Oh: Kickstarted Tactics ‘Em Up Duelyst Will Be F2P Instead

Counterplay Games raised $137,707 (£90,000-ish) on Kickstarter in 2014 for Duelyst [official site] with a dream of turn-based tactical combat focused on competitive ranked multiplayer. It was to run under that quaint ‘pay-once-and-get-a-game’ model, with pledges offering the game starting at $15 (£10) and running up to $70 (£45) for versions with fancy skins and instant unlocks of units and spells. Well! Eleven months later, Counterplay have changed their minds, and announced it’ll be free-to-play.

During the Kickstarter last year, team lead Keith Lee had told us that they weren’t going F2P because they thought the audience of a turn-based tactics game on PC, and on Kickstarter, would rather have the whole thing in go. Evidently folks were into that idea enough to put up $137,707, but Counterplay have had a bit of a rethink since then.

They insist F2P will be better for Duelyst in the long term, saying they’re “taking practical steps to create a sustainable company to fully support Duelyst for many years to come”. They’re dreaming of regular content updates, tournaments, and whatnot, comparing it to the F2P likes of Dota 2 and Hearthstone. They explain, “We’ve run the numbers, and a one-time purchase model simply doesn’t support the level of updates we want to bring to you.” Free-to-play will also potentially let it welcome a larger playerbase, which is important for a game focused around ranked matchmaking to keep waiting times down.

They plan to sell cosmetic-only skins and booster packs of the cards of units and spells that folks use to compose squads. While cards can still be unlocked by playing, selling booster packs does let people jump ahead and that’ll always feel iffy. Grinding out unlocks when you know some people are paying to unlock big chunks can feel icky.

I can see Counterplay’s argument, and they may be right. Multiplayer-only pay-once games are very likely to fail, or to struggle to pay for ongoing support. (Not that F2P guarantees success, of course). However, this isn’t the dream that people put $137,707 towards.

Counterplay plan to compensate Kickstarter backers with a handful of instant unlocks, giving more to those who backed more. They’ll get one copy of each card for certain factions, which comments on the post suggest isn’t enough to build a solid deck, as you’ll want duplicates. It doesn’t seem the most generous compensation.

Consider this another “Kickstarting is not pre-ordering and, even if it were, pre-ordering is a bit awful anyway” reminder.

At the same time, er, F2P might make some more interested in Duelyst. In which case, it’s this:

Ta for the tip, Jason.


  1. Gothnak says:

    Oh that looks inter….’Competitive Ranked Multiplayer only’…oh, never mind…

    One nay they’ll be a nice single player collectible pay once game of some kind…

    • Cross says:

      “Competitive Ranked Multiplayer only” and “Options unlockable only through grinding and booster packs” mixes about as well as “Economy Class” and “Malaysia Airlines”, as Hearthstone has gone some way to show us.

      • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

        I dunno. It looks to me like they are using the exact same model as Riot did for League of Legends. And I hear that’s just about turning a profit….

        • EhexT says:

          Because standing in the same spot lightning hit once and claiming it’s bound to do so again works great. We can see the success of that model by all the MMOs that copied WoW and got WoW player numbers and money. Or all the successful multi-million player MOBAs that copied LoL.

          Oh wait – they all failed, because you CANT make another WoW or LoL.

          • zentropy says:

            Just because it worked once doesn’t mean it’ll work again (see WoW).

            Also, LoL is garbage – even if it wasn’t F2P.

    • EhexT says:

      PvP only multiplayer indie game – what does that spell? Dead on Arrival. Crasher, Stellar Impact and countless other dead PvP only games say hello.

      • pepperfez says:

        It’s a shame how much good content is wasted on these games no one will play. And I can’t imagine it’s particularly good for the developers’ resumes? But I guess rolling the dice on LoL-scale hyperbillions is just too much to resist.

        • EhexT says:

          Yeah – Fractured Space is the latest one that’s a real shame is going to die. They have great artists and decent gameplay designers, but betting it all on making a PvP only MOBA without bots and heading straight for Early Access? Goodbye game.

    • loquee says:

      We started with a very similar concept as an Early Access game for 10 money with Aerena back in late 2013.
      The description always said it is going to be f2p on release, so that wasn’t an issue.
      (Except with some bundle customers that did not read that – bundle was necessary to keep the player base above the critical mass during alpha)

      We managed to maintain a very healthy playerbase for a year, mostly due to the f2p model.
      PvP focused games need equally experienced players as opponents for the new arrivals, and with Aerena’s learning curve that only lasted for less than a few hours per player.

