Around a month ago I made a blog post called The Next Trillion Dollar IP, in which I criticized Cliff Bleszinski's studio Boss Key production on the creation of their latest game, Radical Heights. The title is a joke that references an interview he was in where he was describing going to various publishers and saying "I want to make another billion dollar IP." That billion dollar IP he was talking about was Lawbreakers, a game that had lower launch numbers than Battleborn. Now, Boss Key Productions is shutting its doors for good, and I am left with the question "how did they last so long?"
Now I don't want this blog to be about me dancing on their grave, because I am a little sad to see them go and I don't have anything against the studio. Instead, I want to tell the tale of Boss Key Production through my eyes and talk about what they did right and what they did wrong. But to get started, let's ask the question for those unaware of the situation, "what is Boss Key Productions?"
The year is 2014. Famous video game designer Cliff Bleszisnski and Dutch programmer Arjan Brussee decide to open up a new video game studio called 'Boss Key Productions.' That's about the last you will hear about Arjan because from this point on, Cliff was the face of that studio and the face of their games. Just like any other studio, Boss Key started to work on a new game, which we will later find out to be Lawbreakers. After some trailers and whatnot, Boss Key took their game to various trade shows and conventions to get the game into the hands of the media and to the public. For those who don't know, Lawbreakers is a fast-paced first-person multiplayer shooter that takes place in the future. The catch? Part of each map has a lack of gravity. This is where the first red flags are raised, as for the big thing to notice about my description of the game is the lack of what type of shooter game it is. You would expect an arena shooter from the guy who is best known for his history of arena shooters, but that isn't what happened. The second red flag to raise is the fact that the multiplayer FPS genre was over saturated at the time (and still is), which means that this game was fighting an uphill battle from the get-go. Despite that, a pure arena shooter could've had the chance to be successful and get CliffyB on the right track. But that isn't what happened. After the media and the public got their hands on the game, many soon realized that this new game isn't an arena shooter; it's actually a hero shooter similar to Overwatch. At this point, the game pretty much lost all hope at succeeding in this competitive FPS market. Despite trying to say that the game isn't like other shooters on the market and trying to veer towards things it does differently like how r-rated it is, the game ultimately couldn't escape from the shadow of Overwatch.
Fast forward to July of 2017 and that is where you will find the beginning of my history with the game and with Boss Key as a whole. At this time, Boss Key was running an open beta, and I decided to hop on and see what this game is. On the same day of trying out the game, I whipped up a fast blog titled Quick Impression on Lawbreakers (back when I sucked at writing...wait, I still do). Keep in mind that at the time, I had no real knowledge of the game other than its existence at the time, but even at that time I could see the Overwatch in this game. In my mind, the game was Overwatch but with zero gravity and a faster pace. Looking back on the time I had with the game, I also remember the characters being annoying (which for a hero shooter isn't good) and the modes being very similar to each other. Still, I had an overall good time with the game because its fast pace was fun and its gravity (or lack thereof) was unique. But I wasn't the only one to feel that way.
When the game released in August, it was media with decent reviews. Despite that, the stigma of Overwatch and its failure to really differentiate itself from the competition got sales to be...rather low. Some other issues like a poor console launch and matchmaking issues also plagued the game at launch, but they were minor issues compared to the whole Overwatch thing (did I mention this game is like Overwatch?) The game had a higher player count when it was in beta and had a lower launch player count than Battleborn. Despite supporting the games with updates over the coming months, the player counts dropped to the triple and soon after the double digits. Even though they tried to keep the dream alive, even they had to accept defeat on the game. And that is exactly what happened in Early April, when they announced they will be 'suspending' support for the game. So, what's next for this studio? Well, that was a question they answered pretty fast.
Just about as soon as they stopped support for one game, they announced and released a new game. What is that game you may ask? Why, it's Radical Heights, an 80s theme battle royale with no real twist to the genre. On April 10th, Boss Key released the game into early access (key word early), and despite the jankiness the game was a serviceable free-to-play battle royale game. But where other battle royale games were adding twists to the genre to differentiate itself from the crowd, Radical Heights ultimately did nothing other than the 80s theme, riding bikes, and using cash to buy weapons from vending machines. And despite being free, the game was very similar to Fortnite in its gameplay, which hurts the game because one game has a high enough player count to run a large country and the other is Radical Heights. This is where I cross with Boss Key again in trying out this game on the day it was released. And in the same day, I wrote The Next Trillion Dollar IP (linked above).
Despite serviceable player counts, the game couldn't sustain the company, and the game has now been shut down (May 14th, 2018). The Radical Heights servers will still be up (but for how long is the question), and Cliff is taking hiatus for a little while. As for the employees, some were said to be picked up by Epic Games a month earlier, but it is unknown about the others. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Arjan left in December of 2017 to work at Epic, and ironically enough he helped make Fortnite mobile version. And that is the brief history of Boss Key Productions, a company that closed less than a year after their first release and was the victim of chasing trends. But not everything Boss Key did was wrong.
