Playing The Flock Will Help Make The Flock Unplayable

We’ve nodded approvingly a few times over the years at The Flock [official site], a multiplayer FPS where monsters yearn to hold a glowing artifact that transforms them and gives them the power to kill their misshapen former brethern. The version I played back in 2013 was fun, but I wondered how much longevity it’d have. Turns out, a limited amount – by design. As people play the game, they will contribute to it being taken permanently offline.

Every time someone dies, the game’s death will tick nearer. When the death counter hits its target, first the game will be pulled from sale then, following a “climactic finale”, it will turn off. Huh!

Vogelsap plan to have the counter displayed all over the place so people can see how many lives are left. Once they run out and it goes off sale, (obviously) only bought it will be able to play, and that’ll end once the finale event wraps up. After that, The Flock is gone. Your game becomes inert.

“A multiplayer game can take players to incredible heights, but at some point gamers will start to play less, get disinterested and stop playing altogether,” creative director Jeroen Van Hasselt said in the announcement. “In opposition to other multiplayer games, we want The Flockā€™s experience to inspire a sense of awe, to keep players eagerly anticipating what is coming next and to end with a memorable climax.”

Sure, I’m up for that. “A game which destroys itself” will be a hard sell for many people, but I’m curious enough to bite if it’s not too expensive. As Van Hasselt says, my interest would only peter out and I’d stop playing either way. Better to burn out than fade away. I wonder how long Vogelsap expect the game to live for.

It’s not the first self-destructive game either, and unlike some others at least it won’t delete files from your computer. I’m ill today so my memory’s a bit hazy, but I know Sophie Houlden’s FileKiller would delete random files if you were brave enough to play.

The Flock is due to launch by the end of September.


  1. Da5e says:

    Lose/Lose was much more fun than FileKiller (as long as you were playing it on someone else’s Mac).

  2. GameCat says:

    My prediction goes like this:

    4chan trolls buy many copies of the game and start killing their characters over and over to end the game as quickly as possible.

  3. HandofGodnumber37 says:

    I can see this backfiring badly. People are gonna be dicks and kill themselves as many times as they can

  4. Gap Gen says:

    I admire the spirit of “let’s make a game that deliberately becomes unplayable after a given amount of time, and the more popular it gets the quicker it dies out for, uh, reasons”. I don’t see how it’s a good idea, but then I’m not making it, so all power to them.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      I think someone on their dev team had read up on marketing buzzwords and come across the scarcity principle – the idea that people will inexplicably want something that is rapidly running out or may no longer be available. A psychologist at one of the big US universities came up with a load of things that apparently make human beings part with cash or self-determination and made a list of them, including scarcity, ostensibly to help make sure people knew about it and could protect themselves. But he just published it as a little self help type book that not many people bought and left the marketing raptors to fly off with the meat.

      I have seen so many companies try to use it, such as the amazingly daft “limited edition” mars bar wrappers you see from time to time. Basically in a gamified state I think the theory would have been that they could make as much money as quickly as possible, additionally knowing they would not have to support the thing well into the future and maintain servers. As long as people respond as predicted you could maybe do it a few times before the novelty wears off.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Interesting. Yeah, I could see the appeal of planning a server turn-off rather than going down with a whimper after supporting it at a loss for a small hardcore, but it seems like an odd way to manage that (i.e. it goes down faster if more people buy into it). Like you say, could be an attempt to game this kind of pop psych stuff (after all, a ton of games are Skinner boxes at their core – says someone who plays too much War Thunder). And like you say, there’s probably not a huge amount of life in this kind of setup, but who knows.

        I actually kinda like the idea of short games, ones that have a definite end and try to be as interesting as possible in as short a period of time, rather than dragging on for hours and hours, but the time limit thing seems weird. It’s not an experiment I’m likely to buy into, though, so I’ll be content to sit on the sidelines and see how it plays out.

        • mattevansc3 says:

          That should create a self sustaining purchase loop. The more people who buy, the more people die. This creates the scarcity which then gets more people buying, more people dying which creates an even greater level of scarcity and so forth.

          It’s quite ingenious.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Hehe yeah it is rather. Something I notice more and more with business these days is that there are a lot of one hit wonders. The guys who do it first make a ton, and then the copycats see diminishing returns. I think this could be a great one off money spinner but people will lose interest in a heartbeat with the next ones. Its maybe not a sustainable model nor meant to be. Still, profit is profit.

        • Chairman_Meow says:

          Yeah, WarThunder gets me in the loop….try to get the plane, get the plane, gotta elite the plane, elite the plane, what’s next? Oh another plane? Gotta get the plane…..