      However, making a game like this perfectly balanced, so the better player would always win with whatever setup of Champions, Ship and Special abilities also made the microtransactions and the whole LoL model with Skins and such a pretty tough model to keep sustainable.

      At the same time a major part of the core community kept reminding us that they very much prefer a pay once play forever approach, which at one point finally persuaded us to change our business model towards this direction.

      So what we did recently was the exact opposite of what Duelyst is gong to do. We pulled the f2p version from Steam and released the Masters Edition for 13.99 with all f2p mechanics removed.
      Since the game was cross platform and there was also demand from our iOS tablet players, we also just a few days ago released Aerena – Masters Edition on iOS, but just as an additional option to f2p (on iOS the concept of a PvP only competitive always online multiplayer game seemed to be more of an issue, very much to everyone’s surprise ;) – don´t get me wrong, some of our best players and even Season winners played on tablets, but in general PC players dominated)

      I think Duelyst is in a much stronger position (Press coverage like this, kickstarter visibility, maybe even a decent marketing budget :D ) and they might pull this off perfectly smooth with everybody, including themselves, happy. I really hope they will. Just started playing the alpha and see great potential.

      We will see .. I hope when they release the game, Aerena will be considered as one of their main competitors, probably not their nemesis, but just a duelyst.

  2. Lars Westergren says:

    Pulling a Godus.

    I tend to stay away from MMO and multiplayer oriented games on Kickstarter. If the servers shut down you get nothing, plus it is a culture that tend to be relaxed about microtransactions.

    For the inevitable “Lol, every Kickstarter is a scam” comments, I’d like to offer Sunless Sea, Armello, Darkest Dungeon, Massive Chalice and Albino Lullaby as some examples of Kickstarters released (or released to Early Access) this year that most people have given high praise.

    • gschmidl says:

      Also Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland, Kentucky Route Zero, FTL, the list goes on.

      • PopeRatzo says:

        The list doesn’t really go on, but OK. I’ll give you Divinity: Original Sin. Someday, games that are kickstarted will be judged on the same field as other games, but today is not that day.

        • Philopoemen says:

          Shadowrun Returns (but more accurately) Dragonfall were successful enough that HBS latest Kickstarter brought in another lazy $1.2million – and more importantly, showed that should they keep the same level of detail and quality as Dragonfall, they could keep doing so indefinitely.

        • Excelle says:

          Silly, of course it does: Planetary Annihilation, Spud’s Quest, Tiny Barbarian DX

          And let’s not forget that that War for the Overworld, Carmageddon: Reincarnation, Prison Architect and Rimworld are all out soonish/are good enough to be played right now.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      I miss the edit button:

      Comparing it to Godus was a bit unfair. Looks like they will release something to the backers, it’s just that other people get it too. And not every F2P game becomes P2W or withholds fun behind unbearable grind until you pay for “energy” or “gems”. Just quite a lot of them.

      • draglikepull says:

        A card game where you get only a fraction of the available spells at first and then have to buy the rest through booster packs is by definition pay-to-win.

  3. Penguin_Factory says:

    I don’t have a problem with them deciding to go F2P, but I feel like they should either refund the people who backed at a high level on he promise of something else, or give them the nearest equivalent to what their reward tier was.

  4. Frank says:

    That’s fine. Let ’em do whatever they think they need to to be successful. I’m sure they’ll do their best to treat the backers right.

    Y’all know that over the years there have been precisely zero successful multiplayer turn-based tactics games, right?

    • jezcentral says:

      Frozen Synapse?

      • jezcentral says:

        XCOM? (No edit button? Nooooo!)

        • tigerfort says:

          Both of which have substantial single-player components. Frozen Synapse I’ll grant you is arguably primarily multi-player, but I’d be surprised if as many as half those who bought XCOM have even tried the multi-player.

          • Carlos Danger says:

            X-Com has multi-player? I have 135 hours on that game and I never knew they had multi-player.

        • Frank says:

          Hm, maybe Frozen Synapse. I’ve never been much of one for off-grid stuff myself.

