Rocket League is one of the biggest phenomena of the last 5 years and a surprisingly hit that seemingly came out of nowhere. Psyonix has transformed from a small studio that did a lot of contract work to keep the lights on, into the overseer of one of the most successful and active gaming communities out there. Their player base is constantly growing, and it doesn't seem like it's stopping anytime soon. Every month Psyonix reports on a new personal benchmark Rocket League has shattered.
On the surface Rocket League is a pretty digestible concept. You can simply describe it as a competitive soccer game, but with cars instead of people. However, like most competitive games, it's a lot deeper than that. Psyonix has done a great job of not only keeping an open line of dialogue with the community but constantly adding wanted features and quality of life improvements that keep players coming back for more. The reason Rocket League, like Overwatch, has found so much success is because it's designed to give the player as much as they want out of the game. It's great for the player who wants to play a couple of fun pick-up games online or with friends, and it's also competitive enough for the player who wants to climb the ranked leaderboards and be the absolute best. The game is as deep or as shallow (and as laid back/competitive) as the player wants — and it's obviously working. Let's take a look at 15 things you probably didn't know about Psyonix's smash hit Rocket League.
One of the great things about Rocket League's variety of maps is that they all abide by the same size and layout structure. Well, that was the case up until the release of the Chaos Run DLC. Chaos run is a map that was heavily inspired by the cult classic Mad Max films. It features a desert-style ground coupled with apocalyptic design elements that make you feel as though you've entered the Thunder Dome. The most interesting thing about the Chaos Run DLC is that it was the first map Psyonix released that didn't abide by the normal size and shape of every other in-game arena. Chaos Run didn't just change the area in with you could compete, it's more rounded shape forced players into implementing different strategies and setups in hopes of outscoring their opponents.
Rocket League is a competitive multiplayer game that thrives on competition and scales alongside a player's skillset. One of the toughest issues these types of games face is welcoming new players to a community of well-established and heavily experienced ones. Psyonix felt that the ranked component of Rocket League was doing enough to welcome in new challengers and was ultimately going to confine itself and limit exponential growth. It was at this point that they decided to revamp the ranking system and introduce a tiered system that rewards the dedicated base, but at the same time allows enough of a buffer area to better incentivize new players to try out ranked. Considering Rocket League's active player record continues to be broken month after month, it seems Psyonix made the right implementation.
One of the toughest decisions for a smaller studio making a multiplayer focused game is figuring out whether to launch at a set price, or to go fully into the free-to-play model. Each of these avenues provides their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and Psyonix was playing with the notion of F2P during the development of Rocket League. Going F2P meant that the game was going to be full of microtransactions and could have led to a pay-to-win scenario in terms of the actual model. Thankfully Psyonix realized that their best path to success was the one in which they released with a more traditional price structure. Psyonix felt that vanity and appearance items were the only way to make microtransactions a viable addition to their game without breaking the competitive nature of Rocket League's core.
Psyonix has a track record of naming their games in a very unconventional manner. Now, this doesn't mean that they randomly open up to a page in the dictionary. Rather they just aren't afraid of throwing in as many qualifiers and quantifiers into their official title. When it came to Rocket League, Psyonix felt that having a shorter more compact name could help in terms of its success and marketing upon release. Apparently being able to have your game's entire name show up fully in one line on digital storefronts can help tremendously. Rocket League isn't only a great game title because it's short and concise, it directly translates what the game is about and how it's rooted in competition. Naming a video game is easy, but picking something that is simple and encompassing is a true art form.
For a game as successful as Rocket League, it's surprising to see the amount of investment in both time and money that went into developing Psyonix's breakout hit. Rocket League was in active development for around two years, which is impressive considering the amount of polish and detail in the final product. It becomes even more of a feat when you take into account that Psyonix had been a company that heavily relied on contractual work for other games while working on passion projects as a side venture. Now, in terms of success, one of the easiest qualifiers is: what was the budget was in relation to what it sold. Rocket League was made on a budget of around $2 million and has recently passed the $100 million threshold in terms of profit.
Psyonix knew that Rocket League was a great game, but no single developer is sure if their game will gel with players all over the world. Many developers suffer from stress and anxiety during long development cycles, and it only gets doubled as they inch closer and closer to their game's public release. Sales numbers are very important —considering video games are a business after all— but developers also want to see the connections players have to their game. Will a community form around and love a product? Will it sell well enough to keep the lights on? It turns out Psyonix was correct in their assessment of their own game. Rocket League was the beneficiary of over 183,000 unique players within its first week after launch, and that number has done nothing but grow ever since.
