Radical Heights & LawBreakers studio Boss Key shuts down

Filmed in front of a live studio audience

After LawBreakers failed to strike it rich, many saw studio Boss Key’s decision to rush-release ’80s game-show themed battle royale Radical Heights as proof that the studio was in jeopardy, and that pushing the game out with only one half-finished map available was a wild spin on the wheel of fortune. While starting out free-to-play ensured that the price is right, it just wasn’t enough to hit the jackpot and save the studio from a complete wipeout.

Today on Twitter, studio head Cliff Bleszinski announced that Boss Key Productions is no more.

In a sobering and understated comment on Twitter earlier, former Epic lead Cliff Blesinzki announced that this was the end of the line for Boss Key Productions, and that he was going to be taking some time off, away from the games industry to reflect and spend time with his family. Hopefully some day he’ll feel confident enough to return to the fold, but I can entirely understand feeling especially deflated after having to deliver the news to the rest of his team.

The decision to pivot to making a battle royale shooter wasn’t inherently bad either, just another case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The stratospheric success of both Plunkbat and Fortnite can be chalked as much up to luck as judgement, and no shortage of exciting-looking potential rivals have fallen through. Even my own brief favourite – Robocraft Royale – fizzled out almost immediately.

Boss Key Productions was clearly a studio with plenty of talent on board, but their decision to go after the competitive multiplayer shooter crown right off the bat was a gamble that just didn’t pay off in the end. I sincerely hope that everyone left without a job after this gets picked up quickly by other studios, as LawBreakers – while flawed – was clear evidence that this is a team that know their way around the Unreal engine, and I wish everyone the best of luck.

I also fully apologise for that opening paragraph. I’ve been itching to do that ever since Radical Heights first appeared, and figured this was my last chance. No disrespect intended.

49 Comments

  1. Durgendorf says:

    I’m slightly surprised they folded this fast.

    Slightly.

  2. ZIGS says:

    I like how when the game was announced, it was a “passion project”, then after it failed, it was a “last ditch attempt”

    • Godwhacker says:

      Give them a break man, it must be hard seeing a company you’ve worked at for four years just crumble.

    • Scelous says:

      Well, they passionately wanted to keep their jobs. So I’d say it qualified as a passion project.

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      Or it could, y’know, be both at the same time — mentioning the first part from the start for promotional effect, and mentioning the last last since it’s appropriate then. Even holds up if one chases dictionary definitions, wouldn’t cha know it.

  3. Matys says:

    My heart goes out to the devs who lost their jobs, but a studio that can’t do anything besides ride the receding waves of industry trends doesn’t really have much of a place right now imo. There’s too much competition with a variety established f2p companies that better understand the market and an over saturation of better games to pick from. They might as well have called their losses before investing into Radical Heights in desperation. It’s a shame though, I heard lawbreakers was actually pretty solid for what it was.

    • klops says:

      Lawbreakers wasn’t riding on industry trends.

      • Archonsod says:

        Well, they could have been around a decade late for the team based multiplayer train.

      • voidmind says:

        There’s this thing called hero shooters. You might have heard of Overwatch.

        • crazyd says:

          That’s an extremely shallow, surface level comparison. It was very much it’s own thing, and played very differently. It had more in common gameplay wise with Unreal Tournament than it did with Overwatch.

      • DingDongDaddio says:

        It’s a hero-shooter. It was trying to jump on the coattails of Overwatch.

      • Foxtratocaster says:

        Yes, it was.

      • klops says:

        Oh? Sorry. I understood that it was rather different take on shooters and had never thought it was like Overwatch and those. …without ever playing the game and without ever reading that much about it. My bad!

        • anon459 says:

          Lawbreakers was the most unique attempt at the arena shooter concept in a decade. It would be a stretch to call Overwatch an arena shooter. They are very different games and people who compare them do so based solely on the superficial fact that there are classes in both games. Don’t apologize.

  4. tigerfort says:

    I hope the staff got (a) told before he announced it on twitter and (b) proper severance money rather than stiffed on this month’s paycheck.

