The competitive online dodgeball game Knockout City was initially released as a paid title on Switch in in 2021, before going free-to-play in 2022. It’s now scheduled to shut down completely on June 6, 2023. Guha Bala, the co-founder of the game’s developer Velan Studios, recently spoke with about what caused Knockout City’s demise.

“A cosmetics-based, free-to-play game, while it’s really appealing to us as gamers, requires massive scale to be economically sustainable. It’s sort of an all-or-nothing thing, which is a dull view of the world in a sense because it’s like if you want to do something creatively new, it can’t be the right set up in that business model unless you can imagine it being enormous. So what do you do in that situation? Are there different ways of approaching a premium title with a service on top of that? Are there different types of user experiences that you can have where you can offer gameplay items but not pay-to-win?

“The cosmetics-led games that we know of today and are generally successful, many of them do have loot boxes. Most mobile titles on a global basis, outside of Western markets, also have loot boxes. It’s something that we’re not very fond of, and it’ll present a lot of challenges in an emerging sense from a regulatory standpoint as well. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. We have to figure out the right economic balance to be able to do something new and provide something that’s of real value to players, and then have an economic system that works. This one didn’t.”

[Guha Bala,]

Bala cited a number of other factors that led to the end of Knockout City, but the audience’s financial status and their relationship with free-to-play games seems to be what he considers the primary cause.

“We found that inflation was hitting really hard around the world, especially in East Asia where free-to-play really rules. Inflation and currency devaluation was really crimping on discretionary spend and affecting all games that were free-to-play at the time. Your metrics for retention needed to be much higher to break even because both that and monetisation were moving in a negative direction.

“We also saw currency deflation affect our Western European audience as well where the monetization behavior… The savings rate had been higher during pandemic and so people were eating into their savings, even though inflation was dropping income, and we saw that around the economy.”

[Guha Bala,]

The sad reality is that it’s tough to make a successful game right now, and perhaps even tougher in the free-to-play format. Knockout City has its fans, but it unfortunately didn’t garner enough support to be truly long lasting. However, Bala does mention wanting to “come back with Knockout City in a sequel format sometime in the future”. How and when that might occur is still anyone’s guess.

Knockout City is still available on Switch until June of this year, so if you’re interested, check it out while you still can!

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