Battleborn Flopped But Take-Two “Not Counting It Out”

Battleborn [official site] publisher 2K will continue to support the game despite a performance which its parent company described as “below our expectations”. You could also title this article:”I listened to the Take-Two Interactive Q1 2017 earnings conference call so you didn’t have to.”

I was curious as to how the subject of Battleborn would be handled because, although Take-Two Interactive CEO, Strauss Zelnick, said on the call that “the game launched to solid reviews”, mine was not one of those. Audiences on PC didn’t flock to the game either despite all the marketing I saw and it quickly vanished from the top 100 in terms of Steam’s daily player/concurrent player charts. When I put the review up the week after the game’s release it was actually below Gearbox’s four-year-old game, Borderlands 2.

Here are the relevant bits:

After talking about successes like GTA V, Zelnick said of Battleborn:

“While the game launched to solid reviews, its performance in the market has been below our expectations. We think there remains an opportunity to grow the audience for this unique experience over time and 2K will continue to drive engagement and recurrent consumer spending on the title through add-on content and virtual currency.

“Innovation and creativity are among our core tenets and we fully support our team’s vision to push the envelope in order to set new benchmarks for our company and our industry with the understanding that in a highly creative enterprise not everything always turns out the way one might like. Given the strength and diversity of our company we have the ability to take these risks and weather any unexpected shortfalls that may arise.”

I mean, bear in mind that this is an earning’s call and is geared around discussing financial results and talking about expectations for the future. It’s factual but there’s also an element of reassuring as well as informing investors – being pro-active when something has gone worse than expected. It’s also basic business – if you have something that’s not performing as you’d hoped you look for ways to make that investment come out right instead of performing a scathing public post-mortem or bandying about the phrase “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”.

Battleborn also came up during the Q&A section of the call as one participant asked whether Take-Two would be more inclined to stick with safer-bets, investing in their popular franchises rather than continuing to try new intellectual properties as with Battleborn.

It’s a longish answer so the TL;DR is that Take-Two want to balance investigating new IPs with mining existing franchises. Essentially, the risk you take with new franchises is seen as worth it from a financial point of view because you don’t want to rely on a few cash cows in case those start to fail and there’s nothing to fall back on. “While one definitely has a reduced risk profile when you put out a sequel versus new IP it’s both our obligation and our opportunity to do both,” says Zelnick. “How we do that is an open question.”

He continued:

“With regard to Battleborn we’re being very frank about where we are because we’re a transparent company. We’re still delivering new content to Battleborn, audiences love Battleborn, we still have virtual currency coming from Battleborn. We’re not counting it out for a minute, we’re just telling you where we’re at now.

“Equally, we just launched Evolve Stage 2 which is another way to express the IP of Evolve and we’ve had over a million people sign up to play Evolve Stage 2. That’s super exciting. So the world has changed. It’s unforgiving in that we invest a lot of money in new IP, it’s much more forgiving in that we can have consumers be part of our release, we can iterate with them, we can come back and play another day and if your watchword is quality there are great opportunities.”

Evolve is an interesting one to mention here because the asymmetrical 4v1 shooter/hunter ended up going free-to-play recently after struggling to find an audience and notably (and understandably) poor responses to that game’s DLC strategy. I’ve been wondering whether it’ll function as a kind of test for what Take-Two/2K/Gearbox might end up doing with Battleborn. It’s worth bearing in mind that Zelnick’s short quote and the fact it’s an earnings call means he doesn’t address the issues with shifting a game people have paid for over to a free-to-play model or any other potential negatives.

Battleborn has also had temporary price cuts of varying severity since launch at various retailers including one of $20 on the official 2K store which coincided with the launch of Overwatch, i.e. within three weeks of Battleborn coming out. That kind of activity often indicates that there’s a push to boost audience numbers/adoption of the game when it’s coming from the publisher, and that companies want to shift physical copies when it’s coming from another retailer.

Zelnick added:

“Say what you will, the consumer has actually really said great things about Battleborn, as have the critics. So we’re still encouraged by our approach to bringing back beloved sequels while creating new intellectual property.”

I haven’t been back to Battleborn since the review because I found it such a messy, unengaging experience so I’m not sure how the game holds up a few months into its life. But if you’re still playing it would be interesting to know what’s kept you involved (or why you’ve stopped).

