What Happened to LawBreakers?

Here's how a twitch-based multiplayer shooter from Unreal and Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski could fail so quickly.

Posted By | On 22nd, Aug. 2022

What Happened to LawBreakers?

The games industry is an ever-evolving, volatile beast. A massively hyped, highly anticipated triple-A console exclusive like Horizon Forbidden West could receive critical acclaim and a top spot in sales charts for months. However, another massively hyped game like Elden Ring could supersede it completely, not just in terms of critical and commercial success, but in the trending department, taking over the conversation completely. And then Elden Ring, considered one of the best games of all time, could suddenly be overtaken by Stray, a gorgeous indie game about a cat. Because cat.

The point is: Nothing is set in stone and people’s interests are constantly shifting. The battle royale shooter that everyone was playing last year may be a blip in a sea of more successful imitators. A hot new debut may fall by the wayside in a matter of months, if not weeks or days. Sometimes, even if you have a good idea, the timing of release can be one of the biggest factors preventing its exposure.

When Cliff Bleszinski left Epic Games in October 2012, it was somewhat surprising. On the one hand, the industry legend was instrumental to the creation of Unreal, which would lead to one of the best competitive FPS titles, Unreal Tournament. He also created Gears of War, a third-person shooter franchise that revolutionized the use of cover and became one of the flagship titles for the Xbox 360. With Gears of War 3 released in September 2011, Bleszinski’s departure was due to wanting a break from making games.

However, in 2014, he came out of retirement (as it were) and announced the opening of a new studio, Boss Key Productions. It subsequently announced a new free-to-play arena shooter code-named BlueStreak, published by Nexon. Very little was known, save for some concept art, but it felt like a throwback to Bleszinki’s roots.

In 2015, Bleszinski revealed that his break was motivated by a couple of factors, namely “gamers” feeling jaded and having worked with people at Epic who also felt jaded. The latter resulted in him pitching ideas to Epic and seeing them go nowhere. The company had sold the Gears of War IP to Microsoft in January 2014, and subsequently did little with Unreal Tournament, whose last major release was in 200. Its newest title entered alpha in August 2014 before receiving its final update in June 2017. Bleszinski’s frustration was understandable.

LawBreakers was pitched as a class-based arena shooter with zero-G gravity and a focus on twitchier shooting action. There were 18 characters split into nine roles and then further separated into two factions – Law and Breakers. Each had unique abilities and weapons, fulfilling different purposes in combat. However, this wasn’t necessarily a super-coordinated affair – you could very much lone wolf if you were good enough, retreating for a few seconds to restore health. Teamwork was encouraged, especially in modes like Blitzball and Occupy, but not mandatory.

While LawBreakers seemed intriguing, it already faced a major hurdle – Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch. Despite apparently being in development before Overwatch’s announcement – which is a whole other rigmarole, given the latter’s origins as Project Titan – Blizzard’s hero shooter was released first. Though it didn’t invent the hero shooter genre, the debut of the first major new IP in years for the company, combined with charismatic characters and sharp cinematics, immediately made an impact. Its closed beta period was also massively hyped, driven by fans desperate to get in.

The open beta saw nearly 10 million players jump in before its release in May 2016, and the overall gameplay was massively praised, even if some felt the content and features were a bit lacking. Such was its success that the more MOBA-esque Battleborn from Gearbox Software, which launched at the same time, quickly faded away.

Though its fundamentals and game speed were very different from Overwatch, LawBreakers nonetheless faced comparisons against the same. In June 2017, Bleszinski announced some major developments for the title that contributed to sealing its fate.

First, he confirmed that LawBreakers would be released for PS4 and PC, and not Xbox One. This caused some backlash, especially since Bleszinski was synonymous among Xbox players with the Gears franchise. However, he also confirmed that LawBreakers was no longer free-to-play – it would cost $30 at launch to play, making sure to emphasize that it was, “None of this $60 multiplayer-only bulls**t.” For reference, Overwatch cost $60 on consoles and $40 on PC.

LawBreakers had an open beta later that month on Steam with a second beta following in late July for PC and PS4. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much enthusiasm behind the same – the open beta saw low player numbers on Steam and the official release on August 8th had an even lower number of players. The reviews were solid but not exceptional. Though praised for its twitch shooting, many elements of LawBreakers just felt…fine. Nothing remarkable or memorable but fine overall, and the higher skill floor meant only a specific segment of FPS players would thrive.

But even if LawBreakers was an incredible game in its own right, Overwatch was still massively popular at this point, hitting its stride with new maps, heroes and cinematic shorts. Also, for its focus on coordination and team play, it was a lot easier for non-FPS players to get into. The charismatic heroes that dotted its marketing through the years only grew more beloved over time.

This isn’t to say that other hero shooters didn’t fare well – Rainbow Six Siege launched in 2015 and is still going strong today. But it was another genre that took the gaming world by storm in 2017, further drawing attention away from any potentially new competitive titles – battle royale. Epic Games quickly jumped on the bandwagon, using its PvE-focused Fortnite title as a base to create Fortnite Battle Royale. It garnered more than 10 million players just two weeks after its September 2017 release and, well, the rest is history. Various developers scrambled to release their own games in the genre with only a few seeing success.

Following pitiful player numbers since launch and the departure of Boss Key co-founder Arjan Brusse to Epic Games, Bleszinski finally released a statement in April 2018 acknowledging LawBreakers‘ failure. While Boss Key would release its own battle royale title – the abysmal and quickly forgotten Radical Heights – LawBreakers went free to play on Steam in June. Servers were then shut down on September 14th and the title was removed from purchase. The closure of Boss Key Productions occurred in May 2018 and Bleszinski has since retired from game development.

While the writing was seemingly on the wall for LawBreakers, some – including myself – had hoped that it could offer something unique and interesting to keep players engaged. Blame it on poor timing, lack of marketing, no free-to-play (something which even Overwatch has been forced to adapt with its sequel) or even its gameplay niche.

But to this day, LawBreakers is a testament to the fact that a “cool idea” and decent gameplay aren’t nearly enough to sustain a multiplayer title, especially in a highly competitive climate where trends can change on a whim.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.


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