If you ask Boss Key Productions, LawBreakers isn’t dead yet. Talk to the game’s most dedicated players, and some will tell you the online shooter is ready for the big dirt nap. And, unlikely as it may be, some are clinging to hope that it will one day rise from its ashes.
Boss Key, the studio co-founded by Gears of War lead designer Cliff Bleszinski, launched a new battle royale game on Steam Early Access called Radical Heights last week. That news came just days after the studio said that it would be shifting its focus away from LawBreakers. “Our studio is determined to give this game the second life it deserves,” it wrote in an April 5 update. But it’s hard to see how that could happen, when less than a year after release, that game’s PC player base has dwindled into the single digits. The game’s few remaining dedicated players aren’t hopeful, either.
“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,” the studio wrote in the update. . Contrary to popular speculation, the game would not be going free-to-play, Boss Key said. For now, while it would continue to “support” the game, Boss Key would be pivoting to things like Radical Heights, implying that it would leave LawBreakers’ decimated but still existent PC player base to by and large fend for itself.
“I cannot in good faith say that Lawbreakers is even living on life support at this point,” former competitive player Nick “Prizz” Martin said in a Discord message to Kotaku. “The game is dead for now.”
Observing the current state of the game , he’s completely right. At least on PC, the game only has a handful of people playing at any given time. Often, Steam Charts reports that there’s no one playing at all. LawBreakers’ quick match mode is effectively broken for this reason: On any given night you can sit there and watch the matchmaking time tick up as the game searches in vain for enough other strangers to team you up with.
But there is still a niche community around the game that’s hanging on. While activity on the official LawBreakers Discord has slowed to the velocity of a tumbleweed in recent months, life on the fan-run “LawBreakers 2.0″ Discord goes on.
There, overseen by its creator and owner Jei, who goes by “HenTie” on the server and preferred not to share his full name, people come and go while a few mainstays continually hold down the fort. “I started playing since the alpha,” Jei said over Discord. “I enjoy the intensity about it.”
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According to him, the LawBreakers 2.0 Discord was created to help facilitate people finding matches, especially once activity died down on the game’s official Discord server. Other people said it was also to enable a less-regulated atmosphere, free from the moderators and banhammers of the Boss Key-run group. While LawBreakers is eternally the topic du jour there, other channels range from discussions of tech and music to depositories for memes and NSFW posts. Just about anything goes, including language like “f-g” and “nibba,” the latter of which is just a not-very-disguised way of saying a racial slur. These were bannable offenses in Boss Key’s original LawBreaker’s Discord. The studio did not respond to a request by Kotaku for comment on the matter.
“There were comments like, ‘It must be the devs in the game’ or ‘It’s probably only Cliffy B in game’ but in fact it was us.”
But while the game’s remaining PC players have largely split with Boss Key’s officially-sanctioned fan spaces, they’re still passionate about the game the studio made. It’s close to a religion in some respects. Slurs won’t get you banned from the LawBreakers 2.0 server, but if you continually rip on the game and spam channels with relitigations of why it failed or wasn’t any good, you just might be shown the door.
The group is small and focused on simply trying to orchestrate matches, often settling for 2v2s or 2v3s rather than fully-populated matches. The player count ticks up on weekends, especially during community play nights on Saturdays, something the group has been running for over three months now. At this point, though, the remaining LawBreakers diehards on PC spend as much time if not more shooting the shit in the LawBreakers 2.0 Discord as actually shooting each other in the game. It’s sort of like a digital sandlot, but for internet strangers married to a failed first-person shooter.
“For the past 3-4 months the entire player base has been us in our discord and reddit,” said Bolt, whose real name is Liam Callahan, and who is one of the server’s most prolific posters, in a series of Discord messages. In January of this year there were usually still enough people to find an online match just by searching, but by February games had to be scheduled. “It’s funny,” he said. “The [concurrent users] got so low multiple times, it made the reddit frontpage, and articles, like I said, and there were comments like, ‘It must be the devs in the game’ or ‘It’s probably only Cliffy B in game’ but in fact it was us.”