  5. Freud says:

    Lawbreakers wasn’t a bad game and probably deserved a better fate, but CliffyB is a bit tone deaf to bring out the dudebro theme in 2017. It’s so tired and underestimates the intelligence of the audience.

    • voidmind says:

      I totally agree. I bought Lawbreakers and loved the gameplay, but I gotta say I cringed at the “skilled as fuck” testosterone fueled dude bro marketing and character concepts. I felt they were catering to a crowd I wasn’t a part of. (very young and impressionable teenage boys?)

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Everything he ever did was dudebr0-themed, starting with Jazz Jackrabbit.

  6. Rin Pryde says:

    Yeah, right. The company that was creatively impotent from the get go *suddenly* folded, realizing that you actually can’t be a bottom feeding parasite in a modern competitive industry? SUCH SHOCK!

    • Mezelf says:

      It’s like they looked at LawBreakers and took exactly the wrong lessons from their failure:
      Cliff: “Alright dudes, class is in sesh. Can anyone tell me why did LawBreakers fail?”
      Random dev: “We tried to copy the success of Overwa–”
      Cliff: “REEEEEEEEEEEEEE”
      Random dev: “…we tried to copy the success of a CERTAIN POPULAR, TRENDY SHOOTER by making our own TRENDY SHOOTER WITH ATTITUDE, in a market saturated with TRENDY SHOOTERS.”
      Cliff: “Bingo! We took way too long to make LawBreakers. We gotta get on that gravy train before it leaves the station, bros. And now the market has changed and there’s only one stop on this train, bro: BATTLE ROYALE. You have 5 months to fart out something on Early Access. CRUNCH TIME, BABY!!”
      Random dev: “What about making something we actually want to make instead of chasing popular trends? People don’t want to play a slighty different version of Fortni–you’re not actually listening to us, are you?”
      Cliff: “…We’re gonna be a billion dollar franchise…”

    • Stardog says:

      Epic’s entire back catalog is rip offs.

      Quake > Unreal
      Halo > UT 2004
      Fortnite > Kickstarted by the Minecraft crafting trend, then stole their BY game mode from PUBG.

      So why are there so many people saying “this proves copying ideas doesn’t work”?

      • Baines says:

        Blind copying generally doesn’t work.

        Unreal wasn’t just a Quake clone. It had graphics, a lot of hype, and gameplay to back it up. UT 2004 was a PC-first game with mod support in the popular Unreal franchise, which made it different from the Xbox-based Halo.

        Fortnite might have been Kickstarted by the crafting genre trend, but it didn’t look like a clone in the way that so many knock-offs did. It also managed pretty heavy audience buzz for how ambitious it looked to be when it was first announced. And it skyrocketed when it successfully copied the Battle Royale genre, which it was able to do in part due to actually adding something potentially interesting to that formula (which was its already developed crafting system.)

        Lawbreakers appeared a bit more soulless. Its central gimmick wasn’t enough to set it apart in its genre, nor did it have an interesting or appealing look. It was a game that was already struggling before people played it, without even getting into whether or not it was actually any good. Radical Heights was an obvious desperate release, that was pegged not only for being a desperate cashgrab attempt, but even for being a blatant visual knock-off of Fortnite.

        Funny thing is, I feel that Radical Heights might have had a better chance of success than Lawbreakers, if Radical Heights had actually been released in a finished state. Though the question there is still whether or not Boss Key even had the creative talent and direction to make Radical Heights anything more than a cheap knock-off attempt.

      • mitrovarr says:

        Unreal is no more a copy of Quake than any other FPS, and arguably is a better and more complex game (at least the single player). And UT2004 being a copy of Halo? Have you ever even played either game? I could scarcely think of two FPS games more different than that.

      • fish99 says:

        Unreal and UT were around a long time before Halo. Also I always preferred UT to Q3A.

