Multiversus is going offline in June and won't be back until sometime in early 2024, and the reason is very strange: Warner Bros. Games says the game was never actually released but only in open beta.
The Smash Bros.-style fighting game features characters from the DC Universe like Batman and Wonder Woman, from Cartoon Network shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe, Scooby-Doo, Looney Tunes, and other Warner Bros. properties. Now, the game's creator Player First Games says that the open beta will end in June as developers prepare for the full release next year.
It's weird because Multiversus has been available since July 2022, during which time it's racked up more than 93,000 Steam user reviews, adding up to a "very positive" overall rating. (It's also available on the Epic Store.) It racked up an enviable player count out of the gate, and we liked it quite a bit ourselves, calling it "a bang-up job of laying the foundations for a fantastic platform fighter that has the potential to blossom into something amazing" in our 78% review. And there's been a lot of progress on the game since then, including not just one but two seasons complete with buyable season passes, high-profile crossovers, and a $100,000 pro tournament at Evo.
It's also fair to say that Warner hasn't exactly played up the "open beta" angle publicly, either. A Twitter search, for instance, indicates that the last reference to it came in an August 2022 tweet saying that "the launch of the open beta is just the beginning."
But now that's all going away. Game director Tony Huynh said the open beta has been "an important learning opportunity" for developer Player First Games, and as a result it's pulling the plug on the whole thing for the better part of a year.
MVPs, thank you for the support during Open Beta! The feedback and inspiration has been amazing. Open Beta will close on June 25 as we prepare for full launch in early 2024. #MultiVersus will be back better than ever with new content, features, modes & more when we return. pic.twitter.com/6NOCMRDBrpMarch 27, 2023
"We have a clearer view of what we need to focus on, specifically the content cadence of new characters, maps and modes to give you more ways to enjoy the game, along with updated netcode and more matchmaking improvements," Huynh said. "We’ll also be reworking the progression system based on your feedback and looking at new ways for you to connect with your friends in the game.
"To do this the right way, we will be closing the MultiVersus Open Beta on June 25, 2023. As part of this process, we’ll be pausing updates and taking the game offline as we prepare for the launch of MultiVersus, which we are targeting for early 2024."
Multiversus players will still have access to the training and local matches following, as well as their characters and cosmetic items they've earned or purchased. But all online modes and features—the reason people actually play the game—will not be accessible. And there will be no refunds offered as a result of the beta shutdown, although Warner has assured players that all content they've purchased for the game will carry over into full release.
The reaction to the news on social media and Reddit is surprisingly (to me, at least) upbeat. There are naturally complaints about a fully-monetized game with two seasons under its belt suddenly disappearing under the pretext of "it was never actually released," and quite a few people who say they thought the beta ended months ago.
But there's also support for the move as the best thing for the game.
One Redditor with a good memory surfaced an old tweet in which Huynh said that the open beta release will "hopefully be permanent unless we find some really awful bugs." That naturally led to some debate about what qualifies as a "bug," as opposed to a need to rework systems to try to grow an audience.
"The 'pretty big bug' in this case is their need to go back to the drawing board and retool the game a little bit," redditor _Valisk wrote. "It’s not a bug in the traditional sense but it’s something that’s affecting the game and needs to be addressed. It’s a big reaction, of course, but I think it’s the right choice."
That need to "go back to the drawing board" is definitely real. Within a couple months of its strong start, player counts on Multiversus began tailing off dramatically. Its average concurrent player count in July 2022 was an impressive 67,000, according to Steam Charts, but by September it had crashed to 8,664. Over the past 30 days—so, March 2023, basically—the average concurrent player count was just 537; it peaked at 1,081. That's not nearly enough to sustain a competitive multiplayer game that relies on major brand crossovers.
The shutdown illustrates the meaninglessness of terms like "beta" and "early access," which enables games to behave like full releases—including taking your money—while reserving the right to say "whoops" and walk it all back, largely without consequence. The length of the shutdown is also alarming. A game in open beta, especially one as "open" as Multiversus was, is generally considered to be on the cusp of launch; the fact that Warner wants the better part of a year (and possibly more, if the vague "early 2024" launch target doesn't hold) suggests that a much more wide-reaching overhaul is in the works.
That's not to suggest malfeasance here, and there's no arguing that Multiversus wasn't in open beta, at least to the extent that, as far as I can tell, nobody from Warner ever explicitly stated that it had left beta and gone into full release. But Warner definitely appears to be playing at least a little fast-and-loose with the concept of "unreleased game," and there's no doubt in my mind that this would never have happened if Multiversus had been able to maintain a reasonable player count, technical issues or not. All that remains now is whether Multiversus is actually able to come back from this.