The Dangers of Splitting the Splitgate Audience

I am in awe of the success of 1047 games, who have truly captured lightening in a bottle with their Portal x Battle Royale shooter, Splitgate. If you’ve listened to our interview with 1047 from last September, you’ll know the details of their incredible story. The small team behind the game initially launched it in early access in the spring of 2019 and saw some moderate success. But the game really took flight after launching the beta for consoles (with cross-play) in July 2021. This tweet from July 18th really says it all:

By September of last year the team had raised $100m based on their viral success (notching up  over 10 million downloads in July). Now, nearly a year after that fundraising event, the team has announced that they are stopping feature development on Splitgate in order to focus on a new, soup-to-nuts game in the Splitgate universe built in Unreal Engine 5. While their reasoning is sound, based on my experience working on LiveOps games, I believe they have made a critical error that will be difficult, but not impossible, to recover from.

1047’s motivation is relatable. The initial codebase was written in a college dorm by a team of aspiring game developers. With their success, they have been able to dramatically increase the size and seniority level of the team. They’ve spent the past year simultaneously live operating the game while reworking major sections of it and adding significant new features. As the announcement states, “We are, in a way, bailing water while also trying to keep everyone who bought a ticket to board our ship happy, while also trying to turn our boat into a rocket ship.”

It sounds like there has been a lot of friction in this work, and it is likely going much slower than they would like. So they’ve made the difficult decision to halt major work and start from scratch so they can build the extensible, live operable, AAA shooter of their dreams.

I do not think this choice to build a new game was a misstep. But 1047’s strategy for how they execute this decision creates an opportunity for competitors to steal their audience. 

The details of their development plans are light, so perhaps this is only an error of communication that is easy to correct. In the announcement, 1047 states “We want to be clear that Splitgate will remain online as well as your items and progression… Game support will continue and there will be smaller updates and fixes.”

A devoted community is a thing to treasure. It is remarkably rare to blow up the way that Splitgate has, and there is no guarantee it will happen a second time some months (or more likely years) from now when the next iteration of Splitgate enters Early Access. The success of Splitgate 2 is something I would bet on, given their story so far. But a well resourced team that has raised a massive, $100m development trove should do everything in its power to bridge the audience from their live game to the next iteration. If 1047 isn’t keeping their community entertained with meaningful live support, they leave the door open for some other developer to capture their audience’s attention as they wait for the next great thing.

If this had been my baby, my transition plan would have looked something like this.

  1. Knowing that you are going to pull the bulk of the company off Splitgate, identify the size of team needed to live operate the game and keep it fresh for 18+ months.
  2. Staff that team through a combination of existing team members willing to take on that mission and new hires.
  3. Determine a 12 month roadmap for live content that a smaller team can pull off.
  4. Before rolling the studio off to Splitgate 2, release a final update that will give that smaller team all the tools and capabilities they need to execute that content roadmap.

Then, when announcing this shift in company focus, you could reassure your community the game is not dead. “While the bulk of the studio is moving on to the next big thing, a devoted team is going to continue operating and improving the existing game. Check out the roadmap of what they have in store for you over the next year…”

This way, you would be sending a strong message to your community that the game is not dead, and putting forward the best effort to bridge all your existing players over to the launch of the new game. Surely, your daily audience 12+ months from now will be smaller than it is today, but you will every player you retaining is one you don’t have to convince to come back when the next game is ready.

Perhaps this is 1047’s plan, and I’m merely commenting on their messaging. Perhaps I’m being too harsh in my interpretation of the statement “Game support will continue.” If that is the case, this could be a simple matter to clear up to keep the community engaged. 

But bridging an audience from one game to another, especially with free-to-play, LiveOps driven titles, is no small feat. If one finds themselves in the enviable position that 1047 is to have experienced such success with Splitgate, and to have all the funding necessary to build a ground-up second version of the game, then one should do everything in their power to keep that audience engaged until the next big thing is ready to play.