The curious case of LawBreakers.
Odds are, if you were paying much attention at all to the multiplayer shooter genre in 2017, you heard of the game Lawbreakers. The game received plenty of advertising and was marketed quite well. On top of that, Lawbreakers was touted as the great new multiplayer “hero shooter” from Cliff Bleszinski who worked as lead designer in the Gears of War franchise, and publisher Nexon rarely passes up opportunities to remind us of this.
Despite this pedigree, and despite having a relatively interesting gimmick of defying gravity more often and more stylishly than any game in recent memory, Lawbreakers failed to live up to expectations. Falling below its forecasted results so much in fact that Nexon’s financial executive Shiro Uemura noted that their entire third quarter was brought down as a result. Nexon’s displeasure is more than understandable, with overall attendance in their new multiplayer shooter being reported to be below 1,000 people at times. Uemura went a step further and elaborated on the disappointment by, perhaps hastily, generating the rationale; “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 is not to say that Lawbreakers is a bad game, surely it’s not. Reviews largely have been positive, graphics and gameplay are all finely tuned, and most who have played it would describe the experience as fun, even though it is best in short bursts and small doses."
This is citing the release window, which is a common issue with games underperforming these days, but the choice to place blame on the existence of another specific game ruffled a few feathers in the endless ocean of comment sections and gaming forums out there, and does seem to avoid responsibility to a degree.
One might understand why Uemura’s assumption could occur initially, with Agents of Mayhem also launching in August and suffering a similar fate. The frustration of seeing a well-made game perform poorly after years of blood sweat and tears is understandable. An important thing to note, however, is that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds didn’t even fully launch until December 20th; over four full months after the launch of Lawbreakers. Sure, PUBG was in early access and had built an audience prior, but perhaps the question Nexon should be asking themselves isn’t “Why did PUBG do this to us?” but rather, “Why did our game resonate so poorly that we got pummeled by a different game that wasn’t even fully launched until four months after ours was?”
I suppose it turns out that, while the timing of a release is absolutely a factor, the quality of a “hero shooter” isn’t entirely predicated on it. People play hero shooters because they want to play heroes. People are still playing Overwatch in droves not because it was launched with no competition (Battleborn, anyone?) but because it was full of personality, memorable distinct characters, and brought its elements together to form a timeless experience that stands out from the herd. Characters like Winston, Mercy, and Bastion are probably on their way to being icons for many years to come, but will you remember who Axel and Sunshine are in six months?
"Sure, PUBG was in early access and had built an audience prior, but perhaps the question Nexon should be asking themselves isn’t “Why did PUBG do this to us?” but rather, “Why did our game resonate so poorly that we got pummeled by a different game that wasn’t even fully launched until four months after ours was?”"
Can you even describe them without having to sit down and think about it? It’s fair to say that these are two very different tiers on the scale of memorable characters, and perhaps that is part of the problem for Lawbreakers. You can have an engine from a Lamborghini implanted in a ’98 Ford Escort, but people aren’t generally going to be very interested when they also have flashier, more instantly appealing options on the table.
This is not to say that Lawbreakers is a bad game, surely it’s not. Reviews largely have been positive, graphics and gameplay are all finely tuned, and most who have played it would describe the experience as fun, even though it is best in short bursts and small doses. Lawbreakers‘ main gameplay hook is that it essentially extends the idea of individual ground-to-air combat, a trend popularized many years ago by Titanfall and recent Call of Duty games, to a new level by sending you boosting, double jumping, and triple jumping through the air during battle. Not only is that gameplay element executed well, but it is implemented expertly within the design of the maps, and clearly was kept in mind when the developers were balancing out the weapons.
The extended time in the air is a great idea for a multiplayer shooter and makes perfect sense on paper. There is no denying that Call of Duty and Titanfall are both respectable multiplayer franchises. However, as many reviewers have stated, Lawbreakers does get stale fairly quickly when soaring through the air more than usual is about the only major thing distinguishing the game from the franchises it’s clearly inspired by. Entire multiplayer games can rarely rely on just one great gameplay element to achieve success. Even with PUBG and Fortnite, which are not games I would call terribly complex, there are many factors that players can describe when discussing why they keep coming back to them. They are excellent games with many facets, despite their simplicity.
"People are still playing Overwatch in droves not because it was launched with no competition (Battleborn, anyone?) but because it was full of personality, memorable distinct characters, and brought its elements together to form a timeless experience that stands out from the herd."
The bottom line here is that, while the multiplayer shooter genre is a crowded space, and that doesn’t look to be changing, that is something that any game publisher worth their salt should understand going in. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a multiplayer shooter is going to have competition. Even if PUBG and Lawbreakers were to launch on the exact same day, it’s ultimately up to Nexon to make sure their game does well. It’s not the responsibility of another franchise to be nice to them and make sure their projects succeed.
If you are making a game, and you don’t think your game can survive with the current state of the genre, maybe its worth it to take a step back and re-evaluate what you’re doing. Maybe Nexon, like all of us at times, should try to remember that the greatest lessons are learned not by looking out and blaming your circumstances, but by looking inward and deciding to learn your lessons so you can do better next time.
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.