          • zal says:

            War thunder’s the opposite for me, I some jets for a couple factions and all the jets for one, but I couldn’t tell you right now what I’m researching or when I last flew something I hadn’t already leveled out.

            For me, I log on every day or three like a kid in a candy store, clicking through the tech trees, trying to decide what awesome plane to fly this time. It’s kind of a luxury though; I see people furious about kills being stolen or losses being handed out unfairly, and I’m secretly glad I’m at a point where the progress bars don’t mean anything anymore.

            Weird how the game got better once I’d “ground” through most of it.

      • Geebs says:

        There’s some sort of hubris parameter that needs to go in there; if you’re great at generating the perception of scarcity (the ur-example is Apple, tbh) it makes both you and your product look good; if you’re bad at it it makes you look like a total arse and your product look terrible.

        Also: I think the balance is different when “scarcity” means “something you own is taken away” rather than “something hard to acquire but will (allegedly) make you cool when you get it”, and it doesn’t favour artificial restrictions on digital products.

        • CookPassBabtridge says:

          Yeah its something to be played carefully. I think the perception of scarcity comes BEFORE the purchase though – the idea you have only a limited time to actually get in before its all gone. The psychology behind these tricks is that someone who is likely to be affected by scarcity enough to make them impulse buy is probably not the kind of person who will think about what they will feel like once rgwy are playing or when its taken away. Its the “click whirr” response that is meant to short circuit reasoning. They just want you to feel the compulsion to buy without really thinking it through.

          * Looks at massive Steam backlog from countless sales * :(

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Believe it or not, I think “rgwy” was meant to be “they”.

          • Nest says:

            In a weird way this is the corollary to the practice of offering early access at a substantially discounted rate and then raising the price with each content update. The earlier you buy into the game, the cheaper it is. Except in this case the price stays the same and you just get less game for the same price.

            P.S. I don’t think this is going to work out for the devs. But I could see it working for a heavily hyped AAA game. Like if the now-cancelled Silent Hill sequel had gone this route. It would infuriate people but might end up making more money overall.

    • Apoxis says:

      I mean it always COULD just be a money grab, but I think they’re trying to have a storyline that an entire multiplayer community experiences together. Every MMORPG in the world tries to give you the titular campaign gameplay that makes you feel important when everyone else in the game is doing the exact same quests, it seems like their goal is to unify everyone in experiencing a singular chronological plot, and I think that’s a brilliant idea.

  5. drinniol says:

    Yeah, because nobody plays old multiplayer games. It’s not as if the 15 year old Counter-Strike is in the top pla- Oh. Number 14 at the moment. Never mind.

    • Shuck says:

      How many multiplayer games aren’t being played, though. How many multiplayer servers have actually been taken down a year or two after the game’s release? Most of them. Looking at the exception doesn’t teach you anything about the rule.

      • drinniol says:

        Because most of them are shit, is what I’m saying, and the devs aren’t exactly giving a vote of confidence in the game play.

  6. commentingaccount says:

    Wow, this is fucking idiotic.

  7. Kitsunin says:

    If it’s actually good, it’s disappointing to see any game become unplayable. Sure, most multiplayer games lose their population after a while, often not even that long, but the fact you can always get a group of friends together for a few games is what makes that risk worthwhile. Without that…

  8. sub-program 32 says:

    Apparently on their FB page they have a ‘plan’ for the concerns about trolling/ not having a game to play, but goodness knows what that is. I at least hope the population number will be a very large one, it would be a darn shame if an actually interesting game lasted less than a year by design.

    • Nest says:

      The most straightforward solution is obvious: lying. They can just *say* that the game longevity is linked to players’ deaths, when in actuality the game is on a set timeline for shutdown and they’re just making the numbers up. If anyone tries to disprove this by deliberately killing themselves a bunch of times and counting the number change, they can hand-wave this and say that their anti-trolling measures took care of it.

  9. Gothnak says:

    Does the last person to die become god in their next game?

  10. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    Not sure about this, it’s going to have to be priced correctly to get me tempted as I really wouldn’t want to spend too much on something with a limited lifespan. And as others say people purposefully running down the clock may be an issue.

    Here’s one for y’all, just hypothetically if a pirated/cracked copy of this appears, would it be morally okay to play it after the game’s been taken offline by the developers (assuming you had bought it in the first place)?

    • Shuck says:

      If it’s a multiplayer-only game (as this seems to be), then that cracked copy is unplayable anyways…

      • combatwars says:

        Well there are private servers for MMORPGs out there like Runescape, Maplestory, Eudemon Online, and more. I wouldn’t be surprised if people made private servers for this game if they enjoyed it.

  11. Cinek says:

    How about just giving people an option to host their own servers? Huh? Really that difficult?

