I just logged onto my favorite shooter game of the last decade, greeted by a rather disheartening truth: only 5,000 active players. Once touted as the bane of Call of Duty’s stranglehold on multiplayer shooters, Titanfall has plummeted drastically since its release in early 2014.
Attrition, its take on team deathmatch, is the only game mode boasting an average of 1,000 players. As for the other eleven variants, well, let’s just say some of them don’t feature enough active players to fill a single match.
I wonder what happened to Titanfall?
Led by the creators of the first two installments of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the ones that redefined the franchise, Titanfall was firing on all cylinders leading up to launch. Released a few months after the new consoles hit the market, Titanfall was originally an Xbox One and PC exclusive with a scaled down version arriving on Xbox 360 a month later. Successful pre-release coverage and early versions of the game built the hype. The lack of major game releases in early spring provided an optimum timetable for its launch.
At launch Titanfall received overwhelmingly positive reviews from major outlets, consumers flocked in droves, and it appeared to be the start of a phenomenon. Among the praises and early reactions: addictive fast-paced gameplay, tight controls, smart implementation of the large mechanical Titan vehicles, an easy learning curve for newcomers to the genre, and environments wrought with detail and aesthetic variety. Nevertheless, in the following months the community dropped significantly, gamers moved on to summer hits or reverted back to Call of Duty, and Titanfall was soon forgotten to the casual gamer and completely disregarded by competitive gamers.
Sometimes a game’s budget is so high that after release, studios curb costly updates and new trinkets if they are struggling to recoup investment capital. But Respawn Entertainments’ impressive shooter didn’t suffer from lack of support from industry leading publisher Electronic Arts.
Like most big budget games, Titanfall had a season pass, essentially a meal ticket for future waves of content throughout upcoming months. At a mere half the price of traditional shooter passes like Call of Duty and Battlefield, the additional content improved the game. But those who had handed over the extra bones were already teetering on inactivity when the first expansion dropped two months after the game’s release. Many gamers had already abandoned their Titans, resigning from their duties as in-game Pilots. The second pack came in July and the final one in September 2014. Six months into life, Titanfall was at its best and most complete form, and had fewer players than ever.
Earlier this year, in an effort to reinvigorate previous players, all of the maps and content from the season pass turned free. Within the initial hardcore audience, the ones who had already paid for the content, many had stopped playing for the sheer disappointment that actually being matched with other similar players online took forever since so few players were actually present. Come October, Titanfall reached the 10 million sales milestone, an impressive yet misleading stat. Roughly one tenth of a percent are on Titanfall’s servers at a given time.
At this point it’s not uncommon to see the game advertised on the Xbox Live Marketplace and Electronic Arts’ Origin PC service for the price of a six pack of shitty beer. One of the best multiplayer games in years should be a no brainer buy at mere dollars, but at this point, you’re better off spending your beer money on Destiny dance moves.
GAMERS ARE FICKLE
So what happened to the remarkably executed multiplayer experience? How did it actually lose players as it came into itself and improved?
The short answer: gamers can be fickle. Packaged without a single-player or offline mode, Titanfall’s longevity hinged on its online community, who abandoned it as other games were released. Titanfall was designed for the Xbox One, but another cautious worry was its Microsoft exclusivity. The Playstation 4 was already outselling its rival and it wasn’t practical for many gamers to own both at that time, limiting Titanfall’s potential reach from the get-go.
And slightly diminished by hardware limitations, smaller budgets and shorter development time, the Xbox 360 version lacked the bells and whistles and inherent charm. Lofty hard drive and internet requirements proved problematic for many longtime 360 owners. Instead of putting more money into their aging investments, many waited on Titanfall until making the jump to Xbox One. The 360 community never took off and by the time more gamers upgraded, Titanfall was already looking obsolete and other games boasted livelier communities.
The audience fell somewhere between Xbox One and 360 over on PC. As more of a standard console experience like Call of Duty, gamers preferring mouse and keyboard controls generally opt for dedicated computer offerings like Counter Strike or free-to-play hits such as Team Fortress 2. Adding further complications was its limitation to the lackluster Origin program for downloads when a sizable percentage of PC gamers prefer Valve’s Steam platform for their gaming needs.
Despite its barriers to entry, if Titanfall was really such a great game, people would’ve noticed, right? So how does it stack up against others within the genre?
Call of Duty has been a juggernaut since 2007, and few competitors have been able to latch onto a portion of the market share. Along with Battlefield and Halo, these three franchises form the big three of multiplayer shooters. Call of Duty has a rampantly dedicated consumer base, some of which give their once a year gaming dollars to Activision’s annual blockbuster. Of the three, Titanfall’s gameplay resembles Call of Duty the most. Others preferring larger maps and vehicular combat gravitate towards Battlefield for wartime gameplay, and longtime Xbox owners have always had a special place in their hearts for the game that launched and saved Microsoft’s game business: the sci-fi shooter Halo.
Each has had years to develop a wide audience, and as a new intellectual property, Titanfall’s likelihood of tipping the scales in their favor was indeed a tall task. Despite a promising start, it was unclear if it could sustain through the year and battle it out with the true Titans of the genre.
Oddly, it turns out there was room for a new intellectual property to become the fourth prime player—it just wasn’t Titanfall.
FACE YOUR DESTINY
Destiny, Bungie’s constantly evolving online game, was unlike any other new franchise. After ending its contract with Microsoft, the team started work on a proposed ten year project. The storied studio had a massive pre-installed fanbase. They also launched on all four major consoles, including Sony systems (a first for the company), and promised a game that would evolve over time.
After a rather underwhelming start, Destiny was in danger of the same fate as Titanfall. Yet a year later Bungie has backed up that promise. Unlike Titanfall, Destiny seems more popular now than it was initially, and it’s still growing. Destiny’s prowess comes from a steady stream of challenges, story lore, cooperative gameplay, and new environments to explore in addition to delivering a solid multiplayer arena type game mode in the same vein as Titanfall’s total package.
Because of this, it might be easy to say that Titanfall dropped off because of limited content, but single player modes in games like Call of Duty and Battlefield largely go untouched by many of its most fervent fans. While Titanfall may have slightly benefited from including a solo experience, staying power in shooters comes from constantly entertaining multiplayer or from being the exception to the norm like Destiny.
On paper and hands on, Titanfall should’ve been a huge success that kept its footing for months and possibly years. These contributing factors comprise the dings to its foundation, but are assuredly accompanied by speculation and opinion.
A Titanfall match is more exciting than Call of Duty. Controlling Titans is more satisfying than piloting vehicles in Battlefield. The in game use of temporary in game bonuses is more addictive than that of the recently released Halo 5. The player versus player combat is more engaging than what Destiny has to offer. If captured in a ten minute span, the overall gameplay is more compelling than the rest.
Logging into its desolate servers today is a painstaking reminder of the magic that was Titanfall without the ability to fully experience it with an active community. A game that lives and dies on the time invested by other gamers, Titanfall is the best multiplayer game that no one plays.
There is hope for the future. Titanfall 2 is in the works and will be available on Microsoft and Sony consoles. A port of the original to mobile software is currently in development. Until then, I’ll continue to stare at the menu option for my favorite game mode, Deadly Ground, wondering why there are only seventeen people worldwide who still love it as much as I do.
Steven Petite attempts to divide his time between freelance and fiction writing, reading far too many novels, and playing half a dozen games simultaneously. He is a lifelong Cleveland native, and consequently a tortured sports enthusiast. He is a staff writer for Fiction Southeast and The Rock Office. He has frequently written for The Huffington Post and his fiction has appeared in Cigale Literary Magazine.
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