Hi-Rez Split: Good or Bad for Gamers?

This isn’t another developer appreciation week post, although I can say that Hi-Rez Studios has provided me with hundreds of hours of entertainment throughout the years. I absolutely love SMITE, enjoy Paladins to a lesser degree and see potential in Realm Royale (though the Battle Royale genre is already pretty stale). I would say I have an appreciation for them, but they aren’t held up on a pedestal like some other developers I’ve discussed on this blog, but I also wouldn’t put them in a pile with Daybreak Games whom have lost nearly all of my respect (save for the Norrath nostalgia I will always carry with me). A mixed relationship, though I don’t have any real ill will.

Recently the company announced that it is splitting into three different studios that will handle each of their titles. Titan Forge Games will continue to maintain and develop the company’s flagship title SMITE, Evil Mojo Games will oversee development of Paladins, and a new studio Heroic Leap Games was created to push Realm Royale towards its 1.0 release. At this point it’s hard to decide if this is a good or bad thing for the gamers who have invested countless hours into the company’s titles. One the one hand, having an individual team that is dedicated to producing new content and maintaining each game with bug fixes and balance changes should theoretically mean each game gets the time it deserves. On the other hand, it’s easy for one company to spread itself too thin with multiple studios demanding development time and funds and Hi-Rez has a bit of a bad track record when it comes to supporting games that just aren’t cutting it.

Another story broke that shows a huge decline in player numbers via Steam tracking for Realm Royale, and seeing as it’s only available on PC at this time that should be a reliable data point. It is only in Alpha testing at this point though so most people probably aren’t super committed to it until launch and the Battle Royale sphere is getting pretty crowded. Signups for the console beta of this game are already ongoing, so there are still plans to bring the game to consoles which has worked well for their other titles though it’s harder to track data about player bases reliably. I can attest to playing their games on console exclusively, and am already signed up for the Realm Royale beta on PS4, as these are great games with low barriers to entry and something I can play with my friends. It is troublesome to speculate on real data as to the health of the player base as a whole for each title due to having methods to track Steam numbers but not those on console or via the Hi-Rez launcher.

Looking at the Steam Charts for each reveals that they do all have player bases, but they vary wildly and it’s hard to say what the company would consider successful. I don’t have raw data on what happened with their handling of Tribes Ascend, but a cursory Internet search brought up this article. It seems that the studio dropped support just a year after “rescuing” the title that was already dead. I didn’t play Tribes Ascend, so I can’t say this bothers me. Looking at it from the outside I feel like it was probably a good business decision and since they didn’t really have anything invested in it they cut their losses. But if we look at the Steam charts for SMITE, it doesn’t seem to have a very large base and yet it continues to soldier on, four and a half years later.

I was surprised by the numbers for Paladins on Steam Charts, considering at the end of last year there was a controversial decision made involving the cash shop for the game. Isey covered this better than I could, I encourage you to read his article on the matter. I have since played the game and it’s not terrible and they seemed to sort of back off of the pay 2 win aspects that made people angry, yet it still commands more players on PC than SMITE. Realm Royale is facing a growing genre that is already dominated by the likes of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, and their Steam Charts numbers show it. A game with less than 5,000 players can easily stay alive, be it a MOBA or an MMO, but if the developers don’t think they are going to make enough money off of that player base, the game is likely to sunset. Games such as these sometimes depend on whales and that’s why the predatory cash shops exist, but even normal players like myself haven’t had a problem plunking down some cash for cool skins or champion bundles. Developers need to make compelling games to get our money, but also need enough money to keep the lights on. A vicious cycle.

Clearly I have no idea if this is a good or bad move for the company or its games. I think Realm Royale has a chance on consoles, because despite my lack of numbers I have played these games personally on PS4 and never had issues with long queue times that are evident in dying games. I would like to see all three of these game succeed, as I think the company has designed interesting games that vary enough from the competition to be as-good-if-not-better in my eyes. I’m not sure if this is the way to secure the future for them, but time will surely tell.

