It's never been a better time to play video games - wherever you look, you're spoilt for choice across almost every genre - but it's hard to shake the feeling that it's a dangerous time to be making them. Studio closures are announced with worrying regularity at the moment and countless talented developers struggling to break even.
Bossa Studios (of Surgeon Simulator and I Am Toast fumblecore fame) are hedging their bets, and the fate of their upcoming weird competitive multiplayer skateboarding-thing, Decksplash, hangs in the balance. If the game - seemingly Tony Hawk's Pro Skater mashed up with Splatoon's turf-control-through-paint element - hits 100k total players during a free trial lasting until the 10th, it launches as a paid early access game. If it falls short, they cancel it.
Our Alice said she'd rather play simply Splatoon or Tony Hawk alone after playing the trial, but I must admit being a little more charmed by the gameplay footage I've seen thus far, even if some of the marketing materials do grate. We do desperately need more good skateboarding games, especially after the Tony Hawk's series crashed and burnt so spectacularly.
The addition of Splatoon-style paint mechanics is interesting - bigger combos of moves resulting in larger splashes when you finally land them on a flat surface, with the winning team being the one with the most ground painted by match's end - but I can't help but feel a more traditional scoring system may have been a better fit, and easier to explain in videos.
As far as I can see, Bossa are being pragmatic here, detailing their reasoning in this video blog entry. No shortage of multiplayer games have come and gone without ever making a splash (sorry), and to invest months more development time and resources in a game already well past its planned early access date (the game was meant to be released in Spring) would likely be damaging to the studio if it can't hold a viable player-base even when they're giving it away for free.
There is an obvious publicity stunt angle to this whole free week/ultimatum announcement, but the underlying reasoning makes sense to me. If at the peak of their PR game they can't even draw in a crowd players for free, then a more traditional commercial release seems highly unlikely to succeed.
While I don't have the full figures on the total number of people to try the game so far, the concurrent players figure from Steamcharts (a reliable source for tracking active playercounts) does not paint a pretty picture. On the first day of the free event, the game peak at a mere 235 concurrent players, and on the second, only 177. Unless something changes, this week might just be the end of the game.
Decksplash is available to try free from now until November 10th. Give it a spin - it might just be your last chance.