          I’m just guessing that XCOM’s multiplayer does not have a substantial community and that it will die away in no time if it exists. Maybe if they had MP as a F2P standalone, but then they couldn’t make any money. I’m also not much of one for random outcomes in pvp tactics, so it’s also not for me.

          I was thinking of the long line of failures: Slay!, Outwitters, Bang! Howdy, Banner Saga: Factions, AErena and no doubt others before I started paying attention

    • Hex says:

      I have to say, I’m precisely the guy who gets really into this kind of thing conceptually, but then joins the rest of the world in not playing the game shortly after the new-game-smell wears off.

      Love Frozen Synapse — but I’m exclusively interested in playing it with people I know in real life. Love The Banner Saga, but can’t bring myself to spend any time in TBS: Factions — though I think the rank-up system in that game has something to do with that.

      This? I’m now much less sad to have missed the Kickstarter. I’m definitely more likely to check it out as a F2P game, just due to the risks involved with this particular title — I do not historically like card games at all, but this game adds enough to the mix that I’m willing to check it out, granted that the barrier to entry is pretty low. They’ve lowered that barrier as much as one can expect, so.

      All for the good, from my point of view.

  5. bonuswavepilot says:

    “…to keep waiting times to down…” – I think you have one too many ‘to’s there, Alice!

  6. axfelix says:

    As someone who backed at the lowest tier and has been really enjoying the alpha I can live with this, though I hope they’re still planning a single player campaign of sorts.

  7. Retzinsky says:

    I backed this at $15 and have been enjoying playing it. I’m not surprised by the move to f2p at all. It wasn’t clear to me how it was going to be at all successful in the long term with the original business model. Just one look at Hearthstone pretty much shows everybody in this genre what you need to do if you want to create a money spewing white hole of a game. God knows I’ve played enough Hearthstone at this point. I’m sure there will be a lot of rage and refund calls, some of which is justified because of the original stated payment model during the funding drive, but if you put on your business hat and have actually been watching their game design choices this has seemed inevitable for months.

  8. wraithgr says:

    To me, this is a much bigger deal than the fuss raised when elite:dangerous went online only.
    I backed this and feel completely cheated… Not least by the poor,poor compensation that is being offered to backers.

    If there is any way for me to get a refund, I will be doing so.

    • Hex says:

      It kind of sounds to me like it might be exactly as much fuss as the Elite: Dangerous situation.

      It increasingly sounds like in both situations, the developer made a promise (not going to be F2P; will not require internet connection) for the sole purpose of generating additional funding, all the while planning to proceed with their original (F2P/always-online) vision.

      S’fucked up. It represents a dangerous direction for Kickstarter projects.

      It’s one thing to back something that fails because they can’t get it to work — it’s quite another to back a project which is fundamentally different than what’s promised.

      This is absolutely impacting my personal likelihood to back future projects.

      Thanks, assholes.

  9. Steven Hutton says:

    I kick started this game. It was the first and last thing I will ever back because I’m so horribly disappointed in how it has turned out. They have basically given up on every single thing that they mentioned in their initial kick-starter pitch that convinced me to back it. They literally turned it into the type of game to which it was meant to be the antidote.

    I’ve been burning with super-natural, white-hot fury about this game for months.

    • Hex says:

      That certainly doesn’t sound promising. Can you provide some examples?

      • commentingaccount says:

        I’d like to hear about this too.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Presumably, he’s simply referring to the free-to-play aspect of things: It was supposed to be a buy-once antidote to so many collectable-ish games with garbage business models.

        If you’re interested in a kickstarted pay-once-and-you’re-good collectable-turn-based-strategy game you should check out Faeria by the way. Kickstarted that and, though the community is quite small since they’re essentially in development sleep mode for now, it’s an excellent CCG-style game which does card pack unlock pace very, very right.

    • Steven Hutton says:

      Originally they promised “no unlocks” for ranked mode and a minimalist design. Then they brought in a new game designer (from the execrable Marvel Dice Masters) and he expanded the number of units and cards in the game by several hundred, abandoned the focus on tough tactical decisions and remade the game into more of a “fun combos” deck-builder type thing.

      Then they added booster packs and cards and collectables. And now it’s F2P.

      So of the list of things I wanted from this game, things that convinced me to pay.

      Minimilist desgin: Gone.
      Even playfield: Gone.
      No grind for gameplay objects in ranked mode: Gone.
      Focus on competitive play: Gone.
      Tight balance: Necessarily gone because you can’t balance 1,000 cards.
      Single purchase: Gone.
      No F2P: Gone.