Like I said earlier, I didn't want all of the focus on the blog to be on the failures of this company. Even though this blog is about the death of Boss Key, I feel that solely focusing on what it did wrong would make it sound like I am happy to see them go, and I am not. So I wanted to spend some time on the things Boss Key did right before turning my attention onto the wrongdoings of the company that ultimately lead to its demise. I will start with this: I never had a bad time with their games. Lawbreakers was a lot of fun to play; as for the controls were tight, the fast pace was a blast, and the zero gravity infusion into the game held a lot of potential. The characters felt well balanced (at least when I played it), the modes were too similar but still a lot of fun, and the game held an appropriate $30 price tag for the content it was offering. The game never offered harmful microtransactions that would give an unfair advantage (which is sad that I have to say) and despite the poor launch the developers kept updating the game. The game wasn't a bad game. As for Radical Heights, the game was really janky but still had potential. Now looking back at its release, I can see why they would release the game at such an early state as for it is most likely they had to release it to hopefully get some funds to at least stay afloat. It's because of these reasons and more that I am sad to see the company go because I believe that this team was talented and had some great potential to make awesome games.
Despite this talent, Boss Key made some pretty stupid mistakes that ultimately lead to its doom. Not only did they make dumb mistakes the first time around, they went ahead and did the same exact dumb mistakes the second time around, but that time they had no excuses to make those mistakes which made them look even dumber. So, what was dumb about Lawbreakers? For starters, the game was a competitive FPS multiplayer game, which meant the game had a slim chance of success. Heavy hitters like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Rainbow Six: Siege, CSGO, and many many more occupied the scene at around this time, so for a new studio to squeeze their game into that list was a losing battle. But then Overwatch happened. Now an argument can come up saying that since both games were in development at the time, Cliff couldn't have seen the success of Overwatch and escape from its looming shadow, but I disagree. I'm gonna take a guess that he learned about Overwatch at around 2015, which would give him two more years to change around his game just enough to make it a different kind of shooter, which he didn't. So how is he supposed to know Overwatch would be successful and essentially kill its competition? Simple. The answer is in the name 'Blizzard.' If Blizzard is making a new game, you better get out of the way because Blizzard is a well-liked company with a huge fan base. Still, maybe Cliff wanted to compete with Overwatch. Even if that was the case, they were going to lose. Overwatch was already out for a year by this game's release, which means its already established itself as the hero shooter (that or TF2), and its more cheery vibe and cartoonish style made the game more appealing whereas Lawbreakers felt like it catered to more of a niche crowd.
Despite these flaws being pretty easily predictable, a case can still be made that since it's their first game, they could learn from their mistakes and make a better second game. Then comes along Radical Heights, a game that literally falls into the same hole Lawbreakers dug just months before. The game was releasing into an over saturated market, had too many similarities to a big game (this time being Fortnite), and didn't make enough differences to make itself unique. But this time, Boss Key knew about their past mistakes which means this game had no excuses to do the same mistakes. What makes it worse is that at least Lawbreakers was cheaper than Overwatch, where this game was free-to-play, which meant it can't hold a price leverage against a certain other battle royale game. This game's one chance at success was a price leverage, but since Fortnite is free, more developed, and has a population too high to count, Radical Heightsis always in a losing battle. Not to mention the game was starting to be made as Fortnite grew immensely in popularity, which means they knew that they had competition much larger than them. The only excuse I see with releasing this game is to keep the company afloat (which I am guessing is the exact reason they released this game), but even then they should've let this wave passed because by the time they got into it the big two games (PUBG and Fortnite) have already been established as the main battle royale games and all other games knew to change up the experience to survive. The game fell into its surrounding and couldn't adapt. A couple of other issues like Cliff's attitude towards the the studio's failures can also be attributed to its downfall, but they aren't nearly as big as their games.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. That is essentially Boss Key Productions. Their first game brought the studio to its knees, and the second game gave the studio its final blow; except the difference here is that the studio saw the final blow coming but took it anyways. Boss Key Productions is a tale that was predictable but still unfortunate. It warns of following trends and not learning from mistakes while showing just how competitive the industry is. That despite a reputable name and solid games, the industry can eat you up and spit you out if you don't play your cards right. Boss Key didn't play their cards right, and now they are paying the price. I hate to see them go because that studio had some great potential, but they can only really blame themselves for their failures. So now we bid farewell to the zero-g arenas of Lawbreakers and the bicycles of Radical Heights. But mostly we bid farewell to Boss Key Productions. Goodbye Boss Key, and may you be a lesson to others on what not to do.