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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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Philippa Warr

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