  10. captainparty says:

    Like Godus, I think this was always intended to be F2P, but no one would get funding for a F2P game

  11. Squirrelfanatic says:

    The moment you realise you’ve paid money to give gaming cancer.

  12. zentropy says:

    Fuck. Another one bites the dust… :(

    Remember being pretty excited about this when the K$ launched. But seeing how they’ve gone F2P now I reckon I’ll never get around to even trying it. Sure that might sound backwards, but I ain’t touching any of that “free” nonsense again. I mean it’s never, ever, worth the compromises to game design and community it imposes.

  13. scottossington says:

    F2P that is awesomely shitty and I have lost interest.

  14. Phantom_Renegade says:

    As with most Kickstarters I suppose you get what you paid for, which, if you’re very lucky, is bit more then nothing.

  15. draglikepull says:

    I backed this and I’ve been playing the Alpha, and it’s a ton of fun. I’m extremely disappointed by this move. The game was explicitly pitched as not being F2P, which is one of the reasons I backed it. Now they’ve pulled a bait-and-switch. It’ll probably still be a fun game, and going F2P may help out in the long run, but the way they’ve done this is fundamentally dishonest, and Kickstarter backers are now getting less than they were promised. And we’re not getting less than we were promised because they’re unable to deliver (the game is highly playable in its current state with hundreds of units/spells) but because they’ve simply decided not to give us what they said they would. That’s not cool.

    • draglikepull says:

      Apparently there’s no edit button any more? Anyway, I just wanted to explain why I said backers are not getting what was promised:

      What’s being offered to backers now is one copy of each card for *some* of the game’s factions. Decks are allowed to have 3 copies of any given card. As anyone who’s played this kind of game before knows, you always construct a deck with multiples of your cards. Most decks will include 3 copies of most cards. So we’re being given at best 1/3 of what we were promised. You can’t really construct a good, playable deck with what they’re giving us, so now backers are going to have to buy a bunch of booster packs in addition to the money put into the Kickstarter just to get what we’ve already paid for.

      I think they can essentially make this right by their backers by giving all KS backers a full set of every card for every faction (ie. 3 of each), but having a F2P option available for new players. I’m not necessarily opposed to the game having some F2P option, but I am upset that they’ve reneged on what backers were told they were getting.

  16. TWOpies says:

    I personally think it’s a wise move on their part. As a backer and have been playing for quite a while I love what they’ve done with it. It’s a nice remix of Hero based TCG’s with your hero and minions on a grid based playfield.

    This will absolutely make for a longer lasting game with continual expansions and a good motivation loop if done right. I always thought that it was an odd choice to go with a single payment system. Makes it feel more shallow to me. Kind of like the Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Plains Walkers vs Magic Online.

    I’m absolutely fine with the 1 of each card, although I do hope they throw in some packs as well.

    All in all it’s an excellent game with way more potential than Hearthstone, but nailing a similar speed. The pixel art is gorgeous and I’m looking forward to see where they go. Goodby Hearthstone, hello Duelyst.


  17. shadowmarth says:

    Backed at lowest tier. Disappointed, but not surprised. That said, I already got pretty turned off to the game in the beta. So much of it is structured EXACTLY like Hearthstone with a board, from all the card crafting and daily quest structure, to the way the cards look and describe abilities. Granted that does make it a lot more interesting than Hearthstone, but in some ways it’s even more luck-based. I have not seen any draw cards whatsoever, your handsize is VERY small, and while you can replace one card a turn, which is pretty OK, it’s not enough. I’ve been beaten by combo decks before where there was literally nothing I could do to stop them hitting 15 damage on my leader in one turn from nothing. But then I think about the EXACT HAND they needed to do that, and it’s absolutely preposterous that they got it. Ranged units with a buff or two can be blatantly overpowered if you don’t pull a generic “destroy 1 monster anywhere on the board” card, which I feel is terrible design for a supposed tactics game, especially one where your control over your hand is very limited. There are a LOT of prettty serious balance issues right now too. Right now most games have come down to who gets the most bullshit combo going before your opponent draws a silver bullet for it. Not exactly the tactical experience I was hoping for. Shame people don’t like Banner Saga Factions as much, because that’s way more like what I want.