      • Archonsod says:

        Unreal differentiates itself from the Doom/Quake lineage in the same way Half Life did (which released in the same year); they were the first FPS games to really start using level design along with scripted sequences to tell the story rather than using cutscenes. Quake on the other hand was a traditional monster maze who’s backstory existed largely to explain why you were running around a maze shooting monsters.
        UT/Halo comparison makes no sense. Unreal Tournament was designed as a multiplayer arena shooter from the ground up, Halo was a single player shooter with multiplayer added on. It’s also nonsensical to claim UT2004 was a copy of Halo – it’s the third iteration of a game which predates Halo by two years, if anything it’d be Bungie copying Epic …

      • ARandomBob says:

        UT2K4 was hardly a copy of Halo. Halo was a watered down shooter for consoles. UT2K4 was a update to the hugely popular 2K3 and so on.

      • spe3d says:

        Halo – UT2004…. lol

        … you are trolling. It’s just a small lol, when you try to compare those great titles Quake and Unreal. Both games were amazing at their time. I guess, you were not even born, when unreal was released, elsewhere you wouldn’t write such bs.

  7. fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

    Did CliffyB succeed in depositing the bulk of the cash he earned this round in a garish novelty ATM before it ended?

  8. peterako1989 says:

    So much for that “passion” project

  9. kameradoktorn says:

    Can someone explain the last paragraph about the first paragraph. Either I’m too drunk or I haven’t been up to date with the news about this game, but I just don’t see what’s bad :s

  10. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    This, for me, was one of those news bits which wasn’t a total surprise but was nonetheless a disappointment, seeing as Boss Key made, in Lawbreakers, the only competitively focused videogame I’ve ever enjoyed on my own (i.e. without buddying up with a real life friend), and the one whose competitive aspect I’ve enjoyed the most to date besides. It was a complete blast all the way up to this past weekend, and I really hope the folks who worked on it* are able to quickly get the jobs they’d like to have. I suspect it won’t be that difficult given their talent, but I’m commiting the sentiment to computer-words nonetheless.

    *as well as those who worked on Radical Heights, even though I bounced of that one owing to it being a battler royale, cheese or no.

    I also want to voice my thanks to you writers here at RPS for putting out the only decent articles I saw on Boss Key and their games. While most other articles I saw elsewhere were of the pejorative variety (i.e. “lel 25 players max”, veiled by varying thicknesses…of …wordly veiling material), you folks always seemed to post informatively and with your usual wit on such news without being a jerk about it. (And yes, the first paragraph here was delightful.) Cheers!

    • Hoot says:

      If you thought LawBreakers was good, then you really should play Quake Champions.

      It’s about two hundred times better and sticks to the spirit of what Quake is :) There’s still nothing quite like gibbing some fool with a mid-air rail after rocket jumping up the megahealth.

      • Premium User Badge

        particlese says:

        I do want to try it at some point, yeah! That said, two things which make me doubt it’ll be my bag are that I was more of a UT99 kid in terms of the general flavour of the games, and that my aim is usually spastic and not very good. Lawbreakers was great at providing other ways to be or become good at the game without turning it into one of the slower styles of FPS games out there, and that was perfect for me.

        You’re absolutely right, though: pulling off the perfect shot with the rail gun (or instagib rifle, though it lacks the aural punch of the Quake railguns) is satisfying like little else in gaming. We’ll see how it goes when I do get around to trying it – I’ll try to give it an honest go!

  11. MikoSquiz says:

    Well, that sucks. By all accounts Lawbreakers was the best thing in arena shooters since Quake, and Radical Heights was already my favorite Battle Royale game in its rough alpha state.

    • SaintAn says:

      That was their problem with LawBreakers. They made a game that would have been great in the 90’s, but is uninteresting and bland now.

    • mitrovarr says:

      The problem with Lawbreakers was that it ended up being the game nobody was willing to take a chance on because nobody else was willing to take a chance on it. I would have absolutely bought it based on the concept (floaty, high-skill combat vs. something like Overwatch? Awesome!) but it was clear that it didn’t have a playerbase and wasn’t ever going to get one.

