LawBreakers is great…but why’s nobody playing it?

5 min read
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LawBreakers, from Gears of War designer Clifford Bleszinski’s new Boss Key Studios is a damned good competitive multiplayer shooter. It may be another Hero Shooter in what seems like a sea of them, but it’s got a real focus on individual player skill that sets it apart from other games that are, superficially, similar.

LawBreakers_GDC_BlindFire

However, you probably wouldn’t know that, because you’re probably not playing it. Very few people are, according to the Steam charts. Steam numbers don’t paint a complete picture, of course. Lawbreakers is also out on PlayStation 4, and seems to have a healthier player base based on anecdotal reports of rapid matchmaking. Still, the numbers are worrying.

According to Steam charts, LawBreakers has had just 364 people playing the game in the last 24 hours – which is quite a departure from the game’s all-time player peak of 7,482 concurrent players in June. At the time of writing, just 178 people are playing the game on Steam globally.

To throw in some terribly skewed perspective, current gaming darling PLAYERUNKNOWN’s Battle Grounds has had 864,951 players over the last day, with 487,896 playing right now. Even the middling Brink, the 2011 first-person shooter from Splash Damage and Bethesda Softworks, which relaunched this month as a free-to-play game has a higher player count, with 1,213 players over the last day.

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LawBreakers_GDC_MaverickCronos

This has to weigh heavy on the talented team at Boss Key, who has poured hours of blood, sweat, and tears in to a game, only to have it fall flat. There’s probably a lot to unpack as to why it’s done so poorly despite the positive critical reception. I’m not an analyst of course, but I could probably think of a few reasons.

Much of it probably has to do with timing. The game was released after Overwatch, which seems to have largely cornered the market on Hero Shooters. They’re very different games, but to the average player that doesn’t matter. The game is also going up against Quake Champions, which is a similar arena shooter with a focus on heroes. The difference is that Quake Champions is poised to be a free-to-play game. Sure, there’s a $30 buy in right now on Steam, but also the promise of new heroes and content for perpetuity. LawBreakers’ pivot from its original F2P model to a paid one probably hasn’t helped either. The game was also released while PUBG was becoming the global phenomenon that it is now – taking much attention away from pretty much anything else.

LawBreakers_GDC_OverchargeMode

The other problem – or at least the one that struck me most – was the complete lack of a compelling setting, or characters. One of Overwatch’s best features is that every single hero has a distinct personality, aesthetic and detailed backstory. Everything in LawBreakers just seems to be built from generic, edgy Sci-fi tropes and standards.  Of course, articles like this probably don’t help –just adding to the cloud hanging over the game. Since release there have been missives declaring LawBreakers as “dead,” and it’s perhaps a case of self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a pity, because it doesn’t matter how good a game is if people aren’t playing it.

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Could LawBreakers be salvaged? Perhaps. Boss Key will probably have to do a few free Steam Weekends, or give the game away as a PlayStation Plus game to get word of mouth going again. Failing that, they may eventually have to shift back to being free-to-play in the hopes of staying relevant. Something needs to happen soon though. With heavy-hitters like Destiny 2, Call of Duty: WWII and Battlefront 2 on the way, the market for shooters of any sort is only going to get tighter.

Last Updated: August 30, 2017

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    What makes Lawbreakers enticing enough for people to stop playing the shooters they’re already playing, and play it instead?

    It’s got the same problem every WoW-killing MMO had back in the day, nobody stopped playing WoW to play the new game. Doesn’t matter how good it is if no one will make the switch.

    • That’s the thing. there’s this really neat gravity based stuff, and some good skill-based shooting. It’s a good game – but is it enoguh to draw people away from the similar things they’re already playing?

      No.

      • Honestly the gravity stuff wasn’t done well enough//. it’s hard to notice when you are entering an anti-grav area and it just didn’t feel right when utilising it.

        I think the reason lawbreakers isn’t doing great is because it’s actually not great. It’s good but it just isn’t good enough…

        • Original Heretic

          Like Battleborn.

          • Admiral Chief

            Whatbornnow?

      • Guild

        I had/have CoD IW, BF1, Overwatch, TF2 and Lawbreakers all installed on my PS4.
        CoD IW: I played the campaign, l played about 10 hours MP then deleted it.
        BF1: I played campaign, got platinum trophy and about 40 hours MP then deleted it.
        TF2: I played campaign and about 120 hours MP then deleted it mainly cause I have an issue connecting to the servers now.
        Overwatch: Still playing and got no idea how many hours I have poured in

        Lawbreakers: Played about 6 hours (feels very much like CoD), really enjoyed it but since no one else was playing it….I deleted it. Between 10sec game search on the 1st day to 5min game search now, I gave up on it.

    • MonsterCheddar

      Just like your face. 😛

  • Skittle

    There was also very little marketing. Games are pricey, I don’t think people want fork out foranother hero shooter type game while they have Overwatch play.

    • The lack of “real” marketing was a big problem.. they seemed to hop on the influencer bandwagon thinking streaming will sell the game

      we never even got review code even after requesting a few times.. they seemed to think they didn’t need to market or engage with media. Oh well

      • Guild

        Well then that’s their fuck up. If you aren’t bothered to market or at least assign a budget for it then you will run into trouble

    • Guild

      I bought it. It falls in the AA grouping and wasn’t expensive. R400.

      • Magoo

        “Expensive” is different for everybody, evidently.

        • Guild

          Very true. I bought it on PSN where majority of new digital games range from R800 to R1500 depending on game and extras. So buying a R400 new game seemed cheap in comparison to others.

  • Yondaime

    So to conclude: Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That

  • Pieter Kruger

    Or maybe Cliffy’s crappy attitude towards gamers in general was the big factor here?

    • Guild

      Agree. That is also a possibility

    • Sageville

      Yup, I remembered his name, loaded some prejudice…

  • Deceased

    I haven’t played it, but watched quite a few videos on it, and Lawbreakers seemed like a really fun game – but at the same time – I got the feeling that it’s not as polished as Overwatch – so that’s why I didn’t buy into it…

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the final game is polished, but I think my mind was made up with the first-impressions I got, which was from an alpha build …

    • Guild

      Nope, you right. The game needed that final polish to it. There is a step learning curve in regards to game modes. You just get thrown in and kinda have to work it out as you play. Something a lot of people who bought it complained about

  • For me it’s a simple case of I only need one of these hero shooters to focus on, and thus far Paladins provides exactly what I want. (Also, the whole “skilled AF” tagline immediately pointed out that Lawbreakers is probably out of my skill range! :D)

  • Gluten-free Cheese Puffs

    Because the market is saturated with similar titles, Overwatch… Paladins… Paragon… and the list goes on.

  • Captiosus

    Played the PC betas and the PS4 beta and, frankly, dispute the very headline premise of the article. Lawbreakers isn’t “great”, it’s simply decent. It wants to be a class based shooter AND an arena shooter and offers an inferior version of both sub-genres. The betas had moments of fun gameplay elements but those moments came few and far between. Not due to skill difference but just due to the core game design. That’s why I ultimately decided not to buy it. I feel like there’s probably a lot of attrition due to similar reasons: people who bought the game based on a few feel good moments in the betas only to get burned out within a few days or a week, subsequently shelving the game and going back to their previous shooters of choice.

    A year or so ago, during an interview regarding development, CliffyB admitted that most players “only play 2 to 3 games in the genre and the rest fight for scraps”. Lawbreakers zoomed into a crowded genre where people are very tribal about their favorite titles and didn’t really do enough to distinguish itself from the crowd.

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