Psyonix launched Rocket League with the belief that they would support the game post-release with a ton of improvements, additional modes, and tons of new loot. What people didn't know is that the success of Rocket League would allow Psyonix to create partnerships with other companies and bring in awesome movie tie-ins no one would have expected. Since release Rocket League has seen the addition of a Back to the Future, Batman, and Fast and Furious content. They've recently also partnered with Hot Wheels to bring the world of toy cars to the Rocket League play space. It's great when a game is able to satiate players for a long period of time after the game's release, but it's a whole other beast when they also work hard to bring in nostalgic add-ons.
What do you do when you have a promising game but little to no marketing budget? You get very creative in your strategies. Psyonix knew that they couldn't take on a traditional marketing push even though they felt Rocket League was a fantastic game. They needed to come up with clever solutions to market the game. In a day and age where streamers were taking over the online entertainment landscape, the solution was simple. They felt that due to Rocket League's viral ability to become gifs and shareable content, implementing an influencer first approach would pay dividends. Rocket League launched by providing streamers and creators with early access to help spread the word about their fantastic game. It turns out the game was good, streamers/creators loved it, and in turn, a lot of people bought it.
Rocket League is an interesting case of a successful game that seemingly chose the right fork in the road at the last possible second. Considering its somewhat smaller budget, the marketing team at Psyonix knew they had a tough time on their hands with figuring out the best plan of attack at the game's launch. The biggest decision on the table was whether or not they would wholeheartedly accept PlayStation's offer to launch as a PlayStation Plus game and be free to those with an active subscription to the service. According to Psyonix, the decision to launch this way was one in which they conversed about almost up until its announcement as such. Psyonix can now look back and see that it was the best decision they could have made, but it was also a decision they almost didn't make.
Jeremy Dunham, Vice President of Psyonix, is one of the more public faces and a huge communicator to the ever expanding Rocket League player base. Though Dunham didn't join the Psyonix team at the jump start, there's no doubt that he's a contributing factor into the success of Rocket League. It seems that Dunham has a track record of being a part of successful ventures. Before jumping over to game development, Jeremy Dunham was an editor for IGN, one of the internet's largest video game media websites. Dunham was responsible for the creation of Podcast Beyond!, one of the most beloved PlayStation podcasts, which is still active today. Without Dunham, a lot of the platform specific IGN podcasts would have never happened.
The elevator pitch for Rocket League has always been that: at its core, it's soccer — but with cars. Now, this is certainly the case with the base version of Rocket League and is the main source of interest when it comes to new players, but Psyonix has made the game a little more versatile since launch. Psyonix understood that by combining sports with arcade automobiles, it was a great way to pull in multiple different demographics and expand the player base exponentially. Through multiple updates, Psyonix has added both a hockey and basketball game mode that stay grounded in familiarity to those playing Rocket League but bring with them new challenges and strategies. They were such a hit that those modes were changed from simply seasonal events to secondary modes.
The fan base for Rocket League is one as wide and vast as they come in the video game industry. Players are constantly looking for tips, tricks, and information regarding one of their favorite games. The fashion in which Rocket League blew up and became a surprising success is a story that captivates even those with no interest in ever playing the game. Whether you fall into one camp or another, there just so happens to be a full-fledged documentary covering the development and release of Rocket League with the developers at Psyonix. The documentary was done by Noclip on their Youtube channel, which also features extended interviews and footage.
It turns out that Rocket League is actually a sequel to Psyonix's Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. Now you see why they decided to go ahead and change up the name of the game. We've previously talked about how and why the name Rocket League was chosen. For Psyonix, it must have been tough to separate themselves from their biggest success before Rocket League and rely on a brand new title. It was a very smart decision, that to some capacity did help with share-ability and word-of-mouth marketing. Though the original name for the series was wacky, cool, and over the top, it didn't capture the essence of the game. Rocket League did exactly that with less than half of the words.
We've talked about the different avenues of success Psyonix has experienced in regards to Rocket League, but there's still some specific things to cover. Rocket League is a game that was made for roughly $2 million and has since received over $110 million in sales to date. The amount of profit Psyonix came into not only changed viability and mind-share for the developer, but it also changed their entire business. Psyonix went from a studio dependent on contractual work, developing passion projects on the side, to a developer with enough safety and security to steer in whatever direction they choose. Rocket League wasn't just a flash in the pan for Psyonix. Its concurrent player record is constantly being broken, and they're seeing consistent sales numbers on all platforms. The future's bright for Psyonix.
When a new game comes out to the success and growth rate that Rocket League experienced, the immediate question always revolves around a sequel. In a recent interview with Kinda Funny's Greg Miller, Jeremy Dunham stated that Rocket League is now a platform to Psyonix. They feel that there's no need to segment their community and moving forward it's all about communication, improvements, and additional content. In the same interview, Dunham discussed how the original vision was to support Rocket League for multiple years before moving on to the next project. After Rocket League's success their plans changed, and now they're dedicated to Rocket League for as long as people continue to play it. If you were looking forward to a sequel anytime soon, don't hold your breath.