock-paper-scissors’ style, where one class automatically beats another. We wanted to treat it more along the lines of a football match where every player on the field is capable of scoring a goal, but they’re just better at doing some things than others. That’s the main thing. We wanted everyone to be heroic. There’s nothing stopping a central defender from scoring three goals in a match – it can happen. That’s a heroic moment. That’s what we wanted – we wanted those heroic moments to exist.”

Back when it was known by the codename ‘Project BlueStreak’, LawBreakers was going to be
a free-to-play game. This changed last March, with Boss Key switching for a premium business model.

When we started back in 2014, we were working on the core loop of the game and trying to make that loads of fun,” Nanni says.

We’d then stop every once in a while and evaluate how we could mix free-to-play mechanics into it. It ended up adding a load of artificial walls or the thoughts of random number generators and always fought against the idea that it needs to be highly competitive. There can’t be a pay-to-win mechanic, there can’t be a grind mechanic, people have to be able to access the same exact content at the exact same time.

After giving it a good amount of thought, we realised it probably made more sense to give it a premium price. That way, we don’t disjoint our users, we don’t force them into DLC purchases where some people have maps and others don’t. No, you pay one price to entry, get maps and game modes at the same time. Everyone is always playing at an even field.”

Unlike its rivals in the now-booming team shooter sector, LawBreakers is also a PC-exclusive – for now.

As a small team, having worked on multiple platforms before, you always have to take people out of your development cycle to focus on other platforms,”
Nanni explains.

We’d be able to reach more people, but let’s make a really good game for one platform first and then once we have that nailed, then we’ll start thinking about moving it over to other platforms. We’d love to bring it to consoles, as long as the game does well enough and thus warrants doing so.”

Being PC-exclusive and a multiplayer-focused title, LawBreakers seems a prime candidate for eSports. But Nanni feels that this is something that the community has to ask for rather than something that Boss Key should implement initially.

We definitely would love the pursue the eSports route,” he says. Having worked on games that wanted to do eSports before, it makes sense. Our players say we’re ready to be an eSport. We’re going to make a competitive game, we’re going to give them competitive mechanics and we’re going to support that community. The moment our players ask us to make it an eSport, we have done our homework and we’re ready to support that.”

The game is set for release this year, with some rather high expectations. After all, LawBreakers is the latest game from Cliff Bleszinski, and in the past the developer has made some stone cold classics in the Gears of War and Unreal series.

Nanni says that the team is under pressure but that the studio has realistic expectations for the release.

All of us feel pressure simply because we are all dedicated to the project,” he says.

We love it. It’s a baby for all of us. We have seen from the very beginning when there wasn’t really a studio to a full game. We want to see it succeed. We’ve all worked for big companies before and we’re used to the idea of pressure and success. We also need to temper ourselves with realistic expectations. We’re a smaller studio, we’re not really looking to go out there and sell 10m copies.

We’re just launching on PC so that the game is appropriate for the market we’re reaching. Hopefully it’s a fun competitive experience that people will have and it’ll grow over time.”

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