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  1. Okami says:

    which is another way to express the IP of Evolve

    I’m quite used to corporate speak in general and gaming corporate speak in particular, but this phrase actually made me physical ill for a few moments. I think I might have thrown up in my mouth a little bit.

    expressing an IP *shudder* when you read it, it seems like such a natural thing to say for one of these soulless corporate abominations. It actually makes you wonder why you haven’t read it more often.

    I’m pretty sure some kind of cute mammal species goes extinct every time one of those bastards comes up with such horribly vacant and empty phrases.

    • CarthAnne says:

      Maybe I’m just clueless because I do a lot of work in Finance, but what is it you find so offensive about the phrase exactly?

      • Minglefingler says:

        Because it’s awful. How does one express an IP anyhow? I can express myself or I can make an expression on behalf of others. Perhaps there are babies wailing somewhere in the forlorn hope that an IP might be expressed in order to feed them. It’s a vapid statement that serves only to make English uglier when all he had to say was that since going free to play Evolve has more players. Because nothing was expressed, a payment model was changed, that’s all.

        • CarthAnne says:

          By definition, an IP has to be created as the result of some creative process, and personally, I hear people speak of creative expression all the time. Switching business models isn’t as simple a process as a switch being pulled at Take-Two, they’re delivering content to the consumer differently than they were before and finding ways to extract value from customers in a new way. Evolve today is a fundamentally different beast than it was a year ago. If the phrase “express the IP” is offensive, almost every corporate press release ever written makes I Spit On Your Grave look like The Teletubbies.

          • Minglefingler says:

            Creative expression is fine, we’re expressing ourselves after all. That’s different from an IP being expressed though, the creative xpression here is that of the people working on the game. I love language for how creative and beautiful it can be, corporate-speak is the antithesis of that. I realise that businesses need ways of saying things but they don’t have to be so soul destroying, so clunky or so needlessly overcomplicated. Without wanting to cause any offence even phrases such as “delivering content” and “finding new ways to extract value” set my teeth on edge. Euphemisms dressed up so that the people who use them feel smarter and that what they are doing is important. Unfortunately language like this has become more common in gaming over the last few years and I find it less easy to avoid. You have my sympathies if your job involves reading a lot of stuff written in that fashion.

          • batraz says:

            “expressing an IP” sounds to me as a dignified “milking a cow”. Which is funny when you think about how well-dressed finance people usually are.

          • CarthAnne says:

            It’s important to recognize that that sort of language usually isn’t used in documents meant for the consumption of the gaming public, but rather in those meant for investors and other financially interested audiences. Obviously, Take-Two’s investors don’t care about the games Take-Two makes, but rather the potential these assets have to make the investors a profit. Since Take-Two’s or any other companies’ investors can not be relied upon to understand the intricacies of what their business entails, generic phrases are used in order to communicate what are, to the investors, complicated concepts in a simpler way. These can be very buzzwordy, but having worked in both an academic setting in the past as well as a financial one, I can say the corporate world is not unique in their use of these. Of course, you are right that, to a degree, the use of corporate speak has bled a little bit into the mainstream gaming press lately. I can not say for certain why this has happened, but I think the increasing co-operation between the marketing departments of video game companies and the gaming press these days may be a part of it.

          • Faze2 says:

            Maybe working in finance has dulled your sensitivity to language. :P

            As a social worker, my professional language isn’t without jargon, but a core part of my work is clear, honest, transparent communication.

            Corporatespeak like ‘express the IP’ fails all three of the above benchmarks. It’s a nothing phrase that sounds like something.

            I do my best to not hate on anyone, but after working all day with street involved adults, hearing some douche in a $10000 suit mouth phrases like that and take home a 7 figure salary makes me think we need a revolution again.

          • Waltorious says:

            My two cents:

            Zelnick was specifically asked whether 2K would be focusing more on their existing IPs or if they would still try out new IPs. He brought up Evolve Stage 2 as a way in which they are working with existing IPs. Perhaps the exact phrase “express the IP” is not particularly meaningful, but I understood him to mean that they’re working with existing IP in new ways. They’re not just making another game in the Evolve series, they’re doing updates and support to keep the existing game fresh, keep players interested, and to continue to make profit from it (not exactly a NEW idea anymore, but he is not talking to gamers, he’s talking to investors). In my reading, he wanted to stress that 2K is not only working with existing IP, but thinking of new(-ish) ways to do that (or at least ways that the investors may not have been thinking of).