      It should have been free to play. I know that means it has to have some sort of monetization forced in, which sucks, but nobody is going to take a risk on a title like that when another company already owns the market unless it’s free or has compelling single player content in case the multiplayer washes out. As it was, everyone who was interested decided to wait for a community to appear before buying, so nobody ever bought. Well, almost nobody.

      • Raoul Duke says:

        “It should have been free to play.”

        Yep, or just much, much cheaper.

        I thought this looked pretty good, but then I saw that they wanted significant money for it and I just went and played something else instead.

        • mitrovarr says:

          Yeah.

          I mean, I know devs hate to hear this. But the problem with a game like this is, if it doesn’t have a community right out of the gate, it’s stillborn. Lawbreakers never had a community, so it suffered from the lack-of-community stigma. Nobody bought it because nobody was playing it because nobody bought it, etc.

          The only way big multiplayer game succeed is they either fill a niche that nobody really knew existed (PUBG), they are free copies of popular things (Fortnite), or they have a huge marketing budget and are good enough to retain the crowd they draw at launch (Overwatch). Lawbreakers wasn’t unique enough for the first and didn’t have enough marketing budget for the third (and it takes a lot, Battleborne spent a fortune and still didn’t work). It could have gone for the second by being FTP, and it would have had better odds than Radical Heights. Lawbreakers is both more different than the other games in that genre, and more polished than Radical Heights, and it could have probably competed with Paladins and such pretty effectively. Or at least enough to keep existing.

          Radical Heights on the other hand was squarely aimed at the second (free copy of a popular thing) and was doomed from the start by trying to be Fortnite in a world in which Fortnite already exists and is incredibly dominant.

          • Raoul Duke says:

            For sure. I play a bit of Dirty Bomb which somehow still limps along, mostly because it’s free to play. It only takes a few thousand active players to be sustainable. I have even spent some money on unlocking some stuff, because I like the game and want to support it. I would have looked at Lawbreakers as my next Dirty Bomb-type thing if it had been free to play.

            The other thing is that it looks to me like Lawbreakers was targeted as people like me who grew up on Q3, UT and the like and probably never paid for any of it!

    • Hoot says:

      Not to sound like an id spokesperson, but Quake Champions is the best thing in arena shooters since Quake 3 Arena.

  12. malkav11 says:

    I am abstractly sorry for the people who lost their jobs, but I have less than zero interest in competitive multiplayer shooters and I suspect that’s all they would have continued to make so it’s not really something I feel personally.

  13. Screaming_Meat says:

    I’m struggling a little with this. I feel very bad that some obviously talented people lost their jobs, and can definitely identify with how horrific it must have been to watch something you know is world-class fail so horrifically, especially when everyone clearly brought along their A-game.

    But then there’s Cliff. Who on two separate occasions was rude to me, embarrassed me in front of others and all-round left a bitter taste in my mouth. Back when I was in the games press, this is the guy who ridiculed questions passed on by our community, glowered and threw jibes at me when my laptop took a while to boot, and signed my friend’s of Gears Of War with ‘Lee loves the cock – Cliffy B.’

    Now, you may find that funny. But honestly, nothing Cliff ever did during the times I met him was meant in a fun, knockabout way. It was always clearly about crushing people, about punching down.

    I am, therefore, ambivalent.

    • sosolidshoe says:

      That’s the kind of humour that can only really work for normal, not-arsehole people between really, really close friends who 100% trust that it’s not meant seriously, or by an on-stage comedian(because if you go into a comedy show, you’re essentially agreeing to put yourself forward as a potential punching bag for the act).

      When folk do that sort of stuff to just random people, yeah, that’s not joking it’s bullying. It really does seem like CliffyB is just an unpleasant highschool age boy trapped in a man’s body.

      • Mr Bismarck says:

        He’s not even shy about it. In one of his post-launch interviews about low player counts in Lawbreakers Cliff said he was going to “try to be less of a dick.”

        Try.

        Maybe that’s where he’s going to focus his upcoming time of reflection.

  14. Michael Fogg says:

    So much for the golden future…

  15. Ham Solo says:

    “ANOTHER BILLION DOLLAR IP”… I saw this one coming.

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