Feature

The five biggest games that failed to leave soft launch in 2017

The five biggest games that failed to leave soft launch in 2017

One of the things we're best known for at PocketGamer.biz is our Soft Launch list - a huge, though not exhaustive, list of the biggest games currently being tested in select mobile markets.

And while the vast majority of games we track do eventually see the light of day, there are also a not insignificant number that fall at this hurdle and never make it to the wider world.

There's any number of reasons why, such as the early data doesn't show much promise, the developer chooses to take their future in a different direction or the studio just shuts down entirely.

Didn't quite make it

The games themselves might even have been good, though we'll never know just how good they could have been. And some of them aren't quite dead yet and are instead waiting for the perfect time to make their appearance.

Whatever the reason, five games we tracked stood out for us this year as significant titles that were sorely missed in 2017 and we'd like to shed some light on them once again.

So, join us as we explore the games that sadly didn't make it out of soft launch this year and what exactly happened that led to their demise.


Click here to view the list »
  • Smite Rivals

    Smite Rivals logo

    2017 started out with a pretty interesting announcement, as PC-focused developer Hi-Rez Studios announced it was bringing its popular MOBA, Smite, to mobile in the form of Smite Rivals.

    Revealed in January 2017 at Hi-Rez's expo in Atlanta, the game shared a lot in common with Supercell's smash-hit Clash Royale - players battled in 1v1 real-time PvP fights and sent units down lanes to battle and destroy the opponents' tower.

    It had two big differences, however. For one, it had the Smite IP behind it, with its own set of characters and worlds. And it also threw in a third lane to liven up the action.

    Looking good

    Everything seemed to be going well. lead designer Brian Grayson spoke excitedly about its design and how he was sure the game's eventual community would help push it into the world of esports.

    "I think the gameplay totally caters to it," he told us.

    "And we know esports really, really well. I wouldn't be surprised if we go that direction and we get behind it."

    Radio silence

    But after the initial reveal and the launch of a beta signup, the project went mostly silent.

    Jump forward to March 2017, and suddenly Smite Rivals was put on hold and its development team was moved over to PC CCG Smite Tactics.

    What happened to Rivals? Hi-Rez simply said that "the game needed significant additional development before releasing" and it was focusing on Tactics for the time being.

    Strike back

    It's not all doom and gloom, however. The developer returned to mobile later in 2017, this time with its other IP in tow.

    Its new mobile project is Paladins Strike, a mobile MOBA that aims to bring the studio's hero shooter to a smaller screen and with a completely different setup.

    Paladins Strike has also cleared one of its first hurdles and soft-launched in several countries, so it's looking likely that it will launch some time in 2018.

    Smite Rivals might not be dead yet - but don't cross your fingers for news on it any time soon.

  • Legacy of Zeus

    Legacy of Zeus logo

    Kabam's sale to South Korea-based publisher Netmarble was announced in December 2016, but its effects were still being felt in 2017.

    Major games such as Marvel: Contest of Champions and the then-soft launched Transformers: Forged to Fight were picked up in the acquisition, but some were unfortunately left by the wayside.

    One such game was Legacy of Zeus, an action-RPG using an original IP, something that was quite rare at Kabam.

    By the gods

    Developed by Kabam's Beijing studio, it was pulled from the App Store in January 2017 without a word, at which time we also noticed that older title Fast & Furious: Legacy had been removed.

    Confirmation of Legacy of Zeus's cancellation came in February 2017, when Kabam COO Kent Wakeford told us that the game "didn't meet our internal expectations".

    Worse yet, the Beijing studio was "wound down" as a result of the game's poor internal performance, though it's unclear how many jobs were affected by the closure.

    From the ashes

    It wasn't all bad news for Kabam, however. The parts of the studio Netmarble picked up have thrived, with Contest of Champions now accounting for 12 per cent of the publisher's revenues.

    And other studios spun-off from the remains, including Avatar mobile game licence holdee Aftershock (which was picked up by Foxnext shortly afterwards) and hardcore RTS developer Phoenix One.

  • Car Town Racing

    Car Town Racing logo

    In some ways, Car Town Racing was doomed from the start.

    The first time we caught wind of the game was back in January 2017, when Glu Mobile announced it was cutting up to 140 jobs across its business, including its Long Beach office.

    The studio was also threatened with 33 additional job losses and closure if its upcoming game Car Town Racing didn't meet the high standards expected of it internally.

