For those of us who have been playing Breaking Bad: Empire Business during its prolonged soft launch, the news it’s been canned should come as no surprise.
“Despite our best efforts here at Phase One Games, unfortunately Breaking Bad: Empire Business will soon be decommissioned,” was the official in-game statement.
“On July 28th, 2017, all Breaking Bad: Empire Business servers will be shutting down permanently.”
For one thing, it was in soft launch for a long time; since November 2015. That’s never a good sign, especially for a game with an expensive IP attached.
Similarly, despite the long test period, nothing much ever seemed to change.
Breaking Bad: Empire Business always felt odd.
So, what went wrong?
Right IP. Wrong game?
Breaking Bad: Empire Business always felt odd.
The highly acclaimed TV series finished after five seasons back in 2013, and although the spin-off Better Call Saul is still in production, Empire Business is totally focused on the original.
It’s always hard for licensed games to align themselves to longform TV series', but, as the name suggests, Empire Business ignored the potential of the strong characters - Walt, Jesse etc. - and instead was a fairly traditional mobile resource management game.
Akin to Game Of War - a high-profile member of the 4X genre - players levelled up different building types to generate the four soft resources required to further level up their buildings and also progress through a detailed technology tree.
The other main element was the card-collection Crew feature.
This used typical random gacha mechanics to drop characters of different rarities who could be further levelled up by fusion. Your crew fed into the wider metagame as they could be attached to buildings to provide faster resource production, as well as undertaking timed missions, again for soft resources.
Empire Business’ syndicates never seemed to generate any momentum.
Outside of the base, players could explore the wider world, sending out attack teams to plunder the environment and other players’ cities.
Of course, as with all 4X games, in-and-of-itself this sort of activity was pretty dull, requiring social groups - which in the case of Empire Business were called syndicates - to generate any long-term purpose.
Whether due to a general lack of players or the prolonged soft launch period, however, Empire Business’ syndicates never seemed to generate any momentum. This was the main reason the game quickly became unexciting.
The business bit
Aside from its internal mechanics, there were some obvious business reasons why Breaking Bad: Empire Business didn’t get a global launch too.
Although officially published by Phase One Games, it was merely a skunkworks for US company Scopely.
Yet, unlike its one-time stablemate WWE Champions, Empire Business was never formally moved to the Scopely App Store account. From that point of view, it always felt as if there wasn’t much corporate belief in the game.
One reason for this is likely to have been the licensing agreement with AMC.
Scopely can afford to be very picky about the games it releases.
No doubt, there were very different royalty rates associated with having a game in soft launch testing under a low-key label compared to globally launching it.
Canning Empire Business will also have a cost associated with it, but that cost will have been much smaller than the cost of a global launch, associated UA marketing, and the increased royalties entailed.
The 4X genre is also incredibly competitive. As well as games from developers such as Plarium and Elex, MZ and Square have just launched Final Fantasy XV, while Zynga has its Mafia Wars remake in testing.
More generally, thanks to its recent Series C funding round of $60 million, and successful mobile games such as The Walking Dead: The Road to Survival, Yahtzee With Buddies and WWE Champions, Scopely can afford to be very picky about the games it releases.
For example, it currently has Temple Run: Treasure Hunters in soft launch, which will bring match-3 gameplay to the more than one billion players who have already downloaded one of the Temple Run endless runners.
In this context, it’s perhaps best to consider Breaking Bad: Empire Business as a throwback to a fast-disappearing age when mobile games with a big licence and solid - if unexciting - mechanics could hit the top of the grossing charts if only for a short time.
Also, given it entered soft launch in 2015, Empire Business would have been designed two and half years ago, and as Zynga’s Dawn of Titans has demonstrated since release following a long soft launch, mobile game design is a fast-moving discipline and companies need to be 100 percent committed to launch.
On that basis, Scopely’s decision - while likely made easier by royalty considerations - is to be applauded.
But it’s still puzzling why it took so long.