For players, advertisers, and developers alike, fewer changes are more remarkable - or alarming- than a major company acquiring the studio behind a popular game.
Developers wonder if they made the right choice to sell; players wonder if the studio, under new leadership, will keep making content they love; and advertisers wonder if the acquisition will help or hurt the value and integrity of the studio, and its properties.
Rocket League, currently the most popular game where cars play soccer, is under new ownership, as Epic Games has acquired its developer, Psyonix.
Already, the move has generated varying shades of emotion, as well as some controversy, with some players even review bombing the game.
But the real question is, how could this change benefit or harm Rocket League, a popular game right outside the mainstream with nearly unlimited potential to grow?
Moreover, what does Rocket League stand to gain from this acquisition, and why is the deal so controversial with players?
Psyonix and Epic: A History
Believe it or not, Psyonix’s history really began at Epic. Its founder, Dave Hagewood, started Psyonix to offer his insider knowledge of Epic’s Unreal Engine to other developers, after he had already worked with Epic extensively.
The game, originally called Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-powered Battle Cars, (intended to be a quirky title) failed to take off at first. However, through trial and error the game eventually hit gold, now amassing over 50 million players across all platforms.
In some ways, the appeal of the game is both in its simplicity and its complexity. The developers of Rocket League learned that explaining the game was often confusing for people, and that the game was most successful when Psyonix could simply sit people in front of it.
Unlike a lot of esports, where the rules aren’t self-explanatory, Rocket League is really just soccer, a game played around the world that most people already understand.
Rocket League Live
In 2016, Psyonix held its first official Rocket League championship in Los Angeles, after Psyonix had noticed its success on Twitch. Since then, it has continued to hold championships globally, using the money to offer bigger prize pools and increase promotional efforts.
Here’s where Epic’s resources really benefit Rocket League.
In its statement about the acquisition, Psyonix claimed that Epic will allow them to “grow the game in ways we couldn’t do on our own before”. This screams “marketing”, and nobody can deny that Epic’s reach toward major brands would greatly aid Psyonix.
Only recently, Fortnite launched a big collaboration with Marvel, appearing on-screen in Avengers: Endgame. Over the past two years, Fortnite has also featured temporary promotions for Infinity War and Endgame through the addition of temporary new game modes.
Granted, Rocket League has been no stranger to brand promotions. Psyonix has partnered with DC Comics, WWE and Hot Wheels, adding downloadable content based on the franchises and even making some toy deals.
But for some larger brands, Epic’s help in securing partnerships could be monumental.
Psyonix and Epic: A Future
The world of esports is changing.
Now that the International Olympic Committee is warming up to the idea of popular, brand safe games appearing in the Olympics, Rocket League could even be a contender for the Olympics, and a massive company like Epic could facilitate it.
This is only a hypothetical thought, as no conclusive official statements have been issued by the Committee.
Epic could also push for more geolocated teams, creating teams for regions around the world rather than the more arbitrary divisions created by player-formed teams. Geolocated teams might push the game away from the players in some ways, creating barriers and crushing the idea that just anybody can make a team, but it could also improve recognition for each team, opening the way for more team-based sponsorships.
Epic could also use bigger monetary incentives to increase the number of official teams, or increase the number of live matches, drawing in wider audiences. With a company as influential as Epic is right now, there are no hard limitations.
For now though, Psyonix has come home, back to the company that originally inspired it.
Had Hagewood not worked for Epic those many years ago, creating multiplayer vehicle mini-games in Unreal Tournament, his game development experience might have been very different, and Rocket League probably wouldn’t exist.
Thanks to Epic, Psyonix is free to continue focusing on quality games, whether Rocket League or otherwise.
Meanwhile, Epic can help evangelize, spreading the wonders of vehicular soccer to new and unexpected places.
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