It is always unfortunate when a game developer has to close its doors. Regardless of how you may feel about the titles they have made, the shuttering means a number of people are all suddenly out of work. It usually happens abruptly. People’s lives are disrupted, with them maybe needing to completely relocate themselves and their families to keep going. This is the situation Boss Key, Cliff “Cliffy B” Bleszinski’s studio is in, as its doors closed on May 14, 2018.
The announcement came out of nowhere. On April 10, 2018, Radical Heights, the studio’s latest game, launched as part of Steam’s Early Access program. A little over a month later, the studio as a whole was shuttering its doors. It is a staggering development for such a young studio, especially considering the company’s recent timeline. After all, it was only founded in April 2014. Who would think four years later it would all fall apart?
One of the sad parts of this tale involves the rise and fall of LawBreakers. This was Boss Key’s attempt to create a first-person, team-based shooter along the lines of Overwatch or Battleborn. It had a gimmick that, theoretically, should have given it some attention. This is a game where the laws of gravity mattered, as some areas had different levels of it, allowing players to manipulate the effects to their advantage. Recoil could even be used as a means of propulsion. Despite having six mode and 18 characters, it did not find an audience. It sold poorly and updates stopped, though the servers remained online. Like Battleborn, it couldn't compete with Overwatch.
Even Radical Heights is a game that could have been something. This was a colorful battle royale inspired by 80’s ambiance. It was early access, but seemed like it had promise and potential. Did it make missteps? Yes. Immediately going to a battle royale game when other, bigger games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite had it covered was not wise. It probably was not also smart to prioritize getting an in-game shop running before having textures on buildings and female avatars in game.
But now, in retrospect, when we see where Boss Key was coming from, it is easier to see why such decisions were made with Radical Heights. Putting it into a free early access state with a paid shop was clearly designed to get people’s attention, fund the venture, and maybe even entice companies that could fund the rest of its development. Prioritizing a revenue stream when your last game flopped and members of Boss Key need to survive would definitely take precedence over cosmetic items in game. This was a lifeboat for them.
Perhaps things would have gone differently for Boss Key, had people known exactly what was at stake. Some people were critical of Radical Heights at launch. They may have harped about the controls or performance, or maybe decided to avoid it because the microtransactions may have made Boss Key seem greedy. Maybe they would have been more forgiving and willing to give the game and try, support the team, if they had known it was a last chance.
Maybe all Boss Key Productions needed was a chance. Perhaps in a different time and place, LawBreakers might have found an audience. If the developer let people know how badly it was hurting more people could have considered trying Radical Heights. Here is hoping all of the people involved with this studio find a safe place to land and can still keep pursuing their dreams of game development.