Thoughts on Realm Royale

The Battle Royal genre has been picking up steam for the last couple of years, joining the likes of MOBAs, CCGs, and Survival Sandboxes as flavors of the week. Every developer wants to get a cut of the pie, so they’ll create their version of the genre in question with mixed results. Being successful in a budding genre tends to depend on a few factors, timing being paramount. Developer clout isn’t necessarily going to mean much. Just being the first to market with a title doesn’t mean anything, as most people can attest to witnessing — if you jumped in during an early version of a new genre it’s likely one of its competitors ended up being more successful, building on core elements and expanding features. I’ve covered plenty of these genres over the years, and have been playing Battle Royale games since the first — H1Z1. Clearly that entry isn’t the most successful version of the Battle Royale, as Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnight’s Battle Royale have both seen more and longer lasting success. I have not played the former, but the latter didn’t appeal to me with it’s more juvenile design elements and the building mechanics felt unnecessary. Another new challenger has entered the ring, and being from a developer that I have a decent relationship with I had to try it out for myself.

Enter Realm Royale, Hi-Rez Studios’ addition to the Battle Royale genre. The game fits into the genre nicely, providing the same sort of experience you’ve come to expect, when you boil it down. You’ll still queue up for a game, enter a match, drop onto the map and try to be the last person standing — nothing has changed here. So why play Realm Royale over the other titles out there? Well, if you have played any of Hi-Rez’s games and have enjoyed them, you may be pleased to know that this is a spin-off title of one of their other games, Paladins. Using the same sort of graphic engine, similar gameplay with classes and skills, you’ll feel right at home if you’ve enjoyed their other titles in the past.

The game has launched its Alpha in Steam Early Access for now, but I assume a Playstation version of the game will pop up when the game gets to Beta (the rest of their titles have followed this pattern). It’s free to play as of now, and no sort of RMT has been added, but I’m sure that’s coming. It’s likely there will be skins and such that will appear in a virtual store. When the game hit Steam it had a duo and party queue but they have recently added a solo queue which allows you to play on your own. Five classes exist now and sort of match up with their Paladins counterparts. Each has unique skills that they bring to the table, so its imaginable that a party could queue up in a fairly balanced fashion. Once you’ve selected your class you’ll be able to run about a little lobby area and wait until the Zeppelin deploys to take you to the main island.

The map seems comparably sized to other BR games I’ve played. The “fog” will converge on a circular point on the map and you get to choose when to jump out and start you run.

Once on the ground you’ll want to head towards buildings that will contain loot. Instead of just picking up weapons of varying qualities, you’ll also pick up the skills specific to your class that will help you survive. Mages get fireballs while Assassins get smokescreens and the variety is a nice touch. I wouldn’t mind seeing a card system implemented ala Paladins where you could customize those skills further, but perhaps that would be limited to an account level? Could give an unfair advantage so perhaps that’s not the best move. A couple of things that set Realm Royale apart from the competition are mounts (though H1Z1 has vehicles you can find) that can be summoned at will, and the fact that when you die you’re not immediately dead. You’ll turn into a chicken and run around trying to survive for 30 seconds, at which point you will respawn as your human self to continue the fight. It’s a nice touch and rewards players for being more aggressive. Another nice touch is the ability to equip armor that makes you harder to kill. You can scrap items in the world for shards, and there are forges scattered around where you can use the shards to get ultimate abilities or weapons. The only problem here is needing to guard your forge for 60 seconds while a beacon shows everyone in the area that you are crafting something. I was able to make my ultimate weapon during my solo run and it was pretty sweet!

You’ll eventually die though, and during the few runs I have played so far, I managed to finish 20th when I duo queued and 10th during my solo run. I’m sure given enough rounds I’d be able to win one, and I haven’t felt that way during my time spent elsewhere. Overall I think Realm Royale sets itself apart from the competition pretty well, and given their player bases with their other titles I’m sure they will be able to sustain yet another session based game in their portfolio. I’d give it a whirl if other BR titles haven’t done it for you, or if you haven’t tried one because they’re all too similar. My only complaint to this point is that my 21:9 resolution isn’t available yet, but I’m sure that will come soon. Excuse all the black in the screenshots, thanks.