    Sharp turn

    But even if it had been a hit, Glu was already veering away from its traditional games to focus on a far more lucrative market - lifestyle apps.

    Having acquired Crowdstar in November 2016, Glu watched as its latest release, Design Home, started to take off and become one of the company's biggest games.

    By the end of its Q2 FY17, Design Home was its biggest earner, helping push revenues to $68.7 million. This was no doubt aided by Glu's decision to more than double its UA budget, largely to keep promoting its new golden child.

    Muffled

    Car Town Racing, meanwhile, had a very quiet soft launch in June 2017. It even looked like a fun game - it was bright and colourful, and the racing looked simple to control but frantic enough to not be boring.

    Sadly, one update and two months later, the game was cancelled and the Long Beach studio shut down.

    Just four days later, Design Home hit one million DAUs. Glu's Q3 FY17 revenues hit $81.8 million - Design Home alone made up $30.2 million of its bookings.

    Living the life

    And now Glu is doubling down on lifestyle apps, replacing its usual celebrity game experience with a new social app starring singer Taylor Swift called The Swift Life.

    Car Town Racing may not have been the biggest or most exciting game in this line-up, but it's interesting because of its place in Glu's history - a forgotten game that struggled to keep up with the company's latest change in direction.

  • Breaking Bad: Empire Business

    Breaking Bad: Empire Business logo

    Scopely's 4X strategy take on the Breaking Bad franchise holds the dubious award of being one of the games we tracked for the longest in soft launch.

    Yet after 19 months of soft launch, it was unceremoniously pulled from App Store and players were warned that servers were due to be shut down.

    Perhaps one of the strangest things about this prolonged soft launch period is the fact that Scopely never openly acknowledged it was developing the game.

    The one who knocks

    Breaking Bad: Empire Business was initially soft-launched in November 2015, with the developer listed as Phase One Games.

    Phase One had been Scopely's cover before. It was the name that The Walking Dead: Road to Survival and it was the same name being used for the developer of WWE Champions.

    The latter title was listed as a Scopely game shortly before it launched and while Empire Business eventually followed suit, it never received a gameplay trailer or any official word from Scopely that the studio was developing it.

    Heck, even the in-game message telling players the game was shutting down was attributed to Phase One Games.

    No future

    So why was it cancelled? Jon Jordan wrote a wonderful round-up of all the issues surrounding the game at the time of its cancellation, but the main reason was likely money.

    Shortly before the game was canned, Scopely closed a $60 million Series C funding round. It also had a stable of successful titles already, including the aforementioned WWE Champions and The Walking Dead: Road to Survival.

    With all this money behind it and the incredibly high cost of a global launch for a game that didn't seem likely to be a hit ahead, Scopely took the smarter route and shut it down entirely.

    Scopely is in no danger, however. Its games continue to do well and it's got a Temple Run title in soft launch, so dropping one game probably isn't going to hurt.

  • Mafia Wars

    Mafia Wars logo

    Mafia Wars was a staple of the Facebook era of gaming and Zynga has tried to bring it mobile a few times with no success.

    March 2017 saw the developer take another stab at the IP with the appropriately-titled Mafia Wars, which featured real-world locations to take control of with your gang of friends.

    Initial reactions were not exactly great. A quick look through the comments section on our article revealing the game showcase a lot of fans angry at Zynga for abandoning them on Facebook and refusing to start over in the new version.

    Sleeping with the fishes

    And it seems like this sentiment was shared in soft-launch locations too. After just three months of testing, Zynga canned the game due to it failing to meet internal expectations.

    "As a team, we’re being deliberate about our new starts and going after the categories where we believe we can win," read a statement from Zynga.

    "We have a high bar for our new releases and didn’t believe the game had the potential to be a successful forever franchise for us."

    Forever and ever

    "Forever franchises" for Zynga include social casino game Zynga Poker and perennial word game Words With Friends, both of which helped the studio turn its first profit in two years in August 2017.

    With a focus on existing titles, and the rather public outcry from previous fans, it's little wonder Mafia Wars didn't make it out of soft launch. And don't expect Zynga to launch much new content soon either - it's very happy with its current business, and has reason to be.

Deputy Editor

Ric has written for PocketGamer.biz for as long as he can remember, and is now Deputy Editor. He likes trains.

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