            You say that phrases like this are “Euphemisms dressed up so that the people who use them feel smarter and that what they are doing is important.” Well, what they are doing is important: they are making games for you to play. 2K has put out a lot of very popular games, and they were able to do so because they handled the business side of things effectively and made profit. It may sound soulless and banal to you, but that aspect of games is critically important.

            Also, these phrases are not used “to make the people who use them feel smarter”, but to make the people Zelnick is TALKING TO think he’s smarter. He’s trying to impress the investors, so he’s trying to paint the company in a good light, reassure the investors that he and the rest of the company know what they’re doing, and get them to continue to invest in the company moving forward. Now obviously his attempt didn’t work on you, but he’s not talking to you; you’re not investing in 2K (that I know of).

            This kind of thing happens in every industry: any investor, be it private individuals, a government grant committee, or anything else, requires progress reports and assurances that the investment is worth it. That means speaking the investor’s language, not necessarily your own, and often it means exaggerating accomplishments because that’s easier than making investors understand something they likely have little experience with.

          • cautet says:

            I understood what was meant by another way to “express the IP”, just as I understood “street involved adults”. I personally found my teeth grating more by the latter phrase, which was unlikely to be describing objectophilia, but instead uses nonsense English to detract from the stigma of homelessness.

            As to the “milking a cow” analogy, it is a good one. What is wrong with milking a cow, or indeed, changing the use of a cow (if it practical, I know little of husbandry) from milking to breeding or for food. To make games you need investment. When you spend that money on making games you try everything you can, surely, to not waste the investors money.

            If you knew the people you were investing in didn’t care about making a profit would you invest in them? Would it make them better people if they said we failed, then had a sulk and a cry, or if they tried to improve the product, find different ways to sell the product, and ways to improve the experience of the customers?

            Typically you normally adapt your language, tone, and which elements you flesh out, depending on the interest level of the audience. It’s not bad practice to adapt what you are saying to make it relevant to the audience.

          • batraz says:

            Bateman here has a point when he says “street involved adult” is the same as “expressing an IP”… When it sounds fake, it is fake. And it means the person speaking is fake too.

          • batraz says:

            Nothing’s wrong with milking cows, but it’s not like painting the Sixtin Chapel or beating the germans, that’s all. To be clear : finance people think they’re hip, when they’re peasants. By refusing their fouled language, we try to force them back to their barn.

        • Waltorious says:

          EDIT: My mistake, it’s Take Two, not 2K (Take Two is 2K’s parent company).

          Also, I had intended to credit CarthAnne in there for making the same argument I did already, but I lost it in some edits somewhere. Sorry about that!

          • Faze2 says:

            Hmmm.. pretty sure I disagree with most of what you said, esp ‘what he’s doing is important.’ It’s not. Building bridges that don’t fall down is important. Making policy that serves the interests of the people is important. Helping people heal from trauma is important.

            Hustling for the bottom line ain’t important- it just makes the people who do it FEEL important.

          • CarthAnne says:

            No problem, you expanded on the concept nicely.

          • CarthAnne says:

            @Faze2 It’s all a matter of perspective. To you personally, or to “society”, Take-Two’s profits may not matter all that much. But to the pension funds, individuals, and businesses who have a stake in their success, not to mention the employees whose jobs are dependent on continuing profitability, Take-Two’s bottom line is deathly important.

          • Faze2 says:

            Carthanne- fundamentally the people to which Take Two’s bottom line is important (ie major stakeholders) are the 1%. Those guys (well like 90% guys) can go fuck themselves with a dirty needle. They’re everything thats wrong with society.

          • CarthAnne says:

            For a social worker, you seem to have very selective empathy, but I suppose most people who aren’t the 1% do.

          • Faze2 says:

            Spending my days serving capitalisms casualties has left me with zero empathy for the 1%. I save my empathy for people who aren’t oppressors.

        • El Mariachi says:

          > How does one express an IP anyhow?

          Usually as four octets separated by periods, but technically it could be any 32-bit integer.

    • emotionengine says:

      “…this phrase actually made me physical ill for a few moments. I think I might have thrown up in my mouth a little bit.”

      In what part of your body did you sense this ailment? Did you see a physician about it or take other remedial measures? You also mention you “think you might have” vomited in your mouth. Does this mean you were unable to discern or remember if you produced vomit in your oral cavity? And why would you retain the vomit in your mouth instead of discharging it?

