Starbreeze, the Swedish publisher best known for the popular, but troubled, Payday 2 and Dead by Daylight, is in a rough spot. We’re talking full restructuring, filing for reconstruction, losing the CEO, and other board members, the works. This is also a publisher that was supposed to bring out Psychonauts 2 and System Shock 3, but who knows now. This is happening because the publisher was betting almost everything on Overkill’s The Walking Dead, a game that was announced ages ago from the developer behind Payday, which obviously saw troubles (and was still dealing with Payday drama as well). The game quietly released for PCs and tanked, jeopardizing the company’s whole existence. Now, there’s a lot to be said about how such a situation can happen, from chasing trends and executive decisions, to pushing devs too hard and bad monetization practices. But, there’s also a lot to be said about The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead, as a property, is well over a decade old now, as the first issue landed in 2003. Even the show based on the comic is about a decade old and has deviated so much from the source material that even the TV-only fanbase can tell something is off. Plus, with a TV show, you can’t exactly run for a decade and still retain all the actors. Telltale (RIP) published its sensational The Walking Dead video game adaptation in 2012. This stuff has been going on for years, in different forms and in different waves, with merchandise, branding, and everything, for what seems like the entire existence of human pop culture in its contemporary form. And, well, people are over it.
When Negan was announced as Tekken 7 DLC, people were mostly confused. When a new The Walking Dead mobile game comes out, nobody talks about it and it never charts. The only reason anyone cared about Telltale’s latest season is because it was the last one, and there was a glimmer of hope that it could capture the glory of the first season. Also, Telltale shut down because people stopped buying its games a long time ago, and leaning on a property that was losing its juice didn’t help. It’s tired, just as tired as Rick and the surviving originals are of, well, surviving.
It’s not that Overkill’s The Walking Dead was a horrible game. Hell, Fallout 76 is actually a horrible game, but that’s an IP that people don’t get tired of, so it will do well enough until it inevitably relaunches as a better game and sees a resurgence. Especially after the bag drama ended. Overkill is a fine studio that makes decent games. But if your 2018 game that is supposed to rely on an online community, player retention, and long-term monetization is based on a property that is shambling as much as its antagonists, well, it was probably doomed out of the gate. It doesn’t help that, unless your game is a giant Square Enix RPG or a first-party Sony title, taking multiple years after announcing its release is often a death sentence, especially in that space that isn’t quite AAA, but not indie either, and also, again, a service model game.
Plus, the service model bubble is already set to burst, especially for smaller titles, publishers, and unproven IP. Overkill’s The Walking Dead is going the way of LawBreakers, Battleborn, that one game Epic abandoned after Fortnite took off, and The Culling. Making an okay or pretty good game is no longer good enough, and IP is only as valuable as the moment your product exists in.
If Overkill’s The Walking Dead came out a few years ago, it may have done pretty well. The energy for the property was still alive, and Overkill was a much more trusted name. But after some Payday 2 troubles, the IP itself winding down in the public consciousness, and the fatal overcrowding of the genre, it’s no wonder it was dead on arrival. Perhaps 505 Games can make in undead when it launches for consoles in early 2019, but I’m of the mind that from now on, if somebody wants to make a new zombie video game, there’s a lot more of an uphill battle ahead of them regardless of the IP.