This article was originally going to be titled “Can Season 4 reinvigorate Fall Guys” – but that was before the announcement that Epic Games had bought developer Mediatonic! However, many of the points I planned to make still apply in some form, and in addition we have the buyout and its associated effects to consider. So settle in as we talk about the hit party game of the summer – last summer, that is – Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout!
A few days ago I put Fall Guys on my list of games that deserve a second look in Spring 2021, and despite some of the criticisms I have of the game, I stand by that. Fall Guys is plenty of fun, and the addition of new rounds and changes to existing rounds has extended the game’s longevity. I recently got back into playing after taking a break over the holidays, and I’ve been having fun with it all over again. There is a lot to love about Fall Guys, but there’s also no denying that right now, the game’s survival hangs in the balance.
This is nothing to do with the Epic Games acquisition. Fall Guys was struggling long before that was announced, and my original plan for writing this article was to look at the possibility of Season 4 bringing players back. That’s something Fall Guys needs to address urgently. They have a good social media team, being active on Twitter and elsewhere every day, churning out memes and one-liners of the sort that a modern social media manager for an online game should. But it doesn’t seem to be having much effect.
Fall Guys blew up when it was launched last August, but almost as quickly as it arrived on the gaming scene, most of its players abandoned it. On Steam, Fall Guys peaked at around 125,000 concurrent players in August last year, and sold over 2,000,000 copies within a few weeks of launch. But as of yesterday, when I checked its progress on Steam, it had fallen to fewer than 6,000 concurrent players, with a maximum for the day of fewer than 10,000, and was barely clinging on to the top 100 most-played games on the platform, occupying the 100th slot.
To put that into context, Fall Guys had fewer players than titles like Civilization V, The Sims 4, Skyrim, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and even a title I’d never heard of called Geometry Dash, which is a port of a mobile game that originally launched in 2013. Ouch.
As a player, this has become noticeable. Though most games I play are usually fully-populated (with 55-60 out of a maximum of 60 players) it can take several minutes of waiting just to begin a game, with long loading times in the queue as the game struggles to assemble enough players. With no cross-platform play between PC and PlayStation, this is obviously beginning to become an issue. One of the highlights of Fall Guys – something I praised it for back in August – is that because rounds are so short, losing or failing to qualify doesn’t feel so bad. All you had to do was jump immediately into the next one! But if you have to wait several minutes at a time to even just begin a game, one of the absolutely vital components of Fall Guys is lost, making it significantly less enjoyable. Not only are the waits themselves frustrating, but losing at a round risks becoming frustrating too – because you know if you don’t qualify it’ll take a while to start a new game.
So what caused Fall Guys to lose much of its playerbase? That’s the key point, because addressing it – if indeed that’s even possible – is the key challenge facing Mediatonic and Epic Games.
As much as I hate to say this about a game I’ve come to greatly enjoy, the fundamental problem is that Fall Guys was a “release now, fix later” title. I’ve talked at length here on the website about the live service business model, and how the ubiquity of internet connections has led developers and publishers to push out games that weren’t quite ready with a view to improving them later. It almost never works, and Fall Guys, as much as I love the cute little title, is an example of that phenomenon too.
Firstly, Fall Guys launched with no anti-cheat software. I know that it’s scummy and pretty disgusting for a basement-dwelling low-life to cheat at a fun little game like this, but realistically, developers Mediatonic and original publisher Devolver Digital should have anticipated it. Cheating happens in any online game, and if you give players even the tiniest opportunity, some will cheat. Playing Fall Guys before the addition of anti-cheat was not fun, because what was the point in progressing through the rounds only to lose in the finale to an invincible cheater or a cheater who can simply fly above the course?
The cheating problem pushed players away, just as I said it would when I discussed Fall Guys’ impending Season 2 update back in September. When I’ve spoken to people about the game or seen comments on social media, aside from the “dead game” memes the one thing that seems to come up most often is that people remember how Fall Guys had a cheating problem. Folks don’t know that’s been solved because most didn’t stick around, preferring to move on to games that weren’t plagued by cheating. The game should never have been released without anti-cheat software, and that’s perhaps its biggest mistake.
The rise of Among Us stole Fall Guys’ thunder in some ways, even though the two titles aren’t really comparable from a gameplay perspective. But there is a vague aesthetic similarity between the crewmates in Among Us and the jelly beans in Fall Guys, so it’s worth considering why Among Us is doing so well while Fall Guys appears to be in decline.
Among Us is one quarter the price of Fall Guys, at least on PC. On mobile or tablet, the game is free. Among Us is available everywhere, compared to Fall Guys which is currently only on PlayStation 4/5 and PC. Among Us has never had a cheating problem.
Both games had the potential to break into the mainstream and become ongoing successes, but only Among Us really has. The biggest factor in its favour is its ubiquity, particularly its availability on mobile devices and tablets, which are the platform of choice for many younger players. This enabled the game – which was originally released in 2018 – to become so popular. The fact that it’s free-to-play helps immensely too; younger gamers in particular are always on the lookout for free titles, which goes a long way to explaining the success of Epic Games’ mainstay: Fortnite.