    As someone who’s been making the rounds on a LOOOOT of the F2P CCG type games that are out these days, I have some recommendations. First, if you like this game, good on you, it seems pretty solid for what it is, just not what I was expecting or hoping for. Second, if you want something that’s ACTUALLY a single buy, but you still unlock cards and can trade, and even bet cards on games, with much better tactical gameplay, interesting options, and balance, keep your eyes out for a game called Faeria. I got into a beta period a couple PAXes ago, and it really blew me away. They’ve gone dark for a bit in closed beta that I didn’t catch in time, but I can’t wait for that one to come back. Really clever, interesting, and original. Absolutely fascinating.

  18. Darkheart says:

    I love card games and tactical battles. Though, I’m not much into “competitive” multiplayer. Can I have a Ether Lords 3. please?

    This game seems to be dead on arrival, like so many other small studio MP-only games. It’s a pity…

  19. loquee says:

    I’m probably a little late to the party with this, but since our mails to RPS have not managed to receive any attention and Duelyst is so very close gameplay wise I have zero shame to self advertise Aerena here with a little gameplay clip:
    link to youtube.com
    Also relevant because it just moved from f2p to pay once and never be bothered again.

    • Hex says:

      Hey thanks for mentioning this. Aerena has always been on my horizon, but the F2P model stopped me from really looking into it that much. Checking the gameplay video there, this looks to be precisely the kind of thing I enjoy!

      You’ve made yourself a sale. :)

  20. cog says:

    I am more disappointed by this than I am the couple of kickstarters that I’ve backed that fell through. This is almost the exact opposite of the pitch they gave.

  21. Balanuir says:

    It’s a sad fact, but F2P has largely crowded out every other business model. As someone who’s gone the same way with his game (http://mightandfealty.com, in case you care) I understand why they did it. Player expectations have shifted much in the past years, and it’s become increasingly impossible to get people to actually pay for a game, while the same people at the same time almost beg you to include more micropayment features for them to spend money on.

    As a player, I understand the reasoning. Especially games I play every now and then, I don’t want to spend money for a subscription on. I have a long list of MMORPGs that I didn’t play because they wanted money every month, but my professional and private life are such that I sometimes have time to play, and sometimes not, often for several months. But a simple “pause my subscription” button would have brought me in.

    Companies these days are too innovative with bleeding you dry the nickel-and-dime way, and not innovative enough to make any other business model work. So sad.

    • namad says:

      I think the issue with it seemingly like only f2p works is…. f2p is the only business model that works and profits the company who made a BAD GAME. GOOD games with tons of great press that everyone loves are still selling like hotcakes for 5$,20$,or50$ one time purchase. There are many thousands of bad games that aren’t that popular and the ones that aren’t f2p gougers have been failures to provide profit for their makers.

  22. namad says:

    reads a bit like they’re cheating their backers pretty badly, should probably give them every possible unlock instead of just a few. since that’s what they agreed to give them before they got the privilege to even start.

  23. gunslingerfry says:

    I’m convinced now, more now than ever, that Kickstarter is a giant cluster*$#@. It’s kind of similar to the huge mess Greenlight is. Only on a few of them would I say that it was *actually* beneficial to me or the organizer that I backed them.

  24. nclift says:

    Firstly Thank you RPS for posting about this otherwise I may have missed it. I’m a duelyst backer who backed based upon the no-F2P and after seeing this I posted a respectful note to the kickstarter. Somehow I got a response a couple minutes later stating they would offer refunds and something about it would be in the next update. I will be taking them up on their offer. link to kickstarter.com

    • nclift says:

      As an addendum I have backed almost ~90 projects, including multiple failures, and have never asked for a refund. Failure is part of Kickstarter, if projects didn’t sometimes fail then people are not being ambitious enough. That being said this decision is entirely based upon them trying to make more money to the detriment of the game itself and is not something I can in good conscience support. (Thankfully I canceled my Glodus pledge before the kickstarter finished, dodged a bullet there)

      • cog says:

        Original Pitch: “We want to be very clear that our game is buy once, up-front.”…”Most of all, we will not be free-to-play…”

        Latest Update: “Since launching the DUELYST Pre-Alpha in December, we’ve touched upon our business model only briefly. After discussing this topic internally at length, we’re finally ready to share our decision with everyone.
        Here’s what we’re doing: We’re shifting DUELYST towards a F2P model. “