  12. wraithgr says:

    Worst gimmick since that board game rab reviewed

  13. LTK says:

    There’s really no way developers can push the boundaries of gaming nowadays without people endlessly bitching about it, is there?

    • SMGreer says:

      Yes but if you’re going to “push the boundaries” you should totally be willing to take the criticism, even if you think your game is the bees knees.

      Pay money for a game that will only last for a short amount of time? Of course that’s going to rub people the wrong way, especially that portion of gamers who are already stressed out over the vague nature of digital ownership.

      It could be an interesting thing for sure but as someone with a very limited income, I’d rather spend my money on something I’ll always be able to come back to.

      • LTK says:

        If people think a game that lasts a limited amount of time is not worth paying for, they are totally free to refrain from buying it. By the way people are lashing out you’d think they’ve paid for it already.

        • commentingaccount says:

          My perspective: I’ve been interested in the game for a while, and then I hear about this. It’s, uh, basically preventing my purchase.

          • Kitsunin says:

            Yeah, the reason it really bothers me is because it sounds, conceptually, like a game which is perfect for playing with friends in an online party now and then. Five players total? Wow, perfect. Capture-the-flag style free-for-all gameplay? Pretty much perfect for playing with friends, pretty much fine-but-not-great for playing with randoms.

            The problem is that you always want to go back to the old games you played with your friends now and then, and for that, there is no community to die off and therefore no reason not to be able to go back to it now and then.

      • mattevansc3 says:

        It hasn’t stopped EA from making a mint.

    • Distec says:

      Vague proclamations of “pushing boundaries” don’t prevent people from thinking your idea is dumb.

    • Daniel says:

      Their idea is bold and interesting, which suggests they probably have the sense to ignore cynical, conservative, internet commentators and concentrate on making what they want to make.

      • gombicek says:

        If their plan is going bankcrupt then I’m sure they are going to achieve it easilly.

        • Daniel says:

          Do you have any facts to back that up?

          • gombicek says:

            I’m just assuming that the game won’t sell that well. Who is going to buy a game which can stop working anytime?

          • Daniel says:

            We all do that when we buy any other online-only game. Difference here is honesty and intent

  14. bl4ckrider says:

    I can understand the devs. Imagine what the Turtlerock studio must feel. They put so much effort into Evolve and no one plays it anymore (same with Titanfall). Must be heartbreaking.

    Instead you just hire a vitual killer who whacks your game (possibly in its prime). What better way to die. The Neil Young quote is absolutely appropriate.

    Also, no humiliating Steam Sales having to throw it away at 80% off.

    Would only be sad if no one played the game and it wouldn’t hit the trigger. Who wants to live forever?

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      On the other hand, that feels a lot like giving up before you’ve started. People will stop playing anyway seems like a rather defeatist attitude. Besides, if it the multiplayer has lan support and doesn’t require a lot of people then it could be enjoyed by people for a long time, even if it doesn’t resonate with a lot of people.

      Theoretically I think the idea is interesting if flawed, but in practice it’ll probably be dead before it hits the water.

    • Geebs says:

      The Neil Young quote was written about Johnny Rotten, which had already become pretty f’ing ironic even before Neil disowned the sentiment altogether.

    • btorville says:

      Pity the developers of Titanfall didn’t put the same effort into their servers because then it might still be worth playing. I gave up on it when the lag kept kicking me out of lobbies, couldn’t get into a game for 20 mins or more. Just put up some damn decent servers instead of cutting corners in the one place where it matters most, dammit.

  15. vahnn says:

    I don’t think that guy will ever get a job on a project as “creative director” ever again.

  16. zarniwoop says:

    With stuff like this I always end up feeling that artificial scarcity is inherently immoral. It really rubs me the wrong way when something that could just as easily last for ever, and be maintained by a community for as long as it naturally holds someone’s interest is going to be cut short by the active machinations of developers. Of course lots of games are bad and will naturally die, but you’d hope that as a developer you might want to actually aim to create the kind of game people are still playing in ten years.

    It’s up to them, but I sure as hell won’t be buying it.

  17. wraithgr says:

    How about this:
    Instead of the game being gone forever after a “grand finale”, make that version only available once per year and only to the players who have been most active.
    Thereifixedit, and without dumb artificial scarcity gimmicks. Just provide a reward to your faithful base, without detriment to those who didn’t get round to buying your game just yet (assuming 0 detriment to people like me, who would never buy it in the first place).

    I can easily imagine that the guy who buys the game just before it goes off sale could feel cheated and (rightfully) just request a refund straight away…

    • wraithgr says:

      Of course the reason they wouldn’t do that is because it would barely be worth mentioning as a feature in the first place…

      Also, when are we getting the edit button back?