According to Callahan’s count, he and some of the Discord’s other most active users have each logged several hundred hours apiece in the game, with one of them approaching 1000. That’s impressive for a game that’s been out less than a year, but it’s remarkable when you consider how hard it is to find matches. In some ways, these are the players who have lost the most by investing so much time in a game that never took off like its creators’ and fans hoped. Many of them don’t hold grudges though, including Callahan.
“It feels good to be one of the last ones playing,” he said. “To think, if I didn’t become so involved with the community, I would not have met these people. And if you think about it, if the game never flopped, I wouldn’t have met them either.” They’ve become close friends, he says, despite never meeting face to face, and continue to play not just because they love the game but also because some of them are still hopeful that Boss Key will eventually find a way to revive it.
Everyone has opinions for why LawBreakers never caught on. Bleszinski himself blamed it in part on the game’s lack of familiar character archetypes like sniper or turret builder, as well as a poor onboarding and tutorial experience. The game, whose complexity and difficulty also harkened back to the arena shooters of old like Quake and Unreal Tournament, also had the misfortune of coming out right as Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds was taking over PC gaming.
“Every corner of the internet said the game was dead.”
“A lot of people compared it to Overwatch, which it wasn’t trying to be,” said Callahan. “It was trying to be more of a homage to the arena shooter days, but also have different classes where you can frag out no matter which class you lose.” He and others also blame the game’s marketing coupled with popular YouTube videos prematurely announcing the game’s death.
“Every corner of the internet said the game was dead, or that Cliffy B’s new game sucked, it was just an Overwatch clone etc. ,” he said. “Soon there were massive amounts of schadenfreude of the game failing. Not being it was inherently bad, but there were ‘I told you so’s and ‘Cliffy B is an idiot’ posts.”
Back in October, the game looked like it still might stage a recovery given enough time. After several weeks of organized pro play and the now infamous 1.4 patch in September which increased character health, there was a LawBreakers tournament at DreamHack Denver. It was there that Nick “Prizz” Martin and his team Stacked Like Pancakes managed to win the grand finals against the previously undefeated Fuster Cluck. Originally a Halo and Battlefield player, Prizz switched to LawBreakers during the beta periods when he saw people streaming it on Twitch. He’s one of the only former pro players of its short lived competitive scene that had stuck around and remains a staunch advocate.
“If people, even today, are looking for a game with quality gameplay, great map design, and the smoothest FPS experience on the market, this is the game for them,” he said. “It is one of the best competitive experiences I have ever had in gaming till this day.” He’s also just as glowing about the remaining PC LawBreakers community. “The LB community is probably the coolest most mature community even when it was larger at the beginning,” Prizz said. “I think that’s a result of the game being more mature and on top of having a bit of humility considering how the games life has been.”
At the same time, he admits it mostly consists of men who, by his estimate, are between the ages of 16 and 30. During his time with the game, Prizz said he’s only met one player who was a woman, and that was via streaming.
The LawBreakers holdouts aren’t organized enough to be a cult, but there is something of a messianic sense in some of the remaining players that the game will one day rise again. “I met some of the [Boss Key] staff at Dreamhack Denver and can confirm that they are wonderful people who most likely will come back to LawBreakers and support it in some fashion in the future which keeps me excited,” Prizz said. He’s not alone in that sentiment, however unlikely it may seem, especially if Radical Heights somehow takes off in the next few months.
Even if the developers don’t return to the game in any meaningful way, however, Callahan and others don’t regret the time they’ve invested in the game or the community they’ve constructed around it. “It’s been a long ride,” Callahan said. “And I am 100% confident the developers at Boss Key know who we are as well. Cliffy B included. It feels weird, saying that you, in a sense, know the developers and CEO of a game company, but it feels good. I feel like we made a difference in LawBreakers. I just wish there could be more we could do.”