It’s that time again! Welcome, everyone to the MMOBomb free-to-play predictions for 2021! You know the drill by now: I’ll make some predictions about F2P gaming in 2021 and then a year later, look back to see how accurate I was. (I will, of course, be accurate.) And, as has been the case in recent years, we’ll see how the rest of the MMOBomb staff did with also guessing at my predictions, as well as any MMOBombers who deigned to comment on my article. “Do not judge, lest ye be judged”? Oh, I’ll do both!
For starters, let’s take a look at my predictions from last year:
Rocket League will go free-to-play
(Q agree, Mike and Zach disagree)
No question about it, I absolutely nailed this one! And I’m listing it first not because I want to start off on a good foot but because it was the first one mentioned in the article. And also the other reason …
This one is a little contentious and harder to score. Torchlight Frontiers became Torchlight III and launched, while Magic: Legends has been delayed into 2021. So Q and I were definitely wrong, and Zach was right. Mike is also wrong, but he said that TF might not release, and believe me, he’s been working behind the scenes to convince me that he’s right since Torchlight Frontiers didn’t release – Torchlight III did. Fortunately, since I’m judge, jury, and executioner of this affair, I’m going to deny his claim. He can take it up with the Supreme Gaming Court, which, it turns out, is also me. Really, I was elected in 2004, it was in all the papers.
We will get to play on officially sanctioned City of Heroes servers
(Q and Mike disagree on “officialness,” negotiations continue in perpetuity, Zach says “settled”/agrees)
There was nary a word spoken about the rogue City of Heroes servers and their official sanctioning by NCSoft in 2020, so I think I’ll have to chalk this one up as a loss for all four of us.
No Guild Wars 2 expansion, or other major new announcement, from ArenaNet
(Q and Zach agree, Mike disagree on announcement)
Fine, Mike, you can have this one. We most definitely got an announcement, of the End of Dragons expansion for Guild Wars 2, back in August.
The 2020 “Loot Box Odds” deadline will come and go without any action
(Q and Zach agree, Mike disagree)
You could maybe acknowledge that there was something more important going on in the world in 2020 that maybe pushed an issue like video game regulation to the back burner. But hey, I’ll take a win wherever I can get one.
That makes the final score 2/5 for me, Zach, and Q, and 1/5 for Mike. Sometimes, being contrary for the sake of being contrary isn’t the best choice, mister negative-pants.
As one last punch to the gut, I have at the bottom of my file an extra prediction that didn’t make it into the article but I’m guessing was spoken about on the podcast: “Also, Mike thinks closed beta for Lost Ark in 2020, Zach and I disagree, Q thinks maybe alpha.” Lost Ark didn’t make it into alpha or beta, at least here in the west, so I’m going to take credit for this one, too. Does that technically count as 3/6 and push me to 50%?
Sadly, nobody left any predictions of their own, or even comments on my predictions for 2020. On the video of the F2P Cast, there are a couple of comments: Johnny Tsunami said “insert random daybreak controversy here,” which was sort of correct, and Mizphit Reign saying “I predict I will be spending a lot of time in New World.” Hope you got into the beta, Mizphit!
Still, it was a pretty weak showing, especially compared to years past. Come on guys, if I’m going to be out here making a fool of myself, the least you can all do is be foolish with me!
Let that serve as your rallying cry – “We’re all fools!” – as I introduce the sure-to-be-foolish predictions for 2021:
Among Us goes F2P on all platforms
A recent tradition is for every year to have a “big game that doesn’t really need to because it’s doing really well on its own” to go free-to-play. In 2019, it was Destiny 2, which I didn’t predict. Last year, it was Rocket League, which I did predict (and I’ll keep boasting about until at least 2030). I’ll admit that felt like a bit of a stretch, but it was a solid guess that panned out.
I’m going to take the somewhat easier road this year and pin my hopes on InnerSloth’s surprise hit of 2020, Among Us. The game is already free on mobile devices but carries a $5 price tag on PC and Switch, and will be coming to Xbox consoles in 2021.
Given that the game launched in 2018 and took two years to catch fire, it makes sense that InnerSloth would attempt to cash in while it can. The Xbox releases will further pad the developer’s pockets, one Lincoln at a time, but I could imagine that revenue stream, and player base, drying up somewhat as the year goes on. Once that happens, a shift to F2P makes sense, as it would reinvigorate the game and allow InnerSloth to put even more emphasis on the cash shop. Since the game is already free on mobile, it should be an easy enough transition – and hopefully an easy prediction.
Hyper Scape won’t survive 2021
Surprise announcements of battle royales can work. Just look at Apex Legends‘ launch two Februaries ago. That game has made over a billion dollars in revenue in under two years and has been locked into the top 20 on Steam since its debut there in November. Sometimes, when it comes to marketing and PR, less is more.
Ubisoft undoubtedly wanted to mimic that sense of spontaneous excitement and thrills with Hyper Scape, a fast-paced, futuristic battle royale set in a virtual world. It came onto the scene with a massive marketing push that saw over a hundred sponsored streamers trying out the game, and there was a good reason for Ubisoft to go this route. Hyper Scape added functionality that allowed Twitch viewers to influence the game, as well as accrue progression along the battle pass just by watching streams. It seemed like a bold and ingenious plan, with a slick-looking game to go along with it.