      Ah wait. You weren’t being literal? I get it, you’re a REAL human being with a SOUL, as opposed to one of “these soulless corporate abominations” you referred to. So I take it you are, ahem, expressing your… (no, not IP)… FEELINGS with your choice of words. Because real humans have the capacity to empathise and do not need to resort to terms that lend themselves to stereotypical generalisations, prejudice and the like. Am I right?

      Or to employ parlance that you may be more comfortable with: I’m pretty sure some kind of cute mammal species goes extinct every time one of these edgy as eff millennials (which you CLEARLY are) comes up with such horribly hyperbolic and ridiculous phrases, such as the ones you just used. #almostdying #dyinginside #literallydying

      There. Better?

  2. Meat Circus says:

    They tried to charge full price for a game in a genre (MOBAs) saturated by free to play big boys.

    Also BIG LELS at the idea of Gearbox Software being a “transparent” company. Transparent bullshitters, maybe.

    • brucethemoose says:

      Well that’s sorta what Overwatch did, but they got away with it because they’re Blizzard.

      • Thurgret says:

        I can’t say I see much resemblance between Overwatch and MOBAs.

      • CarthAnne says:

        Overwatch is a MOBA in the same way Fallout 3 is a first person shooter.

        • Poolback says:

          I see what you are trying to say, but well…
          Fallout 3 is a game using the First Person point of view, in which you can shoot. The only thing in common with Overwatch and a MOBA is that heroes have different powers. Which means it is as close to the MOBA genre than it is to a Final Fantasy game. You don’t have AIs attacking bases. You don’t have gears/consumables that you can buy.

          Overwatch is just a regular multiplayer FPS, with heroes and special abilities.

    • welverin says:

      It was the Take-Two CEO who said they were a transparent company, that has nothing to do with Gearbox.

  3. iainl says:

    Re: Battleborn, “2K will continue to drive engagement and recurrent consumer spending on the title through add-on content and virtual currency.”

    That’s quite the thing to brag about doing in the same call the reference the way they killed Evolve through their desperation to maximise the amount they took from each person that did buy it at all.

    • brucethemoose says:

      The disconnect is pretty sickening… They have hard evidence that “add-on content and virtual currency” can kill an otherwise good game without making much money in the process, yet they say they’ll continue doing it like it’s a good thing.

  4. Bobtree says:

    The IP really isn’t the problem. There’s plenty of stuff I liked in the Battleborn betas. The game design however is anti-competitive with it’s upgrade collecting and character unlocking, and the modes weren’t compelling enough (just implement Monday Night Combat already). Battleborn was $15 in the recent Humble 2k Bundle, and I still passed on it because the reports from the playerbase about balance and matchmaking are atrocious.

    Overwatch having a great launch didn’t help Battleborn any, but that’s not what determined my purchase decision.

    • GeneJacket says:

      The campaign is worth the $15 they were asking for the Humble Bundle.

      I had no interest in playing it either, but have been surprised at how much fun I’ve been having with it going through the admittedly short campaign. I can’t speak to the MP side, as I haven’t been able to find a game the few times I’ve tried, but going solo through the campaign was a lot of fun.

  5. aircool says:

    I tried Battleborn. It looked horrible and dated, this visuals were an unpleasant assault on the eyes, and that’s as far as I got because I wanted my money back before I’d gone over the Steam two hour limit.

    Meanwhile, I still love the look, feel and sounds of the Borderlands universe, which is a solid and well known IP.

  6. gingerbill says:

    I played there beta of battleborn on PS4 , the graphics were horrible and it ran at about 25 FPS ( sometimes even in an empty room were you spawn), I had to wait over 30 minutes for each match and twice I never got one . It was a terrible experience. Overwatch beta on PS4 , nice graphics at 60 FPS and almost instant matches , loved it.

    Really don’t know how they ended up with battleborn as it is , the graphics actually suit the gameplay , as in they are both a confused mess of different idea’s all thrown together.

  7. Minim says:

    I actually picked this game up on PS4 a couple weeks ago to play with my brother. The co-op story missions we had a lot of fun with and usually the game would find others to play with in a couple of minutes. But the PvP was such an entirely different beast and so demanding that we were quickly turned off to it after both getting completely stomped lacking the gear to compete. Not to mention my guess is the community is so small now that there is no player balancing it can do so level 100s get tossed in with level 5s as we saw.