  18. Ben King says:

    I like the idea of having a dynamic multiplayer world with narrative ups and downs beyond the scope of a few skirmishes. Building to a climax sounds really cool even if the loss of the game after seems pretty heartbreaking. I imagine the game-clock/life-count getting regular adjustments based on how many people are playing and the end game being triggered with some intelligent finesse, not just a 5 million kill countdown or whatever. Polygon pointed out that the vast majority of multiplayer games really just wither away- counterstrike is great, but it’s a total outlier in the game world. RPS had a really great article about exploring a dying mmo race game that was both fascinating and sad. This feels like a reasonable antidote to that strange virtual apocalypse.

  19. The_invalid says:

    Well, guess I’ll be leaving this thing well alone then. What a profoundly stupid idea.

  20. gunny1993 says:

    Quite frankly this fits into a consumerist market fairly well, go look at your steam library right now, how many games do you have that you bought cheap played for 30 mins then uninstalled never to see the light of day again. And sure, you COULD go back and install it anytime you want … but are you? Chances are not

    • Jediben says:

      Uninstalled? Not likely. I just buy ever larger drives to keep them all installed upon.

    • JazzTap says:

      What about the ones I purchased six-some years after their release (albeit probably on fire sale)?

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Right, because the sole purpose of games is to play them right now, and never to have them to play later. Only the now is important, and every game you own is completely worthless because you are reading this instead of playing any of them. Unless you are currently letting an Idle Game increase it’s arbitrary numbers, in which case it is presently the most valuable game of your collection.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      Bit of a distinction: it was of my own volition I stopped playing Gish.

  21. MadTinkerer says:

    This is why I don’t support server-dependent games of any kind. Microstansactions, DRM, whatever, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care how popular an MMO is or how it’s paid for.

    And now the makers of The Flock have embraced the madness and made it a mechanic in their game. If they open-source the game afterwards, I’ll forgive them for it. But otherwise, this isn’t art. It’s the opposite of art.

    Art is something that you can hand to your kids, and they can hand to their grandkids. Or go look in a museum. Or exists in some form after the artist is gone. (Performance art is an exception, but the entire point of performance art is the live performance, so we’re excepting it from the discussion.) Software is a medium that can potentially exist forever, despite it’s fragility, and making it more fragile is to work against the nature of the medium. In other words, deliberately killing software is bad art, and deserves to be criticized.

    Pong is better art than The Flock because after The Flock’s timer expires Pong can still be enjoyed. Doom is better art than The Flock. Assasin’s Creed Unity is better art than The Flock. Custer’s Revenge is better art than The Flock.

    The Flock is already dead to me. I shall not mourn. If they open-source it, I certainly won’t mourn. It won’t be mourned either way.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Wait, does Unity use UPlay? Maybe that’s a bad example. This is Rock Paper Shotgun, so how about Myst, then. Love it or hate it, you can still play it!

    • Darloth says:

      You can record performance art.

      People say it’s never the same as seeing it live – but by the same token, playing an old game is never the same as playing it in its heyday with loads of people filling the servers and hype dribbling out your ears.

    • Apoxis says:

      Your exemption of performance art is completely illogical, how is this not simply chronologically finite art? Your semantics are nonsensical. More unnecessary syllables. I refuse to believe that something is not art because you can’t hand it to your kids. You could describe it to your kids and they could still appreciate its beauty, how is that not art?

      • MadTinkerer says:

        Chronologically finite art? Like, say an ice sculpture?

        Ice sculpture is chronologically finite by nature. As is performance art. Or a live stage play. Or a live reading. Or a really nicely decorated cake. Things things are all chronologically finite by the nature of their medium.

        Software is potentially immortal, and should be treated as such, because that potential is extremely fragile. Making a game that will “die” artificially is like punching a performance artist or melting an ice sculpture with a hairdryer or throwing the cake on a floor or grabbing the book out of the reader’s hands and burning it in front of them.


        • Geebs says:

          The only time it’s not appropriate to punch a performance artist is when it’s supposed to be part of the performance.

  22. JimmyG says:

    This has generated some really interesting discussion about permanence, what we expect from software, the “legacy” of artwork, and shootybangs. I’d like to see one of the RPS writers pick it up and write a thinkpiece on the subject.

  23. anonzp says:

    sounds like something Peter Molyneux would think up

  24. Grumpy Trooper says:

    So you pay for something that eventually becomes useless………Am I missing the point here ?

  25. Nest says:

    I’m going to help the community of players by not buying or playing this game. You’re welcome: extra lives on me!

  26. Nest says:

    I can’t wait for their follow up game where every time another player finishes a mission, the devs make a donation to UNICEF, but every time a player dies, they kill a puppy in real life.