Hi-Rez Split: Good or Bad for Gamers?

This isn’t another developer appreciation week post, although I can say that Hi-Rez Studios has provided me with hundreds of hours of entertainment throughout the years. I absolutely love SMITE, enjoy Paladins to a lesser degree and see potential in Realm Royale (though the Battle Royale genre is already pretty stale). I would say I have an appreciation for them, but they aren’t held up on a pedestal like some other developers I’ve discussed on this blog, but I also wouldn’t put them in a pile with Daybreak Games whom have lost nearly all of my respect (save for the Norrath nostalgia I will always carry with me). A mixed relationship, though I don’t have any real ill will.

Recently the company announced that it is splitting into three different studios that will handle each of their titles. Titan Forge Games will continue to maintain and develop the company’s flagship title SMITE, Evil Mojo Games will oversee development of Paladins, and a new studio Heroic Leap Games was created to push Realm Royale towards its 1.0 release. At this point it’s hard to decide if this is a good or bad thing for the gamers who have invested countless hours into the company’s titles. One the one hand, having an individual team that is dedicated to producing new content and maintaining each game with bug fixes and balance changes should theoretically mean each game gets the time it deserves. On the other hand, it’s easy for one company to spread itself too thin with multiple studios demanding development time and funds and Hi-Rez has a bit of a bad track record when it comes to supporting games that just aren’t cutting it.

Another story broke that shows a huge decline in player numbers via Steam tracking for Realm Royale, and seeing as it’s only available on PC at this time that should be a reliable data point. It is only in Alpha testing at this point though so most people probably aren’t super committed to it until launch and the Battle Royale sphere is getting pretty crowded. Signups for the console beta of this game are already ongoing, so there are still plans to bring the game to consoles which has worked well for their other titles though it’s harder to track data about player bases reliably. I can attest to playing their games on console exclusively, and am already signed up for the Realm Royale beta on PS4, as these are great games with low barriers to entry and something I can play with my friends. It is troublesome to speculate on real data as to the health of the player base as a whole for each title due to having methods to track Steam numbers but not those on console or via the Hi-Rez launcher.

Looking at the Steam Charts for each reveals that they do all have player bases, but they vary wildly and it’s hard to say what the company would consider successful. I don’t have raw data on what happened with their handling of Tribes Ascend, but a cursory Internet search brought up this article. It seems that the studio dropped support just a year after “rescuing” the title that was already dead. I didn’t play Tribes Ascend, so I can’t say this bothers me. Looking at it from the outside I feel like it was probably a good business decision and since they didn’t really have anything invested in it they cut their losses. But if we look at the Steam charts for SMITE, it doesn’t seem to have a very large base and yet it continues to soldier on, four and a half years later.

I was surprised by the numbers for Paladins on Steam Charts, considering at the end of last year there was a controversial decision made involving the cash shop for the game. Isey covered this better than I could, I encourage you to read his article on the matter. I have since played the game and it’s not terrible and they seemed to sort of back off of the pay 2 win aspects that made people angry, yet it still commands more players on PC than SMITE. Realm Royale is facing a growing genre that is already dominated by the likes of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, and their Steam Charts numbers show it. A game with less than 5,000 players can easily stay alive, be it a MOBA or an MMO, but if the developers don’t think they are going to make enough money off of that player base, the game is likely to sunset. Games such as these sometimes depend on whales and that’s why the predatory cash shops exist, but even normal players like myself haven’t had a problem plunking down some cash for cool skins or champion bundles. Developers need to make compelling games to get our money, but also need enough money to keep the lights on. A vicious cycle.

Clearly I have no idea if this is a good or bad move for the company or its games. I think Realm Royale has a chance on consoles, because despite my lack of numbers I have played these games personally on PS4 and never had issues with long queue times that are evident in dying games. I would like to see all three of these game succeed, as I think the company has designed interesting games that vary enough from the competition to be as-good-if-not-better in my eyes. I’m not sure if this is the way to secure the future for them, but time will surely tell.

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