I had really been looking forward to playing Deformers, the multiplayer arena combat game from developer Ready at Dawn (The Order: 1886). After following it’s development for nearly a year, I was pretty excited by the time the open beta rolled around. Unfortunately, it didn’t work on my machine at all. Still, it’s tricky accounting for every combination of components in a PC, and I had no doubt that it would be fixed by the games’ release date three weeks later. During that time there was a major mix-up, where Gamestop accidentally leaked promotional codes meant for employees to the general public. But launch came and went on April 21st regardless, with opinion of the game being positive overall. In the days following release, however, conversation surrounding the game turned sour. Of 101 reviews (as of the time of writing) on Steam, only 31% are positive. Complaints centre around the $30/€35 price tag, the lack of an option to play against AI opponents, and the exceedingly small playerbase, an issue that’s compounded by the first two problems. SteamDB states that the most users active at one time was 83, on the day of release. In the last 24 hours there were only 3 concurrent players. These complaints have been echoed by console players, many of whom have voiced the issue on the games’ subreddit.
The general consensus among fans is that the high price tag is putting people off. While this could be creating a feedback loop of people not buying because no one is playing, and existing players complaining that the price must be too high because no one is buying, it deserves examining whether or not the game is worth the money. Deformers certainly looks the part, with lushly detailed level design and a cast of great looking and excellently animated characters to play as. The soundtrack was composed by Austin Wintory (The Banner Saga, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate), who has won multiple awards within the industry and whose work on Journey earned him a Grammy nomination. There’s ongoing support planned for the game, with new game modes, classes, skins and levels coming further down the line. Those who have spent any significant time playing have confirmed that the gameplay is fun, so there’s no issue there. Yet all of that counts for very little when people are left waiting in lobbies, unable to join a match.
On June 6th, the developers announced their plan to combat this slow decline. The “Deformers: Reformed” update releases on June 8th and adds offline couch co-op, cross-network play, tutorials, a free weekend beginning when the update drops, and 50% off for another week following that. These updates bring it more in line with Rocket League, a game which Deformers has certainly drawn some inspiration from. But while cross-platform play helps to ensure a fluid multiplayer experience in Rocket League, it also boasts a community of over fifty thousand players a day on Steam alone. Most games can’t be expected to reach the ‘runaway hit’ status enjoyed by the worlds premier rocket car football game, to be sure, but it’s worth noting that Rocket League has been priced at $20/€20 since the outset, with frequent sales bringing that as low as $12/€12.
Time will tell whether this update earns Deformers some of the success it seemingly deserves, or if it ends up being forced to adopt a free-to-play model in the vein of Gearbox’s ill-fated FPS / MOBA hybrid Battleborn, which was firmly ground underneath Overwatch’s heel when it launched a year ago and announced yesterday that it was launching a “free downloadable experience“. I’ll be playing during the free weekend regardless, so fingers crossed other people do too.