  8. ZenMuso says:

    I’ve been playing this on PC since launch and really enjoyed myself – in fact in my 11 years on steam it’s currently got the second highest playtime on steam of any games I’ve played (currently 207 hours, with 302 on CoH2 as my highest). Not massive by some of the hardcore gamer standards, but for someone like me who generally plays a game, finishes it and then moves on it’s certainly kept me interested.

    I tried both Battleborn and Overwatch at beta and didn’t take to Overwatch at all – it seemed like a dressed up TF2 and rather shallow and thin on content. I’ll admit Blizzard are very slick and clearly have a lot of resources to make their game a success but it just didn’t grab me.

    Battleborn on the other hand had a very different style of play that I’ve really enjoyed. I originally bought it for the 5 player co-op story missions and then gradually got sucked into PvP. Having not played a MOBA before (Tried DOTA2 for 10 minutes, but clearly not in the right place/time for that one…) it’s been a very refreshing experience.

    The learning curve was rather challenging and I died/lost a lot to begin with, but I’ve had a lot of fun in the process.

    The matching is not great I’ll admit (probably due to the low player count) so it’s not always easy getting balanced games. I also tend to see a lot of new players jumping straight in that haven’t tried the story mode at all (to get any gear, or understand how to play a character), even a 30 minute mission would give them chance to get something together which is probably a large part of the frustration. Generally I pick a little-used character if I’m playing against lower levels so the field is more even, and the tightest games seem to be a mix of higher and lower levels on either side.

    The release schedule has been good, with two new characters and three new maps already and three more characters planned in the neext few months.

    It’s clearly not everyones cup of tea, but it’s really kept me coming back.

  9. Sir_Brizz says:

    They need to dramatically drop the cost of entry, and then they need to pre-unlock almost all of the heroes so people can play with characters that fit their play style. Unlocking heroes killed the game, tbfh.

    • Skandranon says:

      I’ve heard that before, and I’ve never agreed. I’ve been unlocking characters for play for nigh on 20 years now – it gives me a goal to reach for, and its fun the way they implemented the challenges. I’ve used pretty much every character because I got excited once I unlocked them.

      Games where I have everyone from the beginning generally I end up not using half of them. Overwatch, for instance, has absolutely nothing to work towards, and as such, I ended up getting bored of that in hours, while I’ve stuck with Battleborn for months now.

  10. poohbear says:

    The strangest thing is that Taketwo stock still jumped despite this bad news….and activision/blizzard went DOWN after a phenomenal quarter! Maybe stocks are overvalued and nobody wanted in, but man that was shocking!

  11. Zucadragon says:

    I only recently bought and got into Battleborn, like three weeks ago. I was curious about the game and from what I read, I came in after things had been patched up and cleaned up quite a bit.

    For me, it was easy to get into, I was a little confused for one or two missions, but then things started to slip into place and I started having a really really good time.

    Playing a whole variety of characters with different gear and upgrade setups is a blast and where usually in games like that I gravitate towards a specific favorite (Smite – Chronos, LoL – pre-update Twitch :P) I found the different characters all to be a blast to experiment with.

    I’m really looking forward to updates and new content, because it does feel like you spend a lot of time doing the same kind of missions and being in the same kind of situations after a while, and I’m not one for PVP, so that’s a part of the game I haven’t touched at all yet.

    But all in all, I think it’s a fun game, hoping that level 10 cap goes up though, or the size of the group… Raid content would be amazing :D

  12. Kuregi says:

    All i can say take two is do your best take two you are devs of SWAT 3 AND SWAT4 and you guys really dont need a publisher as long as you keep the mirror on at steam people will get it, it was on my wishlist for a while battleborn and it has alot of potential and since I have newly bought it i will enjoy it

  13. AntonQ says:

    I really like this game quite a bit. It’s a shame it didn’t become more of a hit.

    Obviously their going to have to support it at least with the DLC they’ve already sold through season passes.

    My guess is they’ll try to relaunch it as a f2p after that. The biggest problem atm is that it’s hard to even find servers as there aren’t many playing plus the fact that is has a lot of modes to queue to.

    My take on why it didn’t take off: People don’t dig Randy Pitchford anymore, the “comedic” tone in the game is easy to make fun of – because it’s awful, but most importantly: They didn’t really communicate what it was. Basically what they communicated was “It’s not a MOBA, we promise!”.