It’s not easy for any developer to keep up with the constant demand of live-service games, let alone developers accustomed to bigger projects with longer deadlines. As big studios and AAA games continue to experiment with the ongoing models that work for games like Destiny 2 and Fortnite, the massive toll that constant updates can take on a studio become more and more apparent. But some developers are opting out of the update cycle in favor of big expansions and clearer end dates.
On Thursday, Back 4 Blood developer Turtle Rock Studios announced that it’s no longer planning to develop new content for the game. Instead, the studio is moving to a new project, while leaving open the possibility of returning to its co-op survival shooter in the future — or at least, returning to the series. While Turtle Rock’s plans are vague at the moment, they show that studios have options when it comes to making multiplayer games, and that they don’t have to be antithetical to starting new projects.
Back 4 Blood was originally released in October 2021 and has had three expansions since, with its latest coming out in December 2022. Players who paid for the game got more than a year of post-release support, including free patches and paid expansions that added major content to the game. A decade ago, this would have been the standard life cycle of a multiplayer game, but it’s almost an anomaly now.
As tempting as it may be for developers to chase the dream of an eternally updatable and sustainable game that generates revenue month after month, most projects designed around that idea end up folding under their own weight. Developers are either unable to release enough content to sustain a player base over the months and years it takes to recoup costs, or the games are simply not good enough to attract players in the first place. The last decade of games is littered with titles like Marvel’s Avengers or Anthem that promised players endless updates and have since been shut down — just this week, Rumbleverse, Apex Legends Mobile, and Knockout City suffered the same fate.
But an expansion model like Turtle Rock’s Back 4 Blood plan could provide more traditional studios with the option to make multiplayer games, support them with new content for a while, and still sunset them gracefully.
Expansions have fallen out of vogue over the last decade due in large part to the success of massive games like League of Legends and Fortnite, which are free-to-play and offer free content updates to their players every week or two. But keeping a game like that going requires a massive studio, and that means a game needs to be wildly successful — often right out of the gate — to have a chance of surviving.
Back 4 Blood never needed to set the world on fire or make a billion dollars, and Turtle Rock didn’t need to vastly increase its staff to keep it running. Instead, the studio can keep itself lean and move on to its next project, all while making sure players got content for the game they loved — at least for a little while.