Unfortunately for Ubisoft, it hasn’t worked. The developer admitted in September that the game was “not able to achieve the high expectations we set for ourselves.” As I write this, Hyper Scape has 117 viewers on Twitch – not good for any game, but especially disappointing for one that tried to exploit Twitch viewership in such an innovative way. (Apex Legends, by comparison, has over 40,000.) Things got so bad that Ubisoft basically offered people $10 in credit just to try the game.
Ubisoft recently added a team deathmatch mode, in an attempt to provide more variety than the basic battle royale mode, a common complaint among players. But every adjustment the dev team makes seems to lose more players than it brings in, and I don’t think they’ll find that “magic patch” to yank the game back from the abyss. Hyper Scape was a cool idea, and I liked it to a degree, but I think Ubisoft will cut its losses and pull the plug before the year ends.
Launching this year: Path of Exile 2, Lost Ark, and Riot’s Project L
COVID had an impact on virtually every industry in the world in 2020, and that included video game development. Delays were as commonplace as actual new releases, and a lot of gamers were left hoping for much-anticipated titles even as the calendar turned into 2021. Good news! They’ll be coming in bunches in the new year, or at least I hope they will because I like being right.
If things return to normal in 2021, look for Grinding Gear Games to try and run another ExileCon later in the year. If that’s the case, Path of Exile 2 would certainly be on display, with some playable build being available not only to the public at the show, but at large. At least, that’s how I think GGG will do things, but then again, since big PC games launch nearly every month now, maybe they’ll delay PoE 2 until, say, 2024.
Our Zach Sharpes can’t wait to get his hands on a Westernized version of Lost Ark. Seeing the progress it’s been making in other regions, I think he’ll get his chance in 2021. With Amazon Games likely to be a publisher of the title – hey, it’s not like they’re doing much else – we’ll probably get to try out Smilegate’s ARPG, maybe even before the midway point of the year.
Then there’s “Project L,” the code name for Riot Games’ upcoming fighting game set in the League of Legends universe. We’ve heard very little about the game since its announcement in October of 2019, but given the pace at which Riot has pushed out Legends of Runeterra and Valorant, I think L will be playable by the general public – though perhaps only in early access form – by the end of the year. Maybe that’s a bit of a long shot, but if it hits, I’ll seem all the more smarter when we’re reviewing the predictions next year, and that’s the entire point of this article.
No major new game announcements from Daybreak Game Company
I tried a version of this last year with ArenaNet and it didn’t pan out (see above), but I’m giving it another shot this year with Daybreak. Its acquisition by Enad Global 7 raised plenty of eyebrows, not only for the move itself but by many of the things it revealed about the long-tenured creator of some of the most iconic MMO games in history.
Specifically, we learned that Daybreak has a Marvel license, to produce … well, a new game, we’d imagine. Given its secrecy prior to last month’s unplanned reveal, I’d say we’re still a ways away from this project being announced in any official capacity.
There’s also the question of what Daybreak’s new owners want to do with the EverQuest IP. You would think that something is in the works, even if just in the early planning stages. However, given the hype that was generated for EverQuest Next, and how all that turned out, I think Daybreak will keep potential news about a new entry in the EQ universe much closer to the vest this time around.
Then again, seeing as how EG7 blurted out all those details about Daybreak’s business in its investor statement, you could make the argument that the company wants to generate lots of buzz about its flashy new acquisition sooner rather than later. I think cooler, and wiser, heads will prevail, though, and it will be a mostly quiet year for Daybreak, which will be satisfied to just talk about, and expand upon, its existing games.
2021 will have a surprise F2P hit that we’ve (almost) never heard of
The past year was full of surprises in the gaming world (and outside of it, but we’re not talking about that here). One year ago today, you probably hadn’t heard of Among Us, Fall Guys, Phasmophobia, or, in the free-to-play world, Genshin Impact. All of those titles came out of nowhere to be smash hits in 2020, and I think that’s going to be a trend going forward: that with all the marketing and hype that big titles get, there will still be indie hits that defy expectations – not to mention the odds of being discovered – and fascinate large swaths of the gaming public.
In recent years, I’ve been highly skeptical of games promoting themselves as the next huge thing, and for good reason as their boastful claims rarely pan out. While there will be well-promoted and well-known-even-before-they-launch games, like the ones I’ve already mentioned, I think the way some games are created now, developed by smaller teams – or sometimes even just one person – and producing something that unexpectedly “clicks” with a wide range of players, is the sort of thing we’re going to see more of in the future.
This prediction is, admittedly, a little nebulous. I’m sure someone (outside of the developers) was aware of Genshin Impact on December 31, 2019, so it’s going to be a little bit more like “games I haven’t heard of” or maybe “games I heard mentioned once and never thought about again until they launched.” And what exactly quantifies a “hit”? I’d say peaking at over 100,000 players on Steam counts, or, in the case of games that aren’t on Steam, we’d need to hear something about how amazingly well they’re doing, which was certainly the case with Genshin Impact.
In other words, this is the prediction that’s most likely to be judged based on my personal opinions on the matter, albeit probably with some influence from the other folks at MMOBomb. Fortunately, I have the power to pass judgment on these matters. (Remember that 2004 election?) Also, I don’t get to be optimistic very often, so I’m going to do everything I can to make sure my rare show of faith pays off. Don’t let me down, 2021.