Battlerite launched into Early Access on Steam just a couple weeks ago, but it launched with a bang. Developer Stunlock Studios told us it already has about 200,000 total players, even though players currently have to buy-in to what will eventually be a free-to-play game. It's an impressive amount of success for a self-published title, and we've been enjoying it a lot. Chris described it as "the best teamfight you've ever had, over and over."
I spoke with Stunlock Studios creative director Martin Lövgren earlier this week about Battlerite's fantastic reception so far, how top-down action games aren't being written off as "MOBAs" anymore, new Battlerite champions on the way, why it's not called Bloodline Champions 2, and a whole lot more.
PC Gamer: Battlerite has been in Early Access for a little over two weeks now, how has the reaction been so far?
Martin Lövgren: It's been really, really amazing. We knew we had a really good game which we enjoy, and when we bring people over to try it out, it was super good feedback. So, we think that the game is really good, but you never know how well it's going to be received or how well it's going to go on the Steam charts, so to speak. So, we focused a lot to make the game visible at the launch date of Early Access, and I think we really did a good job. And I think all the support from the community and reaching the top spot on Steam made us really stand out there.
The game has nearly 6,000 reviews on Steam already, and they're currently 95% positive. Were you expecting that level of a response?
Yeah, no, I did not expect that. I mean, at least 85 or 90 was probably something that I had in mind, but 95 is insane. And especially with the —I think they announced gifted codes don't count as reviews, and they announced that a week before our launch. So, reaching 95 by only sold copies... it's really good, and we were not really prepared for that good of a response.
Especially with this coming before the game even becomes free-to-play.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, I thought there should be more who had more complaints. [Laughs] But we really worked to get the game as polished as possible. Already they start to compare it to the AAA games that have been out there for a long time, and we're still in development. Technically it's almost like a beta phase where you can get access, so we have huge plans for this game. I think it's going to be super good when we go to free-to-play eventually.
You mention getting it polished, but what were your priorities before launch? What did you want to make sure was there before people started playing it?
Our gameplay has been the top focus from the start, and we basically put in almost all our efforts all the time. That's what we've been learning the past year is that you can't really release a game unless the core gameplay is super solid and polished. And if you look at other games like League of Legends they had an extremely poor menu system, but they had a really solid game mode. And that's what we've been learning as well, it doesn't have to have fancy menus or super good progression. If the core loop isn't fun, it's never going to be a success.
What's the first big thing you are planning to work on?
Right now, matchmaking and ranking is top priority since that's also a part of the core loop. You go into a game, you want to have a balanced fight, you want to go out, you want to feel some sort of progression that's understandable and appealing, and then you go back to a new game. That's a part of the core loop, so that's something we want to put a lot of effort in right now. And of course we don't want to stop producing champions, since that's also very highly requested by our community. So those things are number one, and also of course working server stability and getting it out there to more regions.
What's your champion release plan look like? What's your ideal pace?
I think it's too early to say. We don't want to have a schedule right now. We try to constantly work on new champions and put the resources we have on it, and if that's one hero each second week or each month... it's too early to say. We don't want to have a fixed schedule yet, it might turn into that later. There are two new heroes coming in late October, so that's two new champions in one month, so a pretty high pace. Early on, I think that's important, but we'll see if we can keep that pace up. We really want to be flexible. Since we now are publishing and developing everything on our own, we have the ability to be super flexible and see like "Okay, people request these two features, we have to cut down on champions this month or this period to get it in." We want to make a game for the players, not for anything else. We want to make the best game possible.
Any hints on what those two new champions are like?
We're working on a sneak peek as we speak for the first one. I'm not sure when it's going to be released, but it's going to be released early this month, so probably within a week I hope. I don't know the date, but there's a sneak peek on its way and I think people are going to like it.
Is there any feedback you've gotten that you didn't expect, or now see as a higher priority than you would have expected before launch?
I would say no, not really. I think the matchmaking and ranking system is something we really expected and is something that takes a lot of work, and we didn't have that much resources on it before the Early Access. It was something we wanted to grow into. So that was expected, and of course we've got requests on regions and things like that. But no, nothing super unexpected I would say.
How has the reaction from the Bloodline Champions fanbase been? I've seen people missing a couple of the original characters that aren't in Battlerite.
It's been very good. The main complaints if you went with Bloodline Champions for a while, I think, has been the movement speed, the pacing. But I think it's something that's so [firmly] rooted, and now we have increased the pacing slightly, and now I think everyone really enjoys the pacing of Battlerite. So that's what has been the biggest complaint from our old Bloodline Champions players.
And in terms of champions, I think they are really excited to see their old favorite heroes coming back. For us, we'll see if we can add them all or not. We really still focus on what we think will be best for the game, but we have a lot. In terms of balancing what ideas, it does help to have a core—because Bloodline Champions was well polished and well balanced, and to get that starting structure helps a lot. It reduces our character pipeline to be able to use old Bloodline Champions heroes as a core. But we were not afraid of changing things up. As you can see, some of the heroes have been reworked quite a bit.