With the very sudden shutdown of Boss Key Productions plus the reveal of other ideas the studio had, it seems like now is the perfect time to look back at Boss Key’s rocky life. We’ll take a look all the bumps the studio had along the way as well as their triumphs. Be sure to stick with it to the end to see all new, never released concept art for games Boss Key Productions had intended to make.
It all began with Cliff Bleszinski, aka Cliffy B of Gears of War fame, deciding to take a break from game development for the first time since he was a teen in 2012. According to a 2015 interview with Destructoid, he had actually intended to retire from gaming completely at this time and on his departure from Epic Games said, “It was a combination of gamers feeling jaded, as well as working with some very talented people who were also very jaded. I could pitch the most amazing idea to anybody back when I was at Epic toward the end, and they’d be like ‘I don’t buy it.’ I don’t mean to slag anyone, but people get jaded in this business.”
On June 30, 2014, he took to Twitter to announce that he was coming out of retirement and that his next project would be unveiled in the next week. This is when LawBreakers would be announced, a team based FPS being published by Nexon. If you were to ask some people, they would say that this was Boss Key’s first mistake. Nexon doesn’t have the best reputation in the west so from the very beginning they were fighting an uphill battle with LawBreakers. It was also decided early on that it would be a Steam exclusive (though it also released on PS4) and despite the previous announcement that it would be free to play…it wasn’t.
After holding successful Alpha testing it was back into development for a little more than half a year, at which point Closed Beta began. Despite receiving positive beta reviews from all across the gaming media there weren’t many people playing in the beta. The second round of beta testing, which took place in May 2017, seems to be when the game peaked. According to SteamCharts.com, they had almost 7,500 players at their all-time concurrent peak which was reached on May 29, 2017. Even an open beta that was available for anyone with a Steam account didn’t slow down the decline that had already started. The game launched on August 8, 2017, and this seemed to have no impact at all on the decline of the game. Compare this to H1Z1 which not long ago was seeing the same decline but did actually get a boost from launching.
Talking to Eurogamer about the game, CliffyB expressed that there were a number of things he would have changed if he could. One of the biggest being the streaming of the Alpha which gave players a poor first impression of the game.
Another issue, which Bleszinski himself addressed in a September 2017 interview with Gamespot was his personality. During that interview, he stated, “I can be very cocky and very brash on social media. And realizing that, you know, we have a fledgling player base. It’s been very humbling for me. I’m going to continue to iterate on this game, continue to add to it. And try to be less of a dick, honestly.”
By the end of October though CliffyB seemed to have completely forgotten this. In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz talked about the games press, “They’re just looking for clicks, man. They’re just looking for ad revenue. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, and they’re welcome to print whatever they want – but as far as I’m concerned, they can fuck off. We’re going to keep making our game for our fans.”
That quote was a direct reaction to the news that by October of 2017 the game had dropped down to having just 10 concurrent players online. That was the point at which exactly one match could be played since the game is made up of two teams of 5 players. This, along with every other step the game had taken along the way, was covered closely by games media, though it was his opinion that games press were especially keen on reporting every failure his game had. By the end of 2017 Boss Key’s Co-founder, Arjan Brussee had announced that he would be returning to Epic Games to work on a secret project.
In April 2018, Boss Key announced that they were moving on from LawBreakers to develop a passion project. LawBreakers remains online still and as of now, you can still buy it on Steam. In the last 48 hours, the game has had a peak of 25 concurrent players, 7 of those 48 hours have had no players at all.
The previously mentioned passion project was 80s-inspired Battle Royale game Radical Heights. The game was released free to play and in Early Access. Unfortunately, the game received mixed reviews from the very start. It was a game that was clearly still in development. It’s littered with bugs and has limited customization options, which includes a lack of female characters. As for player numbers, Radical Heights never saw much success there. Their peak concurrent was at 12,314 and that number dropped very quickly.
As player numbers dropped they teased what they were working on next, which included female characters and jumping through windows but, just days later Bleszinski was once again bringing negative media attention to his studio. He took to Twitter claiming that Epic Games was poaching his staff.
At this point, it seemed like he was blaming Epic Games for at least some of Radical Heights’ lack of success. On May 4th Radical Heights got a patch which added in a new scanner device along with a number of cosmetic items.
Just 10 days later Cliff Bleszinski took to Twitter to announce that Boss Key Productions was shutting down and he would be taking a step back from the industry for a while. During this time rumors were circulating that Bleszinski had taken to Twitter with the news before telling his employees. This has never been confirmed however and seems to be based on this tweet.
A very interesting article on Variety talks about how Radical Heights started out as an idea for a Prison game with trust playing an important part.
What Could Have Been
All of this now brings us to what could have been. Last night, Bleszinski took to Twitter to show off art assets and ideas for other games that Boss Key never had the chance to make.
The first game is Dragonflies, which was described as “ninja/samurai in airships riding dragons fighting zombies with friends in a PVE “feudalpunk” setting on floating islands.” There’s a whole lot of information packed in there. The idea of a feudalpunk game where you’re riding dragons sounds amazing. Not sure I’m sold on the zombies though. The concept art for the game, made by Shawn Lin is AMAZING.
The next game was Donuts which is basically “Mario Kart on water with animals in VR.” As someone who spent many summers of my youth tubing down the Sacramento River, this sounds like an amazing concept.
And finally, there was DogWalkers, a multiplayer VR mech shooter where players would man different parts of a giant fighting vehicle. I’m imagining Pacific Rim meets Bridge Crew. The concept art for this game is awe inspiring.
There is of course still the chance for any of these games, including Radical Heights and LawBreakers, to become something great in the future. For now, Radical Heights will continue to run, when it will be shut down isn’t known yet. There’s also no word on LawBreakers’ future.
The three games that we’ve now seen concept art for could very well get picked up but, with Cliff Bleszinski comes a lot of baggage and a lot of burned bridges. As possible as it is that some studio will be interested in these games, it’s equally possible that none will because of the baggage attached.
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