When considering Fall Guys’ release, one huge factor preventing it growing was the natural ceiling on its playerbase caused by not being available on every platform. There was no Xbox or Switch release, and while those platforms are now scheduled for this summer, that’s a year too late. Without knowing more about the technical side of the game I can’t say for sure whether it would be possible to port it to mobile devices, but if that were possible then obviously that would open up the game still further.
Nintendo Switch is the platform I would have chosen to prioritise if I were in charge of Fall Guys’ development and release. PlayStation 4 has a larger install base, but Switch players are, I would suggest, more interested in this kind of fun pick-up-and-play party game on the whole. With over 60 million Nintendo Switch consoles having been sold, that’s a massive potential playerbase that Fall Guys missed at launch – and will continue to miss until this summer. By then it could be too late.
An online game that barely breaks 10,000 concurrent players is not doing well, and while that doesn’t account for PlayStation 4 players, it’s hard to imagine the game is doing significantly better on its only other platform. There are still people interested in Fall Guys, and there are still new players jumping on board, but the big challenge facing Epic Games and Mediatonic as they begin their partnership is shoring up the playerbase and bringing in as many new players as possible. Fall Guys was a hit last summer. Whether it can be a hit again is up to its new owners.
So what needs to happen to bring players back? The launch of Season 4, with new cosmetics and new rounds will be a good start. But there needs to be more of that, with the game basically being continuously updated. New rounds and new round variants are good, but there could also be timed events, such as the recent double-kudos offer, competitions focusing on one aspect of the game (like a fixed set of rounds, for example) and other such things that will incentivise players to keep coming back.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the polar opposite of Fall Guys in so many ways, but one thing New Horizons gets absolutely spot-on is the incentives it offers players to log in at least once per day. Fall Guys needs to find some kind of hook, some way to keep its players checking in often. Once they’ve sorted that – which is no small task – bringing in new players is priority #2.
Releasing the game on Switch and Xbox is a good start, but I’d love to see mobile devices too if at all possible. Then there absolutely needs to be cross-platform play. If Sony remains intransigent about this – as they often are – then cross-play could be between Xbox, Switch, and PC only. But it has to be in there somehow, because splitting up the already small playerbase into walled gardens by platform makes those wait times mentioned above more noticeable. If PC players could join PlayStation 4 players right now, today, I bet those wait times would be cut at least in half. And that in itself would make the experience more enjoyable, keeping existing players around for longer.
One thing that Mediatonic teased in their announcement of their deal with Epic Games was a possible free-to-play model. To me, this is a double-edged sword for a game like Fall Guys. While it would undoubtedly bring in more players, it would mean the game would have to find an alternative way of making money, and in the games industry that only means one thing: microtransactions.
Fall Guys has always offered the ability to buy in-game currency, yet it’s never felt intrusive or obligatory. The game is very generous with in-game rewards and items earned through basic gameplay, and I would hate to see that disappear or for cosmetics to be locked behind a paywall in future. Part of the fun of Fall Guys has been earning cosmetic items through gameplay, or earning in-game currency through gameplay and trading that for cool items in the in-game store. Going free-to-play would mean all of that would change, and while it would unquestionably attract more players, I’m not sure the change would be a good one.
With all of the controversy that lootboxes and randomised rewards generate these days, I would hope that even Epic Games wouldn’t try to force them into Fall Guys, but that remains a risk. From a PC player’s perspective, I’m also concerned that Fall Guys may eventually be withdrawn from Steam – Epic Games has its own store and PC client, after all, so why would they leave Fall Guys on their competitor’s platform? This may seem extreme, but it’s exactly what happened to Rocket League. That game used to be available on Steam, but following an acquisition by Epic Games it was withdrawn. The game technically still exists on Steam for players who already owned it prior to its withdrawal, but an Epic Games account is required to play, and new players can’t add it to their Steam libraries. While Mediatonic promised in their statement that this isn’t part of the plan for Fall Guys, it’s hard to see that being sustainable if the game survives into the longer term. Sooner or later, Epic Games is going to want to monopolise its purchase, just as they do with other games that they own.
Removing Fall Guys from Steam would run counter to everything we’ve discussed about trying to retain players and expand the playerbase, so the game may be safe in the short term. But watch this space, because it feels inevitable that Fall Guys’ presence on Steam is doomed!
So to answer my original question: can Epic Games reinvigorate Fall Guys? The short answer is “maybe.” The game is a huge amount of fun, and bringing it to the Switch in particular feels like a natural fit, one which should bring in new players who are well-suited to enjoy this kind of cute, fun little title. But the game’s longer-term prospects are murky at best, and I’m surprised that a company like Epic Games would take a risk on a game which appears to be in a serious decline. Hopefully their involvement can stop the rot and turn things around. Fall Guys is such a fun game that it deserves to last longer than a few measly months.
Fall Guys is available now on PC and PlayStation 4/5, with launches on Xbox and Nintendo Switch planned for this summer. Fall Guys is the copyright of Mediatonic, Devolver Digital, and Epic Games. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.