The slow and painful death of Lawbreakers

It’s always sad to see a promising game die. I take no joy in saying that LawBreakers, the team-based shooter from Cliff Bleszinski, is on its last legs. Before we play the funeral dirge, let’s look back on LawBreakers’ brief life.

Development

LawBreakers started development in a time when the arcade shooter was in remission. Call of Duty was sitting atop the shooter throne and unless your FPS was a gritty depiction of war, people weren’t interested in playing it. Good ol’ Cliffy B (along with development studio Boss Key) decided that he was going to shake up the formula by going back to the era of twitch shooters. Inspired by games such as Quake and Unreal Tournament, LawBreakers was meant to combine a focus on reflex oriented firefights with the class based format that made games such as Team Fortress 2 so popular.

What he developed was a truly unique shooter that fooled around with physics in ways we had not yet seen. LawBreakers combined wacky futuristic guns with maps that had areas of varying gravity, allowing you to have intense firefights in midair. Certain maps allowed you to actually duel underneath the map itself. From jetpacks to grappling hooks, this was a game all about mobility and for all intents and purposes it should have been a shining star of the FPS genre.

Release

Sadly, this was not to be. LawBreakers released and the overall reaction was “It’s OK.” Averaging a score between a 76 percent on Metacritic and a 6.7 user score, LawBreakers had a great core, but something was missing (check out our review for more, in which we asked "Where will LawBreakers be in a year?"). Its eight maps were far too similar to each other. Some of its game modes were too similar to each other as well and when the game released there was no way to search for matches of a specific type of game.

The game’s cast of characters was also sort of bland. This would have been fine, for the most part, but since firefights took place at high speed and at long distanced in midair no less, it was difficult to tell which character you were shooting at. Not knowing whether you were chasing down a sniper or a tank made LawBreakers difficult to master.

All-in-all it felt like LawBreakers had a great core, but needed some update to be truly great. Once again, this should have been business as usual. Most new games these days are frequently improved and iterated upon with patches. If LawBreakers was the only game of its type, we would probably still be playing it right now.

Competition

Unfortunately, LawBreakers had competition. Lots of competition. Cliffy B wasn’t the only one who thought that the shooter genre could use a shake-up. Battleborn, Paladins, Gigantic, and of course Overwatch all released around the same time as LawBreakers, and they all shared the same class based team shooter DNA.

Let’s be real, Overwatch was the clear winner of this five-way brawl. It too had its fair share of problems at launch. However, its cast of colorful characters, constant patch support, and the financial backing of Activision and Blizzard, catapulted it to popularity. Bleszinski said that the release of LawBreakers was “a marathon not a sprint” and that it had time to build up a fanbase, however this would prove to be just wishful thinking.

If the success of Overwatch wasn’t enough to put the final nail in LawBreakers’ coffin, another unexpected success, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds put yet another interesting spin on the shooter formula. LawBreakers was an FPS that was developed for “core users” by its own admission. However, with Overwatch, PUBG, Counter-Strike, and even Call of Duty still on the market, all the core users were wrapped up in other games.

Decline

Unfortunately, this painted the history of LawBreakers as a steady downhill slope. Its closed beta peaked at 7,500 players, which is already low for a new game. Its open-beta has 40 percent fewer players, which was already a bad look. When the game launched, it had 60 percent fewer players than its beta peak and the player population just kept falling from there.

As of November last year, LawBreakers failed to hit even 100 concurrent players on Steam. As of last month, it averaged 10 concurrent players on the same platform. Bleszinski has repeatedly said that the console version of the game was doing better, but according to recent news, it wasn’t good enough.

Abandonment

In January of this year, news broke that Nexon, the publishers behind LawBreakers had written off the game has a failure.

“Our results in North America in the third quarter were below our outlook, mainly due to the sales from Lawbreakers being below our expectations. Lawbreakers is a unique FPS developed for core users,” Nexon’s chief financial officer Shiro Uemure said in an investor Q&A. “We had very high expectations for its launch; however, the timing of its launch turned out to be unfortunate, specifically the blockbuster PC online game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds came out right about the same time, making the market environment very tough for first person shooters in general and for Lawbreakers.”

This writing on the wall was followed by a recent, uncategorized, unmarketed post on the official Boss Key blog, which all but announced the official death of Lawbreakers.

LawBreakers Community,

It has been a while since we said anything about LawBreakers. With that, the past four months at Boss Key Productions has been especially trying, as we pride ourselves at being communicative and transparent.

So here is the very real truth, which may not come as a surprise.

The fact is LawBreakers failed to find enough of an audience to generate the funds necessary to keep it sustained in the manner we had originally planned for and anticipated. And while a pivot to free-to-play may seem like easiest change to make, a change of this magnitude takes publishing planning and resources to do it.

The team here has worked hard on this game over the past three and a half years and our studio is determined to give this game the second life it deserves. However, between now and then, we cannot sit idle. We will continue to support the game in its current state, but we also need to focus on other projects with fresh creative leaders. We have been working on something new and we can’t wait to share more about it! It’s a passion project that we’re in complete control of.

Thank you for your ongoing understanding and patience.

Boss Key Productions

Perhaps the most disappointing part of this blog post was confirmation that Lawbreakers wouldn’t be going free-to-play. It was originally designed as a free-to-play game, but switched over to a paid model several months before its launch. Lawbreakers fans and supporters naturally thought that the game could see a flood of new players if it shifted back to its original model. However, now we know that Boss Key doesn’t even have the resources to make this switch.

Moving On

That brings us up to date. What is the future of LawBreakers? For now, it is uncertain. The game hasn’t been shut down or taken off any digital distribution platforms, but the chances of any new updates are nonexistent. All development on the title has ceased.

With an abysmal player base, the game might not be officially dead, but for all intents and purposes is already in the grave. At the time of writing, only six players were playing LawBreakers on PC with an average of four players playing in the last 30 days. That’s not even enough to fill a match.

With Boss Key announcing that they have moved on to a new passion project and Nexon writing the game off as a failure, it appears as if LawBreakers last days and finally come. I suppose all that’s left is to look forward to Boss Key’s newest shooter project, Radical Heights, a new Battle Royale shooter.